17/11/2013

John's Doctor Who Fanbook #5: Being on the DWAS Executive Part 1


So, there isn’t a lot of photographic evidence from my DWAS Exec time just lots of words and documents and columns and circulars. Plus all the old Exec minutes are too ropily printed to reproduce in a readable form here. Instead this is an updated account of my tenure, originally published in 1990 but with some bits re-written recently.

    

How I ended up on the Exec was more by accident than design. There had been trouble in our Merseyside Local Group (MLG) and I called in Robert Moubert, then Local Group supervisor to assist. As it turned out, he didn't really have any inclination to get involved which led me to believe that perhaps I could have done a better job. Perhaps this was my first mistake! When I heard that the post was about to become vacant I wrote to the Society Co-ordinator David Saunders offering to take over. I received a reply to say that the post would have to be advertised but in the meantime would I be interested in becoming an admin assistant. So I did. I was seconded to the Co-ordinator’s department even though he already had four assistants. I can’t even remember what we all did except sit around in David’s ramshackle house, laughing a lot and drinking tea. The highlight would be David standing in his kitchen door shouting into the garden “Queenie!” I should explain that was the name of his cat. Anyway when we did do some work for me it mainly involved putting things into envelopes, sorting out labels and membership cards, that kind of thing with fellow assistants like Alec Charles and Bill Baggs. We had a laugh; Alec wound David up just to annoy him with petty criticisms and poor Bill once got a right telling off for missing a departmental meeting. Just like school!


Eventually, having applied along with eight others I got the still assistant status supervisor's job, starting on June 1st 1984. Actually David showed me the other applications believing it would give me an advantage but it didn’t because I’d included more ideas in my application, too many ideas to be feasible. I remember him later telling me that at the Exec meeting he’d been reading my letter out and the others had stopped him because I’d said too much and they gave me the post. I think, really, they were just glad someone enthusiastic was willing to take it on.
As I soon found out, the LG network was like a house in need of considerable repair. Only half the listed groups were actually operating; the rest either didn't exist or needed drastic action to get them out of a rut. A handful had problems of some kind or other usually revolving around who the organise was; you can understand how I empathise with Game of Thrones nowadays! As a rule local groups needed lots and lots of enthusiasm and publicity. So I virtually started from scratch, sending a questionnaire to all groups, the results of which formed the basis of a new list. I opened up regular correspondence with organisers to build a regular flow of information in both directions, while I decided there was enough need for a LG column in every CT, as well as reports from different groups each month. It’s a shame nobody had invented Facebook yet.  Although technically the DWAS newsletter `Celestial Toyroom` (or CT as everyone called it) i's actually subject to the whims of its editor which can be either a blessing or a curse. Dominic May was very supportive of my ideas and also helpful in toning down my early zeal. He also realised the humour I'd sometimes include like the time I jokingly said that all groups "'that didn't submit annual reports would be disbanded'.  Needless to say, this didn't go down too well with a lot organisers, some of whom took themselves far too seriously.
Later, Neil Hutchings was a splendid chap to work with and his CT, in my opinion, vas the best ever. He allowed us to get away with indulgences like having song lyrics to introduce our columns. I worked with Neil years later on my zine `Faze` and he was still full of great ideas.  On the other side of the coin, lan Bresman's six issues reflected his lack of enthusiasm and having more regular contact with members opinion’s than some of the exec I was inundated with members complaining about CT at this point. Then there was Brian Robb. Always a critic of the Exec, he had been involved in the publication of the Edinburgh LG newsletter, one issue of which published offensive material over which we had clashed. So, by the time he became CT editor I felt he allowed his dislike of me to dictate his editorial position as far as LG's were concerned.
As I worked through late 84/early 85, I became aware of ill-feeling between the DWAS Exec and Local Groups. The latter felt they were being told what they could do in return for nothing and some pointed out there were precious few benefits of being an official DWAS local group. Some of the Exec felt LG's were a nuisance and would often misrepresent the DWAS when dealing with outside bodies.To try and counteract this my ideas for revising and to a large extent loosening the LG rules were accepted by the Exec. I was also able to draw up guidelines to help point active LG's in the right direction when dealing with organisations. There were always isolated incidents of course, including the Glasgow LG dispute (you should see the tons of correspondence that involved), the Merseyside DWASocial 6 scenario and problems of varying kinds in Cardiff, York, Middlesbrough and Worcester. Fandom isn't always fun'
On March 1st 1985, I was promoted to Exec status in recognition that the expanded role I’d developed had far exceeded the level of assistant. The very next day, possibly in retaliation, Michael Grade cancelled Doctor Who. I hoped this wasn't going to be an omen for my time on the exec. The cancellation was one of a string of crises' the Exec had to deal with in 1985 and it was very much a baptism of fire for me. Despite the cost, I found myself travelling to London to attend nearly every Exec meeting, let down by technology again as nobody had invented Skype.
As far as the cancellation crisis was concerned I found myself in the gold disc plated home of self-appointed super fan Ian Levine one Sunday along with many fan luminaries to work out our collective response to an issue that had, by now, been mostly resolved. It was here I listened to Paul Mark Tams' extravagant claims regarding stars participation in a save Doctor Who song. Only those of us that were there came to appreciate the enormous gap between those plans and what actually transpired. In retrospect, we didn't do much although a letter was circulated to all DWAS members in 2 days flat, which must be an all-time record. At least a lot of bickering ceased for a while though the meeting provided a foretaste of what was to come when it was discovered DWB editor Gary Levy had brought a hidden tape recorder along for another 'exclusive' for his tabloid flavoured newszine. Later, DWB launched several attacks on DWAS and our response to the cancellation, but subsequent developments have shown our reaction was generally right, DWB's rather hysterical coverage just made fandom look as mad as a mooncalf.

