Middlesbrough to Birmingham in three hours is a small journey for a woman, but often a giant leap for a Virgin train. It is however very cheap if you book several light years in advance. I was travelling down after work to my friend Janet's home so that we could drive to Cult TV together the following day. Having been stranded by the storms at the infamous Barton Hall during Cult TV 2000, we were taking no chances. (In retrospect, what a pity the organisers could not have known the ceiling was going to collapse that Sunday night. They could have used it as part of a spectacular closing ceremony. Not perhaps as memorable as the one in Galaxy Quest, but you have to go with what you've got.)
My office is conveniently across the road from the railway station, so when the lorry crunched its roof under the Victorian railway bridge ten minutes before my connecting train was due to cross it, I knew I was in trouble. The delay while the engineers checked for structural damage, plus the leisurely pace of the train - Paula Radcliffe could have run the distance faster - meant we trundled into Darlington only just in time for the Birmingham train. Who needs extreme sports to get an adrenalin rush?
The train's heating control had jammed so we passengers sweltered in temperatures more suited to a journey through the Russian Steppes. At Birmingham I was glad to get off and breathe some lovely fresh air. Never thought I'd say that about the ghastly New Street station, its underground platforms so cramped, dingy and malodorous I can't think why they weren't put to use as a Blake's Seven set, possibly in Horizon. I could imagine the Monopasium miners stumbling down the track with their full wagons while Ro - is he related to Ensign Ro of the Enterprise, do you think? - and the Kommissar sipped a Latte on the concourse above. The Shrewsbury train didn't turn up for an hour and a half so I spent some time making up a suitable train-based episode. If Tom Paris can come across a Model T Ford hanging in space, I don't see why Blake shouldn't have a ride on the Avon Valley Steam Railway.
It was late when the train arrived in Shrewsbury and we then sat up talking until 3am. Janet had given some thought to the Titanic theme disco, which is more than I had. My least worst brainwave had been to wear a plaid dressing gown and pretend I was a sleeping passenger / Arthur Dent, but I discarded the thought. None of my family owns a plaid dressing gown and Oxfam was clean out of them. In any case, as part owner of a marine supplies shop, Janet was ideally placed to bring along the odd life jacket and lifebelt for both of us. We thought about dragging along a dinghy and a couple of paddles but there could have been problems on the disco floor with Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow, and we couldn't risk damaging the merchandise.
It was nearing dinnertime as we drove into Sand Bay car park the following day, avoiding hitting Michael Sheard who was pulling a suitcase across the road and a stationary duck in the middle of it. There was only one space left, next to a car with the number plate B7 FED. How cool is that?
Our room smelled musty, but a few cigarettes would change that. We couldn't leave the door open to air it because the Sand Bay ducks were quite keen to come inside and make friends. Still, the beds and pillows were comfy, the hot water was scaldingly hot, and we weren't going to be spending much time here anyway. The dining room - Milliways, what else - was full when we arrived. Service by a nice Spanish-speaking lad was swift, food was perfectly adequate and hot; no mean feat when you are serving large numbers of people simultaneously, as anyone who has got through university by waitressing knows. We looked around for fellow Blake's 7 fans but spotted only one, Steve Rogerson. It was Steve's birthday the following day and I had carefully conveyed a birthday present from a mutual friend.
Lack of sleep meant we were a bit flaked out so we spent some time just looking through the programme and highlighting highlights with a marker pen. A bit pointless really as I invariably mislay the programme, discover it under the bed, then spill coffee over it and render it illegible- seek, locate, destroy. Hey, Cult TV was showing all the Watch with Mother favourites from the ‘50s, Rag, Tag and Bobtail, the Woodentops, Bill and Ben and their friend Weed, and in the correct running order. Shame the programme clashed with the Guest Cabaret.
There was some wonderful vintage stuff being shown, some of it on 16mm. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Goodies, Noggin the Nog, Hancock's The Blood Donor, the pilot episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and the Avengers. Ah, those were the days when you just had to twiddle the knob on your tv set to see your favourite programme. Now you have to ransack the room to find the remotes for the tv and cable box, and reclaim the video remote from the bathroom where one of your children took it to check the time. What? On the rare occasions where all three remotes are gathered together, more often than not at least one set of batteries has died so you have to get your reading glasses and crouch in front of the wretched machine screen to work out which discreet black manual button is which. By the time you've got Casualty on screen, you've missed a railway disaster, a premature birth and two emotional outbursts in the x-ray department.
