Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

Magic and Memorabilia

Along with Chris Moore I headed down the motorway to Memorabilia last weekend. There I met up with Good Dog, and we had our first decent chat since a fleeting hello at the NFT’s South Bank Chimera event. I urged him to get blogging again. Which is slightly ironic, considering my own long periods of blog silence over recent months…

Memorabilia’s a twice-yearly UK event where one of the halls in Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre gets turned into a giant dealers’ room for mostly SF and media-related goods, old and new, along with a section of autograph-selling tables for mostly TV faces, mostly old. It probably pales by comparison with similar US events, but I enjoy a mooch and usually come home with a few stocking-fillers for friends and family.

I view the autograph tables with a mixture of cringe and curiosity… very few of the personalities involved get more than sporadic visits, and most spend the day fiddling with their pens and chatting with their neighbours. Some have solid achievements in their resumes, like lead roles in old shows, and they’re the ones I feel for; but while I’d love to chat to Quiller‘s Michael Jayston or William Gaunt of The Champions, I come from a tradition where such appreciation is offered over a drink in a Convention bar, not fifteen quid on a table. And not when cheek-by-jowl with someone who did two days’ work on Star Wars and has been blagging hotels and expenses off it ever since.

But then I think back to the time when @Audreydeuxpink and I stood in line for a picture and a word with the great Leslie Phillips, and I think, Oh, what the hell. Each to his own magic. But I suppose I feel a share of the pain when the magic falls flat.

As it happened, Good Dog was acting as minder to some of the better-known faces on the weekend’s guest list. The organisers have got it together more since the early years when signers were just parked alone with no one looking after them, but I can still find it an uncomfortable spectacle when people with careers have put themselves out there and nobody’s stopping by. I can remember The Man from Uncle‘s Robert Vaughn, alone at his table with no one else around him, looking like the most pissed-off man in the world while attendees tiptoed nervously past at a respectful distance.

That’s a Brit thing, perhaps. But it’s compounded by the way that the less experienced of the enthusiasts who organise fan weekends and conventions can sometimes show little idea of what’s required of them as hosts, especially when their guests are ageing performers, often insecure and uncertain of their reception, lured with a promise of hospitality only to be cut loose to fend for themselves amongst strangers.

They’re not those giants you see on the screen; they’re rather more like you and me. And I know how I’d feel if it was me out there.

For a start, there was that book signing in Watford in 1989…

The Metropolis image is one of a range of brilliant movie posters created for screenings at San Francisco’s Castro Theater and offered in hand printed, limited editions by Memorabilia exhibitor The Dark City Gallery. Those that may look a little dull on the website are actually printed on gold or silver stock, and have to be seen to be appreciated fully.


2 responses to “Magic and Memorabilia”

  1. Stephen,

    It was good to see you again, even if it was just briefly, and to meet Chris. It was a pretty much full weekend for us.

    I think in total there were four different factions bringing guests to Memorabilia this time. Caroline’s appearance manager is also patron of a charity that brings guests to these events, where each guest has kindly agreed to give a percentage of their weekend earnings to the charity. This time around they brought 35 people so I started out as her PA/troubleshooter about four weeks before the event.

    By the time everyone advanced on Brum our guest list had been revised about half a dozen times in the last weeks alone, and would change again while in transit, and then again on Saturday. So the 20–page document I’d put together, which included all the hotel occupancies, travel directions and the like, was already in flux the moment I ran off copies and tumbled into the car to get out of London. Still, it was to be expected.

    Once at the hotel, and with the four key workers for the charity setting up at the NEC, it was a case of seeing the arriving guests in and getting them settled. The last one eventually appeared well after ten o’clock in the evening. Before then I was unexpectedly sitting, listening to Nick Stringer – not one of our guests but booked into the hotel – regale us with stories about the making of The Long Good Friday.

    Quite frankly I don’t get why there are the folk who were stormtroopers or Imperial officers from Star Wars. They weren’t ours. I think we had a good mix. Apart from making a quick bit of cash, for a lot of them it was a chance to meet up with old friends and one-time work colleagues. Michael Jayston, James Cosmo and Ian McCulloch were soon tight around a hotel bar table. The “Hammer girls” soon got together. Even Judy Buxton wanted to meet Barbara Shelley after having worked with her back when she started out.

    Saturday started at 5:00am with half an hour in the shower. The hotel lounge was supposed to have free wi-fi but unable to get a signal I packed up the laptop and went out to watch the sun rise. After an obscenely big breakfast – because that was the only chance to eat during the day – we were at the NEC just after eight o’clock to deal with the first of the problems that inevitably arise.

    As you saw, two guests that dropped out at the last minute were the male leads from Captain Kronos, so the three actresses had to soldier on. Because she rarely makes public appearances, I was asked to look after Wanda Ventham. Even behind the table you chat rather than have a conversation because of constant interruptions from people wanting to give her money. Still, there was time for Mr Jayston to come over and talk about her son’s performance as Peter Guillam in the film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. She could only do Saturday because on Sunday the Evening Standard Theatre Awards were being held at The Savoy and her boy was up for Best Actor.

    Rather bizarrely, part of the next day I was seated with Mr McCulloch talking about the perils of sheep farming, then shifted across to help Veronica Carlson who was simply enchanting. Back late on Sunday, I just wanted to crawl into bed and even on Tuesday I fell asleep at the desk, sitting bolt upright in the chair, for close to an hour. If I hadn’t had to go and have a chat with the sculptor/designer who created the look of Max Headroom yesterday I probably would have stayed in bed.

    I had been toying with sending you a PM tweet saying where we were staying in case there was someone you’d like to catch up with, but figured it would've been out of line. Maybe next time. You can stop by to see me and… Oh, look who’s here! Hopefully it’ll be a different hotel, simply because the barman gave me the stink-eye once I decided the lagers on tap too strong for my sole pint of shandy and just stuck to lemonade or cola all weekend. The words “soft”, “southern” and “poof” stuck in his craw all weekend. It wasn’t my fault. I was working.

  2. A fascinating peek on the other side of the velvet curtain… I can well see the appeal of showbiz comrades getting together in a hotel bar for a massive weekend catch-up, and it's a welcome counterbalance to some of the horror stories you hear… well, not strictly horror stories, more moments of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM-style awfulness involving people who don't get that when you invite a Barbara Shelley or a Wanda Ventham to your event, it's your job to look after them!