While all this was happening, DWASocial 5 swung into view, an event organised mainly by Gordon Roxburgh (while Convention dept. head Paul Zeus got on with Panopticon which was only three months later). I'd worked as an assistant as Partycon in Birmingham the previous October, but DWASocial 5 set in a plush London hotel was my first event as an Exec member. Apart from being in charge of the fanzine and dealers area, I also found myself having to move queues, hold doors closed to avoid a breeze blowing on an autograph signing Colin Baker and even spending time on the registration desk. Plus there were plenty of LG people who wanted to discuss matters; one or two to complain.
The event itself proved a tremendous success, apart from lan Levine's melodramatic speech about the cancellation (which caused a tense atmosphere amongst attendees) and a quite shocking display of egotism from JNT's secretary Sarah Lee who had demanded to be interviewed. JNT then refused to go on stage unless Sarah Lee was brought on too. What fun! By the end of the day, several of the Exec came to the conclusion that maybe
Gordon would be a better person to run the Convention dept. than the rather vague and often unreliable Paul Zeus. This view was compounded when the others accepted my idea of staging DWASocials around the UK, using LG's to organised and co-host them. I felt this would help to diffuse the allegations of the Exec's southern bias and allow us to utilise the organisational skills of members from all over the country. For co-ordination reasons and due to its success on running its own convention in late 1984, my own LG on Merseyside was chosen as the pilot for the scheme. Once arrangements got underway, the group organisers found Paul seemed incapable of sticking to agreements and he even got lost trying to get the train up to Liverpool.

I believe Paul meant well but he had an uncanny knack of causing matters to dangle over the edge of a precipice when they didn't need to. Another problem was the upcoming Panopticon. Decisions taken the previous year had meant we were booked into a huge hotel in Brighton with a budget based on a thousand people attending. Financially, it seemed unless PanoptiCon was scaled down it would lose a lot of money. Conventions generally operated on the principal of breaking even which meant that you had to predict how many attendees you might get and no DWAS convention ever had as many as 1,000 applications to attend (even though we had more than 1,000 members) so it didn't take an accountant to realise the folly of such an enterprise (although our accountant advised us to cancel) but the reason why no action was action was taken till too owed much to the on-going animosity between David Saunders and David Howe.
David S. had got it into his head that David H. was irresponsible and wouldn't stick to Exec decisions, thus causing problems for the society. While it was true that David H's enthusiasm occasionally got the better of his sense of committee responsibilities, it's also the case he was an ideas man and if any problem had the rest of us stumped, David H nearly always had an answer, as well as unlimited energy which benefitted us all. David S, on the other hand while wanting to ensure a business - like approach tended to slow matters down with procedure. Also both of them had been on the Exec for so long they felt proprietorial about the DWAS. The result of all this though was some stagnation in decision making as well as reams of notes on garishly coloured paper with them sniping at each other circulated before each meeting. In terms of conventions David S. had an agreement with Paul Zeus that neither would try to vote the other off the Exec which is odd when you consider David S. had told me he agreed that Paul needed replacing as convention organiser. As the new kid in town I put a no confidence motion against Paul which didn't get passed, but after the meeting I was told that if I were to put a similar motion after PanoptiCon, it would easily get through. Paul didn't know the scenery was being shifted behind him though not without reason.

