Recently, I took myself on a 3 hour train ride to sunny Peterborough to attend the inaugural fan event, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
In the same vein as the Showmaster “Collectormania” shows, this event was staged by Treble Ace Promotions, in co-operation with 10th Planet Events, and had a line up of guests too good to pass up.
For those who have not attended anything like this before, basically a load of cult stars appear, and you pay for the privilege to get their autograph, spend a few moments in their presence and maybe grab a quick picture with them. Unless they are ‘big’ stars then you won’t be allowed the photo, although there is a chance to have a professional picture with them, with decent lighting and printed out for you – again at a price.
The big names at this event were a full main cast reunion for the Dr Who spin off Torchwood (which was quite a coup, and I was mildly interested in, but not enough to pay) and plenty of Star Trek actors – mostly Voyager and Deep Space Nine by the looks of it, but the big name was Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) making her first UK signing event appearance. Now, these did not really interest me and if you read this blog on a regular basis I imagine they wouldn’t float your boat either. No, the people I came for were much bigger stars than any of those will ever be. To me, at least. I’m talking Hammer films, and 70s sex comedies.
A very healthy selection of people I grew up watching, and never imagined that one day I’d meet and talk to. It was the reason I traveled so far, and it was worth every mile, and to be honest, every penny of the crispy notes that were handed over.
My first stop of the day was Fenella Fielding. She of the husky, sultry voice and big hair who makes every viewing of Carry On Screaming a special event. At 85, she is not someone you’d expect to see at something like this, but I’m glad she is still up to making personal appearances and was utterly charming in the time I spent with her. I mentioned how I enjoyed the Hammer/Castle version of The Old Dark House and asked what William Castle was like to work with. “Wonderful. He was lovely!” She then asks if I’d seen Rosemary’s Baby (pfft – is the Pope Catholic?), and tells me how the scene when Rosemary goes to the phone box terrified her, because of the character standing outside, only for him to turn around and it be Bill! “How could I be scared of him?” I told her the story that Castle bought the film rights and wanted to direct only for Paramount to bring Polanski in, and she didn’t seem to know that (or more likely, forgot) but she was completely wonderful and I had to gush that it had been an absolute pleasure to meet her. She posed for a picture with me, and I went on my way, beaming from ear to ear and clutching a personalised signed photo.
|The wonderful Fenella Fielding|
I had another walk around while waiting for the ink to dry on my photo, before approaching my next star. Peter Firth may not be an obvious choice, but he seems to be someone I’ve always been aware of while growing up. Maybe not for the right reasons sometimes, but never the less I felt he deserved my time (and money) and I should grab the chance to meet him while I had it. He was at this event mainly due to his connection with the BBCTV show Spooks (a couple of other actors were there too – one whom I felt very sorry for as I don’t think his sharpie ever left its lid.) However, As a 10 year old, I remember watching the BBCTV Play for Today drama The Flipside of Dominick Hide and although it was probably too old for me really, I enjoyed the Sci-Fi time travel story and Firth always stuck in my memory. When Channel 4 began broadcasting in 1984 one of the first films they showed (and from what I remember without advertisement breaks, very unusual for a commercial station) was Sidney Lumet’s version of Equus (1977). This film blew my mind. Not only because it was a very powerful story (based on the play by Peter Shaffer, brother of Anthony who wrote Sleuth and The Wicker Man), but it featured the wonderful Richard Burton and the stunning Jenny Agutter. The harrowing events of the story seemed to come second to the full frontal nudity on display from the two young leads in my 14 year old mind though. I’ve grown up since then (a bit) and do see the film as one of the greatest ever made, even if it’s a difficult one to ‘enjoy’ (the story concerns a psychiatrist trying to find out why a young stable boy blinds some horses – it was the one Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe appeared nude in on stage a few years ago). I had to ask Peter about it, and was it a difficult part to play? “Not really, I was young, 17 or 18 and you’re kind of fearless then” He tells me he played the role for a number of years in the West End and then Broadway, before doing the film version. He agreed with me about Burton, and expressed his joy at having worked with such a powerhouse actor. It was only later I remembered he was in Lifeforce and I should have asked him about that too, but chance missed I guess.
Again, a quick photo op then I thank him and make my way to the quieter end of the star roster. Only it wasn’t really. I was very pleased to see the Hammer/70s stars were doing good business. There seemed to be a steady stream of people wanting to chat and meet them, and this made me very happy especially considering a few people down was Highlander star Christopher Lambert who seemed had very little interest from people. Now, I would have probably had him on my “must have” list if his ‘price’ wasn’t so prohibitive and he didn’t have a “no posed photos” sign above his head. Sorry, but if I’m paying £30 for an autograph, and no one else is waiting behind, I don’t see why you won’t spend a minute to stand up and lean over and pretend you’re happy to see me! Oh well. There. I said it. Rant over. Next!
I then manage to grab Valerie Leon before she went off for a break. The lovely Amazonian in many a Carry On and comedy film, as well as her big Hammer role, Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb. Still very statuesque and attractive, albeit with a slight stoop that betrays her age, she was genial and had time for a photo with me, but I didn’t really want to keep her from her break so kept my encounter brief. I did see her again later at the train station and helped her decipher the London train times. I just hope I put her on the right one!
