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Cygnus Alpha - 7th June 2015


CYGNUS ALPHA CONVENTION
7th June 2015
The Lost Theatre, Wandsworth, London

Guests: Gareth Thomas, Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell, Michael Keating, Stephen Greif, Brian Croucher, Adrienne Burgess, Michael Gaunt, Michael MacKenzie, Mat Irvine, Trevor Hoyle, Andrew Morgan, Vivienne Cozens and Mike Mungarvan.


INTRODUCTION by Travisina
Cygnus Alpha was billed as a fan run event celebrating and revisiting the BBC classic TV series BLAKE'S 7. With an impressive lineup of B7 guests, the launch of fan anthology Blake's Heaven and displays of fan-owned props and costumes, it certainly lived up to that description. Fellow Horizon attendees agreed to provide reviews for our website (bribing with chocolate seemed to help), and I'm pleased to present these here, with my own thoughts at the end. Enjoy!


REVIEW by Spaceship Dispatcher

The venue for this first Cygnus Alpha event was the well chosen Lost Theatre in Lambeth, just a short walk or even shorter bus ride along the Wandsworth Road from Vauxhall Underground and main line station. The doors opened promptly at 10am and registration was a smooth and well prepared operation supervised by event organiser Ian Kubiak, with numbers allocated sequentially as attendees entered that would be used to give order to later activities. That was the plan, anyway!

All the events were planned to take place on the stage area with each group of guests doing a photo shoot, then an interview panel, and finally an autograph session. Near the door was a well stocked and efficiently run merchandise stand that also dealt with booking photo sessions and additional autographs.

The first two groups of guests included some of the less famous contributors to the show from both in front and behind the camera, and this was a special feature of the schedule that allowed others to step into the spotlight that might not be centre of attention at another event. They included performers Adrienne Burgess, Michael Gaunt, Michael MacKenzie and Mike Mungarvan, directors Andrew Morgan and Vivienne Cozens, special effects designer Mat Irvine, and writer Trevor Hoyle. The use of the stage for all the events, while allowing all attendees to see and participate in everything, did prevent overlapping of activities involving different guests – since the next guests could not have their photos taken while the previous group were still signing – and things started to run a little behind time. But the interviews that we did have were interesting, if cut short once or twice, and the variety of autographs available was impressive for such a small scale event.

Sadly, the late running and the time it takes for six regular stars to meet a hundred fans meant that the day's ‘main event’ for many – the interview panel with Gareth Thomas, Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell, Michael Keating, Stephen Greif and Brian Croucher – simply never even happened, which was a very great shame. Attendees who were able to stay past 5pm were treated to a hugely entertaining discussion between Gareth Thomas, Brian Croucher and Michael Keating; and those who missed out on meeting Sally, Jan or Stephen because the actors had to leave did get the opportunity to get items signed and returned by post.

Even during the crisis of late running and actors having to leave while there was a queue still waiting to meet them, the organisers kept a level head and tried really hard to compensate those who missed out. Their apologies were sincere and their efforts genuine and so, whatever lessons had to be learned the hard way, Ian Kubiak and his team still showed up as a model for other organisers to aspire to in many ways. I’m definitely hoping that they go for it again next year and bring us a Cygnus Alpha 2 convention, because I for one would be very keen to attend.

***


COMING OUT! IMPRESSIONS FROM A PERFECT DAY ON CYGNUS ALPHA by Anniew

Sunday, June 9th. My first ever fan convention. The day I came out as a Blake's 7 fan, in public.

I nearly didn't go, I was that nervous. Only the thought of meeting website friends persuaded me. "It probably won't be my thing," I told my husband. How wrong can you get?

I travelled up by train. I don't know if you've ever studied the landscape that trains pass through? Industrial, run down: futuristic towers next door to broken bridges and iron black railway sheds. Perfect Blake's 7 settings. Did the Deltas live in dilapidated high rise flats under the domes or something more like an Indian slum? That scrub-land, carpeted with bracken, must surely hide a Decima or two.

