In the third and final part of our series on the early days of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society we enter the 1980s and see the Society’s founders leaving while membership grows and the `Fan's Producer` takes over the series. Also check out the DWAS@40 Gallery with lots of photos from DWAS events and publications between 1976-82.
By 1980 the DWAS had become established with over 1,000 members and an impressive history of publications and events. This success was not without considerable hard work and what remained of the original team were to move on during the year, not always in pleasant circumstances. One major problem facing the society as the 80s dawned was financial. Rumours swirled that the DWAS was in deep financial straits, that it had overspent its budget and might not be able to afford to print its zines. It was also alleged that £1,000 had been spent on a colour cover for Tardis'. DWAS President Jan Vincent Rudzki had also become the subject of allegations that he had taken items and information from the production office, something that was untrue but which threatened to affect his employment at the Corporation. The BBC had become suspicious of known Doctor Who fans working there and it was this potential conflict of interest which finally led Vincent- Rudzki to decide to resign which he announced in May 1980, four years after the Society had started.
It seems there was a brief period in mid 1980 when the entire future of the DWAS was in some doubt. However in August 1980 three people who had already been working for the Society met to talk about ways of taking the DWAS forward. The Reference Department's David Howe, CT Editor Chris Dunk and Treasurer David Saunders agreed on ideas that would shape the organisation of the Society for the new decade. Interestingly some of the demands espoused eighteen months earlier by the DWAS Democrats came into being at this time with the `new` exec twice the size of the previous one and more accountable with the introduction of a code of practice and regular Exec panels at Society events. The President’s post was scrapped making the co-ordinator the focal point (though it was stressed not the leader) of the exec. The new exec also made some effort to tidy up the finances as well as establish a more frequent dialogue with the production office something incoming producer John Nathan Turner was willing to do. The financial re-organisation made it clear that the DWAS could not work with the current membership fee which was only £3 per annum and this was eventually raised in 1982 to £5.
The number of helpers and assistants grew as the DWAS tried to take on a more polished look. The exec continued to evolve with Ian McLachlan taking on the Writer’s Pool job and Tony Clark succeeding Stuart Glazebrook in the Art department. Paul Zeus was now Convention organiser and it was proposed that from 1981 the DWAS would hold three events per year. As well as the large scale PanoptiCon there would be the one day Interface events focussed on a particular period of the show. Interface One featuring the Hartnell era with guest Carole Ann Ford was the Society’s only event in 1980. There were also to be DWASocials which would be more informal gatherings again partly designed to keep the Exec more in touch with the membership’s views. The first two of these were held in 1981 with the second being notable for becoming the first DWAS event held outside London, taking place in Edinburgh.
Not that these innovations entirely stemmed some member’s outspoken opinions either on the show or the DWAS. One infamous article printed in `Tardis` by member Thomas Noonan and titled `The Decay of DWAS` inspired considerable internal debate, arguably threatening to turn the Society from being about Doctor Who to being obsessed with itself. Even more damaging were the actions of an anonymous character who called himself `A Normal Fan` hopefully with some irony. He produced an accusatory fanzine which attacked the Exec and the series’ production team and mailed it unsolicited to members’ addresses which he obtained from CT’s pen pals and swaps columns. This reached the Production Office causing a near boycott of guests from the 1982 PanoptiCon.
It should be pointed out that while these incidents seemed high profile many members were happy to get on with just being a fan. Many of them also displayed a creative side- by 1981 CT was packed with adverts for Doctor Who fanzines while there were now dozens of Local Groups. Some things never changed though- it was still the place to be reminded to include SAEs if you wanted a reply to your letter! `Tardis` meanwhile was also in receipt of many articles and letters making it a vibrant read. The DWAS fanzine, by then under the editorship of Richard Walter was also looking more professional than ever.
As well as the two DWASocials, 1981 would see the fourth PanoptiCon held in Queen Mary College in August 1981 in a venue that appeared to be a former theatre. Hence the audience were sitting in the balcony while the merchandise was in the stalls from which the seats had been removed. It proved to be the Society’s most guest laden event yet including appearances from Verity Lambert, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin, John Levene, Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks, Frazer Hines, Dick Mills and Mat Irvine. An army of people from the then current series were also there including John Nathan-Turner, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse and Christopher Bidmeade. The big surprise was a charismatic appearance from Anthony Ainley just as the event seemed to be winding down.
Into 1982 and for the first time the DWAS staged their convention outside London due to the increasing costs of venue hire in the capital. Birmingham was chosen and the Society was able to hold the event in a hotel rather than a university venue, another first. The event attracted guests including Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney, Terrance Dicks, John Nathan-Turner and Douglas Camfield. Perhaps the most significant happening was a special award given to John Nathan Turner labelling him `The Fan’s Producer`. This reflected a sea change in DWAS members' reaction to the series. It is hard to credit but ever since the Society started `Tardis` had more critical letters about the show than those praising it. Yet once Peter Davison became the Doctor and John Nathan Turner established his house style, reviews became much more positive. By 1982 it seemed as if the DWAS and Doctor Who were more in sync than they had ever been and no doubt all concerned looked forward to the future for both. It was part of a plateau leading into the show’s twentieth anniversary year and the BBC’s Longleat event in 1983.
Since those heady days of the early Eighties the DWAS has survived successive developments which could have rendered it obsolete – the rise of independent fanzines and in particular Doctor Who Bulletin, the success of rival events, the advent of video and later dvd, the end of the original series on television, the growth of online fandom and social media. In 2016 the DWAS is still here, a tribute to the vision of a group of Doctor Who fans in 1976. Whatever has happened though the DWAS has never been as vibrant as it was during those first pioneering years when they achieved so much with comparatively limited resources. In fact, just like Doctor Who.