LFCC – A Beginner’s Guide

We’re now not too far away from London Film and Comic Con 2015. I’ve been doing these events a few years now, and thought I’d share what I know about the weekend to help newcomers enjoy themselves with a little less stress. If I miss anything out (or get anything wrong…) please feel free to comment below…politely.

LFCC 2015 is run by Showmasters, and will be taking place over the weekend of Friday 17th July to Sunday 19th July 2015. It’s being held at London Olympia this year as the usual venue (Earls Court) has been shut down. The space inside the new venue is huge, and there’s plenty of natural light coming through the glass roof. I always found Earls Court a little stuffy, with zero natural light, so we’re heading to a much better venue overall. There’s a whole lot to do at LFCC. It’s not just about getting autographs, although that is a big part of it for most attendees. If you’re a geek of any kind (or even if you’re not) there’s something for everyone. It’s about managing your time right to try to fit in as much as you can.

PLANNING IN ADVANCE

If you want to get the most out of LFCC you must absolutely plan your trip in advance. There’s no point arriving on the day ticketless and hoping to get everything you want. It just won’t happen. First, make a note of this link: – http://tinyurl.com/nt82w35 – this is the Showmasters LFCC 2015 forum. All announcements on guests, date changes, events, features and opportunities will appear here first. I find myself checking it at least once a day normally. Most of the info you need will available there. If it isn’t, just post on the forum. Don’t worry about asking about anything you’re not sure on. There are plenty of fellow attendees and forum moderators who will be happy to help. If you’re on Twitter, follow the @showmasters account, which will update you on all announcements. The official website for the event is http://www.londonfilmandcomiccon.com. The forum will keep you updated as to which guests will be in attendance, which days they’ll be attending, and how much it’ll cost to get an autograph/photograph. At the time of writing, Showmasters are not pre-selling autograph tickets, but I’ll come to this later. Photoshoots on the other hand should always where possible be bought in advance. There may be limited photoshoot tickets available on the day, but this is never guaranteed, and you’d have to join a big queue at the ticket desk inside when you arrived at the venue. Stress. Stress which is easily avoided by buying in advance. You can buy your photoshoot tickets at any time from the Showmasters store. This is now found on the Eventbrite website and a link to the correct page is here – http://tinyurl.com/l948t69. Just be extra careful when you’re making your purchases – tickets for all Showmasters events across the country are sold in this store. Make sure you’re buying the right ticket, for the right day, for the right event. You don’t want to turn up to LFCC with a photoshoot ticket for the wrong event, as that would be rubbish. A change from the older store means that with Eventbrite you will be able to print off your own tickets. Convenient for most, and it also means that you should be able to buy tickets just before the day of the event. The Eventbrite site is relatively easy to use. Just add the tickets you want to your basket, and click ‘Order Now’. You’ll then have 8 minutes to complete your order. Just fill in all the details, and ensure that you agree to BOTH waivers and click on the £2.50 validation fee box in the ‘additional items’ section. If you don’t click on this your order won’t be valid. Do also ensure you buy an entry ticket for the day(s) you wish to attend as well as your photoshoot ticket. The photoshoot ticket does not include entry. If you turn up on the day without an entry ticket, you ain’t coming in – and it’s highly unlikely you’d be refunded.

This year Showmasters are debuting the ‘Diamond Pass’. This is a ticket solely catering for fans of a particular guest. Each guest’s Diamond Pass includes a selection of activities with that guest. As an example, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) has a pass which includes:

1 photo shoot with Robert in full Freddy Krueger make up (unique to Diamond pass holders)

1 in-person autograph with Robert Englund

1 seat in a talk with Robert Englund and make up artist Robert Kurtzman

1 exclusive print

1 exclusive T-shirt

All this together is £135.00. Something worth considering if you’re a Freddy Krueger fan. A few days before the event a photoshoot timetable will be put on the forum. Download this, copy it, print it out, anything. This is your friend. There will be copies around the venue over the weekend but it’s well worth having your own. Or, be a bit of a nerd like me last year, and make your own:

IMG_1777

So that’s who I was meeting, when, which location – and the last number is my photoshoot number. I’ll go into more detail on photoshoots later. There are normally at least five or six separate photoshoot areas, so it’s worth getting an idea as to where you’re going and when.

