Event - MCM Expo Birmingham Comic Con Report

MCM Comiccon

Barnaby Eaton-Jones stood in a queue on Saturday, talked to a lot of Doctor Who people, a comics artist and a Bond Girl and got punched in the face. So just a normal weekend then. Here's his report and the interviews from MCM Birmingham Comic-con...

I'm waiting in a queue to have my photograph taken by Lee Majors.

Yes, Lee Majors. The Six Million Dollar Man.

I'm wondering, looking at the size of the queue, whether he'll have made six million dollars by the end of the photo session. I'm guessing he might have been paid that to fly over this weekend. He's making his very first convention appearance in the UK ever and he's doing so in Birmingham. It might be a slight culture shock for him.

So, here I am anyway. I attended one of these events a decade ago, when it was called 'Memorabilia', and Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor Who) held up a queue equally as long as the one I'm in for Lee Majors to tell me what I should write about in my next comedy play. His plot featured a runaway model train, suicidal penguins and Jon Pertwee's penchant for a large fee. It was hilarious and I don't think the queue minded. Much.

For me, there's something a little soul-destroying about walking into a huge aircraft hangar of a hall and seeing one half open-plan office, with individual guests of varying fame and notoriety in their specific cordoned off area, and the other half crammed with an array of stalls featuring original artwork and mass-produced but geek-tastic goodies. Somehow, though, during your time there, you become a little less cynical and a little more nostalgic as you marvel at the guests who've turned up to give their time to their fans, the cosplayers who've spent months honing their amazing costumes, and the sheer scale and variety of the merchandise on offer from the stall holders.

I think I felt like this the first time I went.

You see, to completely mangle a contentious quote from Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor, in the one-off Doctor Who TV Movie, 'I'm half-geek... on my father's side'. So, there's half of me that feels comfortable amongst the throng and half of me that feels uncomfortable. I fit in here and yet I don't. That may also come from years of writing parodies of the very productions that are being celebrated here (oddly, my last UK Doctor Who convention show specifically focused on Paul McGann's Doctor Who TV Movie and was called 'The Six Million Dollar Fan', as the producer was a fan and had been granted that budget to make it).

Paying for a photograph or an autograph from someone famous that you admire is a way of spending a few minutes with them that you wouldn't normally get, so you get something out of it in the form of a physical 'present' and a memory to cherish, and they get something out of it in the form of a monetary reward as well as a chance to connect with fans and be adored! There's people who think this practice is brilliant and those that think it isn't. I'm of the opinion that whatever your opinion is, where else would you get the chance to meet someone like Lee Majors unless you happened to live next-door to him in Hollywood? You really can't help getting swept up with everyone's wide-eyed enthusiasm and the complete love that was on offer in these cavernous surroundings.

Oh, by the way, I'm still waiting in the photograph queue for Lee Majors and a full-size R2-D2 has just slid past and swivelled its domed head at me. I've seen two Sheriff Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead; one fat, one thin – I know which I'd chase if I was a zombie. I've also just seen Romana II in a mobility scooter and the Brigadier with a walking stick – both of whom had the most amazingly detailed costumes that probably cost more than the entire '70s budget of the series of Doctor Who they came from.

Did I mention that it's cold outside? I mean, really cold. So cold that it feels like your lungs are icing up on the inside as you try to take a breath. Snow hasn't fallen because, in all honesty, it's actually too cold for that. It was a 5-minute walk from the car to the convention centre at the NEC and I felt genuinely worried for the lesser-clad women and men who'd chosen to dress up as a comic or television character who weren't adverse to showing a little bit of flesh. A taxi pulled up in front of the main doors, as I reached them, and a lady got out with an incredibly short tartan skirt on that wasn't used to the swirling, biting wind and her backside was instantly exposed to the large amount of smokers who were freezing their blue fingers off whilst warming their blood with nicotine. Cloaks and flags wrestled with the powerful wind, whilst in-character weapons or umbrellas or anything vaguely chunky and cumbersome to carry were creating a wind barrier that made them instantly ten times heavier and more awkward to wield. Wide-eyed faces were painted blue by make-up and by the weather itself.

Inside, it's like an ebbing and flowing tide of people, trying to work out where to go and which queue to join. Chewbacca stands head and shoulders above the throng, walking as if he's got arthritis. Then I realise, rather than being a satirical take on a pensionable Peter Mayhew reprising the role whilst suffering from that dreaded disease of the joints, whoever's inside the costume is actually walking on stilts.