There was also For the People - Seized, Confused, and Dazed with William Shatner, should you feel the need.
We carefully picked out the Blake's 7 events. I've never watched a Blake's 7 video at a convention yet unless I was stewarding, and this was to be no exception; Sand may not be my least favourite episode but it's not far off. I know we were at the seaside, but it's not enough. There were some interesting workshops including the making of the Blake's 7 DVDs, and a Blake's 7 Challenge Escape from Sand Bay. Having had difficulty escaping from Torquay after the Cult TV floods of 2000 we didn't want to be reminded of the experience.
Time for introductions in Soundstage, the main hall. Two of the guests absent. John Levene ( Sergeant Benson from Dr Who) had work commitments. Frank Maher, stuntman, actor and now novelist, had suffered a heart attack and been taken into hospital. That still left a long list which included Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Shane Rimmer, Richard Hatch, Mitch Benn, Jack Douglas, Michael Sheard, Nicholas Courtney, veteran writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, and Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson of the League of Gentlemen. We didn't think we'd be bored.
I went off to Sand Bay's Local Shop to buy a birthday card for Steve. When I came back, someone was leading community singing of the Rainbow theme tune. Next came the A Team intro, and Stingraaaaaaay, Stingray! A good rousing signature tune - they don't make'em like that anymore. The Goggles gave us the latest episode of their adventures which this time involved their being on trial for breaking timelines. If messing about with timelines is a criminal offence, how come the murderous butcher I see in Taggart on cable on Monday night has become the Chief Superintendent by Wednesday? Highly suspicious. Makes you wonder who really tipped that nice Michael Jardine into the Clyde... Gareth is appearing in a forthcoming Taggart as a judge. Perhaps he could warn Jackie Reid there's an impostor in her midst.
The Goggles were joined this time by Special Guest Stars. The multi-talented Tony Currie, writer, broadcaster, performer, announcer, programme controller but most memorably Europe Top Forty presenter on Ukrainian State Radio, was the judge. Mark Spencer was the prosecutor in a sparkly red top hat. Mark is involved in the production of the Blake's 7 DVDs and the Blake's Seven revival project through his multi-media design company, Dysfunction Group, but tonight it was his twenty years as a singer that was showcased. Great voice, great hat. Then a guy called Michael Hurst arrived onstage. I'd never heard of him but I became instantly enamoured. Lively, amusing, does an excellent East End accent and he wears glasses. Janet had seen him in Hercules and so filled me in on his loveable crook role afterwards. This explained the attraction - I've been looking for a Vila Restal substitute since 1981 and now perhaps I'd found one.
After a game of Celebrity Squares we skipped the disco and retired to our room. Reading through the Cult TV Official Magazine I took a closer look at Mr Hurst and decided I preferred him without the blonde locks. I re-checked the screening programme for episodes of Hercules. The one Janet recommended was showing at 4.30am on Sunday morning, and I somehow didn't yet love him enough to stay up that late. Had it been a newly discovered episode of Orbit with the missing Vila scene restored, that would've been different.
Breakfast was served between in Milliways between 7.30 and 9.00. Cruel and unusual especially for a woman who is only fully functional after three mugs of tea, but Janet managed to get dressed by 8.30 and repel the boarding party of ducks that bore down when we opened the door. We sat appropriately at table 42 in Milliways and disposed of two Full English Breakfasts before going for a stroll around the site. It was a gloriously sunny morning, perfect for a spot of hill walking in the Mendips????????. Nevertheless we went inside shortly before 10am for Paul's talk.
Mr Darrow began by enquiring of his interviewer whether there would be dancing later that day, but looked with disfavour on the disco. Did any lady in the audience know the steps of the veleta, the waltz, or the Gay Gordons? (spellchecker suggests Gay Gorgons, but that's strictly for Klingons) We do, we do! Is it a date?