VIRTUAL QUEUE TICKETS

These have their own section because it’s important to be aware of the nature of Virtual Queue tickets. Chances are that if you’re attending LFCC you’re probably after at least one or two autographs. Chances are that if the guests you want to meet are particularly well known, a great many others will be wanting to meet them too. To stop the possibility of a thousand people standing next to a guest’s table, we have the virtual queue system. Think of it like a deli. Near each guest’s table there will be a Showmasters volunteer holding a stack of tickets. These are free. Every individual who wants an autograph from the particular guest needs to take one. These will have numbers on them, which is your ‘virtual’ place in the queue. Throughout the day, there will be a whiteboard up near the guest with the VQ numbers allowed to join the queue. So, if your number is 78, and the board says 1-100, then you can go up. If your number is 124, then you need to wait until the board says 1-200. You can’t miss your time – VQ number 1 for example can go up later in the day if they want. It’s always 1-100, 1-200, 1-300 and so on. This all means that you don’t have to wait around for your time if you have a high VQ number. It means you can wander off, do what you like, and you can come back sporadically to see where they’re up to. Some guests do take longer than others, so be aware of that.

CANCELLATIONS

Before we get too excited about who you’re going to meet at LFCC you should be aware that guests do occasionally cancel prior to the event. Some guests cancel pretty much every time (I’m looking at you, Ray Park and Temuera Morrison). This is something that you should prepare yourself for.  As exciting as it is when a guest you really want to meet is announced, it’s equally disappointing when that same guest has to cancel. This can happen for all sorts of reasons, mainly due to work conflicts. Remember, many of the guests who appear at conventions are actively working, and such is the nature of TV or film work that huge amendments can take place to their shooting schedules. It’s not going to happen that often (unless you’re really unlucky) but it can happen with any guest at any time. I remember attending a convention a few years ago where Alex Kingston – Doctor Who’s River Song – had to cancel the day before the event started. Another involved Danny John-Jules – Cat from Red Dwarf – cancelling on the actual day of the event. It’s disappointing, but it can’t be helped.

With that in mind it’s wise to head in to LFCC with a backup plan. If you’re travelling a long way in the hope of meeting one particular guest then you may end up wasting a lot of money if they have to cancel.

But, if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of guests to meet, you’ll need to come equipped.

WHAT TO BRING

A wallet. A big wallet. Stuffed full of cash. Seriously. LFCC is an expensive business, and you don’t want to be caught short. There are cash machines on site, but the queues are large all the time, and there’s always the danger that they’ll be bled dry by mid-afternoon. I’ve seen it happen. Try to bring as many £5 notes as you can, they’re very useful.

A bag. I always carry around a secure over-the-shoulder manbag. Aside from being the height of fashion, you’ll need something to carry all your stuff in. Don’t wander around with a suitcase though, there’s not enough space.

A watch. As I’ll cover later, you need to be able to keep a eye on the time. There can be a lot to do at once and you don’t want to lose track.

Comfortable footwear. You’ll be on your feet a lot over the weekend. There aren’t very many places you can sit down with much comfort, so you’ll find yourself walking, and walking, and standing, and walking some more. Rubbish shoes will knacker your back in.

Water. Do not arrive without some water. Walking around LFCC is thirsty work. It can get very hot (especially if the hall is full to capacity) and you don’t want to be spending half your budget buying bottles of water for £3 a pop at the venue. Just take your own.

Something for the guests to sign. This is optional. Showmasters (or the guests) provide plenty of images for each guest for them to sign, and these are included in the cost of the autograph. There’s a large selection for each, so you’ll more often than not find something you like. There’s always a risk though, so have a backup – bring your own print or a poster or a DVD. At least you’ll have something for the guest to sign. There are also plenty of stalls selling good quality prints for most of the guests in attendance.

Plastic autograph wallets. These have been my saviour for years. You don’t want to collect an autograph from one of your heroes and then get home to find it smudged, bent, or ripped. These plastic ‘toploaders’ are available from many of the stalls, but they’ll cost you around £1 each (or more, depending on the size). I bought a stack of them online a couple of years ago, and they’ve served me well. They’re also useful to carry your photoshoot pictures in – you don’t get a cover with the photo. Try not to keep the autographs in toploaders for too long though, you don’t want to damage the ink.

A poster tube. Not essential, but I’ve found them hard to come by at the stalls at past events, and if you’re buying a print/poster you want to be able to keep it safe. These are really cheap from B&Q or Staples, or places like that.

A mobile phone. Fairly obvious this, but very useful for many reasons. If you’re separated from your group (say, following a photoshoot) you might need to find them. Based on the crowds last year, think ‘needle’ and ‘haystack’. On that note, always have a meeting place sorted out with your friends to meet up if anyone goes missing.

