Friday, 1 November 2013

Stag Trek at the Dragonara Hotel, Leeds, 1981

Here's another Con report from the old file I found at the bottom of a cupboard.
This time it's not one of mine - it's by "The Professor (as opposed to the Doctor)", so I hope he won't mind me resurrecting this from the mists of time.

Leeds. The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship 'Dragonara'; its five year mission, to hold Star Trek conventions, to seek out new con attendees and new science fiction programmes, to boldly go where no hotel has gone before.

by The Professor (as opposed to the Doctor)

Government Health Warning: Going to Star Trek conventions can damage your wealth.
Intergalactic Health Warning: Failure to go to Star Trek conventions can damage your sanity.

For those of you with a nervous disposition, please turn over the next few (many! - Ed) pages for, as you may have guessed, it is I, your local Time Lord reporter doing his penance in a desperate bid to avoid being eaten by your President.

Archaeologists have discovered that one of the earliest of all ST conventions was held at the Dragonara Hotel in Leeds on 11/12 April 1981. (NB for those of you who are reading this report in a different time period, please note that it is being written on 27 October 3170AS and will be passed back to you through a time portal. Since there is a chance that this will in fact fail, if it does not appear in print please accept my apologies.)

Thursday 9 April started at an early hour. It was on that day that the well-known Excalibur reporter Keith Cook was due to pick me up, along with others, for our long journey up to Leeds. Unfortunately as you may have read in his report (see last newsletter - Ed) he had slight difficulties with his petrol tank. Therefore it was on Friday 10 April that I found myself (which is not easy, particularly when there's crowds around) meeting him at Kings Cross Station. Once there we boarded the train only to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous British Rail (not to mention outrageous Americans) on our journey up to Leeds and the Dragonara Hotel.

Once at the Dragonara, we made our way to that hallowed shrine of the convention goers - yes, you've guessed it, the bar. The bars in the Dragonara are similar to bars everywhere on your planet, with one important difference - they are more expensive.

While standing in the Dragonara bar I was tempted to think of some of the great bars of the universe. One of the greatest must be Patrick's Bar in the great Hotel of Light on the planet Caprika. There, barmen, dressed in bright red (or for those of you reading in black and white, the darker colour) serve the patrons with a dazzling array of drinks from the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster to the infinitely more potent Beeblebrox Cocktail. By these standards the Dragonara Bar is mundane yet functional.

Unable to get into our room until 2pm a group of us, including Mike Wild, Sue Toth, Steve Hatton, Martin 'call me Zaphod' Smith, Keith and myself decided to go and watch the launch of 'Columbia'. Having watched a favourable comparison with a British Rail timetable, and with the hotel staff willing to let us unto our rooms, Keith and I took one of those well-known Dragonara lifts to the 7th floor where we deposited our gear.

Hastily returning to the bar we came across that well-known Time Lord extra-ordinaire John Field and, shortly after, it came to pass that having exchanged gifts, purchased annuals etc., we found ourselves in the main hall helping the ever-present Chris Chivers set up for the convention.

And so the day passed. That evening a group of us set out for what, for some people, has become a tradition at conventions - the pre-con meal. In this case we went to a small French restaurant-cum-disco where we remained until about 11pm. The meal itself was very good. I must admit there is something to be said for French food, though to be honest, I can't for the life of me think what.

Back to the hotel, we watched the rehearsals for the fashion show (which is even more fun than the fashion show itself, particularly when John Field and Chris Chivers are for shall I put this?....'act' on the Sunday which those of you who were there will no doubt remember as being somewhat....interesting?).* It was at this point that we noticed the staging had a distressing tendency to collapse; this was due to a marked lack of locking pins. Such are the problems of conventions.

And so to Saturday, and the convention opening. Opening ceremonies, by their nature, start proceedings, as opposed to closing ceremonies which do the opposite. This is of course not true on the planet Ursa Minor Beta where, at the Festival of Normality, events are preceded by the closing ceremony. The exact reason for this is lost in antiquity although some independent observers have speculated that it is probably of some deep religious significance. Others, however, refute this and claim simply that it is precisely what you would expect on that planet.

The opening ceremony having finished, I spent the rest of the morning helping set up various odds and ends, including the hospitality room. And so after much hard work (who's kidding? - Ed) I found myself being dragged bodily into Leeds by Keith Cook, John Field and Kathy Walton who were searching for some sandals for Sylvia Billings and some feathers for a head dress for one of the costumes in Kathy's fashion show entry. These having been duly purchased I returned to the hotel just in time for Rupert Evans' speech on stunting and stuntmen, a topic perhaps appropriate for convention attendees.