Then came the shock announcement. He is no longer associated with the proposed Blake's Seven next generation project. This created quite a stir in the audience, but Paul moved swiftly and skilfully on to other topics, via the usual friendly digs at Gareth - who would be arriving later that day - and other guests. What would he be doing next, if he wasn't doing Blake's 7? Paul looked thoughtful then said he might stand for Leader of the Conservative Party. Don't you just love the thought of Avon in charge of the Tories? IDS could never carry off the leather, though right now he would probably enjoy a shoot-out which destroyed his own side. Paul talked about the forthcoming series he is presenting, an athletics-based competition I think is to be called The Twelve Labours of Hercules. I may have that title wrong, but Hercules comes into it. The question is, will Michael Hurst?
Paul had been in the last Bond movie, been and gone in fact as his scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Almost a many Avon fans will have sat hoping for a glimpse of him in the film as have diligently scanned the first episode of Blake's 7 in case he is lurking in the murk of the holding cell. Other recent work included an advert for scooters for disabled people. This allowed him to whiz around Guildford early in the morning at a top speed of 8mph. In recent years he has done lots of voice overs and as a result knows all about sharks, the history of gold, and rather more than he wants to know about war criminals.
There were questions about earlier days. He had initially wanted to be a producer rather than an actor. Early acting rolls varied between being an East End heavy and being suave, according to the mindset of which television company was employing him. It's difficult to imagine Paul as Ray Whinstone. I can just about remember him on Emergency Ward 10, in the days when all tv doctors were tall, handsome, masterful yet sensitive, and nurses were six inches shorter and admiring. In the 50s and 60s pretty well all tv heroines except the celebrated Cathy Gale and Emma Peel were petite and admiring. They had a tendency, when faced with a lumbering mutant spider / crazed gunman / white-coated mad scientist with an ambition to rule the world, this latter often an uncle for whom they did a bit of secretrail work without ever wondering just what he did among the bublling test tubes and big dials marked - DANGER (see Mutant Spiders), to scream a lot and stumble backwards, tripping over rocks/furniture/dead bodies and spraining their ankle, when anyone with half a brain would have turned around and run. Not that their mascara ever suffered. Gale and Peel, on the other hand, would have swiftly disposed of any of these with a quick karate chop and a witty remark, before accepting a glass of champagne from Mr Steed.
Paul pointed out, and Gareth said the same thing later, that these days being in a series can open up your career rather than close it down. This is, I think, a very mixed blessing for the audience. I'm fed up of seeing the same soapy faces in series created around them. I want a bit of variety, some good quality regular drama series to watch after a day's work, with witty scripts performed by proper, versatile actors. I don't want endless spin-offs starring some mediocre Johnny or Joanna one-note out of East Enders who has to have something written specially written for them because they can only play one type. Clocking Off, At Home with the Braithwaites, and Waking the Dead have been among the very few dramatic highlights among the dross that has clogged up terrestrial schedules in the past couple of years. Gems like Homicide; Life on the Streets and Northern Exposure have been relegated to the midnight hour, usually in favour of decorating programmes. Remember when series of similar wit and style such as The Avengers, The Rockford Files, Lovejoy, or Minder - Arthur Daley, Mr Chisholm, we need you back - turned up week after week?
Next stop was the dealers' room. At the Redemption table - Book Now for Redemption '05, another convention run by fans for fans; "http://www.conventions.org.uk/redemption" - Steve was writing an Og story on a plate for a competition over in Eclectic 21, where we had yet to go. Must give that a try. Must also go back and get Steve's birthday card and present, still sitting in our room. At the Horizon table I thought about buying what I thought was an unusually heavy Dalek key ring but which turned out to be a bottle opener. I ended up instead with a Bagpuss mouse mat. Eclectic 21 was located at the swimming pool. Had it not been such a glorious day we would have had a swim, or gone to hear Shane Rimmer's talk, but instead we temporarily deserted the convention and went for a walk along the beach. The bays at Weston Super Mare have the second largest tidal rise and fall in the world and this morning the tide was a very long way off. The sands are dangerous in part, so unless you enjoy that sinking feeling you need to watch where you walk.
