22 April 2016

DWAS@40 Growing Pains

In part 2 of our look at the early days of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society we find that success brings both triumphs and problems. Also see the DWAS@40 Early Years Gallery page above.

After the success of their first convention and with membership rising, the exec decided to effectively relaunch the DWAS for 1978. In October 1977 members were invited to re-join. From the start of 1978 `Celestial Toyroom` split from `Tardis` to become a monthly newsletter with the latter focussing on features, articles and interviews.

`Tardis` really flew in 1978 and included two important articles. One by Jan Vincent Rudzki asked what had happened to the magic of Doctor Who. It may seem incredulous in the light of the creative mess the show would later stray into that such things were being stated but they were. The article cited that the `magic` started to fade during Jon Pertwee’s tenure and accelerated once Tom Baker’s “less compassionate” Doctor arrived. “Perhaps what is missing most of all is any warmth in the stories,” Rudzki wrote. In some ways he might have seemed out of step with the members as he singled out `Invasion of Time and its depiction of the TARDIS for particular criticism in the same issue the story was revealed as being the winner of that season’s members poll!
The odd fact that the DWAS had a leader who clearly disliked the current show (and had done for at least two years) shows how different opinions sat hand in hand under the Society’s banner. In the next issue the letters pages showed Rudzki’s view was far from unique. 

The July 1978 issue of `Tardis` included a passionate article headed `Today’s Face of Evil` written by Gordon Blows which demonstrated how far the zine had evolved from its straightforward beginnings. It talked of the Doctor spreading goodwill and standing up for the oppressed and how his fans should do their best to emulate this behaviour against modern prejudice. It might sound slightly clich├ęd now but back in 1978 any other publication would be talking about the costumes or detailing production lists. When Gordon Blows was at the helm either as editor or publisher `Tardis` was one of the most vital Doctor Who fanzines of all time. Packed to the gills with fact, opinion and attitude it was a perfectly balanced read; later editors did great work but Blows laid down the standard to which they had to aspire.

Meanwhile CT as it soon became widely known was the primary source of news about the series as well as the business of the Society. With membership now over the 600 mark, plans were proceeding for the Society’s second convention PantoptiCon 78 which would be a more ambitious event than its predecessor. The two day event was held at Imperial College in London and boasted an impressive guest list including Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney, Ian Marter, John Leeson, Carole Anne Ford, Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks, Graham Williams, Frazer Hines and Mat Irvine. 

For many the highlight was a screening of the very first episode `An Unearthly Child` unseen anywhere since its original broadcast in 1963. It had taken considerable effort by the exec to obtain the film of the episode but the success spurred them on to try and purchase the rest of the first story for the next convention. In those days the only way old episodes could be shown at events was on film and in order to obtain permission to do this all sorts of complicated legal hurdles had to be overcome. The Exec had a lot of hassle with BBC Enterprises to try and negotiate these obstacles even to the extent of not being able to find out exactly what the Corporation had in their archives. They doggedly pursued all avenues though so as to have something special to show at their second major event. The convention was a huge success but it was to be Keith Barnfather’s last- he left the exec a few months later. It was a foretaste of things to come as the following year, 1979, would see the DWAS facing a number of problems.

The strain of running the society was taking its toll; with membership now over the 900 mark the monthly administrative problems were growing particularly the mailing of CT which once took twelve hours! Gradually more people were roped in to help. Keith Barnfather had to be replaced by three people such was the convention workload!
Other problems reflected the speedy growth of the DWAS and its membership. One was so called DWApathy in which a larger membership did not necessarily equate with activism. Most members did seem to be content to receive material rather than contribute something which seemed to irk the exec enough for the whole front page of the May 1979 CT to be given over to it. Also from day one, the use of the title 'executive' acted like a red rag to politically inclined members while within the executive itself there were niggling problems, often over information. The exec was frequently accused of withholding news on next season but often this had been given to them in confidence.