I was lucky enough to be given a Press Pass and had been very excited to interview someone, in one of those 'round table' discussions. Sadly, I didn't know, or hadn't heard of, any of the famous people who were on offer for these official interviews! Fortunately, that meant I could wander amongst seated guests and, when they weren't busy, ask them my startlingly original and lightweight 'three questions quickie'. I somehow missed the gloriously eccentric actress Miriam Margolyes – a sort of female Tom Baker – as I wanted to get her to reprise the iconic Cadbury's Caramel Bunny voice from the adverts, which oozed rural-accented sex appeal. She was going to be my first port of call as I'd spotted her on the way in. Miriam may, of course, have been hiding from me on purpose as I do have a worryingly large chinbeard that has its own fat, round moon orbiting it... in the shape of my head. Anyway, as a fan of all things timey-wimey, I did gravitate towards the Doctor Who guests who were there.

So, whilst I wait in the photo queue for Lee Majors, to admire his six millionth Hollywood tan, here's my snatched interviews with three classic companions and genuinely lovely ladies, in order of their appearance in the show...

MCM Anneke

(Polly; companion to William Hartnell's First Doctor and Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor)

BARNABY EATON-JONES (BEJ): Hello, Anneke, just three very quick questions!

ANNEKE WILLS (AW): Okay, I'm ready!

BEJ: The first one is, what is the weirdest thing you've been asked to sign?

AW: Oh, an American bum.

BEJ: (Laughing) An American bum?

AW: A cheek! Yes, that was cheeky.

BEJ: So, out of everyone at this event, who would you like to meet? You're used to people coming to see you, but who would you like to go and see?

AW: This time or any time?

BEJ: Let's go with any time.

AW: Oh, it was Cary Elwes. Because I love The Princess Bride, it's my favourite film, and I thought 'Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh!' and then I thought 'Oh no, he might be all old and fat and I don't want to see him like that'. What did I do, well, I lost the plot and I didn't go and see him. He was only signing round the corner from me but I never went to see him. So, he's still to me this absolutely gorgeous creature who looks you in the eye and says 'But this is true love'.

BEJ: As you wish! So, my last question is, what is the one question you're asked that keeps getting repeated most often?

AW: What's it like working with Bill Hartnell.

BEJ: Ah, yes. Do you vary your answers?

AW: Yes! You know, when I was first asked I would say he was a bugger. And then he was a drip. Now, because I'm mellowing myself, you see, now I'm saying he was a little difficult, we had to take care of him... but, actually, it was true. And when I did a cameo in the 50th anniversary programme, 'Adventure In Time & Space', I went to the canteen with David Bradley, all in his First Doctor costume as Bill Hartnell, and what came out from me was that I'm saying 'Sit down, my darling, and I'll get you a drink. Would you like some water?' and he was saying 'Anneke, I don't need you to look after me!' and I suddenly remembered that's actually what I did with Bill. I looked after him. So, that was a dear sense memory, coming back to me, and it was then I realised how kind I was to him, not as mean as I remember, I was actually quite kind. So, that pleased me!

BEJ: Anneke Wills, thank you very much.

MCM Wendy

(Zoe; companion to Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor companion)

BARNABY EATON-JONES (BEJ): These are a bit nonsensical questions, I'm sorry.

WENDY PADBURY (WP): That's fine!

BEJ: The first is, what is the weirdest thing you've ever been asked to sign?

WP: Nothing really weird, much more obvious stuff like a Dalek, a TARDIS, you know, a Sonic Screwdriver – you name it, anything Doctor Who related. But I've never been asked to sign anybody's bottom or anything. That would be grim!

BEJ: Especially if they were wearing a silver catsuit like yours. Which I was going to wear today.

WP: That would still be grim!

BEJ: True. Now, because you get asked lots of questions, lots of times, what is the worst question you don't like being asked or you've ever been asked.

WP: Oh, the worst question I've ever been asked was when I was quite new to conventions and it was all a bit scary for me and I think I was in America and somebody said to me, 'In Episode Four of 'The Mind Robber', you come in, into the TARDIS and take your coat off, you turn round and hang it up on the hook, you turn to the Doctor and you say... (and then he quoted the line)...'