Most importantly, have a budget. I cannot emphasise this enough. It’s very easy to get over-excited at LFCC. You will be faced with non-stop geek product temptation for three days – make yourself a budget before you go, and stick to it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve spent far too much on things I didn’t really need simply because the money was burning a hole in my pocket. Enjoy yourself, but don’t bankrupt yourself while doing it.

TRAVEL

Travel to Olympia is really pretty simple. If you’re arriving into London Euston take the Southbound Victoria line down to Victoria station, then change to the Westbound District line which will take you straight there. To be honest, by the time you get to any of these stations you will more than likely have a trail of cosplayers to follow all the way there. They’re not hard to spot. Remember the scene in Thor 2 where Thor rode the underground? That happens for real on LFCC weekend. If the District line isn’t going to Olympia, get off at Earls Court and walk from there. It’s a 20 minute walk, and again, you won’t struggle finding your way there. Just in case, here’s a map.

map

If you’re taking other means of transport (bus, train, taxi etc) there are plenty of ways to find your route online. I always use the underground, and – touch wood – I’ve never had a problem.

ARRIVAL

Things have changed a little this time round. Usually there are three queues. One for the Gold Pass holders, one for Early Bird entry ticket holders and a third for people paying on the day. This year however Showmasters are not selling Early Bird entry tickets, and they are not allowing people to pay on the day, certainly not on the Saturday at least. As a result of the changes, everybody who has a ticket will be allowed in at the same time (9am). The Gold Pass holders will be given priority and will enter first. Everyone else will follow. For reasons which will become clear, if there is a guest you absolutely have to meet, or you are limited with time on the day, you should make sure you arrive at the venue very early. I’ve arrived at 8am in the past and had to join a queue which has already snaked its way right to the back of Earls Court. That’s a long queue. Turn up at 9am on the dot and you’ll be at the back of a huge queue. If you’re not that fussed about meeting any particular guest, try arriving at say 10:30-11am. By then everyone else will be inside and you’ll more than likely be able to walk straight in. Do remember though that the set up this year is new, so this may not be entirely accurate. If you’re having trouble on arrival just look for the signs or just ask. There will be a lot of people happy to help. The queue is a good place to take a look at some amazing cosplayers. Seriously, some of them could have just walked straight off the cinema screen. By all means talk to people. I always find that folk near me are just as excited as I am, and it’s great to get to know new people. One little thing though, if you’re a smoker, have some consideration for others if you want to light up. Just leave the queue and stand a distance away so nobody else is affected by it. I smoke myself, and I don’t like forcing it on non-smokers and children nearby.

ENTRY

At 9am the doors will open. At this point the people who are prepared will have a plan of action for the first half hour of the day. Here’s how I do it, and I’ve never had a problem yet.

Step 1: Calmly enter the building. Don’t go running – this is poor form, and not only will everyone think you’re a buffoon, you’ll also be told off by the crew. You could injure yourself, or others, and there’s absolutely no need for it.

Step 2: Virtual Queue tickets. Collect these straight away. Find the tables for the guests you’ll be wanting to meet (these will be clearly signed) and politely ask the volunteers holding their VQs for one. If there’s a chance a guest will be very popular an early numbered VQ could be key.

Step 3: Get your bearings. It’s unlikely that the majority of the guests will be at their desks at opening time, so unless you’ve got a photoshoot straight away you may as well take the opportunity to work out where the toilets are, where each of the guests you want to meet will be stationed, and where your photoshoot areas will be.

Step 4: If you see a guest you want to meet at their station, and there’s nobody in the queue (and no VQ), go and meet them. Sometimes opportunities come up where you won’t have to queue for something you want, certainly early on. Take that opportunity. It could save you loads of time later on.

Step 5: Finally, make sure you keep an eye on the time. You don’t want to miss a photoshoot because you weren’t paying attention. I remember at my first LFCC (2011) I was about to leave the venue to head to the pub for a pint when I remembered my Sophie Aldred photoshoot was about to start. It’s surprisingly easy to do, certainly if you’re a bit of an idiot like me.

