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I Was Servalan's Slave - Who's 7, Telford 1992

"I was Servalan’s Slave for a Day"
Who’s 7 Convention 1992, Telford, Shropshire

Report by M1795537 Officer Commanding Virn

I checked in at the convention venue on the Friday, with time to spare. The person on reception seemed harassed, so after dumping my stuff in my room, I did the stupidest thing ever – I went back and offered to help. This led to some of the most intense moments I have ever experienced.

Why was I even there?

Jacqueline Pearce had been my ultimate favourite actress since her first appearance as Servalan in Blake’s 7. It is often said that actors use parts of themselves to create the characters they are playing. But I think it goes further than that: the best actors use the character to encounter parts of themselves. Exploring one’s inner self can feel naked and scary; that’s why they can act the same part time after time, and yet make it fresh; why they still have ‘nerves’, why they value trust and commitment, and why casting the right people together is vital. Blake's 7 got it mostly right. Jacqueline’s acting was so transparent, you could see who she really was. At least, I believed I could. I dreamed of meeting her, though back then it seemed impossible. I even wrote a poem:

When we meet
I’ll touch
Make it real

(OK, you can scoff all you like, but it meant something to me. Still does.)

Having felt like I’d already known her for years, when I read in Horizon magazine that she would be one of the guests at Who’s 7, I signed up as a steward and attended my first ever fan convention.

At first, I was given the menial jobs that always need doing at events but nobody expects will take so much time and effort: helping on reception, taking messages, distributing water and food, moving boxes and escorting people to activities - despite not being familiar with the venue, and having to rely on an outline plan! After being trusted this far, it was then easy for me, a Federation Officer, to infiltrate the rebel command structure and learn their plans. Basically, from then on, I hung out with the organisers, met cast members and made new friends among the other attendees. I was also given a schedule that said I was hosting a panel session with Gareth Thomas. A what?

I discovered that Jacqueline would be arriving the next day. Someone needed to pick her up from the theatre in Coventry where she was working. The guy with the coolest car - an MG - got the job. And as I was the only person with a road atlas, and had already proved I could read maps (see above), I was ordered to ride shotgun. There was no GPS back then, and Telford was a ‘new town’ with some roads still under construction. Neither I nor the driver had ever been to Coventry before, so navigating promised to be a challenge. But none of this mattered, because I was going to meet HER. Actually meet her!

Setting off rather later than the crack of dawn, but ignoring speed limits (Driver: “A car like this doesn’t understand 30mph!”), we found the theatre and its green room in good time. Ms Pearce arrived.

Intense moment #1:
The first thing she said to me was: “Do I know you?” as if she thought she did. We connected. Just read my poem again, folks. Prophetic, or what? I leave you to imagine how I felt for the rest of… well, until right now, if I’m honest.

We returned to Who’s 7 (yes, navigating backwards), where I was appointed to be Jacqueline’s attendant. Cloud 9 doesn’t even come near what I was feeling inside. On the outside, of course, I tried to look as if I’d been doing this kind of thing for years. That may have been a mistake.

Jacqueline Pearce and Colin Baker were due to be interviewed in the main hall, which could hold hundreds of people, and was filling up fast. As I led both guests backstage, I switched on my radio (I’d been upgraded) and asked, innocently, “Who do I hand them over to? Who’s doing the interview?”

Intense moment #2:
The voice that answered said chillingly: “Er… you do it!”

The fall from Cloud 9 is a long one, and the ground is really hard. Me? I mean – me? I felt honoured, but from what I’d read, I knew that Jacqueline had a reputation for giving one-word answers if she didn’t feel comfortable. I could tell she was tired, and she already looked nervous. Terror does not begin to describe what I experienced. There was no way to back out: we were already in the wings, for goodness sake!

Colin Baker rescued us. Had he overheard, or could he see how she felt, too? I don’t know, but he talked to Jacqueline, helped her relax and even made her laugh. I had never been so grateful to anyone.

From then on, things went reasonably well. On stage, I introduced them, and explained that I had no idea what I was doing! But with Jacqueline’s prompting and Colin’s help, we did the interview. The audience was great, suggesting insightful questions and ideas that kept the session going past its allotted time. I have no idea what anyone said. I know I coordinated it, because there are photos, but I can’t remember anything other than Jacqueline’s smile and her kindness.

Over the course of the weekend, she and I found time to talk about life, plays and one-woman shows, including one by Wesker she didn’t know, so I sent her the script a few days later. Jacqueline was as wonderful in person as she was on screen, and exactly as I’d imagined.

Servalan should have been voted the convention’s Supreme Ruler of the Galaxy, but that award went to the Red Dalek. It was the question of solving the problem of homeless people that clinched it. Servalan’s reply indicated that she did retain some shred of humanity, but the Dalek said it would simply exterminate all the homeless, which won it the vote. So much for rebel justice!

I hosted the panel with Gareth Thomas, and by then I was an old hand. Titled Was Blake a Terrorist or a Freedom Fighter? it was an ideal subject for Federation influence. Gareth was amazing, and had some pertinent things to say, especially about Northern Ireland’s troubles.

Then came the masquerade, with David Walsh in his Servalan persona. He looked so authentic, I even slaved for him, too - I have a photo of me spraying his underarm deodorant. You don’t get much more servile than that!

The moral? Never volunteer, or if you do, be specific about what you’re volunteering for. The event organisers might not take any notice, though. Once you’ve signed up, you’re theirs!

But sometimes it’s worth it.

Report by Evelyn Marsh
Photo of Colin Baker, Jacqueline Pearce and Evelyn Marsh by Henry Eggleton
Photo of David Walsh by Barbara Eidinger


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