BEJ: Right...

WP: Then his question was 'What were you thinking?'

BEJ: Ha ha!

WP: And that, for me, I kept thinking this is why I haven't done Doctor Who conventions before! Because, of course, forty odd years later, I don't know what I was thinking!!

BEJ: Did you have an answer to give?

WP: Well, I learnt quickly not to be flippant. Because I said I was probably thinking 'What time was lunch?' or 'Have I been paid yet?' and with really die-hard fans that actually doesn't go down very well! But, I've never been asked that since, fortunately.

BEJ: Well, can I ask you that right now?

WP: Ha ha ha! No!

BEJ: And the last thing is, in the whole of this event is there someone you'd actually like to meet?

WP: Yes, Lee Majors! That's who I want to see.

BEJ: Wendy Padbury, thank you very much.

MCM Sophie

(Ace; companion to Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor)

BARNABY EATON-JONES (BEJ): Hello, Sophie! Just three quick questions.


BEJ: So, the first question is, what is the question you hate the most to be asked or the most repeated question?

SA: I have to say, I don't hate to be asked any question because, for so many people, it's the first time they've met me – especially the kids who are coming to the 'classic' series for the first time. I guess the one where I really have to take a deep breath and really get into it is actually always in two parts: What's your favourite monster? And what's your favourite story?

BEJ: Do you change them, just to make it interesting for yourself?

SA: No, I'm sort of consistent. For your interest, the favourite monster is the Cybermen - which my Mum stopped me watching when I was little as I was so frightened and then I got my chance to get my own back on them, of course, by taking them out with gold coins in my catapult (in Silver Nemesis). And the other favourite story question, the answer is The Curse Of Fenric, because I thought my character, Ace, was given such a lot of cool stuff to do.

BEJ: Very good! Excellent answers.

SA: You managed to encompass that in your question, didn't you? Ah, that was very clever. You asked me and then I answered...

BEJ: I was being cunning.

SA: Yes, I see what you did there. You knew!

BEJ: Ah, you've seen through me. The other thing was simply what's the weirdest thing you've ever been asked to sign?

SA: Ah, yes, that's a nice easy one to answer. I was eating my lunch in a small convention one day and somebody ran through and said 'We've run out of auction items!' and I was literally just taking a bite of my Cheese & Tomato Roll and they said 'That'll do!', snatched it from my plate and went and auctioned it!

BEJ: Ha ha!!

SA: I think it fetched something like £60!

BEJ: Really?! Wow.

SA: Probably the most expensive Cheese & Tomato Roll ever. And then, the following morning, this guy came up to me looking rather shame-faced and a bit hungover and he said: 'I was feeling so hungover that I ate the roll... so, would you mind doing an autograph for me?' - I felt so sorry for the poor guy that I did.

BEJ: That is brilliant! Okay, so, the last question is... is there anybody here who you'd actually like to go and meet as a fan?

SA: Oh gosh, I haven't even seen who's here yet! Actually, a couple of weeks ago, I met John Hurt at a signing event and it was great, I felt so pleased because I went and did the Photo Session and he was just before me. I went up to him and said 'Hi, I'm Sophie Aldred, la-la-la, etc' and he said 'Oh yes! I used to really like watching you!!' and I thought 'YEEEES!!'.

BEJ: That is amazing.

SA: It was pretty great, I have to say!

BEJ: Sophie Aldred, thank you very much.

I stood back as all of those interviewees interacted with love and affection to the love and affection they were getting from fans they were meeting for the first time and fans they were re-meeting for the five-hundredth time. The sheer joy and excitement they gave to people was a delight to behold. I couldn't have picked three more genuine and accommodating and pleasant people to interview. You hear of actors being awkward and tough and looking down on their fans but this little group are certainly ambassadors of how you should behave (and how they obviously are in 'real life'). Doctor Who should be very proud of how they represented the programme.

Talking of Doctor Who, it would seem slightly odd of me if I didn't actually interview an actual incarnation of the Doctor, wouldn't it? Who better to interview than Who himself and also someone who's also been a fantastic ambassador for the show, even though his tenure was cut way too short. In the always jovial form of Colin Baker, here's an interview with the Sixth Doctor. No, wait, sorry. It's an interview with Colin Baker, who played the Time Lord of myriad hues and myriad emotions; the Sixth Doctor...

