My first memory of anything is being stared at by a horrible, leering, squidgy-faced monster. I’ve since met rather too many of those in real life, but I should probably add this was actually an episode of Doctor Who. Part One of ‘Terror of the Zygons’, to be precise. It’s a Tom Baker story, broadcast on 30th August 1975, so I was still a couple of months short of my third birthday. I was at my gran’s house in Middlesbrough, probably stuffed full of fishfingers and arctic roll, and I screamed with terror at my first glimpse of the evil Zygon leader.
The die was cast, though. Although it scared me, I quickly became fascinated by Doctor Who. And Star Wars, and Blakes 7, and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was lucky enough to grow up in an era when TV and films were awash with monsters, ghosts, spaceships and robots, and I was utterly obsessed with them all. I pretended to be Tom Baker, wearing the curly wig from the school dressing-up box, and I built my own K-9 in the garage. Well, strictly speaking, my mate Doug built K-9. I just glued on the ears with Pritt Stick and took all the credit. When I was eight, I wrote my own epic science fiction story, The Battle to Save Earth, in which my friend Richard Moxham and I were kidnapped from Yarm High Street by mysterious forces and sent to the planet Davrock to battle the deadly alien overlord, Klebba Obion.
Over twenty years later, I found The Battle To Save Earth in a battered exercise book in the loft, and was overwhelmed by nostalgia. It coincided with a Doctor Who convention arriving in nearby Stockton-on-Tees, so I bought a ticket and was delighted to spend a weekend in the Swallow Hotel watching grown men dressed as Time Lords sinking pints of John Smith’s bitter in the bar. It was such a bizarre and brilliant experience that I started visiting other conventions around the country. I attended surreal celebrations of all of my favourite shows, with Star Trek, The Prisoner, Robin of Sherwood and Red Dwarf all added to the list. It was an amazing adventure that took over my life – for better and worse – and I was thrilled in 2008 when Hodder & Stoughton asked me to write a book about it all.
The book is called Wiffle Lever To Full! and it’s named after a phrase that actor Steven Pacey occasionally shouted in Blake’s 7 rehearsals when he couldn’t remember his lines. I probably owe him a pint. It was well received at the time (“Anyone who agrees that Star Wars was a defining moment of our collective childhoods will love this book” – The Times), was reissued in 2018 and now seems to have a new lease of life – which I’m thrilled about. So on Sunday 1st May, I’m performing a full night of Wiffle-related nonsense at The Waiting Room, a beautiful venue on Teesside. I’ll be discussing my adventures in cult TV fandom, showing some decidedly embarrassing pictures, and reading extracts from The Battle To Save Earth… surely the only sci-fi story in existence where a deadly intergalactic battle interrupts an important Aston Villa match.
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