There then followed a Star Trek episode - 'Where No Man Has Gone Before'. However since I have been there I did not watch it.

And so in what seemed like no time whatsoever I found myself, camera in hand, awaiting the start of the fancy dress which as always featured a large selection of aliens who, earlier in the day, had been masquerading as people.

Finally there was the disco. Yes, that well-known event featuring lights, music, people and hangovers. (Speak for yourself - Ed). And so, after a minor excursion to watch some blooper reels at a room party, I found myself falling into bed at about 3.30am only to be rudely awakened at 7.30am where along with Keith Cook, John Field, Dave Whiley, George Billings and Chris Chivers, I was coerced into helping to clear up the mess of the night before which, believe me, was substantial (I do - Ed) although I must confess there was not as much mess as after Zaphod's all year inauguration party.

Nevertheless, despite our lack of numbers we had 'Barbarella' ready for showing by 9am, its scheduled start time. There then followed, at 11am, the highlight of the convention events, the fashion show. As usual with these events, I totally failed to pick the winners (didn't everyone? - Ed).

It was shortly after, in a fit of insanity, which manifested itself in the reshowing of the 'Buck Rogers' film, that America's apology for the British Rail timetable was eventually launched, accompanied by an almighty cheer!

There then followed the business meeting, the first held at a Star Trek convention. It followed the pattern set by SF conventions throughout the galaxy. As a result of this Newcastle was chosen as the venue for the autumn 1982 con. (We'll keep you posted on Galileocon - Ed).

There then followed Susan Sackett's slideshow and talk before the closing ceremony, which was highlighted by a slave auction where mid fools such as Chris Chivers were auctioned off for charity though who'd want to buy some of them remains a mystery.

And then there was, finally, the end-of-con party held as always in the Neville Suite. The end-of-con party....

(TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Here the Professor's message ends due to static in the Time Portal. We apologise to our readers for this problem which is, unfortunately, beyond our control.)

*I now have no memory of this 'act' at all, though in the margins of the report I have written "Fairycakes!"

Looking at this report now, it's not overly informative about what went on at the Convention, (what were the costumes in the fashion show? Who won?) though it does give a flavour of what was going on behind the scenes.
This was one of the first cons I went to, and I remember being quite overwhelmed - I was a shy little thing then. I remember bidding for, and winning, a new Star Trek paperback in the auction - I think it was a book of quotes from the series, and it was certainly purple. They auctioned five of them separately, and I got the second one. I paid £12 for it, which was somewhere around the same cost as the convention weekend itself - the others went for around £24. Sadly, I no longer have it, though that weekend I did get it signed by Rupert Evans, who was a friend of Gene Roddenberry's as well as a stunt man. That was why he was invited to the con, and he was fascinating. One of his early jobs was on the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood, when Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone insisted on doing their own duel on the stairs, rather than letting the stuntmen do it. He said that Errol Flynn had a certain way of swinging the sword blade that he liked, and which he tried to get incorporated into every fight sequence. He talked about other swashbucklers, too, and being the charioteer in Ben Hur who was dragged behind his chariot (he was wearing an early version of a skateboard strapped to his chest). I'm pretty certain that the main guest was Dorothy Fontana, who was also a fascinating speaker - and I was far too shy to approach her until nearly the end of the convention for her autograph in the book.
At this convention, I knew the named people only as distant 'famous fans', though later I went out with Keith Cook for a while. John Field actually had a job as the Doctor - he dressed up as Tom Baker at the Blackpool Doctor Who exhibition, and was once mistaken for Tom Baker on a train (which he milked for all it was worth!). Martin Smith had a false Zaphod Beeblebrox head which he would wear as part of his costume - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was really big at the time. Chris Chivers worked at Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, and also did the technical sound stuff at conventions.
One thing I do remember is the launch of the space shuttle Columbia. I was with friends down in a snack bar somewhere at the bottom of the hotel, and it was announced over the hotel tannoy. The woman making the announcement upgraded it from shuttle to space ship in the space of a couple of sentences. The cheer that followed the announcement must have come from every floor of the hotel! We felt as if we were at the beginning of something really special - that this was the start of the space race which would eventually get us to a 23rd century like the one imagined in Star Trek.

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