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Return to Gauda Prime 2011 - Paula's recollections

Return to Gauda Prime October 2011 - one weekend I’ll never forget

Paula Black

How can one even try to encapsulate a weekend such as this? I guess I should start at the beginning when word was bandied about of one brave and intrepid Forum member wanting to organize a convention and our considerable joy, awe and consternation at the proposed con being held in Great Britain. Well, because of all that and Clare and her minions’ hard work, we got off our collective backsides and decided this was the time to visit Great Britain. So, thank you Clare, or else we’d never have made it over the pond.

Months of planning and research later, we were ready to set out on our great adventure to the United Kingdom. Leaving the house at 3pm Thursday and finally arriving in Oxford 22 hours later, we were greeted at the train station by dear friends Lorna and B7 Gary. The look of excitement and joy on Lorna’s face at spotting us made the whole trip worth it. We were greeted and treated like royalty and that was just the beginning of our adventure.

After an impromptu tour of Oxford because Lorna missed her exit, we arrived at the Barceló Hotel exhausted but running on adrenaline ready to meet our fellow Horizon Forum members. A quick shower and change and we were in the lobby anxiously awaiting our friends. I guess a mix of exhaustion and jet lag put us in a slightly altered state because as I sat there gabbing away with my new friends, I was approached by someone who came up and introduced himself and shook hands with me. I was momentarily stunned when I realised it was Michael Keating speaking to me and not another new Horizon member! I looked to Brad and mouthed ‘that’s Michael!’ to him as he got ready to shake hands with the actor. After that the whole weekend took on a sort of surreal turn. We had a wonderful conversation with Michael and because of that he realised we were indeed Americans and promptly started asking us questions like where we lived and how many miles we had travelled (approximately 4200!). We had met Michael before, but had never had the opportunity to have an extended chat. I’ll tell you this: he is a simply wonderful and caring man and has many interesting and funny stories. When he learned that Lorna and I were keen gardeners, he told us about his wife, Sue, who is also an avid gardener. Needless to say, we had the time of our lives talking with him.

After Michael departed for dinner, we met up with Spaceship Dispatcher, Purplecleric, B7 Gary, Sopron (Hazel) and boyfriend Paul, and decided to continue our conversations in the pub. Once we got over the shock of speaking with people we had only ever posted to before, it was like we were all old friends. A bit later, Trevor Travis arrived and joined us in the pub. Trevor (Rob) is one of my best buddies on the Forum, having done countless rewatches with him, Spaceship Dispatcher (Alex) and Purplecleric (Fiona). By this time the actors - Michael Keating and Gareth Thomas - had returned to the hotel and came up into the pub. One of my fondest recollections of the evening was of friend Lorna standing between the two men, buying them a drink. Drat! She beat us to it!

After a few drinks and some great conversation, we ascended the stairs to the hotel’s restaurant and had dinner together. The jet lag, the booze, and the general merriment hit us hard and we finally exited for a good night’s sleep in preparation for the actual convention.

Saturday came all too soon but we were up and ready to go. We had bought sweatshirts months before with “Blake’s Bar” emblazoned on the front so we wore them, until we got too warm and then changed into t-shirts with “I’d Rather Be Watching Blake’s 7” on the front. We registered and met President Solvite (Dennis) and Angry Angel (Lucy). Entering the convention room we were immediately drawn to B7 Gary’s costumes and Exterminator’s (Phil’s) models.

There was a large display of Horizon merchandise brought by our Supreme Commander (Diane) and her daughter, Natalie, with the rest of the room taken up with circular tables for the attendees, a central table for the actors and in the back a video screen.

We found our seats and tried to meet as many Forum members as possible. There were many phrases bandied about like, “Oh, you’re so and so, nice to meet you, finally” or “I’m Paula from the Forum… you are?” It was marvellous matching faces to names and I do hope I didn’t miss anyone during the weekend. If I did, please accept my apologies, as I tried very hard to meet everyone!

A video montage started the proceedings and even though we all had seen the scenes many times before, we sat silent and mesmerized by the sight. Kevin Davies acted as MC and did a simply wonderful job of it. He and son Liam recorded the proceedings and a DVD of the events is promised soon. Gareth and Michael were introduced and the fun began. Our actors were soon entertaining us - to our unanimous delight - with poetry and selections from plays - even Shakespeare. Michael really seemed to get into the swing of things with his spirited interpretation (with Blake’s 7 overtones) of the Bard. He even stopped during all this to ask Brad and me if we knew what Yorkshire puddings were. Imagine my amazement and shock as he stopped, looked to us and asked us a direct question. Yes, I was able to spit out, we had heard of them but never tasted one. (An omission that was soon to be rectified!) We had frequent breaks in the festivities which suited us well, as we could circulate with our fellow Forum members, or shop the vast sea of Horizon merchandise which the Supreme Commander had come laden with.

