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The Supreme Cat Show - 22nd October 2016
The Supreme Cat Show
NEC, Birmingham - 22nd October 2016
Report by Annie Worrall
By the time the alarm goes off (04.10 since you're asking) I have envisaged so many disasters that I've hardly slept at all. I have to remind myself firmly that I'm not travelling to Outer Mongolia, I'm just going to Birmingham to witness stars from Blakes 7 judging cats, and nothing bad is going to happen. A Supreme Cat show and a Sci Fi series about fascism is a bizarre combination, even to this ardent fan used to bizarre Blakes 7 stuff, but it's easy to envisage Vila befriending a moggy and even Avon's cold black heart would be warmed by a kitten - wouldn't it?
Zombie-like (are they putting Pylene 50 in the water these days?) I get myself ready. A casual glance in the mirror reveals that my hair, that looked fine before I went to bed, has puffed itself up like a meringue. After a struggle it gives in and subsides to a more manageable cap. My husband (who had earlier announced something along the lines of "Not stupid… not going... but give your friends my love") is going to take me to the station. He's also pretty zonked, as I realise when I attempt to get an appraisal on my appearance: he's not even glancing in my direction as he mutters insincerely, "Fine… you look fine..."
The station is empty when I get there. Scarily empty. Only yesterday I read that an unidentified package was disposed of at a tube station in London. I can't see any unidentified packages, but I still worry. Would Blake have been responsible for planting packages on transport systems, I wonder? Surely not! The large electric information signs flash so much information that my brain shuts down. Am I on the right platform? Is that the Victoria train… is that… that..? Ah, that!
“PLEASE MIND THE GAP” I seem to have travelled into a Neil Gaiman Neverwhere Universe. It's okay though, because Avon would make short work of that Beast and I'm not going anywhere near Earl's Court. An advertisement for The Vulgar Fashion exhibition at the Barbican asserting that In fashion, more is more seems a good omen - after all, it's a precept that Blakes 7 embraced wholeheartedly. Now I'm confident. It's going to be a spectacular day!
Soon I have met up with Travisina, Mistletoe12 and Mistletoe Minor and we're snacking on chocolate and halva. We manage to connect successfully with Clareblues at Rugby; she is valiantly fending off a cold. An epic trek through the NEC and we reach Halls 17 and 18, both as big as aeroplane hangers and crammed with cats of every description, a Dalek, Federation and storm troopers, several cosplayers and a table of B7 props. Rows of cages decorated in sci fi themes line half the hall and in the middle are the judging rings. We make our way to Ring 8 where Paul Darrow is engaged in sorting out which of the delightful cats presented to him should win a rosette, and bump into Silver Alaunt. It soon becomes clear that we're not going to get a chance to obtain Paul's autograph or have our photo taken with him, but during a break in judging, he comes over to talk to us. Bliss! I'm one huge smile. He talks about his work on Radio Jack FM (now called Union Jack) and tells us that we can download a free app to listen to the station. As usual, he is utterly charming and I hope it isn't obvious that my knees are trembling. He and the cats are getting on famously, and he is handling the judging with aplomb.
Later in the day I am privileged to participate in talks given by Colin Baker and Michael Keating. Colin tells us he would love to reprise the role of Bayban if given the chance, and that it was he who encouraged the 'more is more' costume for the character. In contrast, it was interesting to learn that he wanted to play The Doctor in a long dark coat, not the coloured monstrosity he was saddled with. When I ask him who his favourite companion was he says, "Peri… because you always remember the first most fondly." He then adds, somewhat naughtily, that that only works with girlfriends - "With wives you should always say you like the last one best!" He is asked about his role as Paul Merroney in The Brothers. During the show’s run he became ‘the most hated man in Britain’, and Colin told us how a man rear-ended his car at a junction, jumped out to blame him, and then recognising him as Paul Merroney, punched him in the face! Colin, wisely judging that discretion was the better part of valour, thanked the man meekly for the attention before driving himself to hospital. Despite this, he still rates the character as one of the best he's had the chance of playing. He goes on to tell us about his cats (he currently has five and a long history with them) and his belief that they are superior beings. He then discourses humorously on the evil nature of goats. We learn he has written an article for his local newspaper every week for the last twenty years, as well as several short stories. The articles and stories are to be reprinted soon in book form, so that's something to look out for - as is the children's book his daughter has written, Rhino Wants a Wife.
