Writer, radio presenter and Doctor Who obsessive Bob Fischer spent a year of his life attending SF and cult TV conventions around the UK. The result was his book Wiffle Lever To Full! (now reissued). Here, Bob shares with us what he learnt on his travels!
1. The Ood are probably the most respectful of Doctor Who monsters. The final day of one wintry Doctor Who convention in Stockton-on-Tees fell on Remembrance Sunday, and I saw two fully-dressed Ood observing the two-minute silence impeccably… switching off their translation globes and lowering their tentacles with heartfelt respect. A commendable display of remembrance only slightly compromised by the green-uniformed fan who, when it was over, loudly announced, "That’s for all who have given their lives in the service of UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart".
2. Blake’s 7’s Jacqueline Pearce, during a period of serious illness, referred to her malignant breast tumour as "Carol Cancer" and has now embraced reincarnation and wishes to return to Earth after her death as a tree or a rose bush. Three weeks after I saw her at a convention, she travelled to the jungle Limpopo province of South Africa to care for orphaned monkeys, and has since made it her permanent home. The Terran Federation is now advertising for a new Supreme Commander (no experience necessary, but shorthand skills and flamboyant dress sense preferred).
3. Mr Muscle is in Return Of The Jedi. I met actor Gerald Home at a Star Wars all-dayer in Cardiff, where publicity pictures of his appearance as squid-headed Jabba the Hut sidekick "Tessek" nestled alongside shots of him in a vest and jam-jar glasses from the long-running series of kitchen surface cleaner adverts. Needless to say I bought the latter, and am now the proud owner of a signed picture bearing the legend "To Bob, good luck cleaning all those awkward little nooks and crannies". NB He isn’t as skinny in real life as he looks on TV.
4. Kenny Baker, Anthony Head and Hattie Hayridge are amongst the honorary celebrity members of the Jedi Chef fraternity. At conventions up and down the country, I saw shadowy figures sporting brown robes, lightsabers and chef’s hats persuading slightly confused-looking actors to dress up in similar ensembles. "We’re just like normal Jedi, but we also cook". That’s their motto. They raise money for Cancer Research, and they’re run by a man with an eyepatch called Neil. The man, that is. I don’t what the eyepatch is called.
5. Mark "Nasir" Ryan from Robin Of Sherwood has fully embraced the show’s mythology, and created The Greenwood Tarot, a set of mystical cards based on traditional English folklore. The set of Robin Of Sherwood woollen dolls that I bought at a convention near Retford brought about such devastation (their evil curse destroyed my PC, my friend’s car and the main sewage outlet under my drive) that I placed the woolly Nasir in a secure glass container before taking him back to the convention last summer. Mark Ryan was there, and signed it for me with the dedication "Bollocks! Let me out, you nobby! Love, Mark Ryan".
6. The rivalry between Blake’s 7 and Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fans is so intense that, every August, a small deputation from each camp head to Winspit Quarry in Dorset and take out their frustrations with a vicious water pistol fight. My Super Soaker 3000 from Woolworths paled into insignificance compared to the pump-action weaponry on display, including the feared "Sponge Of Doom". A pony-tailed student called Henry led us into battle singing the Ents’ Marching Song from Lord Of The Rings, and I still have a scar on my left wrist from falling into a crevice near the rock that the TARDIS lands on in "Destiny Of The Daleks".
7. Discworld fans are the best dressers-up. In the queue to register for the Discworld Convention at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire, a huge, bald man called Dave harassed me with his pet Dragon glove puppet, Oscar. The following evening, I chatted idly at the bar to a towering, fearsome-looking lady sporting a Penelope Keith hairdo and a skimpy red ensemble. She introduced herself as "Davina Dress". It took me five minutes to work out they were one and the same. When I asked where the name came from, she gave me a coquettish wink and replied "Dave in a dress".
8. Argentinian international footballer and former Manchester United full-back Gabriel Heinze speaks Welsh. I learnt this in Billie Piper’s home village of Nine Elms, on the way to a James Bond signing session on the upper floor of the Brunel Shopping Centre in Swindon. I popped into the village pub for a pint, and two local men were discussing it while watching the Germany v Argentina World Cup Quarter Final. And it’s true. Over the course of the same weekend, I also discovered that Britt Ekland owns a Teacup Chihuahua called Tequila, Caroline Munro has only ever been asked to sign one bottle of Lamb’s Navy Rum (mine – it’s on top of the filing cabinet in the spare room) and that the sleepy Wiltshire village of Purton – where Billie Piper went to school – has an increasingly troublesome buzzard infestation.
9. Star Trek fans think big. Every year, York farmer Tom Pearcy creates the world’s largest maze in his field of (ahem) maize crops, and - when I visited - he’d cut an impossibly complex 35-acre depiction of the Starship Enterprise, a Borg Cube, Captain Picard and Mr Spock into the hillside. I paid £5 to enter and spent the next three hours attempting to negotiate my way back out again. With my girlfriend, three mates, and the family dog. In the pissing rain. The following year, he reclaimed the world record with an equally impressive 40-acre tribute to The Spy Who Loved Me.
10. Not everyone is likely to share your enthusiasm for conventions. On the way to a Monty Python all-dayer in Doune Castle, Stirlingshire, I popped into a service station for a wee. I was wearing my full Holy Grail costume… nylon monks habit, sandals, rough-hewn cross and cowl. A middle-aged Scotsman further down the urinal did an impressive double take. "Woss the costume for?" he growled. "I’m a Monty Python fan, and I’m going to a convention", I replied. I explained that fans from across the globe often like to come together in celebration of their favourite films and TV shows, and that the events are great opportunities to make friends and indulge harmless obsessions and eccentricities.
He listened to this in silence. As I left the urinal, I heard him mutter the word, "Twats".
Wiffle Lever To Full! is out now, published by Hodder & Stoughton, with an RRP of £8.99. For more information, visit www.wifflelevertofull.com