Big Finish Productions was represented by David Richardson, Simon Guerrier and Peter Anghelides. I’m sure I speak for everyone on the Forum when I say that we are very excited about the prospect of having new Blake’s 7 materials early next year. Thank you, guys!

Lunch was quite spectacular, with everything from tea, sandwiches and quiche slices to chicken legs and all sorts of other goodies. The hotel staff certainly outdid themselves for us. On a personal note, the hotel staff kept the tables brimming with ‘still’ and mineral water the whole day. I was shocked to read the writing on the water bottle: “Blenheim Palace Still Natural Spring Water.” Why do I bring this up, you ask? My Father was a huge Winston Churchill fan and his family was closely associated with said building, so what could I do but wait for an empty and slyly slip it into my bag? I have it on a shelf over my computer at this moment and it brings back wonderful memories as I gaze at it.

We got to see the blooper tape which is always fun, especially when in a crowd of devotees. Then we participated in the charity auction where Michael and Gareth took turns trying to separate us from our money - for a great cause, I might say- the UK Cancer Research Fund. There was an eclectic selection and Brad and I were able to outbid the others for some very nice Blake’s 7 photos, some iron-ons designed by fellow member Lurena, and a Jenna print on canvas. Of course, we didn’t think of how to get these items home at the time, but Lorna came to the rescue and volunteered to mail them to our home. (Thanks, Lorna!)

There were a complete set of Blake’s 7 Monthlies which garnered a high price. There was a small Blake crocheted doll made by Lucy that was bid on fervently and finally won by Spaceship Dispatcher. You can see ‘little Blake’ as SD’s avatar on the Forum. If I heard right, we were able to raise over £700 for charity and I think that is simply amazing given the small group of fans attending.

The photo and autograph session came next, with a huge surprise in store. As we all bustled around getting our photos out for signing, Diane announced that there was someone wanting to come in and say hi to Gareth and Michael and was that OK? Whoever it was disguised his or her voice and I don’t think anyone could figure out who was there until, like a dream, Stephen Greif strolled into the room to thunderous shouts and applause. I’m sure Clare was as stunned by the surprise as we all were. Stephen generously gave of his time and was soon signing autographs and having photos taken with Gareth and Michael.

(DIANE: Clare was indeed extremely surprised, as was everyone else in the room except my daughter Natalie, and Kevin & Liam Davies. I’ve been asked by many people exactly how this unexpected bonus guest came about – see my article below for the answer.)

After everyone had their photos or scripts signed and their photos taken with the actors, we broke up, only to reform again at 7:30 pm for a drinks reception in the dining room. This was yet another chance for us to have a nice drink and some interesting conversations with our fellow fans. The Gala Dinner was just that - a gala in all respects. A long table was set up to accommodate all of us and having our guests on either side right in the midst of us. The food was top notch and very delicious. After dinner we got down to the entertainment portion of the evening, first toasting all the dear people now gone since the ending of the series. Both Michael and Gareth spoke solemnly and emotionally and we all toasted those departed. Then, the entertainment started with Gareth and Michael doing a piece about of all things - Servalan’s breasts - which was very amusing, to say the least. The next piece featured my husband, Brad, acting as interviewer to the two men our actors were portraying.

I was told it was a send up of Around the Horn, and although I had never heard of it, Brad and I had seen send-ups of that type of comedy before, given that we were aficionados of British humour and had seen things like Monty Python and Benny Hill. Suffice to say, I was very proud of my husband just then. He only had a short time to familiarise himself with the script, but as he said to me, he didn’t care if he took a pie to the face; he was going to do a skit with a couple of big-time actors! Gareth and Michael were hilarious of course, and I think it went over quite well. (Note: I do hope you all noticed the tunic Lorna was wearing to the gala dinner. It was a replica of Jenna’s tunic, which she wore in the first few episodes of the program. It was lovingly made by fellow Forum member Lurena, with embellishments by Lorna herself. Fantastic work, you two!)

Things slowly broke up after that, until the fanatically devoted members – about 14 of us - held court in the hotel’s lobby. That is, after slyly gathering all the untouched alcohol from the gala dinner room and transporting it to our little corner of the ‘flight deck’. I think it would be safe to say we were in high spirits by then! Trevor Travis then brought out a bag full of candy, intending to once and for all solve the mystery of just how long the Intergalactic War lasted. He had wine gums, jelly babies and a few chocolate oranges to demonstrate this with. Then everyone was asked to empty their pockets of assorted trinkets and to use them to portray the Andromedan fleet! That done, we had a rollicking time debating the subject, until it was agreed that the war lasted 42. 42 what, I don’t know, but given the state we were in, it seemed to make sense at the time.