Were any of my fellow passengers going to the Convention? Could that be Spaceship Dispatcher? Was that Mistletoe? No. None of them was going my way. I walked alone down the length of Wandsworth Road in the sunshine and joined the queue outside the Lost Theatre, feeling pretty lost myself. Finally I plucked up enough courage to talk to a man behind me who had travelled all the way from Sunderland to attend.

Inside the theatre I glanced around and a lovely women called out, "Are you Annie?".... Travisina.

In quick succession I had said "Hi," to Mistletoe and her amazing son Lukas, to Trevor Travis and finally, the real Spaceship Dispatcher and Meegat. I was relaxed now. With friends.

And then the day unfolded. A jumble of memories. Queuing for autographs - that surprised me. Naively I'd thought I'd be given a bunch of them in an envelope at the end of the day. It proved to be quite jolly. Soon I was talking to Mrs Olag Gan who was wearing a covetable Avon tee shirt; surrounded by fans armed with DVDs, pictures, books, home-made charts, scrap books. Some people offered about ten items for signing and the guests obliged with a good humour that was humbling. I pushed my one picture forward and muttered a quick, "Thank you," before moving on and then I found myself standing next to Orac. Orac! I wondered why it wasn't making a snarky observation. There was a hand gun... a teleport bracelet.  It was all I could do not to grab one and leg it. I did, surreptitiously, stroke Orac.

My favourite spaceship ever, Liberator, beautiful but so small, stood next to it. I had imagined the model being the size of an arm chair. SD explained to me that the camera they used made it seem bigger on screen as they filmed it. I pretended to understand. Mat Irvine – such a star. Vivienne Cozens, self-effacing and so talented - my favourite director (along with Mary Ridge) and Andrew Morgan. An absorbing panel discussion followed. My goodness, they were lucky to be working at such a creative time: on Children of Auron they even painted an extension of the exterior set onto glass but couldn't use it because when they examined the rushes they had filmed a fly crawling up it!

Upstairs next, to get my copy of Blake's Heaven signed. So many people I knew only from Horizon, audio books, Facebook and Twitter.

Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore, both slightly taken aback by spontaneous fan girl gush, gamely agreed to have their pictures taken with me. J R Southall, John Davies, Cliff Chapman – amazingly considerate and kind. And such talented people. Gary's costumes... boy, were the actors slim!

Then back for group photos with the Actors. Mistletoe and I so nervous as we queued to rub shoulders (literally) with our heroes and slightly disappointed there was no Avon, though we'd have probably fainted if he had been there. (Any excuse to fall into his arms) The resulting photo showed me grinning ridiculously with excitement.

More autographs. Sally and Jan became anxious as the queue wound on and on. They needed to leave and didn't want to disappoint any of us. Michael was unflappable. Gareth sweet. I found myself thanking The Travises (Travi?) for the hours of pleasure they'd given me over the years. Not surprisingly they looked a little taken aback.

A final forum - nostalgic, funny, sincere - three actors reminiscing gently about their careers. Gareth told us about an American tourist who were distraught at knocking over a polystyrene megalith at Avebury during the filming of Children of The Stones - "Oh my Gaaad, it had been there so laannng!", while Brian shared an eyebrow-raising tale of the one and only Servalan and Michael explained why rambling is like acting (apparently it's really easy to get lost!). It was a lovely interview conducted by Ian Kubiak - the man of the hour, who had done such a great job all day and managed to keep cool and humorous, despite the fact that in my opinion, trying to organise fans scenting an autograph opportunity is akin to herding cats!

It could have gone on till midnight as far as I was concerned, but it ended with the charity raffle and, wow! I'd won a prize. Not the signed Liberator bracelet we'd all coveted, but the audiobook of Children of the Stones, read by Gareth Thomas and signed by Gareth himself. Nearly as good.

Finally, coffee and caramel wafers at Waterloo station with the Horizon bunch. Such interesting, funny, knowledgeable companions. Then home. Exhausted. But happy.

It's official. I am a hopeless, outed fan! Can't wait till Return to Return to Gauda Prime!