When we got back there was time to have a coffee, bask in the sun and give Steve his present, a self assembly model for when he got bored writing stories on plates, before going to Michael Hurst's talk at 2pm. The lively Mr Hurst bounded on stage and we were treated to a selection of film clips including some from Hercules. I could see what Janet meant about Aolis. Any character who responds to the line, "I've seen doe," with "Doe, a deer, a female deer," has to be fun. When I got home I was going to have to search through the dark distant reaches of cable TV where I have never gone before to see if the series was being repeated somewhere.
Despite being a New Zealander, he was not in Lord of the Rings, but previous stage roles included Hamlet, Widow Twankey, and one of the guys in Ladies' Night, a play whose plot was copied for The Full Monty. He'd been offered the chance to reprise this role but had turned it down on grounds of age, which his fans in the audience obviously thought a mistake. For the record, he also thinks Ulysses - the Joyce novel, not the cartoon - is a life-changing work, and golf is boring.
Nicholas Courtney was on next, but outside the sun still shone, so we drove the few miles into Weston Super Mare. The road passed Kewstoke woods, which would have made a good venue for a re-run of Duel. Avon suggested they might throw nuts at one another first time round, and here Blake and Travis could do it with conkers. It would also be a suiatbale place to train whatsername, the one with a name like a Japanese vegetable from Pressure Point - Kasabi?- how to spot a woman in white and a squad of troopers hiding behind the trees.
The last time I was in Weston was 1968, when a 99 ice cream cost one shilling and sixpence in old money (just over 8 pence) instead of £1.25. We strolled on the prom, had a ride on the pier train and the Castle of Horrors, and decided against buying a bucket and spade or Prisoner big beach ball or a Welcome to Weston tea towel to use as a head-dress a la Arafat for tomorrow's Sand-themed disco. Why hadn't I thought of packing my genuine Egyptian scarf? It's been to the Sahara, the Red Sea and Morocco, so why not Somerset?
We got back around 5.30 and switched the telly on to see the news, but the only bulletin showing was in Welsh so if something earth-shattering had happened, like David Blaine deciding to donate his publicity stunt profits to people for whom starvation is not a life style choice, we missed it. At dinner, the restaurant wasn't as packed as last night, but the England-Turkey match was being shown somewhere on site. We sat next to a couple of Michael Hurst fans who kindly told me to look on Bravo for Hercules re-runs. The choice for starters was mushroom soup, garlic mushrooms or fruit juice. Hard luck for people who don't like mushrooms, but if you were on Voyager you might get Talaxian mushroom soup which involves pigweed shallots with Nezu candy-tufted mud fungus cooked with Bolian tingle butter, so think on.
The Awards ceremony wasn't until 9pm so there should have been loads of time to get ready, but I spent too much time thinking up a rhyme to put on a plate for the competition and ended up trying to clean my teeth while my nail varnish was hardening. Deciding what to wear from our extensive wardrobe, and which shoes I could bear to put on, took an age. How does Jacqueline Pearce manage to move so gracefully on stilettos? Servalan allegedly trekked five miles in Sand without losing her poise. Well, I never contracted poise and I can't do it.
Working out how Janet's necklace clasp fitted took me several more minutes so the ceremony had already started when we arrived. If Janet had been Servalan I would have been eviscerated. There were too many awards for me to remember, so these are just a selection. In the Halls of Fame, UFO joined Blake's 7 and other previous winners as best series, Sir Roger Moore joined Paul and others as best Actor (Patrick MacNee, you were robbed), Chris Boucher was best writer, Vere Lorrimer was best director, and Gareth (okay, Blake) best hero, a category already occupied by Avon. Michael Sheard won best villain for Grange Hill's Mr Bronson; earlier winners include Servalan and Travis. June Hudson got in for Blakes7 and Dr Who costumes, so I hope it wasn't she who put Vila in that red and yellow plastic monstrosity.
The most fun was in the Hall of Fame adverts category, which featured that superb domino effect Honda car ad versus the classic, the incomparable Leonard Rossiter / Joan Collins Cinzano ad. Plus three others which obviously had less impact because I've forgotten them. Cinzano won, at which point the members of the audience were each given a miniature bottle of Cinzano, donated by the company. What a splendid gesture. If w had voted the Honda best ad, would we all have driven away a new Accord?