The biggest example of these issues gelling into a crisis came when a group of influential members banded together to form a collective known as the DWAS Democrats. In June 1979 they managed to circulate a statement with copies of `Tardis` that made a series of demands about the way the DWAS should be run. They wanted all members to have the chance to vote for the president, more thought to be put into a wider range of products, more advertising and a committee set up to ratify executive decisions. 
The Democrats were an influential coterie led by Paul Mark Tams (then 'Tardis` editor), Gavin French and Owen Tudor, both local group leaders and Martin Wiggins, one of the best known fan writers of the day. If their ideas sound like the by- product of student union socialism they had the support of lots of others, especially leading fanzines and, as it turned out, several figures who would end up on the exec the following year, though none of their names were included on the flyer. The DWAS Democrats’ manifesto was seen by every subscriber to `Tardis` without the rest of the Exec knowing until it was sent out, an act that ensured Tams’ editorship was soon ended. His issues had already attracted criticism for their amateurish qualities and it is tempting to imagine (though never confirmed) that becoming the editor was a means of achieving more ambitious ends.
While many of the points the Democrats make would be perfectly agreeable had the DWAS been a student union they do seem somewhat overwhelming for a society comprised of fans of a tv series. This was a rare public display of the pseudo political undercurrent that ran underneath the surface of the Society, particularly during the Seventies, breaking into the light. These were the days when trade unions were mighty beasts and seemed to hold equal sway to politicians. The campaign did not end there as a special issue of the popular fanzine `Colony In Space` was produced asking the question `What future for the DWAS?” and at that year’s PanoptiCon an Exec panel produced more public dissatisfaction with the way the DWAS was being run.

While it seemed publicly that the Democrats were dismissed and ostracised, their outburst hastened a massive change at the top. Publicly, Jan Vincent - Rudzki was dismissive expressing anger "not so much by what they say, but by the sneaky stab-in-the-back way they're circulating their stuff." He maintained that the exec was going to "do nothing about what they're doing and just ignore them. To say or do anything concerning them just will make them feel more important, which is of course what they want." "(They) have such closed minds" he later wrote “that attempts on our part to explain the various misconceptions they're living under have no effect. Be assured that we will not give in to these people."In 1986, in the DWAS' 10th anniversary magazine he seemed not to have mellowed one iota; "a small band of naive members" he called them albeit admitting they were "another factor in my despair over fandom". However behind the scenes other influential members were seeing something in what the Democrats were proposing even if they did not support the methods.
In the midst of all this the third convention held at the City University utilising two lecture theatres was held. This was organised by David Shackley, Deanne Holding and Mark Percival. The event included an impressive props display with such items as a Krynoid, the Sandminer and an Ice Warrior. For many the highlight was the showing of the whole of the first story while guests included Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Graham Williams and Douglas Adams. There was also a screening of the Society’s Drama department film `Oceans in the Sky` which met with mixed reviews. This area of the Society which lasted into the early 1980s had always been something of an anomaly at a time when Doctor Who was regularly on television. More than one exec member had also been heard to say that this department – under the auspices of Mark Sinclair- lived up to its name in terms of the way it was run!
In October 1979 another blow came with the departure of Jeremy Bentham following a row. Bentham had been working on material for the new' Doctor Who Weekly' magazine and had included in the mag something (to this day unspecified) that had been given to him in confidence by Jan. Jeremy offered to resign after a row and the offer was accepted. He later said that he'd been accused of "selling out to commercialism". To gauge some idea of the impact of this event, people who were around have admitted it was almost as much of a shock as if the producer of the show had suddenly quit. By 1979, the exec were, like it or not, famous to fans and had often been guests at local group meetings and this was a position that each dealt with differently. In the sticks, Jeremy’s resignation spurred rumours of a rival to the DWAS. Indeed something not dissimilar did happen. Bentham and some others set up Cybermark Services in 1980, which offered rival reference material and events. CMS was the beginning of the DWAS' loss of its monopoly and its need to compete with rivals rather than have the playing field to itself. Good or bad, things would never be the same again. 
(More photos and scans on the DWAS@40 Early Years page- see tab under the blog header)

Next Time- Moving on Up

1 comment:

  1. It's difficult to see, looking at the early DWWs, which confidence of Jan's Jeremy could have breached. All fascinating stuff, though. The democracy angle might reflect early DWAS overlap with mainstream literary SF and fantasy fandom which has a very participatory culture with lots of elections; I'm not sure what the BBC would have thought of this...