***


CYGNUS ALPHA - A PERSONAL ACCOUNT by Mistletoe12

I never thought I’d be rushing around at six-thirty in the morning to attend Cygnus Alpha. Prison planets have certainly improved since Blake, Jenna and Avon made their timely escape from the London.

I attended the event with my son (indoctrinated into sci-fi since his birth) and luckily we’re used to bus hopping. All roads eventually lead to… well, central London, or in this case, The Lost Theatre, Wandsworth.

Our journey didn’t involve an encounter with a magnificent alien space ship, but we did drive past Haberdasher’s Askes School on the way. It certainly isn’t the branch Paul Darrow attended in his youth, but it was still good to spot the sign outside the school and a fitting connection to the theme of the day.

Many years ago, I sat in a hotel room in Las Vegas with a group of like-minded Earth 2 fans. We were chatting, having fun, discussing where to eat dinner and when the last member of our party arrived, she stepped into the room, managed to trip over a dust bunny and consequently fell onto those of us sitting cross-legged on the floor! It was funny, she wasn’t hurt and while it’s hardly a standard introduction, it certainly was memorable…

I never set out to do things like that; standing in the queue at the theatre last Sunday, I gradually mounted the stairs, holding my schedule. I approached the auditorium, pulling out money to purchase a cast photo, studio token and raffle tickets and with my mind concentrating on that – that’s how you immediately blow twenty quid – I said hello to Travisina, Trevor Travis, Spaceship Dispatcher and Anniew.

When Lukas and I took our seats, I realised I’d mislaid my schedule. It was important to hold onto it, because it was needed in order to claim the inclusive autographs. “What did I do with it?” I searched my bag several times in rapid succession. “It must be here!” I said in a panicked tone.

It wasn’t!

I was starting to think ‘no autographs for me’ when Ian Kubiak, the event organiser, stood in front of the crowded theatre holding up a schedule.

“Someone’s already lost their schedule,” he announced, amused.

“That would be me,” I said, raising a hand, mortified and feeling like the proverbial idiot.

“Everyone point and laugh,” teased Ian, handing it to me.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly trip into the room as my friend did in Las Vegas, but much like Avon in Breakdown, I probably made an impression as someone who “can’t work and talk at the same time.”

I did find it funny!

Mat Irvine, with his wonderful props and models, is the ideal guest – his stories are always interesting. I really enjoyed hearing what Andrew Morgan and Vivienne Cozens had to say in relation to directing and how the nature of making programmes has changed.

While I didn’t time the panels, I felt the second round of interviews was shorter than the previous panel – overrunning was becoming an issue at this point.

I particularly enjoyed listening to Adrienne Burgess (Hannah in Shadow), her voice and features are still instantly recognisable and Shadow remains on my list of favourite episodes.

Trevor Hoyle – I love hearing a writer’s thought processes. I regret my decision not to spend time sorting through the overstuffed cupboard in my home where I store all the old Blake’s 7 memorabilia. I should have brought my copy of Scorpio Attack to the event.

Cygnus Alpha featured the Blake’s Heaven – Maximum Fan-Power book launch. Ian kindly invited me to sign copies since I contributed the Headhunter and Avon: A Terrible Aspect essays to the book.

I’ve never sat behind a signing desk before except to welcome attendees, take cash related to auctions, lay out goodies and other related ConCom duties. My son had contributed to the book also – he wrote the essay on Killer. He also signed at the table and I’m incredibly proud of him and his willingness to help at every turn.

I was nervous beforehand, but in reality I had a great time – it was fun signing. It was a pleasure meeting all my fellow contributors including John Davies (editor). Emailing isn’t the same as meeting in person to put a face to the name properly.

I really owe Travisina (p91 in the Blake’s Heaven book – it’s ingrained in my memory) a huge thank you for not only being my signing buddy, but exceptionally good company. Shared chocolate rewards were an added bonus! You know it’s a successful sci-fi event when you eat little, talk, drink water, talk, gobble chocolate, talk and lug around bulging backpacks… and sometimes suitcases!