More fun in the Hall of Shame, where the X Files fought off strong competition to win the Worst Line of Dialogue with "That cow had my name on it. " Previous winners include "Take the Cybermen from behind!" (De Who, obviously) and "Get that cheese to sickbay." (Voyager). Worst Continuity Clanger was the Disappearing milk crates in Trumpton. To think I sat through Trumpton umpteen times when our kids were little and never noticed. Have the Clangers themselves ever featured in this category?
Straight after the Awards closed, Steve whizzed past saying he was about to film another Wobblevision if we wanted to join in. The company was to perform Sand, inevitably. Orac takes place in part on a beach and so does Aftermath, but they've been done already.
I don't think Trial has. The dangerous bits of the beach would be highly suitable for Zil's planet though whoever played Blake would have to be quick on his feet or else Wobble would assume new overtones. As usual we drew lots for the parts and I got to play Servalan's pilot who mercifully spends the episode unconscious. This is a condition I find comes naturally to me in most episodes of series 4, and it saved having to ask my director what my motivation was for being whacked on the head. Nobody could remember the name of the character who is the sand's first victim so for shooting purposes Steve just called him the Nasty Man. Good enough. Lights, camera, action!
The production style was interestingly perverse. Servalan was unquestionably a lady in a frock and a purple-lined cloak. The Nasty Man accompanying her wore purple boots but this may have been a coincidence rather than an oblique clue to their relationship. Tarrant had disguised himself as a Klingon. Vila had taken up piracy, more Captain Pugwash than Amagon, a dashing yo-ho-ho type with a tricorne hat, beard but minus a parrot. Actually it was a double blind as pirate Vila bore a distinct resemblance to Dr Who, whom we hadn't seen since he won the title of President of the Universe at Redemption. Who would have thought, with all space and time at his disposal, that he would have gone to ground (or should that be run aground) in a genteel 21st century seaside resort?
Avon had evidently been spending most of his time in recent months fiddling with a Rubik Cube, as he had forgotten to comb his hair and looked just like Hagrid. A Rubik cube? It sounds ridiculous, I know, but maybe it was in fact another Sopron he'd found on the beach earlier that day. Orac was a fish tank as usual. Earlier in the evening there had been a very impressive Federation trooper around, but I couldn't see him / her. Not that there's a trooper in Sand as far as I remember, but we're not purists. Action shots on the terrific Wobblevision site.
Next was the Titanic disco, held in the Workshop at the back of the hall. We discarded our life belt and safety jacket for dancing, but it was still very hot in there. We sat down when the DJ began to play the usual suspects because I can never remember the steps. Surely those Klingons have moved off the starboard bow by now? The Brigadier's Unit must have boiled in their army outfits as they executed the steps with appropriate military precision. The disco was going on until 3am and motor racing fans had the option of staying up until 6.30am to watch the Japanese Grand Prix in Workshop. In a mildly inebriated state I read that as Worksop. Had Japan moved?
Around 2am we tottered back to our room, only to sit up talking until nearly 4am. I could have gone to that Hercules episode after all had I had the energy to get out of bed again. I told Janet all about Brian Aldridge and Siobhan in the Archers, and she told me about Coronation Street. Is it just co-incidence that each series has a couple called Roy and Hayley or are the script writers having a joke? And wasn't one of them Roys or Hayleys originally called Harold when everyone knows Harold came back from the dead in Neighbours?
The first eye opened at 8.15, the second some five minutes later. It was 8.15 and I realised we only had a single tea bag between us. Emergency, emergency. Janet awoke around 8.30am, and galvanised by the ghastly prospect of going without her three morning cuppas, actually volunteered to get out of bed. We entered the restaurant with thirty seconds to spare. Denied grapefruit segments, we settled for tepid grapefruit juice, smoked haddock and toast. Janet obviously needed her tea to get the brain in gear as for a moment she couldn't remember Paul Darrow's name. He was said to be judging the entries in today's Blake's 7 Challenge - Escape from Sand Bay, the model-building workshop. We'd thought about having a go, and we thought about going to Kevin Davies' Making of Blake's 7, but in the end bought the Sunday Times and retired hurt.
