Now entering its sixth year, Bedford Who is a much loved small scale convention. The convention took place on Saturday 13th April at the University of Bedfordshire, which afforded a 400 seat theatre, a splendid café, a huge foyer for dealers, and, most usefully, corridors and doors wide enough Daleks to pass through easily.
People love Bedford Who because of its friendliness. Some 300 people attend each year and the guests mingle with the fans. It’s not unusual, as you queue for coffee, to see Sophie Aldred kissing a Zygon and guests happily chatting informally to attendees. The cons are organised by the genial white-suited figure of Simon Danes and are charitable events, raising money for Bedford Foodbank.
Part of the Tressell Trust, Bedford Foodbank provides food for some 600 children and adults every month. The first four Bedford Who cons and associated events (including a sponsored Dalek push through the town) have raised £13,675 for Bedford Foodbank. Bedford Who 5 raised an extraordinary £8,022. “Never,” said Simon, “has my flabber been so ghasted. There are not words enough to thank people for their extraordinary generosity.”
If you would like to donate please visit – https://bedford.foodbank.org.uk/
So. I confess an interest and personal investment in Bedford Who, as Simon is my twin brother. I crew for Bedford Who most years and it’s always one of the happiest days in my calendar. Saturday 13th April sees me arrive, grab a coffee, clamber into an imperial Dalek, spill said coffee, and trundle the length of the University’s causeway (rattling along like a biscuit tin). I give convention goers friendly greetings: “All humans report for robotization through double doors!” and “Halt! Identify yourself!” Get my back wheel caught in a grating and say some un-Dalek like words. It was a cold morning of April sunshine but dashed hot in a Dalek – an hour in there and you lose three pounds in weight.
I trundle back to the convention centre. Kind friends lift off the dome and make hilarious jokes about hideous mutant thus revealed. Sophie Aldred has arrived and we chat over a bacon roll. Daleks are pushed onto stage, the technician hasn’t turned up and Simon conducts the first session under house lights. Michael Jayston and Carole Ann Ford read an extract from Doctor Who [In an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks] by David Whitaker, she reading Susan and Jayston reading the Doctor. Susan encounters Alydon in the forest and lets her admiration of his physique slip to the time travellers. “Be objective, Susan!” urges Jayston/the Doctor, in sharp Hartnell tones.
The technician turns up and stage lights are restored. Mike Tucker interviews Jayston and Carole Ann Ford; Sylvester McCoy attacks a Dalek with his hat as he enters stage right, then he and Sophie Aldred recall their time on the show. He is a great guest, striding among the audience with the microphone to take their questions and prompting gales of laughter when he plays the spoons. Sylvester tells a story about cycling to the studio: drivers slowed down to yell, “Should’ve gone by TARDIS!” “Ha ha, frrgg off,” Sylvester muttered, back in the day.
Original Doctor Who sketches are unique to Bedford Who, and the guests throw themselves into them with gusto. Two in particular delight attendees this year. The first is the Doctor (Sylvester) receiving a phone call in the TARDIS from his anxious mother (Louise Jameson), who wants him to come round and fix the router as she can’t connect to the Matrix. She says she got so fed up waiting for him that she engaged a nice young man to do it, who really enjoyed his work and chuckled all the time, ever such a good looking young man with black hair and a goatee beard he was, and now the router’s display reads, “FULLY ARMED”.
All the companions take part in a very funny and genuinely touching sketch, the Companion Reunion Party. Two years ago, this involved Vicky (Maureen O’Brien) and Stephen (Peter Purves) meeting up in desultory chat at the annual gathering of the Doctor’s old companions. This year, Ace (Sophie Aldred) greets Leela (Louise Jameson) as one of the first arrivals; Ace derides Leela’s tales of killing her enemies by saying, “Ug” at her more bloodthirsty revelations. Tegan (Janet Fielding) arrives and then Susan (Carole Ann Ford), who invites them to meet Grandmother. The companions are puzzled. “Grandmother? The Doctor’s wife?” But it’s a blonde woman they half recognise, who’s wandering about at the back of the theatre (the actors play this so perfectly that half the audience turn around to see who they are talking about). The companions’ realisation that this is the Doctor is a moment of genuine charm.
Lunch. Autograph queues, keep people moving. Time for dealers. I buy a knitted fourth Doctor doll and sell copies of the official convention book, Six Decades of Adventure in Space and Time – A Social, Cultural and Screen History of Doctor Who. I tell people it’s jolly good because I wrote it. Well, I need the royalties. Mike Tucker signs books and chats about his display of original props from the seventh Doctor’s era, including the Nosferatu spaceship from “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”.
Back to the theatre for Mike and James Burgess, who supplied the Daleks for the remake of “Mission to the Unknown”. Mike says it was all supposed to be completely secret, but Peter Purves did fans a service by leaking it on Twitter. The drama students’ Daleks didn’t work properly, not least because they had a solid neck section rather than a grille and the operators couldn’t see out. Larry the Dalek stepped/trundled in as a replacement, operated by James on the “Mission to the Unknown” set, and Larry joins the Dalek chorus line line-up at the back of our stage. Larry is on the far left, with (l to r), sixties Dalek, Clementine and Genevieve.
The companion’s panel. Janet Fielding tells a story about fan mail. Or fan male. She and Sarah Sutton would regularly receive seventeen-page letters from a man who tried to make them admit that they were in love with him. Janet tried replying in character to make him back off, but it didn’t work. The letters got increasingly unpleasant and the writer was dealt with. Louise Jameson said she once had a letter saying, “I love Leela, she’s so much better than the last companion.” Louise was then mistakenly sent Elisabeth Sladen’s fan mail. “Of course, I opened it,” said Louise. One letter read, “Dear Elisabeth, I wish you’d come back, you were so much better than the new girl, she’s just so awful.”
Fans queue for photos with the actors, who cheerfully and generously give of their time. A donation to Foodbank is required; the crew rattle buckets and keeps the crowd moving. Simon starts to wind up and Sylvester McCoy sidles up to him: “I have to go. I have a train to catch. Got another convention tomorrow.” He waves at the crowd, who cheer and is gone. Simon finishes his thanks and Sophie thanks Simon: it’s a special convention, she says, we love coming here and Simon always looks after us so well. I drive Janet Fielding to her hotel and discover I have the used bag of camomile tea which I brought her, in drink form, in the autograph queue. Do I keep it forever on my mantelpiece or chuck it in the compost when I get home? (I did the latter.) Too tired to load the Daleks into the van, we trundle them into the scene dock to be collected later. Crew swaps jokes and cigarettes and it’s all over for another year.
I can’t wait.
Me with a Sensorite (James Burgess). Mustn’t give him my cold…
Six Decades of Adventure in Space and Time (published 2018) is available from imforemansjunkyard.co.uk for £15 (RRP £15.99) including postage and packing
You can see some of the previous Bedford Who sketches – including Colin Baker singing, “I’m from Gallifrey and I’m okay” – at bedfordwhocharitycon.co.uk