Up front though the event was a roaring success and saw Patrick Troughton made his only DWAS appearance totally in character as the Doctor. Behind the scenes though tensions were rising. David S. was his usual belligerent self (by this time he'd decided to resign) and made life as difficult as possible for Paul's deputy, Steve Pugsley who tried to inject sanity into the proceedings. Paul sealed his own fate by not arriving until late on Friday (having stopped off on the way to get the badges for the event) while we were all non -plussed to discover the stewards were school kids who were far too young to do the job and had been given free accommodation at the hotel. Again, I was looking after the dealer’s room, which had a leaking roof while all the tables had to be carried up two flights of stairs as well. Gary Levy again managed to annoy the dealers who themselves behaved at times as if they owned the place. Some stuff was stolen from the display cabinets to add to our problems. Meanwhile a certain super fan was lurking. A midnight Exec meeting was called on the Saturday to decide whether or not Ian Levine should be allowed another stage rant. We voted that he shouldn't, whereupon David S. went up on Sunday and delivered the same spiel anyway. In a gesture which was probably more theatrical than political, Alec Charles stood up and threw his assistant's badge to the floor in protest. On a lighter note, the weekend was buzzing with reports that a local cinema manager had two lost episodes; if only I had a pound for every person who asked me about that.
In the end, the event’s losses were never properly assimilated because Paul's accounts were never properly presented. One loss was a whole set of costumes made with DWAS money but never returned to ·the society and actually being used by another group. A year later, they offered to hire them to us! There was some judicious budget slashing at the last minute, but overall about £2,000 was lost (including costumes).
It may sound weird though but I still remember that event fondly as being a great weekend! One of the many people I met at the event was a mate of Alec's; Tony Jordan, who was in two minds as to whether or not apply for the Co-ordinator's job. As he seemed a far better candidate than the people who had already applied, I broke all the confidence rules of the Exec to explain to him the state of the society. It turned out I hadn’t been the only one as several of us realised he would be the best person to take the role. The next day, he typed out his application and got the job from September 1985. A turning point.
Another significant moment was the departure of Paul Zeus. As Gordon Roxburgh had told some of us he was going to do his own events unless the Exec acted at the September meeting (he knew most of us thought he’d be a much better conventions organiser) it was clearly make or break for Paul. He wasn’t helped by Steve Pugsely who’d written an in-depth behind the scenes piece for DWB which got him sacked. Paul was very annoyed by this development and, despite our requesting he stay, stormed out of the meeting. Dominic May and I then set to work, getting Paul voted out and Gordon voted in. Dominic of course left it to me to actually propose Paul be fired! I did feel some sympathy for Paul in a way because he was a decent bloke but I got the impression his events had done well simply because of the guest list; which let’s face it is all the attendees are bothered about. He made too many errors of judgement on other matters. Anyway it seemed like the DWAS was set on a fair course but 1985 had one more trap to spring.

Planning for the first local group organised DWASocial had been bubbling and I had informally gained expressions of interest from several other groups willing to volunteer to do future ones. I saw this as a new era of co-operation between local groups and the DWAS as a whole and a way of making the Society seem less London-centric, something I knew a lot of more northerly groups felt strongly about.  However a couple of members of the Merseyside LG fell out over disagreements with the organiser, Graeme Wood, and in an act of deliberate vindictiveness sent copies of a year old internal newsletter to the production office under the guise of an “irate parent”. The newsletter contained a sick joke concerning Colin Baker. Of course once inside the BBC it was brought to the attention of both he and John Nathan-Turner who were understandably furious and had been scheduled to attend the event. They now said they would not do so if it were held in Liverpool leaving us no choice but to preserve the good name of the society and scrap DWASocial 6. While there is no excusing the publishing of such material a little known fact is that the people who sent it to the BBC were the ones who had actually written the offensive joke in the first place. The whole thing besmirched the good name of Local Groups and of course sank the idea of them doing DWASocials for good.