At noon we went back to the beach for a while. I half expected Steve to be shooting extra location scenes but obviously he was satisfied with last night's takes. We then looked at the auction items. The Dads Army egg cups must have been sold at the first auction yesterday. The video quiz was on as we went through the soundstage into the restaurant for a late lunch, but the only tune I definitely recognised was Van der Valk. We'd need Baby Orac to win a prize.
Gareth's talk began promptly at 2pm, and covered Children of the Stones, Sutherland's Law, By the Sword Divided, London's Burning, and his propensity for dying beautifully on screen. Blake's 7 fans still in mourning for episode 52 tend to think you can have too much of a good thing. Gareth also talked about his film debut in Quatermass and the Pit in which he accidentally demolished an expensively constructed wall when the head flew off the pick he was wielding. Now every fan knows breaking the props is Paul's job. He pointed out the huge difference between playing a role on stage night after night and performing a one-off scene for the camera; after the latter the actor wipes the lines from his memory. Sadly, something similar has happened to me as I can't remember the rest of the talk.
Gareth was followed by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who gave a fascinating talk covering their distinguished career. Watching Tony Hancock's lugubrious face appear in Hancock's Half Hour every Friday night is one of my earliest TV memories, though ironically the original radio series is now much more familiar because its tapes largely survived. The film clips accompanying Alan and Ray's talk were gems, especially the Steptoe episode "Divided we Stand." It seems Wilfrid Brambell, not exactly the best loved actor on the set, left to open a show on Broadway at the end of the second series of Steptoe. Galton and Simpson had plans to write a markedly different third series twenty years on, with Harold now the curmudgeonly father and David Hemmings playing his son. In the event Brambell's play folded after one night and he came back to the BBC, providing us with more glorious epsisodes and giving Hemmings a lucky escape. There was also a play. Much later, in which Harold murders Albert, escapes to America, and comes back years later to discover the totter's yard has been taken over by the National Trust as the last of its kind, and Albert is the resident ghost. But whatever happened to Hercules? The Steptoes' horse that is, not the legend.
Years ago I considered doing a Blakes 7 / Steptoe parody, with Tarrant as Harold and Avon as Albert, but I couldn't see Avon sitting in a tin bath eating pickled onions as Tarrant brings Zeeona home for a night cap.
The notice board said Michael Hurst was giving a second talk at 4pm, provisionally entitled the Love Muscle. As it was being held in Eclectic 21, in the small, cramped room beneath the swimming pool, we thought it best to leave it to his hard core fans and went off for a stroll and a nice cup of tea. After all, we'd been sitting for a couple of hours and needed a stretch. I'd unfortunately forgotten about the guys from Peafur Productions who were in the Workshop talking about show development from start to end. Sorry I missed that. We thought we might catch Stargate over the cup of tea, but Channel 4 was once again showing the news in Welsh.
Gareth was giving some readings at 7.30 in Eclectic 21, and the guest cabaret followed immediately afterwards so we got changed into our disco outfits straight after dinner. My daughter had loaned me a very nice jacket decorated with palm trees, which she had acquired from a New York friend in exchange for some other garment, quite possibly one she'd previously swapped with me. What comes around, goes around, they say. Entering Eclectic 21 we saw some pictures on the wall, winners of the caption competition. I'd forgotten all about entering my rhyme, which was heavily influenced by Steve's favourite character, in the story on a plate stakes. I hate waste, so here it is.
A rather strange creature named Og
Was looking for someone to snog
He considered a Borg
That he found in the morgue
But then settled for Noggin the Nog
The readings Gareth chose included extracts from Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and his own writings. They were interspersed with vivid anecdotes that ranged from meeting Thomas at the age of seven to performing an extract from Under Milk Wood when auditioning for the RSC. He also told us about his early days at Liverpool Playhouse, touring with the English Shakespeare Company, and script changes suggested by the Lord Chamberlain's Office back in days of the official censor - you couldn't say Bollocks on stage, but you could substitute Scrotum; you couldn't say Jesus Christ but you could substitute Good God. There was more, much more and 8.30pm, the official finishing time, passed by unregarded. Eventually the con organisers succeeded in throwing everyone including our distinguished reader out into the night. We had missed the first half of the cabaret but then Gareth had probably missed his dinner. We had also missed Best Children's TV of the 1960s and 70s on screen 3, so I'll never know if Garry Halliday was part of it. Do you ever wonder, older con goers, on those long winter evenings if The Voice ever escaped from the desert to Tripoli?
