9 September 2016

Good Times! #3 PanoptiCon 5 and DWASocial 3 (1982)

PanioptiCon 5  (Originally published in `Shada` 1982)

What a hotel Birmingham's Grand is! Full of huge oak doors, ornate chandeliers, detailed carvings, rich deep carpets and long rather disconcerting mirrors. Totally different from the usual semi-modern University set ups of old, and no doubt light years away from that Battesea Church Hall where the first Convention was held in '77.  

The big advantage was that the guests could meander around the bar chatting to us plebs and making us feel all humble and happy. Yes, a great weekend: to be offered a cigarette by JNT, to shake hands with Jon Pertwee and to bump into Nick Courtney coming out of the bar - this is what its all about. Saturday began with a brief intro by Paul Zeus and then from David Howe who was acting as M.C. for the weekend. The setting was the towering ballroom of the Grosvenor Suite.
First up was the last episode of `Reign of Terror` recently exhumed from some premature grave. It was a fairly good episode, full of historical detail and also an odd scene in which Robespierre is shot in the mouth. Suffice to say William Hartnell was brilliant, even more so in `The Dead Planet`/ `The Daleks` which was being shown for the first time in its entirety, having at last been extrapolated from the mesh of red tape.  I must say, it was always exciting to watch. Some scenes were almost unbearably tense even though I knew the outcome, for example when one of the Thals fails to clear the chasm and tumbles into the depths, nearly pulling lan with him or the earlier scenes of Susan's journey from the Dalek city to the TARDIS to get the drugs. Hartnell was excellent, with dashes of humour already showing - his response to Barbara's complaint of having a headache: "Oh, how tiresome for you". The Daleks were very well done and I can see why they caught on so soon. I liked the way the City was constructed, with its claustrophobic corridors to suit the Daleks which added to the believability. The only low points were the silly way the Daleks went "Arrgghh" upon dying, which sounded comical. 

The 7 episodes were shown at various points on both days and between the first two there was an interview with Terrance Dicks, writer extraordinaire. He regaled us with quite a few amusing diversions, not least of which was the initial reaction to the shape of Alpha Centauri!  Meanwhile, in another part of our palacial habitat, the ubiquitous fanzine sale was in full swing, with old favourites like 'Steel Sky', 'Frontier Worlds' and "Wheel In Space' amongst those on offer although I have to say that I wasn't personally encouraged to buy as many as last year. Instead Philip Ince and I lurked safely by the `Shada' table keeping a count on Gary' s sales and watching everybody ignore a coin on the carpet, 'till David Owen, true to form, picked it up. Sorry, I'm getting trivial, so I'll just mention the large CMS and DWAS displays at either end and the fact that MJW managed to sell me a copy of of 'Wheel In Space' that I later discovered was a year old. Bill Gallagher just kept vanishing, while Mark Woodward showed off his new shirt. 

Three people featured in the afternoon. Firstly, John Nathan -Turner managed to whet our appetites tantalisingly for next season without resorting to "Stay Tuned" and played us an 8 second out take from the lost story `The Highlanders` which featured Fiona Cumming waving her clapperboard and someone lurking in the trees (or something). An amusing way of introducing the director of `Castrovalva` who preceeded Peter Grimwade in the hot seat. 
A slew of awards followed. JNT accepted the Cybermodel on behalf of Eric Saward for `Earthshock`, Peter Grimwade picked up the best director award, whilst a somewhat bewildered Peter Angbelides and Peter Lovelady took the Fanzine Poll award. We did love the suit, Peter! 'The guests then did an autograph session.

After part three of `The Daleks` there was a special award given to John Nathan-Turner in recognition of his contribution to the programme. The `Fan's Producer` was presented with a painting and received a rapturous reception once again. He seemed quite overwhelmedby the occasion and we were only glad to to express our appreciation for his work. 

The climax of the day was an interview with Peter Davison who told us such delights as the origins of the celery, Matthew Waterhouse being sick during the filming of `Castrovalva` and the subtle clues Peter failed to notice in the build up to his This Is Your Life appearance.  He too faced a lengthy queue for autographs. Although he couldn't stay on in the evening, most of the others could and mingled with us during the buffet on Saturday evening. John Levene was also present but wasn't interviewed until Sunday.
The buffet was great - and Russell Atkinson's suit made its debut complete with green carnation. During the evening `The Leisure Hive` was shown and also on view were hilarious `Quark` videos by Kevin Davies and a Slide Show, which was presented by David Howe. The video seemed to play up during the evening - it obviously prefers black and white stuff to colour. Unfortunately due to the setting and prescence of guests the evening was a little more reserved than last year which explains the lack of silly things to report on. 

It was up early again for another punishing day on Sunday. The first item was a quiz, which caused some speculation that David Saunders might reveal his age. Instead, it was a quiz between an Exec. team (Richard Walter, David J Howe and Tony Clark)and a team of members (Joe Latham, Stephen Walker and Martin Wiggins). The members won, with Martin failing to make a single mistake. After a further couple of episodes of `The Daleks` came Douglas Camfield, who still holds the record for the largest number of episodes directed. Apart from looking back on his Who days, he also discussed his recently completed Beau Geste serial which he promises will be a faithful rendition of the original.

Lunch was another chance to have a quick wander round Birmingham and of course a return trip to the Fanzine Sale to discover that Peter Finklestone had built a pyramid out of `Entropy' and the 'Steel Sky' crew were busy throttling people who failed to purchase their publication. Even I (who'd already bought one) was asked six times. As we wandered back to the hall, a bit of a buzz was going on; certain guests had been spotted and the big finale was on its way.