Since the Blake’s Heaven book signing took place in the room designated to display the weapons, bracelets and costumes, it afforded us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Blake’s 7 universe, in the company of people who recognise the glint which shines in the eyes of those gazing at Avon’s series four summer costume, his Harvest of Kairos jacket, Servalan’s black gown, and many, many more. A massive appreciative thank you to everyone who brought along these fantastic items.

Autographs and Photo Studio: The fact I’d previously taken a long break from B7 fandom isn’t news and last year at the BFI event I bottled queuing for autographs. Maybe Sunday proved it’s like riding a bike because the second you stand in front the guest it’s the most natural thing in the world to shake their hand, let them know how much I appreciate their contribution to the show (cast and crew) and politely request a personalised autograph.

Mat Irvine had brought along his wonderful prop/model collection – there is nothing quite like drooling over Orac and a beautifully lit Liberator. He’d included also one of the twelve remaining original teleport bracelets. At the autograph line I asked if I could look at the teleport bracelet. He whipped it out his pocket without hesitation and handing it to me to try on, I grinned like a Cheshire cat as I clipped the iconic bracelet around my wrist.

Bloody amazing!

Mat smiled indulgently, my son took a photo and I did return it to its owner with a huge thank you. The actors/cast/crew generosity hasn’t diminished over the past thirty plus years; their ability to sign without a break and without becoming irritated never ceases to be impressive – I won’t ever stop feeling a thrill at meeting everyone associated with the show from my childhood.

I’d bought a token for the photo studio: Sally Knyvette, Gareth Thomas, Brian Croucher, Michael Keating, Jan Chappell and Stephen Greif.

I’d effectively, legitimately and somewhat guiltily queue jumped all day due to the Blake’s Heaven book signing times clashing with the autograph sessions. But I now found myself at the back of the photo group with Annie – I think we’d been too busy talking to realise. We helped one another with nerves (or made it worse, take your pick.)

“I can’t do this,” I said watching one attendee sit in the chair with all the guests.

“Me neither,” Annie replied.

“Nor me,” piped up the guy in front of us.

Well, naturally, we all moved forward, until it came down to just me and Annie. All the B7 guys were really sweet, friendly and managed to fit in a few welcoming words before the photographer clicked his camera. Annie, a supportive gesture, gave me the thumbs up as I took my seat; in the picture it clearly attracts the cast’s attention. Jan is looking in her direction with an amused smile, Michael is laughing, and me … I had a marvellous time in the photo studio, I love the photo, it’s natural and funny and Annie, you were great!

It didn’t all go to plan – the scheduling problems resulted in lengthy autograph/photo sessions, abuse of the autograph protocol, truncated interviews with little time for Q&A and guests having to leave. Should Ian and his team stage another similar event further down the line I’m sure they will have learnt many valuable lessons about the pitfalls associated with organising a convention.

I hope he does, because he genuinely cared about making it a good day for everyone – in order to avoid overrunning and accommodating panels/autographs without clashing, it probably requires a classic weekend schedule, but Ian should quite rightly call Cygnus Alpha a success. His heart is definitely in the right place, he remained patient and polite throughout the day and always retained his sense of humour.

What about the delays during the day? I find it impossible to criticise, I have nothing to complain about. The delays gave everyone the ideal opportunity to indulge in their favourite pastime – chatting about Blake’s 7 and the A to Z of everything.

And we were treated to a final panel with Brian, Gareth and Michael. They remained to sit on the B7-esque interview couches, consummate professionals entering into the spirit of the day with good natured humour, interesting tales and Brian’s conversation with Servalan on the phone was enormous fun.

I had a brilliant day; it's lovely to be greeted with a smile from familiar faces and to get to know new faces. I loved spending time with my Horizon family – Travisina, Anniew, Spaceship Dispatcher, Trevor Travis and Meegat – you were the best company.

A few of us topped off a fine day with a bus ride to Waterloo, coffee, lively conversation and the need to use a toilet (any would do.)

We made our way home on a lovely summer’s evening feeling exhausted, thirsty and hungry… but with the knowledge we’d had a terrific day.

