Five Hundred Eyes

Zygcon 26

August 5th 1989, University of Essex

I've been told that my convention reports are cynical! Well I thought I'd try and come up with a way to describe Zygcon without appearing so cynical.

Right it was like a box of chocolates - And like a box of chocolates even the most luxurious wrapping cannot disguise sub-standard contents. Like a box of chocolates it's also multi-layered and everyone has their favourite centre/bit and there is always one centre/bit that you won't like. Zygcon was a veritable "Quality Street" collection, slightly past its sell-by date but still highly enjoyable ... in parts.

Why Zygcon 26? Well Zygcon for the Zygon which graced the cover of the convention booklet and 26 for the upcoming season of Doctor Who - In keeping with this the theme for the day was, quite logically, 'Paradise Towers'. (!) If you've ever seen the campus of Essex University you'd know why, the residential blocks are a collection of HUGE tower blocks.

The Lecture halls housing the convention were bedecked with posters resembling "multi-coloured wall scrawl" - the guests were "Rezzies" - the stewards "Yellow Kangs". (Did this mean we would be extinct by the end of the day?) The attendees were "Red" or "Blue" kangs depending on their registration numbers - well that was the plan, unfortunately 'the best layed plans' etc. went west with the mysterious disappearance of the registration book.

For those interested in buying merchandise there was a healthy looking dealers area. On sale were 'zines and posters galore, along with Fine Art Castings and Dapol items. The video room downstairs was a medium sized lecture hall, and upstairs the larger lecture room was designated as the main hall. The various stairwells and landings provided ample space for people to gather in pairs and groups to chat without feeling crowded.

By 10 am there were enough people gathered to start the convention. A ribbon had been tied across the stairs leading to the main hall and Richard Franklin was supposed to cut it, do a little speech and declare the event underway - but the scissors had also disappeared. Faced with chewing through the ribbon, Richard put out a plee for anything that would cut. Flanking him were Alaister Pearson and Colin Howard wearing fixed grins and pretending to be buddy buddies despite their seemingly endless feud about which one is the better artist. Someone from the assembled attendees produced a pair of nail scissors and Richard made the most of cutting the ribbon and declaring the convention open.

There wasn't a printed programme of events, or indeed a timed list of episodes being shown - this was supposed to be a "relaxed and friendly" event but when you see people missing episodes they want to see or not catching the start of panels it does detract from the "laid back" atmosphere. This is even more perplexing when there's a perfectly good P.A. system going to waste.

The PARA quiz was the first event. Teams of three had to answer some real stinkers of questions. This was followed by the artists panel: Alaister Pearson, Colin Howard and Dicky Howett. This threatened to be an action replay of that awful 'Iceworld' panel, judging by the faces in the audience and the way the respective fans of both artists were occupying opposite corners of the hall. Fortunately my next steward duty was to guard Dicky's display and sales table. I settled down with a 'zine and was minding my own business when out of nowhere somebody appears with a microphone, and stuffs it up my left nostril. I never did find out this guy's name but it transpired that he was a journalist from the local hospital radio network.

"So who's your favourite Doctor then?" I answered "Yes" to that one, he didn't get the joke. After a few minutes of answering stupid questions with sillier replies I'd really had a belly-full. Just as I was casting my eye around for the nearest XY3 standard issue waste disposal unit to stuff this bloke into, I was rescued by Paul Bensilum who proceded to give a much better interview before palming him off on a young lady (dressed as Tom Baker) who led him away.

"Where can I get the music then? I want the music ... ooh, does that Dalek speak? I'd like to get EX-TER-MIN-ATE on the tape ..."

I sat back to continue reading, and Richard Franklin was strolling innocently across the foyer when suddenly from behind the full-sized Dalek prop leaps ... Local Radio Man.

"Captain Mike Yates from UNIT. Gosh folks what a piece of luck!"

"Er ... who are you?" asked Richard, backing into a wall. Once he knew it was a journalist, he gave him an interview, but kept his back to the wall!

The artists' panel was over, and Dicky Howett returned: apart from a couple of people asking me if I was Dicky there'd been no other enquiries, which didn't seem to disturb him.

I decided to take a look at the 'BBC Approved' video programme. Several of the episodes were simply unwatchable because of the apalling sound quality, especially the Hartnell and Troughton stuff. What an amazing coincidence that about the only ones that were playable were single episodes from those stories already available from BBC Video!

It is very strange watching a programme that you first saw over twenty years ago. It always seemed action-packed, but in one of the episodes I saw, nothing much seemed to happen apart from Susan cooking fish! Weird, and a far cry from today when everything happens at breakneck speed.

The lunchtime break was looming and I took myself outside for a breath of fresh air. In keeping with the theme the building was becoming increasingly claustrophobic. Tired of asking what my next duty was, I joined the audience for the next event.