The second half of the cabaret revealed a glorious surprise as Mitch Benn exploded onto the stage. I'd thought I wouldn't see him as his scheduled interview was for tomorrow morning, by which time I'd be approaching Birmingham. He's been one of my favourite fast-talking performers for ages, and is usually the best thing by far on radio 4's The Now Show. Mitch wasted no time, hurling remarks at his audience as he tugged the microphone into place before launching into a song about how crap singing comedians are. He followed this up with more great songs which you can find on his new CD. They included a tribute to Dr Who's assistants, a moving version of Perfect Day, and some good jokes about George Bush and friends and BMW drivers. He quickly established his con credentials for anyone who didn't know or hadn't guessed by revealing his past as a Prisoner fan and attacking Reality TV - "television's not reality, reality's out there - open the window! I want monsters, heroes, spaceships, on my telly..." or words to that effect.
Nobody was going to disagree with these sentiments. Who, apart from costs-obsessed TV company executives and stupid people, wants cheapo programmes about rich gits who just cannot find their dream farmhouse in the Cotswolds because they've only got three quarters of a million to spend - well, tough shit! Or programmes about people who need therapy because they can't throw away their clutter - the answer to the problem, guys, is you don't have to if you like the stuff, other wise call a charity shop - people too idle / unimaginative to garden - buy an apartment, whydontyou - or people who haven't grasped the concept of irony and want their bedroom to look like Edina's in Absolutely fabulous?
What viewer with even half a brain wants to be At Home with the Eubanks, learn what it is To Be Victoria Beckham, see Celebs Behaving Badly, vote for a winsome pre-digested Pap (sic) Idol, or sit engrossed before a green screen watching a load of publicity hungry Big Brother inadequates get, like, y'know, their beauty sleep. As Mitch said, there's currently a whole cable channel showing endless Big Brother drivel. What a televisual thrill. Still, things may be getting better. In 2002 22.7 million viewers took the trouble to vote on evicting the housemates. In 2003 the figure was down to only, and I use the word with reservations, 12.8m.
Will we ever get shot of it all? I know science fiction is readily available on cable and satellite, but please BBC programme planners, don't condemn me to forever have to watch Voyager on cable, because the advert breaks are so long I could mow the lawn, feed the cat and probably grout the bathroom yet still be back in time for the next segment. Michael Grade hasn't come back to haunt you because you dared to consider bringing back Dr Who, has he, so why not show a little more space opera, even if it's something based on notes Gene Roddenberry made on the back of a packet of fags in 1971? You might even repeat Blake's 7.
But don't lets get our hopes up. Maybe we should be thinking of combining the Blake's 7 and reality strands. I dare say there are lots of fans who would enjoy watching Avon sleeping, especially if he favours leather sleepwear. The House Doctor would make short work of President Sarkoff's clutter, and Servalan would put the Ground Force team to good use at the President's residence installing a water feature large enough to contain her pet piranha fish. Probably throw them in as well if they took more than two days on its construction. Laurence Llewellyn Bowen could exercise his talents in re-designing Xenon base, where a few blood-red silk scatter cushions would really lift the recreation area, while Handy Andy rebuilt whatever bit of it had been destroyed in the previous episode. In the meantime, Vila - who is not The Weakest Link - could get himself relocated to a nice, safe planet. Best of all Trinny and Susannah could try telling Travis to lose the plastic eye decor. I think being turned into mutoids would wipe that smug smile off their faces for good.
We were leaving before breakfast the following morning to rejoin the Mother Ship so we didn't stay for long once Mitch had performed his last encore. What a guy. I wish I'd thought of rhyming "avoid her" with "Schadenfreude."
It only remains to thank the organisers for their commitment and hard work, and hope the next Cult TV will be as enjoyable as this one. As John Levene (Sgt. Benson) wrote: "I do so hope you... continue to support conventions such as Cult TV, which are put together with the honest and worthy dedication of the ones who take the pain and risk of running such conventions."
The same goes of course for Redemption 2005 - book now!
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