17/11/2013

John's Doctor Who Fanbook #5 Being on the DWAS Executive Part 2

We continue on this journey that is so big it wouldn't fit on one post!!
As 1986 drew to a close, things were changing. Tony was leaving partly because he was applying for a job abroad but also due to an incident at an earlier Exec meeting. He’d been on holiday and there had been a discussion on his progress as co-ordinator raising a few criticisms which seemed pointless. The same thing had happened to me the previous meeting; it is annoying to read these things in minutes later possibly out of context of the breadth of the discussion. Tony was in- censed and decided to leave at the end of the year. He had originally planned to stay till the following September. Incidentally, it was from this incident that Dominic acquired the nickname Slimy. Having actually started the discussion, Dominic then wrote a letter in the Exec circular withdrawing his comments. 


There was another cloud on the horizon too; something that reflected the success the DWAS was enjoying at this time. It seemed that we’d been doing so well that the DWAS would be liable for VAT which is paid on turn over (not profit). The opposite to the problems of mid-1985, in fact. It was subsequently alleged that we tried to brush the VAT problem under the carpet, but in fact we sought out people with a legal background to help out. This led to Andrew Beech being appointed co-ordinator from January 1987. By the end of 1986 Nick had moved on from being LGs Assistant to be replaced by Phil Akiens someone we both knew from the Leicester Local Group. However the LG Circular he produced did not meet the standards we needed and there were criticisms from both the Exec and groups. Unfortunately I had to tell Phil that he couldn’t carry on in the role  It was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make on the Exec. To try and find someone who would be able to produce the circular to a high standard I turned to Andy Cull, the Brighton local group organiser. Though I’d never met him in person I’d seen Andy’s vibrant newsletters for his group and knew he was a good artist and graphics person and thankfully he accepted the challenge. I later found out his views on local groups were broadly similar to mine so he became someone I could swap ideas with as well, In these primitive days it was all done by letter- we only met about twice the whole time!
  

(left) Andy Cull. He was a great support when the Exec's attitude towards local groups changed.


1987 progressed and I felt a change of attitude amongst the Exec. Just as I’d been part of a new wave of people a few years earlier now I was one of the longest standing members. With Tony, Dominic and David H. gone and Neil not being interested in the political wrangling, support for LG's was diminishing with new Exec members seeing them as a nuisance. What this ultimately led to was my becoming a sort of buffer zone - defending LG's to the Exec and vice versa. Several ideas I presented - like discount deals for LGs on CT adverts - were rejected out of hand and several small incidents were blown out of proportion to back a general Exec feeling that LG's were a liability. Spurred on by Andrew’s focus on the VAT problem, a new austerity filled the air and everything had to be examined and challenged. A lot of what was in fact his personal opinion and ambition was presented by Andrew as legal necessity. Once the limited company, Dominitemporal Services was created to run conventions as a separate budget- which I agreed with - its directors influenced DWAS policy far too much with the rest of the Exec being put almost on a second tier.
Unlike Tony, Andrew did not discourage personal divisions and often would take sides rather than try to diffuse a problem. Once he became chairman of the Exec he would often push his own agenda whilst neglecting other responsibilities and steeping everything in legal speak. As new people joined the Exec, they were always candidates selected by Andrew. John Ryan was hounded off the Exec allegedly for not doing his job, but this was after Andrew had kept interfering in that job. David Miller (Art Dept.) circulated us all with what amounted to a total condemnation of John, who quit, totally fed up with this unfair criticism.The only problem we did all agree needed sorting was a real mess up over at Merchendise Offers by Steve King.
On the Saturday of that year's PanoptiCon an article appeared in the `Daily Mail` by Andrew Beech slagging off the current series. When Sylvester McCoy saw it, he was incensed as he'd gone out of his way to welcome Andrew to the set a few weeks earlier. JNT was annoyed too, although in typical fashion he later changed his mind. A subsequent DWM interview had Sylvester criticising Andrew and the latter responding in a very haughty manner (in the same issue, note). This would have led to the sacking of any other Exec member, but somehow Andrew managed to wriggle out of it. His close association with DWB and his attitudes led me to believe someone had to air the wider picture to members especially as DWB was then running its 'Operation Who' campaign. So, backed by a lot of LG's who'd had their fill of Andrew from personal experience, the now renamed Local Group Bulletin began to offer an opposite view to the rising tide of anti-season 24 hysteria.
Then, at the January 1988 meeting, I put a no confidence vote against Andrew. To try and be fair, I circulated everyone with a whole list of reasons why he was basically bringing the DWAS into disrepute but of course this only gave him time to come up with an elaborate defence not least of which was the news that the society had a commitment to pay a substantial VAT bill which would mean severe cutbacks in services  and spending would have to be totally slashed, particularly CT. Surely then he had failed in his prime objective which he’d always stated as being to prevent the DWAS having to pay VAT? No, it seemed only he could deal with this and if we dismissed him the DWAS would be sunk. So he won the vote of confidence. CT dwindled to fewer pages and Neil was next to leave. I suppose I should have left with him and saved myself a lot of hassle.
By now Merchandise offers had already fallen into disrepair and a weird membership limit of 2,000 was imposed, an idea that backfired as the membership was falling anyway and by the time I left there weren't enough re-application forms to reach the limit! CT fell into mediocrity and in 1988, 3 issues never appeared while the society magazine `Tardis` dematerialised despite being included in the membership fee. Everyone I met was slagging off the Exec in general and Andrew in particular and I found it incredibly difficult to justify any of the nonsense the others were spewing out. Mostly I didn’t!
Meanwhile I found myself on the defensive as Mr Beech got his revenge for his vote against him. He tried to claim I didn't do my job properly, questioned the reasons for appointing certain assistants, claimed the Merseyside Local Group was too successful and I should ask them to leave the DWAS. He even made up a rule that non-DWAS members couldn't attend LG meetings and then claimed it had been a ploy to get organiser's to phone him! None of this was followed up or indeed really worked but enough damage had been done. Once Brian Robb, with his own old scores to settle from the days when he was involved with local groups, became CT editor he got the others to agree to the Local Group Bulletin becoming part of CT and then set impossible deadlines which Andy and I could never met so he then went off and advertised for his own LG editor without telling either Andy or I. Andy quit, essentially as a gesture against the rest of the Exec, but it left me forced to accept Brian's choice of editor - Cambridge LG leader Simeon Hearn. I was never sure where he stood- I'd meet him at the Tavern and he'd be very supportive of my ideas and yet he'd go back to others with different ideas. Perhaps he was after my post in which case he might have shown a little loyalty.
My major new idea was a LG orientated event to be held in Birmingham in the spring of 1989 and called Event One. I felt this was the next step for groups and admittedly it was an attempt to revive the stalled LGs DWASocials and it received a lot of support.  But Simeon  submitted an alternative plan for what sounded like a party political conference idea which the Exec went for. The event thus passed out of my hands though in the end never happened.
Nick Pegg had returned to deal with LG publicity which I had a feeling was going to be increasingly important but with the membership cap half his job immediately became redundant. He did start a second Megaquiz, but left in the summer and Isle of Wight leader Keith Hopkins took that on. 
I appointed a second assistant East Kent LG Leader Tom Robin who would be helping out but mainly he was there because I thought would be able to take over from me. At this point I was planning to leave whatever happened by the following summer, the idea being that Tom would take over things bit by bit to put him in a strong position to apply for the post by which time he would be better known by groups and in a strong position. I know he'd have his own ideas after that and Beechy couldn't stay forever could he? Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to unveil this masterplan to Tom himself as events conspired to interrupt things.
 