'A Sketch' was announced, and Alaister Pearson walked in with a drawing of Paradise Towers. Thinking this was it, I was about to launch into a round of applause, when he was joined by Keith Hopkins. They launched into a comedy routine revolving around a Council Planning Officer, Crispin Dry, trying to persuade Kroagnon ("You can call me Mr Great.") to make some changes to his plans for the Towers. Alaister does a wicked parody of Kroagnon: on first impressions he doesn't strike you as a witty person, but his rendition of the Great Architect was funny.

We discover that a 327 appendix 3 sub-section 9 death is something painful involving a rogue electric toothbrush. Finally when he discovers that his finest project is to be built by Barratt Homes, Kroagnon flips and proceeds to strangle the interfering council offical :

"But what will the council say," squawks the little man.

"Why, that I've killed Dry for happiness!"

The next guest was John Lewene, the Dalek and Tardis set designer for The Ultimate Adventure. He delivered a very entertaining panel on the trials and triubulations of touring with a show that relied so heavily on props and special effects. There were very few people asking questions, and I got the impression that very few of the assembled attendees had seen the play.

Inevitably the theme seemed to centre around the mistakes and mishaps. I asked why during some performances the Tardis time-rotor seemed decidedly wonky! John explained that the time-rotor's name was Simon! Now people call me cynical, but even I didn't think the production was so cheap as to have someone sitting inside the console manually operating it! A lot of the stages were on a tilt - so 'Simon' may have thought the central column was going up and down levelly but it wasn't.

Somebody asked why the Dalek props looked like they'd gone the distance with Mike Tyson even on the opening performance. Apparently the rehearsal rooms for the play were three floors up and the Daleks had to be man-handled up and down several flights of stairs every day. Some of them got dropped, but John felt that on the whole they had stood up well to the rigors of the tour, bearing in mind that the play was originally intended to run for just three months.

Why did the Daleks have square indicator lights? John replied quite simply: you try getting round indicator lights in the middle of Suffolk!

The Dalek designs had been based on the plans in the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special. They were a few inches taller than usual so that they could be seen from the back. At least two props were ordered and not used: an 'exploding Tardis' and a Davros which had to be replaced, almost at the last minute, by the 'Emperor Dalek'.

The following panel was my favourite of the day (the orange creme, if you prefer). It was the Greatest Show in the Galaxy line-up : Mark Ayres (incidental music), Stephen Wyatt (author), and someone very hunky wearing shorts and displaying very sexy knees. As the guests were introduced it transpired that this was in fact Ian Reddington, aka the Chief Clown. Ulp! I must admit that I found his character very disturbing while the story was on air, and it becomes more disturbing on repeated viewings. I think it was mostly the chilling voice, but the mannerisms and the ghoulish smile gave me the shivers. Thankfully he doesn't sound or act anything like he did on Doctor Who : he's totally charming!

Points of interest raised included the fact that Greatest Show started out as a three-part story apparently based on a 'sadistic' It's A Knockout. Ian seemed quite tickled by the idea of being a psychopathic Eddic Wareing. I was tickled by the idea of Ian being anything as long as he wore his shorts.

It was particularly heartening to see Mark Ayres being included instead of being frozen out (as he was at that other convention!). (See Jackie's review in FHE 4.) He proved particularly adept at translating the 'fan-ese' for Stephen Wyatt who genuinely didn't seem to know why 'Whizz Kid' had sparked off such a hostile reaction from the fans. Mark quite skillfully guided the questions away from that subject.

The most painful event of the day was the panel with Richard Franklin and Debbie Watling. Chaired by someone dressed as the third Doctor, it seemed to drag on forever. "I've never done anything like this before," our host was at pains to point out. Boy, did it show.

Ms Watling seemed in less than high spirits and I think Richard was a little bit fed up with asking him "Wasn't your death scene in Emmerdale Farm stupid?" (He was squashed by a cow, or some such.) Debbie nipped off in the middle of the panel for a few minutes which totally threw the chairman, and rather than continuing with an embarrassing silence, Richard took over. Now, he can be very odd at times, and this was one of those times, when Ms Watling returned he was in full flow. Thankfully Paul Bensilum wound up this panel just as some people were reaching the 'slitting-wrists' stage.

The raffle was next. I only mention this because I won - three times - which was really embarrassing. The first prize was the Dapol Tardis.

"Ho ho, the one with three sides!" says me.

"And the winner is ... 58."

"Oh my god, I've won it."

The auction was next, and had some interesting items in it. The rumour of a Battlefield script being included was just that - a rumour. The highest priced items were the artwork of Colin and Alaister (whose respective groupies were pushing up the bidding quite blatantly), and 'those' photographs of Katy Manning. Highest price of the day went to the Kang crossbow, generously donated by Stephen Wyatt - this fetched £125.

Well the convention was drawing to a close. There was the auction items to dish out and the money to collect. This would have been much, much easier if (a) some of the items hadn't been packed away as raffle prizes, and (b) we'd had some change. The change arrived ten minutes after the 'all-in wrestling' at the table was over; myself and two other stewards were counting our fingers and other extremities to make sure we weren't missing any.

The last event was another raffle; with that over it was time for the Yellow Kangs to make like Robotic Self Activating Megapodic Mark 72 cleaners and tidy up the mess. An interesting day.

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