AUTOGRAPHS/MEETING THE GUESTS

The fun bit. Or the terrifying bit, depending on your point of view. Meeting the guests is very simple indeed. When it’s your time to join the queue, go to the back of it and start getting your items/images ready. Also get your money ready – you don’t want the person ahead of you to move on and have the guest sitting there watching you fiddle about with your wallet. Pay the assistant your money and choose an image. Now, I’ve been doing this a few years, and I still get a little nervous when I meet the guests, but I’ve developed a bit of confidence since I started out. I had no idea what to say for my first few cons. There’s nothing wrong with just saying hello, asking how they are, and asking them to sign your piece. For the less busy guests you might have a good opportunity to talk to them for a bit, but do be aware of the people around you. If there’s a huge queue it’s unfair to stand there talking to them for 45 minutes, keeping everyone else waiting. The majority of guest encounters I’ve had have been relatively brief. The very busy guests will often have no time except to say a quick hello. Don’t be disappointed if this is the case – they have a lot of people to get through and they just don’t have time for much interaction. Do bear in mind also that the guests are human beings – they can have ‘down’ days like the rest of us. Some can be a little grumpy, and some can be incredibly talkative. Most guests will personalise autographs for you if you want them to. Some guests will insist on it, and others will simply have no time to personalise at all. In these cases they will have a sign up at their station clearly stating ‘no personalisations’. If this is the case, please don’t ask. There could be many reasons why this has been decided, often due to the guest themselves requesting it. You try signing your own name AND someone else’s name 750 times in a few hours without your hand going numb. A lot of guests will allow you to have a free photograph with them at the table. This is very unlikely with the more popular guests, but does happen a lot with others. Again, if there’s a sign up saying ‘no posed photos’, don’t ask. There is normally a good reason for it.

PHOTOSHOOTS

Check the map and timetable to work out where you’re supposed to be at what time. Head over to the correct area and listen to the crew members. They will call everyone in for your shoots in stages, ordered thusly:

1: Old store tickets by number.

2: Non Batched e-Tickets

3: e-Tickets by batch

4: Tickets sold on the day by number.

I’ve lifted the above order from Showmasters’ own FAQ section on their forum. Each ‘batch’ is 100 tickets. It should state the batch number on your ticket. If it does not, then you will be called with the non-batched e-Ticket group. In the meantime, if you are not due to enter the photoshoot area for a while, you do not need to wait around just yet. One of my main bugbears of photoshoots is the number of people who gather in a throng around the photo area despite not being due to be called for a good half an hour. Just bugger off and have a wander – the space around these areas can be crowded enough without 500 people all trying to join the same queue. Once your number is up and you’re called in, you’ll be directed to the back of the queue by a crew member. Again, listen to their instructions and do what they ask – they’re trying to make it easier for everybody. As you get near to the front of the queue you’ll enter the photo area (still in a queue) and you’ll see the guest standing there in front of a backdrop. You can drop your bags and coat here with the volunteers at tables. One by one the people in the queue will be motioned forward and will have their photo taken with the guest. You will be stood next to the guests for about five to ten seconds, maximum. As soon as the photographer gives you the OK, move on and wait to collect your photograph which will be printed off immediately. If there’s anything wrong with the photo and you’re not happy with it (eyes closed, blurred image) refer to a crew member and they may ask you to rejoin the queue for a re-shoot. I find my main issue with photoshoots is the reflection of light in my glasses. I’m constantly going back for re-shoots due to that. Some guests are happy to hug you for your photo. Some are happy to pose how you want (within reason) with props. Please do respect their personal space though. There are large bodyguards often stood mere feet from you who will immediately get involved if you try anything unpleasant…you don’t want to get your head kicked in, so behave (you won’t have your head kicked in, I assure you). Once you’ve collected your photo, move on out of the area as quickly as you can.

TALKS

Many of the guests in attendance will be taking part in talks through the weekend. Many of the talks are free, however some are paid. Check the forum for details regarding this – paid talks are only accessible to ticket holders. The talks are normally entertaining enough, although they do tend to be more Q+A type affairs, which of course is absolutely fine if you have a question to ask your heroes. Entry to the talks is on a first-come first-served basis. Gold pass holders will be at the front.

SHOPPING

Where do I start? The majority of the floor space at LFCC is taken up with stalls selling absolutely everything you could imagine. There’s…(deep breath) posters, action figures, t-shirts, American sweets, pre-signed autographs, DVDs, books, comics, vintage consoles, teddy bears, lightsabers, mugs, shoes, anime, craftwork, paintings, jewellery…oh I could go on and on. You will not be short of things to spend your money on, folks. I don’t really need to tell you how to shop, though, do I.