(left) Tom Robin behind the camera at an East Kent event 


(right below) Tom R and me at Panopticon 87. The thing I’m pointing at his head is an actual prop gun from `Terror of the Vervoids` or the banana gun as we dubbed it which one of his group bought at the auction. Tom’s a lovely guy and I felt guilty over the way he never got the chance to bring his organisational (and filming!) skills to a national fan level. We lost touch after I left; hope he’s having a good life somewhere.
My ultimate walking into the cave of The Great One moment happened in August. The last independent Bulletin included a rumour that Ian Levine had been raided by police looking for illegal videos, something being widely discussed amongst fandom. At a very early hour one Saturday morning he phoned me up (I wonder who gave him my number?) and lectured me for some time about all he'd done for the programme. However he also said he would be content with an apology in the next Bulletin. Andrew decided to tell everyone that Levine was planning to sue me and on the basis of this, and without asking for any comment from me, I was suspended pending a special meeting. Whereas the internal travails of the exec rarely made it to the pages of CT, Brian J Robb decided this deserved it's very own tabloid style story which - ironically- included a libellous comment in it claiming erroneously that Levine had threatened legal action against me which he had not.
The suspension ended up running for 7 weeks because once it became clear that Levine in fact would rather not be linked to public intra Exec strife Beechy would have to contrive something else. You're probably asking- well after all that why not just give up and walk away? A valid question and looking back I realise the answer is that basically both myself and Andrew Beech are stubborn Northerners who would never do that. It wasn't just that- I felt rightly or wrongly I was standing up for the DWAS that was rather than his vision of the boring DWAS.
In October 1988 I attended my last Exec meeting. I was cleared over the Levine issue and back in tandem for about an hour. Then it was decided to introduce a new system where each Exec member looked after several groups. The LG Supervisor post would be downgraded to assistant level- reporting to the editor of CT. You see what they did there! As if that whole idea would work (which incidentally it didn't), as if I would really want to work with an idiot like Brian J Robb or indeed the rest of the exec. Incidentally while all this was going on they also got rid of the Writers Pool without ceremony; this had been a part of the DWAS since the late 70s. Even at the end of this meeting I was subjected to some crap from Peter Lovelady who feigned concern over the way I'd been treated. When I left I threw all the stuff from the meeting into the nearest waste paper bin where is deserved to go.
Some local groups - despite the lies about me they'd been told- had left the DWAS or were planning to and I found myself in discussions about a potential new organisation called Network Who. However this fledgling idea got rather ahead of itself and I discovered flyers and suchlike had been sent out with my name on them. I realised then that I didn't have the enthusiasm to be part of such a project and the January 1989 CT saw a statement by me to that effect. In hindsight it was a rather disingenuous statement in which I seem to deny even knowing about it which was not true but at that moment I just had to get out.

Life went on and it’s amazing to think all of this happened the best part of 25 years ago. This article was originally written in 1990 for issue 1 of `Purple Haze` but going through it again to re-edit has reminded me of lots of things I’d forgotten about. My memories of this period nowadays are mostly good and I am satisfied that while there were mistakes I generally did a good job. I do however find it difficult to understand how  all of us managed to put all that energy and effort into something that seems quite trivial now. I suppose we were young and foolish!
There is a nice postscript to all this too. In 1996 Neil Hutchings and I attended the DWAS twentieth anniversary event and I met the people looking after local groups then and found out they’d been around when I was doing the job. What’s more they had revived the Local Groups Bulletin and were very complimentary about what I had done back in the day. To me that was the best thing of all to discover. We all want to be liked in the end, don’t we?


John Connors
Original version written and published in Purple Haze 1990
Revised version for This way up 2013

 
Next Time: Project X, The new wave of Doctor Who Fanzines and Top






 

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