Episode 6 of `The Daleks` preceeded some more interviews. With no introductions Nicholas Courtney took the platform in a barrage of camera flash and regaled us with many amusing tales of the remarkable 70's UNIT team. Roger Delgado in particular came up often in the conversation. John Levene also came on stage and informed us that he'd recently returned to acting. Questions from the floor were waived 'till later and we saw the conclusion of `The Daleks` and a tape of clips featuring many of Jon Pertwee's roles in films and television.

Yes, the third Doctor was the final guest and entered from the back of the hall in costume oozing showmanship in his walk up the centre aisle. The first thing you notice about him is that he is very tall and his prescence is really charismatic. He loved the reception and faced the audience, arms outstretched and said "I am the Doctor". Cue another outburst of applause. The interviewer took the form of Paul Zeus feeding him bait which he hooked onto and talked for ages on each - never dull and often using his incredibly versatile voice, he relived memories of many of his best known roles, especially, of course, the Doctor. He was joined on stage by Nick and John and the rapport they had 10 years ago was as strong as ever. They could have carried on all day (and how we would have loved them to) but the stage was invaded by a mini army of monsters, all superbly made by Toby Chamberlain and his mob. The trio then drew the winners of the raffle before moving next door for autographs. The guests later mingled in the bar once more.

So, another Con was at an end and an exhausted David Howe slumped in the lobby. As we leave (thanks to Gary for the lift to the station) the last sight is of JNT in conversation with Jon Pertwee. I look back and realise PanoptiCon was a massive success. Thanks to the guests and the Exec for making it so! 
(Thanks to Graeme Wood for colour photos)

 DWASocial  3 (first published in `Shada` 1983)
As your eyes begin to tear through this article in a frantic search for names of guests or old episodes you missed - so you can mentally kick yourself for skipping this event or being unable to book in time - don't bother. No I haven't gone totally trivial but it has to be said that however much emphasis you put on the social side of the event, showing the same set of episodes that they did at Interface 2 and having only one (fairly obscure) guest is pushing it a bit as far as some attendees are concerned. I’ve no complaints myself, mind, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I failed to mention that, to some extent, there was disappointment amongst newer members on the lack of exciting things happening. What made it a little worse was the fact that it was booked out (hence a crowded lecture theatre) and as hot and sticky as a coyote after a dash across the desert. Not that I’m equating this in any way with the bar…

The episodes shown were `Web of Fear` 1, `Wheel in Space` 6, `Moonbase` 2 & 4 and `Enemy of the World` 2- a straight BBC2 job (ie repeats), nevertheless they are fairly good episodes, flick back to `Shada` 13 for my views on them. A sense of déjà vu rapidly closing in, many a hearty soul sought solace in the fanzine sale and it was here where things were really happening. It’s a while since the sale has been this big and its really pleasing to report that fans are still prepared to give it a go despite about a one in five chance of success. So while the experienced hands like Peter Lovelady, Gary Russell and Andrew (I’m not muttering") Martin skillfully
sold out in about five seconds (Gary cheated by only bringing a  few 'Shada's, thus making him look like the most successful editor by midday), others had to try a little harder. The editor of 'Eye Of Horus' wore a T-Shirt proclaiming same and caused many a grin on Liverpool faces - where's Paul Ellis now? The CMS stall looked emptier than usual, but Jeremy concealed any furrowed brow under well combed over hair. Meanwhile we were introduced to new title `Aggedor`, which isn't as good as 'Shada' or 'Frontier Worlds' - yet, but the effervescence of editor Alee Charles is infectious and his selling technique could teach some people. Can you refuse a free sandwiches or the final copy autographed by all contributors?

The whole matter of fans attitudes and motivations came under the microscope later when Radio Times journalist Gay Search (hands up who was puzzled by that name on the guest list?) wandered around the stalls quizzing people on why they bothered to spend time/energy/money on Doctor Who. Alec chose modesty by saying that his zine was better than most, Graeme Wood launched into a monologue about how valuable the series was as a television show, whilst Gary seemed more worried that the media didn't get the wrong impression of us. How could they when Gay had just witnessed David Owen attacking Peter Lovelady? Anyway, the reporter took reams of notes which if I know` Radio Times` will end up as half a paragraph in the upcomong anniversary special. 
Organiser Paul Zeus had said in the booklet that there were no guests but they found a Peter Miles lookalike outside and kidnapped him for an interview. Looking totally different than his roles as Nyder,  Whitaker and Lawrence would have you believe, Mr Miles gave an entertaining interview with, at times, a dash of honesty ("Things go smoother at ITV"). His memories of his roles in the programme were hazy and when questions from the audience were also way off the mark (thank you, David Howe) it made for a rather confused situation. Not surprisingly he remembered more of `Genesis of the Daleks` - interesting to note that the original designs for the costumes included more pseudo-Nazi regalia than appeared. Even the original salute was more overtly in that direction. Peter then gave a 'performance' of his well known line: "Thank you, that's what I wanted to know" and managed to sound nothing like the original! He did a lengthy autograph session afterwards and was very warm and friendly.

As ever, the day was swiftly over, and attendees made their way either to 'The Phoenix' pub nearby or, cliquely, to Gary's for a barbecue with people such as David Richardson, Crain Hinton, Justin Richards, PGL plus others including the new sensation Alec Charles. Special thanks to Gary, his Mum and Jane for their hospitality.  (More convention photos including from the Seventies can be found on the DWAS Early Year Page- see link below the blog title)

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