Apart from that regrettable incident, LG's had been improving in leaps and bounds and I felt I now had their confidence and had been able to disseminate a lot of the suspicion between LG's and the Exec. The amount of correspondence I was receiving was increasing every month and a lot of groups were producing newsletters. It was becoming clear to me that there wasn't enough space in CT to do all this activity justice and what groups really needed was their own vehicle. Hence, I hit on the idea of the Local Group Circular, a newsletter which would be paid for by the DWAS and circulated free to organisers. They could then spread the information in it - I felt it would also help the LG network as a whole improve communication. The Circular was launched in early 1986 and, as I'm not the world's best typist I opted to expand the department by appointing an assistant, Nick Pegg, then Nottingham LG leader. Nick was enthusiastic about local groups and produced a very good circular. Once groups got the idea, it became an established facet of the network, Also on the cards was an inter-LG quiz entitled The  Megaquiz. This sort of idea had been in the planning stage for a while, but an earlier attempt to launch a 5-a-side soccer competition had flopped due to the fact that Doctor Who fans as a rule don't seem to like football. The Megaquiz was conducted via the circular and the final would take place at Panopticon. 













Voila! The first Local Group Circular produced by Nick. The idea of this was for organisers to swap ideas and learn about each other, all fostering a more together network and it sort of worked. It was my idea, paid for by the DWAS and I was pleased to discover some ten years later that it had been revived by the Exec of the mid -1990s.












This photo of Nick Pegg in his country retreat was actually taken around 1989 several years after he became my first official Assistant in late 1985 but it’s the only photo of him I could find. Nick of course nowadays appears in Doctor Who as one of the regular Dalek Operators and is also the author of the definitive David Bowie book “The Complete David Bowie`. We were probably burning old DWAS Exec meeting minutes here.










I used to get sent lots of interesting Local Group stuff like this one from the Tunbridge Wells group. I used to love their zine and also the stuff I got from the Norwich, Nottingham, East Kent groups as well amongst others. You can tell there was a real group feeling there. Years later when I was starting my own fanzine I almost used the title `Screech Wah Wah` which perfectly describes the TARDIS noise. 














As 1986 progressed, the Exec settled down, due in many ways to Tony's influence. He knew how to keep things together without getting too serious and we were a happy and stable team aware not just of our own l responsibilities but also the wider needs of the society. I was pleased to work with some good people on Tony's Exec like Neil, Gordon, Dominic, the ever present David H. and new PR supremo John Ryan. One thing I was finally able to see happen was a society questionnaire as I always felt it was vital to maintain feedback to and from members. Local Groups too were reaching new heights with larger meetings or even conventions with impressive guest lists as well as producing a range of superb publications. I was also proud to be involved in an area of fandom which was able to give some positive help to those less fortunate in the world via many fund-raising events for charity; often by terrorising their high street with monsters! Several thousand pounds were raised for charity by LG's over the four years I was involved. This sort of activity also helped promote groups, the DWAS and also the programme itself. John R also instigated a PR blitz and we were able to help groups acquire maximum publicity. Some LG's preferred to host smaller, less epic meetings and there was always coverage of these in the circular. Nick and I gradually made the circular more irreverent, although we may have gone a little too far! Only a little though. Nick acted as a much more visible figure at conventions and the Tavern than I did, which was to the benefit of LG's. He was a big show off anyway!! 

At the 1986 Panopticon, things were a lot less hassled than in past events. I ended up stuck on the registration table for ages in the evening when nobody turned up, and I could have pocketed lots of money or even taken the whole cash tin' I didn't, though. The Megaquiz final didn't quite get the audience it deserved, but concluded with a massive dousing of the contestants and host in silly string! The whole thing was actually quite arty, with a silent show at the back consisting of a group sitting and drinking silently. We'd completely forgotten about a prize, so Alec had to dash out and buy champagne - what else?




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