COSPLAYING

One of the best things about LFCC (and most events like this) is the folk who dress for the occasion. Prepare to be astounded by the level of skill and effort these people put in to making outfits for conventions. You’ll see Spider-men, Jedi/Sith, anime characters, every Doctor (and most of the companions), Thor, Captain Jack Sparrow, and countless Deadpools, amongst others. The cosplay community is well catered for at the event, and if you’re considering doing it but are maybe a little nervous, worry not. I only wear civilian clothing for the event and I’M the one who feels a little out of place. Cosplayers in the main will be more than happy to pose for photographs, either of just them, or with you. Please, please please however – ASK THEM FIRST. It is considered incredibly rude to just take pictures of cosplayers without their permission, and given that you’re much more likely to get a great photo if you ask them to pose for you, you should either ask, or put your camera away. I have also heard horror stories from cosplayers regarding the things they are asked (“have you got underwear on under there” for example…) or ways they have been manhandled. Yes, some of their outfits can be ‘revealing’ – this does not imply consent to touch anyone up. Don’t treat anyone differently or invade personal space simply because they’re cosplaying. Many cosplayers are in attendance at these events on charity business, raising money for various causes. Perhaps donate some of the wodge of cash you’re carrying, help them out. They’ve made real effort to be there, doing what they’re doing.

SOCIALISING

There is a strong sense of community at LFCC. Normally the sun is shining, fun things are happening and everyone is in a good mood. If you’re reading this some time before the event you have plenty of time to get to know new people. I’ve met loads of new people through attending these events, but mainly through Twitter. Start off by following @Showmasters, and as we get closer to the event, check the #LFCC hashtag – you’ll meet some great people. If you’re happy to settle for average people, follow me on @djdarrenjones. I’m forever going on about LFCC on there. I also enjoy meeting new folk. Introduce yourself.

FURTHER READING

If you’ve read this far then you’ll hopefully have a good idea as to what to expect from the event. As I’ve said, I’ve been doing these events for a few years, and I’ve picked it up pretty quickly, but there are plenty of other, more experienced attendees who have plenty of information to help you. Just do a bit of a Google search and see what’s around.

Try @Bunny_Summers blog, Unconventional (http://unconventionalblog.co.uk/category/guides/). Her guides aren’t solely limited to signing events such as LFCC. She’s a con-goer with huge experience and knows her way around these things. You’ll hopefully find answers to anything I’ve forgotten about plus everything else on her site.

Well, I hope this all helps. Generally speaking LFCC is a lot of fun and very simple as long as you’re prepared. So prepare!

Latersville.

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It’s Not Who, It’s You.

We’re just over halfway through Peter Capaldi’s first series as the incumbent Doctor, and the online community has, as always, shared a wide range of opinions on the episodes presented so far. Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t split opinion, and attract a wide range of praise and criticism . I have agreed with some, and disagreed with others. I would happily exclaim my delight at an episode I loved, and would be equally vociferous about an episode I didn’t. I have however found myself of late stepping back into the shadows (to paraphrase the Eleventh Doctor), not because I became too big or noisy, but because I found I had been spending more time finding things to criticise than I did actually just sitting down with a drink watching the bloody thing. I’m not a critic. There are plenty of other people paid to do that. I’m a fan.

Some criticisms I’m seeing this time round though have started to infuriate me. I have no problem whatsoever if you don’t like the storylines. I have no problem if the Twelfth Doctor isn’t for you. I don’t even have a problem if you’re not happy with the writing or the acting. These are always going to be debated, and everyone’s opinion is always valid. What I would suggest is that if you don’t like ANY of the storylines, the Doctor, the writing, acting or directing (and some commenters are even criticising the theme tune and the opening credits), then perhaps this show isn’t for you.

I was 14 years old when I first heard Radiohead’s music. It was March 1995 – their second album ‘The Bends’ had just been released, and I was at a friend’s house listening to it in silent rapture after he’d bought it from the local Our Price. I remember being taken aback by it; I had been brought up on Roxette, Phil Collins and Simply Red at home, and even when I discovered music of my own it tended to be relatively easy listening, melodic pop gubbins. My CD collection was full of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, the usual Britpop stuff. That was my ‘jam’. So to hear an album like The Bends, with Thom Yorke’s astonishing falsetto over Jonny Greenwood’s furious lead guitar, chord changes that utterly take you by surprise and a rhythm section so tight you’d swear the players were mentally connected, was more than just a breath of fresh air. It changed entirely the way I heard music.

After a few weeks of barely doing anything else but listening to The Bends, I sought out Radiohead’s earlier album, ‘Pablo Honey’. I recall being surprised at the feel of the songs immediately. They were much lighter in tone, more predictable perhaps, certainly more accessible than The Bends. It wasn’t one of the best albums I ever heard, nor did I dislike it (some of the tracks on there are among my favourite Radiohead songs), but it was instantly clear how the band had changed the direction of their music for the second album.