Michael Keating tells us how he got into acting. He was often in trouble at school, but joined the drama club and got his first laugh from an audience when playing Bottom in a school production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream. He decided this was the career for him and left school to go to the Guildhall School of Drama. In response to my question as to what in his career he's most proud of, he recounts that as a young man, just starting out at the Nottingham Play House, he learned the role of Trigorin in Chekhov's The Seagull overnight when his friend David Neil (Gerren in Games) was taken ill. His co-star Fenella Fielding was rather cross when he accidentally cut her line in performance the following day! He enjoyed his time on Blakes 7 because they had time to rehearse. He's amazed that the actors in Eastenders don't really seem to learn their lines; they get given the script a few hours before shooting, read it through and then just play the scene. He doesn't think that playing Vila for four years limited his chances of other roles: he quotes the actor J G Devlin (with a credible Irish accent) who told him: "90% of success in acting is luck and the other 10% is dammed luck!" He shares reminiscences of quarries he's known and his success on Pointless Celebrities with Jaqueline Pearce. Mistletoe asks him about Big Finish and new Blake's 7 stories but sadly he has no news for us. It’s an enjoyable panel, and all too soon he's summoned back to cat-judging duties.
Now we have time to admire the space-themed cat cages and their regal occupants, to examine the B7 props table, drool over a covetable set of faux brass statues of Blake, Avon, Vila and Jenna sculpted by the talented Janet Black and buy our raffle tickets from Richard Bailey before the long trek back to the train.
Of course, being Blakes 7 fans, our fan day finishes with coffee and philosophy at Euston Station before we reluctantly make our separate ways home. I'm so tired that when my train reaches Dorking, I sit there for several seconds wondering why it isn't moving before suddenly registering I am the only one left on it. I just manage to scramble off before it returns to London.
It was a fabulous day. Not only had Horizon member Kneazle had the brilliant idea of combining her passion for cats with her interest in Sci Fi, but she had organised a day which gave us time to talk informally to the attending stars without queuing or pressure and the chance to meet other lovely fans. I can't thank her enough for such an inspired concept, the effort she put into the event and the welcome she gave those of us attending. Oh, and she also introduced us to her namesake, her elegant Egyptian Mau cat also named Kneazle. Adorable.
I just wish I'd been able to buy it, or one of those other lovely cats!
Never in my life had I considered travelling halfway across England to attend a cat show. Nothing personal against cats – I prefer dogs, but you wouldn't find me at a dog show, either. But this year the Supreme Cat Show ('the Crufts of Cats') had a sci fi theme, with special SF guests among the judges. It seemed an odd but intriguing combination, and the temptation of seeing actors from B7 and Doctor Who judging cats, as well as signing autographs and giving talks was irresistible!
Saturday morning saw our intrepid group – Anniew, Mistletoe12, Mistletoe Minor and myself - meeting at Euston Station to catch an early train to Birmingham. We'd arranged to rendezvous outside Smiths at 7.30am, but seemed to have been determined to out-early each other, and were actually assembled by 7.15. Annie, despite having had the furthest to come, was also the first to arrive and already well into her first coffee by the time the rest of us found her. Confusingly, there turned out to be two branches of Smiths, which didn't help our sleep-deprived brains.
Fortifying ourselves with caffeiene, chocolate and halva, we caught our designated train. Clareblues, bravely battling a bad cold, joined us at Rugby. She's a well-seasoned visitor to the NEC, and we were grateful to have her lead the way on the long hike from the station to the halls where the show was taking place.
Walking into the huge venue brought a strange sense of familiarity. Aside from the sight of rows of caged cats and judging enclosures, there was the same atmosphere you get at SF conventions whenever large numbers of like-minded fans get together: the buzz of camaraderie and rivalry, in-jokes and cryptic conversations, T-shirts with slogans, displays of artwork, clubs to join, charities to donate to, merchandise stalls and overpriced food. We had stepped into a convention of Feline Fandom!