***



ADDITIONAL REPORT by Travisina

As a venue, The Lost Theatre was very good – although lack of close parking was an issue for those with stuff to bring in and out, it was well served by public transport even on a Sunday. My journey was by mainline train, tube and bus, and all were smooth and sweatless. Inside the theatre, registration took place in the foyer, the main auditorium was on the first floor and the Costume Exhibition / Book Launch Room on the second floor. Everything was well signposted, and even though a ballet class was taking place in one of the rehearsal rooms at the same time, there was no conflict or confusion. (I remember a Space City convention, where a wedding was being held in the hotel at the same time. That was amusing...)

It's almost traditional not to eat at conventions, where excitement and adrenaline replace normal hunger. However, there was a Tesco next door for those who wanted to buy reasonably priced lunch, drinks and snacks, which was certainly better than being stuck in a hotel charging outrageous prices (Big Finish Day at Copthorne Hotel Slough, I'm looking at you). The bar at the Lost Theatre wasn't particularly cheap, though – after shelling out £2 for a cup of tea, I stuck to water for the rest of the day.

Mistletoe12 had bribed me with chocolate to be her signing buddy during the book launch of Blake's Heaven. It was fun and slightly surreal to be sitting behind a table signing my name for other people, when usually it's the other way round. I very much enjoyed meeting the editor John Davies and JR Southall – after many months of corresponding by email, it was great to put faces to the names. It was handy that the signing took place in the same room as the costume exhibition, as I had contributed one of the costumes – Avon's green jacket from Harvest of Kairos. It took a small place hanging amongst Gary's impressive costume collection that was beautifully displayed on mannequins, and it was interesting to compare it with Avon's brown jacket from Ultraworld.

Huge credit should go to Ian Kubiak and his team of helpers for organising the event. No doubt, like a swan, everyone was paddling like fury underwater, but on the surface everything seemed to work smoothly. Ian and his team were always pleasant, good humoured and smiling, even when the schedule unravelled during the afternoon. The main issue, as others have mentioned, was with the timings. The photoshoots went fine, but it seemed that some attendees had gone overboard with getting autographs - some people seemed to have brought their entire collections to get signed, others - and this is me being cynical - seemed to be stocking up on stuff to sell on eBay. Next time, I think a limit should be set on the number of autographs per attendee. It was disappointing that as a result of the late-running autograph sessions, the panels had to be cut short, because the guests were all extremely interesting, and I would have loved to hear more from Trevor Hoyle and the directors, as well as the actors. It was a shame that the final panel, which should have been the big highlight of the day, took place after half of the main B7 guests (and several attendees) had had to leave. Gareth, Brian and Michael were wonderful, but I wished 'the girls' could have been there too, as well as the Other Travis.

Ian has been as good as his word and has already arranged for Stephen Greif, Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette to sign items for those fans who missed out on the day. The convention raised over £300 for its charity, Parkinson's UK. (I confess that we Horizon-ers cheered when a raffle prize was won by one of us - lucky Annie took home the audiobook of Children of the Stones read - and signed - by Gareth Thomas.) So apart from the timing issues, I think Cygnus Alpha can be considered a success.

Overall, I had a brilliant time. The atmosphere was great, and like many conventions, the best thing about it was spending time chatting to fellow fans, old and new. I was ever so pleased to meet Anniew for the first time, though after reams of correspondence it actually felt like I'd known her for years. It was amazing to meet up again with Steve Haines from the North West B7 group, after more years than I will admit to, and to reminisce about location outings and conventions in days gone by. Mistletoe and Son were great company as signing and (legitimate) queue-jumping buddies. And of course it's always fun to hang out with 'the regulars' – Spaceship Dispatcher, Trevor Travis and Meegat.

After the convention ended, a group of us who were reluctant to part and in dire need of re-caffeination, ended up in a coffee emporium at Waterloo Station, to carry on chatting over lattes and caramel wafers. It was a brilliant day, and I hope there will be a Cygnus Alpha 2 next year.

***


Photographs by Spaceship Dispatcher, Anniew, Lukas, Travisina
Convention schedule courtesy of Cygnus Alpha

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