Colin Baker

(The Sixth Doctor)

BARNABY EATON-JONES (BEJ): Okay, so I'm with Colin. Colin... Who?

COLIN BAKER (CB): Exactly!

BEJ: Ha ha. First question, what is the oddest thing you've ever had to sign?

CB: Ah, the oddest thing I've ever had to sign was a breast implant that had failed. The woman had it in her bag, which had been in her and then taken out again, and she asked me to sign it!

BEJ: What is the worst question you've ever been asked?

CB: The one about the oddest thing I've ever had to sign.

BEJ: I had that coming. And finally, is there anyone here you would like to meet?

CB: Well, if they're here, I've met 'em. There's only you and me here. So, what does that mean? Anybody here? Here? Exactly here? Where?!

BEJ: At the Birmingham NEC.

CB: Well, I've just met them, haven't I, because they're all here! Mind you, there's a nice blonde over there I haven't met yet, but... you know... I'm sure she'll come and ask for an autograph.

BEJ: Colin Baker, thank you very much.

The photo studio queue is moving, by the way. Just very slowly. I could probably have had a quick nap or read a book before I got anywhere near the photo studio, to be honest. It was like they were deliberately making us move in slow motion, as a homage to the Six Million Dollar Man himself.

I have to admit, I didn't know who everyone that was dressed up was dressed up as. My knowledge of the comic book side of things is a little rusty. But, the sheer amount of work that had gone into costumes and wigs and make-up and props was evident to see. I followed a lady wearing a thong as part of her costume and she had such a perfectly-rounded derrière that bounced with each step she took, like a jelly on springs, that it was difficult not to get hypnotised watching it. But, in my middle-aged state of manliness, all I could think of was to offer her a long coat for when she went back outside the building, as I was fearful of her buttocks getting frost-bitten.

Once person who many a fan would have loved to have bitten on the buttocks was the quintessentially bad Bond girl and Hammer Horror glamour goddess Caroline Munro (looking resplendent as ever and dressed to kill). Luckily, her buttocks were intact and she only ever was bitten on the neck by Christopher Lee's Count in Dracula A.D. 1972. Here's a little interview from her...

MCM Caroline Munro

(Bond Girl and Hammer Glamour Goddess)

BARNABY EATON-JONES (BEJ): Hello, Caroline! Right, question one. What is the strangest thing you've ever been asked to sign?

CAROLINE MUNRO (CM): Ha ha ha! Well, you've put me on the spot here. I've had a couple of bald heads, and I've had a lower limb part! Actually, I've had a couple of arms, where I've signed them and they've actually had the tattoo put on the top of that. So, those are interesting places to sign and mostly in America!

BEJ: What's the worst question you've ever been asked?

CM: Maybe the last one that you asked me! No, I'm actually not really bothered what sort of questions get asked, providing... well, if it's something I really don't know, or it's off the wall and I can't understand or it's slightly too much, then obviously I won't answer. But, I'm alright about most questions and I prefer not to know the questions before they get thrown at me. So, I can't think of a worst one, really.

BEJ: And finally, is there anyone here today that you would like to meet?

CM: I would love to have met Liv Tyler but she had the biggest queue in the world but I did see her from afar and she is so beautiful. I did meet Lee Majors, who is lovely, but I've met him before. But, everyone that's around me as we've had a great day and it's a wonderful show and brilliant for all the family, even the kids!

BEJ: Caroline Munro, thank you very much.

I wasn't there all weekend and didn't take my kids but Caroline is right – it's really a lovely atmosphere where people of all different looks, backgrounds, likes and dislikes are perfectly happy to be in each other's company. If only the outside world was as happy as this little microcosm of culture. To be truthful, you need more than a few hurried hours to see and experience everything on offer here and a weekend pass is definitely the way to go. I could have spent all of my rushed hours just at one artist's stall, admiring the amazing creations from their fevered imaginations. I managed to collar one such artist, Carolyn Edwards, on her incredibly busy stall (she's supplied one of the covers for the new Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor graphic novel, written by acclaimed author George Mann; who was also signing there, in a nice bit of synergy.

Carolyn Edwards

(Artist – www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SpiritedPortraits)

BARNABY EATON-JONES (BEJ): Okay, Carolyn Edwards!

CAROLYN EDWARDS (CE): I don't know anything about anything!