Two years later I, like a great many of my peers, rushed out and bought OK Computer on the day of release. I remember at the time there was much talk of people hoping for The Bends 2, as was I if I’m honest. I rushed home clutching a copy of the CD, locked myself in my room and stuck it on. It was…different. On first listen, I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it. Other parts just sounded cold, and sparse. It sounded nothing like The Bends, and I was ultimately a little disappointed. I listened again. And again. The more I listened, the more I enjoyed, with the result that to this day, OK Computer remains my all-time favourite album. I found it difficult even to write this paragraph, simply because I can’t believe there was ever a time I wasn’t utterly in love with that record.

Radiohead’s music changed again with the release of Kid A. I bought it on the same day I was going to see them play live in Warrington (in a big top, no less). I listened for the first time at the same friend’s house where I’d heard The Bends that first time. I hated it. I wasn’t just disappointed by it on first listen. I just couldn’t stand it, from the first track to the last. It had nothing of the Radiohead I’d grown to love, and if I’d thought OK Computer had been sparse in places, this just seemed to be an electronic mess. Programmed drum beats, very little in the way of thrashing, gnarled guitars, and I was searching in vain for a melody. That’s it, I thought. Radiohead’s sound had changed so much that I no longer liked them. I was gutted. I went to the gig that night thoroughly despondent, expecting to be holding my hands over my ears most of the time. It turned out to be one of the most fantastic concerts I have ever been lucky enough to attend. I don’t remember a whole lot of it, but I recall having a dance and a sing-along, moshing one minute and wiping a tear from my eye the next. These were the same songs I’d been listening to with such despair earlier that same day.

On waking the next day I listened to Kid A again. I won’t say I had instantly warmed to it, but my god did I get it. Over the next few weeks I found more and more to enjoy in the album, and similar to my experience with OK Computer, it’s now one of my favourite albums. It’s actually an astonishing record, one I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard it.

I should start heading to some semblance of a point.

Following Kid A, Radiohead released Amnesiac the following year, then Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows. With each release came with a new style, a new direction; they were experimental, trying to push the accepted norms when it came to rock music. Each album resulted in them gaining fans and losing fans, as the rock guitars and heavy choruses gave way to dense, trippy electronica. Although from past experiences I knew that every new album would be a challenge, I found myself after a while feeling less connected to the band and their music, and despite occasional returns to the style I had grown to love, they inevitably headed in a direction I no longer found entertaining. This came to a head with King of Limbs, an album I have tried to enjoy so many times, but to no avail. It’s very much Radiohead, it got favourable reviews, it’s a popular album with many of my fellow Radiohead fans, but it’s simply not for me. It’s not a bad album. The band haven’t lost their ability – it simply caters for an audience other than my own. This is no issue to Radiohead. They will make many, many more fans from King of Limbs than they will lose. I certainly won’t be calling for Thom Yorke’s head.

Which brings me to Doctor Who. Since the show’s first regeneration from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton, each Doctor’s era has ushered in a new style, a new feel. There’s the young, friendly one; the old, grumpy one; the action one; the egomaniacal one, and so on. There’s the Pertwee era with a huge proportion of it based entirely on Earth. There’s the whole Colin Baker series based around the ‘Trial’. There are certain mainstays, such as the TARDIS, the companion and the Daleks et al which makes this programme what it is, but we have a different kind of Doctor and a different kind of show every time, possibly never more so than with series eight.

At the time of writing the BBC have transmitted 7 episodes of series eight. That’s 6 different writers, with their stories directed by 3 different directors. We’ve had settings in space, Victorian London, a present day school, 15th/16t Century Sherwood Forest, and inside a Dalek. We’ve seen Gallifrey (or have we?) and we’ve had pre-existing and brand new enemies for the Doctor to face. The writers have even addressed the issue I had with the last series, and they’ve made Clara a much more layered personality. If you can’t find anything you like in any of that, then there’s only a certain amount of times you can blame Steven Moffat. I’m afraid you have to consider the possibility that the common denominator here is you. Perhaps you just don’t like Doctor Who anymore. You used to, of course you did. But it changes, it evolves. It’ll change again when Capaldi eventually regenerates, or the production team is replaced. I don’t get that benefit with Radiohead. The band are the band, they’re not going to change.

I’ve recently learned a phrase which accurately describes the nature of the Twitter commenters I’ve referred to in this post. It’s known as ‘confirmation bias’. I think it’s very well summarised by this cartoon:

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I would also throw in those folk who scour Twitter for posts they think matches their own in order to retweet them, and in doing so, try to prove a point. Confirmation bias is the act of ignoring anything which contradicts their own first impressions. It seems to me that there are some who have not enjoyed Doctor Who since Matt Smith left, or since David Tennant left (or, in one case I heard about, since Patrick Troughton left…) or indeed since Steven Moffat succeeded Russell T Davies as showrunner.