We then set about eating all evidence of Trevor’s display. Before long, President Solvite brought out his famed Og head-dress and proceeded to don it and drink a beer. Given the late hour and general silliness, the next in line to be ‘Og-ed’ was the Supreme Commander, who not only donned the head-dress but held baby Og (another one of Lucy’s creations) in her arms, gently cradling him… her… it… as only a mother could do.

(DIANE: I strongly deny any implication that I was attempting to feed Baby Og or that I had partaken of any alcohol, especially not Archers & Lemonade, no siree…)

That generated numerous photos until it was time for Trevor to try on the head-dress. Now I had been sitting next to my friend all evening but I started to consider my choice of seating when he started snapping photos of himself in the Og get-up and then proudly showing me the results. That had me in stitches, but what was even funnier was that Rob, for some reason, seemed in no hurry to take off said head-dress. All the while this was occurring, a fairly well-to-do wedding party trickled into the lobby, dressed to the nines, and would stop suddenly and stare at Rob in all his Ogness. This happened at least 4 times and I was nearly on the floor with hysterics. That may have been the high point of my whole trip to the UK. We finally had had enough for the night and bid the gang good night. I hear tell there were some stragglers left in the lobby until after 3 am. All I can say to that is, good job!

We were up early Sunday to pack and get ready for the Pyrton Hall visit. After we fortified ourselves with a hearty hotel breakfast, we all got into our cars and travelled the short but winding roads to Pyrton Hall. The hall reminded me first of a quaint old church, and once inside, it was your average hall with bathroom and kitchen facilities and tables and chairs. The attendees rolled up their collective sleeves and helped set up the Terminal set and also chairs for us to use during the filming. Kevin Davies again acted as cinematographer, director, and chief cook and bottle washer at the hall. We were treated to a glimpse of how actors spend their days before the camera - rehearsing repeatedly for that one great shot. It was an education in film/television making and of keen interest to me as I’ve always been interested in the behind the scenes stuff almost more than the finished product.

I think the best part for me was seeing Michael Keating don a black leather coat, strap on a Liberator teleport bracelet and hand gun and transform himself into his version of Avon, or ‘The Definitive Avon’ as Michael told us all.

Since I was in the front row, sitting next to Spaceship Dispatcher’s little Blake of all things, Michael took the opportunity of a camera placement change to come over to me and say, “How did Marlon Brando do it?” giving me a sly wink. I laughed because first it was funny, but secondly, isn’t Marlon Brando Paul Darrow’s favourite actor? I guess he was trying to be ‘Avon’ to the core. Another amusing note was when the filming had just wrapped up. Gareth, lying on a camp bed which lay on a table all this time piped up, “Thank you. We’ll let you know,” which I believe all actors have heard at one time or another during an audition. Funny man.

After the Pyrton Hall visit, we all bundled into our cars and travelled to The Three Horseshoes pub in Garsington. We had what’s called a carvery of various meats and veg and our first experience eating Yorkshire puddings. As I came back to the table, I was teased by the others because I failed to put gravy on my Yorkshire. I didn’t know, I exclaimed, and ate it plain. I liked it.

Soon it was time to leave, as Lorna was our ride and she had a bit of a drive home before dark, so I went from table to table saying my goodbyes to my fellow Forum members. It was a bittersweet moment and I got plenty of good wishes and hugs and believe me it was much appreciated! Michael, bless him, stood and told me he wanted to say goodbye to Brad before we left and followed me out of the pub outside where Brad was talking with Rob and a few other men. Michael shook hands with Brad and I shook his hand and then leaned in and gave him a kiss. I thanked him for being such a good sport and always remembering his Blake’s 7 fans and he smiled and wished us well on our continuing holiday. As we walked to Lorna’s car to leave, Kevin Davies came running out of the pub, camera in hand and asked us if we’d do an interview for the DVD. What could we say, but yes? He framed us against the pub and started hurling questions at us. I have to admit I was like a deer in the headlights, to coin a local phrase, and I hope I was able to choke out a few intelligent replies! Like I have said before, it was a bit surreal this weekend. I’m reminded of the scene in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when the Golgafrinchan B Ark crashes on Earth and starts making documentaries of themselves. We got into Lorna’s car and Kevin stopped us again so he could have Lorna hang out of the driver’s side window and do a few lines. Amazing!