BEJ: No, it's okay. It's fine!

CE: Except who the Six Million Dollar Man is. I know that. My brother used to have the doll, with the bionic eye.

BEJ: That you could see through?

CE: Yes. So, I do know that.

BEJ: Right, I've been asking everyone the same three questions but I'm going to tweak yours, if you'll pardon my naughtiness. So, who do you want to see at this event, aside from people buying your artwork?

CE: George Mann.

BEJ: And why is this?!

CE: Because he wrote the comic that I've just done some illustrations for and I want to get him to sign the first issue for me.

BEJ: Way too cool.

CE: But Colin Baker's here as well, somebody said. So, if I could see him, that would be nice! However, I don't think I'm going to be able to get away from my stall. Lee Majors would be good to see, actually.

BEJ: You can see him through a bionic eye.

CE: I could!

BEJ: Okay, next question. What's the weirdest thing you've been commissioned to draw?

CE: One that springs to mind is a Doctor Who piece but based on one of Escher's drawings. It was 'Castrovalva' (Peter Davison's debut story as the Fifth Doctor) and he wanted to me to do it in the style of Escher. I had steps going in and out and all around and he wanted all the characters in it. Yes, that one. It took me AGES to do but it was good fun, I really enjoyed it.

BEJ: Final question, as I don't want to keep you from people buying things off you, is what do you consider your most popular piece? As in, what's the one you really loved doing?

CE: Ooh, that is a difficult question because I do enjoy all of them.

BEJ: It probably changes from day to day.

CE: It does, you're right, yes. But, if I go with a current one then it has to be my very first front cover and my favourite subject as well, Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor in his own comic book series by George Mann.

BEJ: Massive congratulations! Carolyn Edwards, thank you very much.

Lee Majors

Right, the photo studio queue. Well, it's stretching for miles behind me as I'm now at the entrance and there he is, Lee Majors. I have to admit, he was one of my childhood heroes and not because of the Six Million Dollar Man. No, I'm actually a fan of his stuntman/bounty hunter, Colt Seavers, from 'The Fall Guy', and I realise I've unintentionally dressed as that character. Not so much Cosplayer as Coltplayer. Tight jeans, heeled boots, checked shirt and short jacket. It's either that or a middle-aged man trying to recapture his youth. Possibly a bit of both.

I'm ushered in with a cry of 'NEXT!' and shuffle forward to meet him. 'Hey, how ya doin', buddy?' he says, and I'm now of the opinion I'm actually his buddy. 'Pleasure to meet you,' I say, 'and, I know this is a strange request, but would you mind punching me in the jaw'. The look he flashes me is priceless as it ranges from fear to laughter in a matter of seconds, as he realises I'm not a crazed fan and just want something more than a generic 'shake hands, grin at camera' pose. 'Sure thing, buddy!' he says. I'm definitely his buddy. We're best mates, Lee Majors and I. So, I take a fake punch to the jaw and sell it for the camera, hopefully. We shake hands afterwards and he gives me the half-smile, half-smirk which is more him than a cheesy grin to flash for a photo. I hope I gave him a couple of seconds of relief in a conveyor belt of fans filing in to pay homage to him. I see a quick preview of the photo and it's priceless; it looks like he's trying to give an award-winning grin to camera and just knock me out of the photo for fear of being upstaged. Perhaps he was actually enacting that for real? I'm sure I probably wasn't the only one to ask for something like this but, as I skipped away from his side and nearly bumped into his incredibly young and beautifully blonde wife (who is stood next to my own incredibly young and beautifully blonde wife, both of them laughing at me), I feel a sort of pride that – in my few seconds of meeting an idol – I connected with him just a little more than his punch connected with me.

And, you know what, for an incredibly strong man who's been rebuilt with bionic technology, Mr Majors has incredibly soft hands.

The photo

Barnaby Eaton-Jones would like to thank Ian Kubiak for being his stunt double for the Colin Baker and Caroline Munro interviews. Also, a few hours after this article was finished, I learn that Lee Majors did indeed remember me. Ian Kubiak kindly picked up my photograph for me the next day and got it signed by the Bionic Man himself. When he saw it, Lee Majors said to Ian: 'Hey, I remember this guy. He was funny.' My life is complete. I may start using that as a quote on anything I do now.

Images - MCM, Etsy and Barnaby's bedside table.
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