I’m not going to say that series eight has been perfect. Of course it hasn’t. One particular episode (Robot of Sherwood) irritated me no end. But then again I don’t recall the last series of Doctor Who that didn’t have one or two duff episodes as part of the run, and yes, I’m including series five in that. The problem is that some people are heading into the show already knowing that they want to hate it. Not everyone, obviously, but some. In doing that they’ll be looking out for anything negative, any line that doesn’t quite make sense, any plot hole which to anyone else would be barely recognisable. I saw one commenter this morning complaining that Kill The Moon didn’t accurately follow science, and therefore the episode lost credibility. This is a time-travel show, about an alien in a Police Box which is bigger on the inside who travels through time and space. There’s not a lot that follows actual science here. We can allow them a bit of creative licence.

I hate to say it, folks, but with this nihilistic outlook (regardless of who the showrunner is), you’ll never enjoy another episode again. But then, to quote that band I really used to like, ‘you do it to yourself, you do…and that’s what really hurts’.

Latersville.

Taking in a Deep Breath (SPOILER FREE)

Thursday 7th August was a massive day for me and my ‘companions’, as we travelled to Cardiff to join the 1600 or so lucky souls who’d acquired a ticket for Peter Capaldi’s hugely anticipated debut as The Doctor. I’m writing this a mere two days prior to the BBC transmission of the first episode of Deep Breath, so why not share my experience now, eh.

After another very early start (why do I keep doing this to myself?) we were on our way to Cardiff on schedule. We arrived just before 10am and scampered through the streets of the city toward St David’s Hall. Thanks to a number of contacts keeping in touch through Twitter we heard that there was still plenty of barrier space for the red carpet event, and this proved correct when we got there. We found a nice open spot pretty close to the TARDIS as we had a feeling that the stars would be hanging around this area the most, for interviews and photo opportunities.

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So we took our spot against the barrier, and waited. We knew that the event wasn’t due to start for another hour or so, and thankfully we had the lovely Cardiff sunshine to enjoy. As the crowds started to grow ever larger, we were entertained by Daleks and Cybermen wandering around, interacting with the young – and not so young – fans. I remember one little lad letting out the most terrified scream when one Cyberman came a teensy bit too close, proving that even today Doctor Who has the power to frighten children at lunchtime in the middle of a busy city centre. Not long after that a Metro photographer snapped a picture of the back of my head (I’m in blue – screaming boy on Dad’s shoulders on my right).

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We were told that the red carpet event was due to start at 11am, with the actual premiere at 12:15pm. From what we could see there didn’t seem to enough time for the stars to meet everyone on their way up to St David’s Hall, so we didn’t hold out too much hope to get all the autographs we would have liked, but knew we’d get a bloody good view of everything where we were. As time moved on though, and the clocks moved on to quarter past 11, and half past 11, we were getting a little concerned as to how much time we would have before we had to vamoose into the theatre. The instructions we’d been sent told us we had to be in the auditorium by 12:15 or we wouldn’t be allowed in, so my anxious worried mode kicked in as we neared our deadline.

Steven Moffat reached us first. I had a feeling he would head straight past us, but brilliantly he wandered over from the opposite barrier and headed straight to me. I had a large print of the movie-style poster of The Day of The Doctor which he duly signed before posing for an ultimate selfie with everyone else. I tried to get into the shot myself, but couldn’t quite fit my huge head in. Here’s us as he signed:

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And here’s the ultimate selfie, stolen from Jenny. From L-R: Andrew, Laura, Jenny, Adam, Moff.

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After SteeMo went on his way, I rolled my print back up and returned it to my trusty tube, before eagerly waiting the arrival of Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. From our vantage point we could just make out our new heroes slowly making their way along the crowds, signing autographs and posing for photos with the fans. As we expected, given where we were standing, they were dragged away by interviewers and photographers as they neared us, so we didn’t get to meet them. Jenna I’ve met before, and I’m sure I’ll get a chance to meet Capaldi sooner or later, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I was more interested in watching the premiere of the episode. We managed to briefly speak to Samuel Anderson, who will be playing Danny Pink in the new series, so that topped off our red carpet experience, before working our way through the massed crowds to St David’s Hall.