Meeting up with other B7 fans, including Silver Alaunt, Jill Rooney (sporting a T-shirt with Rainesz' artwork) and son, and Gillian Taylor, we made our way to the enclosure where Paul Darrow was judging Household Cats.
I had no idea what to expect from a cat show. Vague ideas based on seeing dog and horse shows on TV created a mental image of cats parading round a ring and being made to do tricks, but I couldn't quite picture how that would be achieved, especially as the phrase 'herding cats' kept springing to mind. That mental image was instantly dispelled – there were no parades and no tricks; each cat was carefully handed to Paul for consideration before being returned to its numbered cage. He seemed to be having a wonderful time!
Clare had forewarned us about the cost of food and length of queues at the NEC, so we'd brought our own. There was a handy table nearby, and we parked ourselves there, able to relax, eat and enjoy watching Paul judging the various moggies. Although we couldn't speak to him while he was doing the judging, he came out from the enclosure to spend some time chatting to us.
That area of the vast hall contained the other SF elements of the day – autograph tables, displays of RB's replica models and Janet Black's sculptures. There were cosplayers, Federation and Imperial Troopers, and a roving Dalek. I was very plesaed to meet Colin Baker for the first time, and to get his autograph on my trading card of Bayban the Butcher. It was nice also to be able to meet Peter Purves and get a signed photo of him with the First Doctor for our collection.
After lunch, we went to the talks given by Colin Baker and Michael Keating. The panels seemed to be have been a bit of an afterthought: a table and two rows of chairs had been set up behind a partition round the back of the autograph tables. There weren't enough chairs, so in true rebel style, some of us liberated a stack of unused chairs from behind the SF display tables. There was no microphone set up for the guests, who had to compete with tannoy announcements and irritating muzak. However, this actually worked out well, as we drew our illicitly-acquired chairs closer to the table and the Q&A sessions turned into more intimate, informal chats. Colin told us about his cats, and was happy to talk about The Brothers and B7 as well as his time on Doctor Who. Michael chatted about his career, beginning with how he became an actor, and bringing us up to date with his recent work on Eastenders and Pointless Celebrities. We were sorry when the panels were over and the guests had to return to cat duties.
But what of the real stars of the event - the cats? From time to time, I managed to tear myself away from the SF area and wander up and down the rows, admiring the cats reclining inside luxurious SF-themed cages. They seemed relaxed and nonchalant, as if they were used to this sort of thing or considered it beneath their dignity to take any notice of the goings on. "Don't catch fleas!" had been my husband's warning as I'd set off that morning, but there was no chance of that with these sleek, beautiful creatures.
My favourite cages were the Star Trek (complete with Tribbles) and Alien themes – the latter cage and its occupant seemed to have won many awards, judging by the number of rosettes with which it was festooned. I browsed the merchandise stalls, with their bewildering array cat-themed memorabilia, souvenirs, clothes, tea towels (I quite liked the one that said Every Life Should Have 9 Cats – a sentiment shared by Colin Baker), eventually coming away with a notepad for my cat-loving sister and a free sample of handcream.
With all the running around, I missed getting John Leeson's autograph or seeing him judging cats, but was amused by the cage that used K9 as its catbed. Oh, the indignity!
Before going home, we spent some time admiring Janet's sculptures and RB's models, and bought tickets for the charity raffle. We had to catch our train and couldn't stay to see Michael draw the winning ticket, but were delighted to discover on the way home that the winner of the replica mini-Orac was our own Mistletoe!
We finished the day back where we started at Euston, putting the world to rights over a final coffee before going our separate ways.
Huge thanks again to Kneazle for organising the event. After months of liaising with her via email and Twitter, it was lovely to meet her in person. It was great also to meet and admire her namesake, the Egyptian Mau. Thanks also to Mistletoe for arranging my train tickets (and congratulations again on winning mini-Orac), and to fellow attendees for making the day so much fun. It had been wonderful - long, tiring but utterly unique. Miaow!
Photos by Susan Bowden, Annie Worrall and Jackie Emery