I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of the rest of our holiday, save to say that we were lucky to have friends to take us around and that we saw Oldbury Power Station, the location site for the Blake’s 7 episode ‘Redemption’ and other episodes of not only Blake’s 7 but Doctor Who; the cul de sac road in which the Fourth Doctor dropped off Sarah Jane; and the escalator in the Friary Shopping Centre in Guildford used in Blake’s 7 Warlord. Whilst in Guildford we took a trip to see Glynis Barber in ‘Season’s Greetings’ with Supreme Commander Diane. (Thank you Diane, for setting this all up. We enjoyed our day immensely.)

To sum it all up, both Brad and I had one of the most wonderful weekends of our lives and it is one experience we will not soon forget, if ever. We made a lot of new friends that weekend and would like nothing better than to do it all again. Anyone willing to volunteer to do the next con?


Behind the Scenes – the Stephen Greif Affair

The Supreme Commander

Having been asked by several people how come Stephen made his surprise but hugely welcome appearance at the event, plus having seen some incorrect suggestions, I thought it best to set the record straight here. 

As most of you know, Return to Gauda Prime was originally planned with Paul Darrow joining Gareth Thomas as Guests of Honour. When Paul found he was unable to join us for the event, I had a slightly (slightly??) panic-stricken series of emails and phone conversation with Clare requesting my Guest Booking services once again. With the event only four weeks away, it was obviously urgent that a full guest complement be secured and it was while waiting for Michael’s reply (he was out filming an episode of EastEnders when I called) that I happened to receive a call from Stephen Greif on a completely unrelated matter. I mentioned the event to Stephen, explaining that unfortunately due to the very small number of attendees and thus equally small budget they were unable to have more than two guests, but wondered if he was free that weekend in case any last minute flurry of bookings meant a third guest could be invited or that Michael couldn't make it. He told me he was, and would be delighted to attend if the opportunity arose, and we left it at that. A little nearer the time I told him the situation was still the same and that Gareth and Michael were the event guests, and he asked me to pass on his regards to all. 

The day of the event dawned and I was – as usual – running late. Having loaded up my car with a vast selection of Horizon goodies, I arrived at the hotel with about 30 seconds to spare before the taxi that was to take Gareth, Michael, Clare, Judith, Natalie and myself out to dinner was due to arrive, and my car still needed unloading! I was just attempting to manoeuvre into a small space in the car park when my phone rang. “Oh for goodness, sake, I haven’t got time to talk to anyone now!” I muttered impatiently, trying to get the phone out of my pocket without dropping it, at which point I saw it was Stephen. I answered it and started to explain that this would have to be a very brief conversation as I was just arriving at the event we’d talked about and that I was – amazingly - late. “Ah, well that’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about,” he said, “I have to be in Oxford tomorrow afternoon and…” I knew exactly what he was going to say, bless him, and a HUGE grin spread over my face. “Do you think it would be OK for me to just pop along for a little while, and say hello to everyone?” I reassured him that I thought everyone would be delighted and we then had to work out how we could surprise everyone. 

He called me the following afternoon to say that he thought he might be able to pop by late afternoon, and I told him that meant he’d probably arrive around the time designated for photographs and autographs – perfect! “Are you sure it will be OK, and no-one will mind?” he said. D’ohhh! I reassured him once again that everyone at the event would be absolutely thrilled to see him and set about priming Kevin and Liam ready to film his surprise entrance, swearing them to secrecy. They were going to film Stephen’s entrance, and the reaction of Gareth and Michael to his unexpected arrival. I gave Natalie my own camera with instructions to focus on Clare and the rest of the event committee 

Stephen called again with his ETA and I went outside to wait for him, trying to casually suggest to a few of the attendees who were outside having a smoking break, or about to leave the event and go home, that they should perhaps go back inside and just stay ‘a little while longer’. 

It was decided between Stephen, Kevin and myself to pretend that I’d brought along some random obsessed fan who wanted to meet Gareth and Michael without actually attending the event, so I duly went into the room and announced: “Excuse me everyone, but there’s a gentleman here who wanted to meet Gareth and Michael… he’s seen them a few times, and just wanted to say hello, hope you don’t mind…” At which point Kevin handed a microphone to Stephen outside the room and a strange strangled voice could be heard saying: “Gareth? Michael? Are you there? Gareth…” Michael, puzzled but charming as always, could be heard replying: “Hello there?” and Stephen said “I… I… just wanted to say… hello.” At this point, Clare & co were looking somewhat bemused and wondering what the heck I was playing at, then Stephen walked into the room and all was clear. Thunderous applause ensued and Stephen very kindly signed autographs for everyone, and joined in with part of the photo session before leaving. It was such fun organising this surprise and thanks again to Stephen for taking the time to join us for a while and making what was already a wonderful weekend even better. 

So that’s the story of the Great Greif Encounter.


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