Someone whose name will mean nothing (but going off my blog stats, a lot of readers will know) is Sue Longhurst. Sue made her film debut in Hammer’s Lust For A Vampire as one of the schoolgirls, and doubled for Susan George in Straw Dogs before really making a name for herself – and becoming quite an icon – in that bastion of low brow taste (and hence, highly enjoyable) the British sex comedy. From the famous soap suds scene with Robin Askwith (yes, more on that legend in a moment…) in Confessions Of A Window Cleaner to star billing in films like Keep It Up, Jack and What The Swedish Butler Saw and with Mary Millington in Come Play With Me. Ill health which left Sue with a facial disfigurement ended her career and she withdrew from public life, before facing the world again in the fantastic BBC documentary Doing Rude Things (based on the book by fabled 70s writer David McGillivray). Since starting this blog, I’ve watched more and more of the obscure British sex comedies (and they seem to be the most popular posts, so no doubt will continue to write about them too) and Sue pops up and is fabulous in a lot of them. I was pleased to see she hasn’t lost a sense of humour, and is in no way embarrassed about her past. Perusing the photos on display, there was plenty of flesh on show, but being a gentleman *ahem*, I chose a (slightly) modest one for her to sign. She happily posed for a photo, and I was left a happy chap once again.
|Sue in the 70s|
Next stop: Robin Askwith. The Man. The Legend. I have gushed about him before, and this would be the third time I’ve met him. He didn’t disappoint. “‘Allo! What can I interest you in here? I’ve got all sorts of porn…” as he points to the impressive array of stills just waiting to be scribbled on. Hmmm, this is a toughie. I have previously had all my Confessions stuff signed (the box set and all the cards within) as well as numerous other DVDs he’s in, and his autobiography (in which he wrote, “Enjoy this! I did!“), and some photos, but there were many more here that tempted me. So I picked one which epitomised his saucy, cheeky chappy look from the 70s. “Do you know what film that is?” he asks, testing my knowledge. Without thinking, Carry On Girls “Correct!” I mention to him that I was at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films with him last year, and he was brilliant, and we chat about that, and he reveals some exciting news (which I can’t pass on, in case it doesn’t happen) I mention how sad it was that Richard Gordon had passed away so soon after the festival last year, as he was due to attend but was unwell, and he is crestfallen as he didn’t know. I now feel like the bearing of bad tidings. Richard produced a couple of Robin’s horror films, Horror Hospital and Tower of Evil and they got on well. Robin wrote the foreword in Tom Weaver’s The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon book and seemed a little miffed that Tom hadn’t told him.
I then moved along to the lovely lady sitting next to Robin, the lovely Linda Hayden. As well as appearing with Robin in all the Confessions films, she was his girlfriend for a while. There was no awkwardness though, and the pair seemed to chat quite happily when not busy. Linda is probably most famous for The Blood On Satan’s Claw and the one time video nasty Expose a film she was quick to dismiss. “I hated that. They made it much nastier than it was meant. I had nothing to do with it when it came out” I mention it was nice to see her back on screen in the remake/re-imagining of it, Stalker, “That was wonderful. Martin (Kemp, director and one time Spandau Ballet star) did a good job on it.” I tell her I saw it in one it’s only cinema outings and we both bemoan the straight to DVD status of it.
Next up, the last of my wishlist. A lady I’ve long since ‘admired’ – and let’s face it, it’s hard not to fall for her stunning eyes. Madeline Smith. It may have been her appearances with The Two Ronnies, in the first Bond film that really caught my attention Live and Let Die, or alongside Frankie Howerd that did it for me – especially Up Pompeii (we spoke about Frankie, and she expressed how lovely he was to work with) but horror fans will know her more from The Vampire Lovers where she was so wonderfully deflowered by Ingrid Pitt. Maddy was wonderful, incredibly well spoken – even when I was making a complete buffoon of myself – “Is it Martin with a Y or I?” to which I blundered “with an I, only ponces have it with a Y” “Oh, there was one earlier, he didn’t look poncy” I blushed at my common side and put it down to me being Northern.
I decide not to spend any more money, reasoning that I’ve met most of the other people I would have otherwise approached before, and would only be paying for a chance of a photo with them really. So sadly, Veronica Carlson, Caroline Munro and Martine Beswicke had to go without my attention. Mary Collinson was there also, famous as one of the Twins of Evil but I didn’t see the point of getting just ONE twin signed on a photo. Had there been both her and Madeline I would have jumped at the chance.
The day finished (for me) with me checking out the stage talk by the Torchwood cast. It is the first time the whole main crew (including occasional cast member Freema (Martha) Agyeman). John Barrowman worked the audience, taking questions and often being told “be careful, it’s a family audience“, but nothing really enlightening came out of it. No scoops. We all know there’s no plans for another series as yet (mainly due to Russell T Davis looking after his ill partner). Highlight for me here though, was overhearing two of the Hi De Hi stars talking. “He’s such a show-off” was the dismissive (and possibly jealous) tone of the aged actor who played Maplin’s ballroom dancing champion. To be honest, I smiled to myself and completely agreed.
So my day came to an end, and it was only when I got home and checked the organisers website again and noticed a Hammer Girls photo shoot, with all the girls (including Stephanie Beacham, also in attendance) which was ‘only’ £50. It sounds a lot, but to be honest, compared to what some events charge this was good. Also, people were getting the prints from the photo shoot as soon as they came out from having it done, unlike other events where you could be waiting for hours before the digital prints are done.
All in all, it was a great day, very well organised considering it was the first one the they’d done. There could have been more stalls to browse, and the stage talks could have been more varied (I would have loved a Hammer or 70s sex comedy one, and judging by the amount of people talking to these stars I wouldn’t have been the only one), but then I’m just selfish I guess. Hopefully the next one will be as varied with the guests, and there will be some of interest to an old geek like myself. Although, if they brought some Buffy stars I’d be just as happy too…
Money well spent? Probably not in today’s climate, but I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet these people without it. Roll on the next one…