We knew already that we had great tickets. I always struggle to fight for tickets for these things but somehow I managed to get us seats in Row F in the stalls, so GO ME. Our view was thus:

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After a brief introduction from Jason Mohammed to the cast and some crew, the lights finally went down and we were treated to the feature-length majesty that was Deep Breath. As you’ll have spotted from the title of this post, you’ll be getting no spoilers from me. All I will say is that Capaldi nailed it, Jenna was as good as I’ve seen her in the role, and I love the new opening titles. There are moments in this episode that fans will remember for a long time. That’s all you’re getting. Wait until Saturday.

The episode came to a conclusion to a huge round of applause. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be for Steven Moffat, sitting in the front row, with all those fans’ expectations on his shoulders. I think the reaction at the time will have helped him to relax a little.

Jason Mohammed returned to the stage and introduced Peter, Jenna and Moff to the audience again ahead of the Q&A. I’ve been to a number of Q&As in the last few years, and in all honesty, they range from boring to cringeworthy and back again at lightning speed. The actual interview, chaired by Jason, was very interesting. Capaldi came across as being extremely genial and gave some great answers to some decent questions. I found, as usually seems to be the case, that Jenna Coleman was overlooked somewhat. The majority of questions were directed at Capaldi and Moffat, and I got the impression that Jason tended to include Jenna just to make her feel like she wasn’t a spare part. I can partly understand this – she’s been in the show some time, and Capaldi is new to the world of Who (and obviously plays the lead role) so people want to hear from the new guy.

As usual far too many of the audience questions smacked a little of ‘wanting to speak to the actors without having a cogent and interesting question to mind’. One chap even asked half the previous person’s question before giving up and handing the microphone back. One particular highlight was the moment Capaldi was asked to wish a questioner’s friend a happy birthday, which he and Jenna did, before leading the whole audience in a rendition of the song (Happy Birthday, Sarah!), This I think endeared him to the fans even more. Anybody worried about Capaldi not being appealing to the younger fans clearly don’t know anything about younger fans. They don’t give a monkeys how old he is. And anyway, to a little kid, even Tennant and Smith were ‘old’.

With the exception of A) the family behind us inexplicably talking through the whole episode (one member of said family, mum perhaps, texting the whole time!) and B) a terrible sound system in the Hall, rendering a good half of the dialogue extremely hard to follow, I had a fantastic day out in Cardiff. I can’t wait for the evening of Saturday 23rd so I can start discussing the episode with everyone else. I think our new Doctor is going to be very popular indeed. There’s a new direction for this show. It’s still Doctor Who, just with a different face.

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Photo courtesy of Laura Robinson

Best Man Speech

One of my best and closest friends got married to the love of his life last week, and I was given the honour of acting as best man for the day. I thought that as I hadn’t posted on here for a while I’d post the speech I made after dinner for anyone who might be interested. You don’t really need to know Michael to understand the speech, I’d say. The first line includes the Polish for ‘good afternoon’ – as the Bride is Polish. Also, the Groom is utterly obsessed with Vimto, hence the references. The pictures were put up on a big screen via Powerpoint.

Good afternoon everyone, dzien dobry.

While doing my research into how to make a good speech, the best piece of advice I read was to keep it short. You clearly want to get on with cracking open the ceremonial vodka and having a bit of a dance. So, I’ll not drag it out.

I’m not very good at making speeches. I really tried to write something great but I’ve had to copy and paste sample speeches from the internet instead, so I’m really sorry about that. Ahem.

So – I first met Frank, and his handsome civil partner Dave, in prison in 1987. Nah OK, not really.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Darren. I’m Michael’s best man, friend, colleague, business partner and, as my mum seems to think, lover……No idea why.

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I’ve known him ever since he first matured into an adult, which was, ooooh, about 4 hours ago?

So I’d like to start by thanking you all for being here today, and by raising a glass to the groom’s parents, Janet and Len, and the bride’s parents Eve and Ted, without whom none of us would be fortunate enough to have the wonderful and beautiful Liz in our lives, and we wouldn’t know Mike either.

Second, I think we can all agree that Liz looks absolutely stunning today. I think she was born to be a blushing bride, and I hope you’ve had the most wonderful day so far. As for you Mike, I think it goes without saying, but you look almost as good as I do in this outfit. That joke was brought to you today by the Penguin guide to generic best man speech gags, available now in any terrible bookshop.

I think the point of a best man’s speech is to subject the groom to an uncomfortable couple of minutes. It’s only fair really, as I suppose that’s what Liz can expect on a regular basis from here on out.

I’m pretty sure you’ll notice that Vimto has taken quite a prominent place in proceedings today. We’re joined by the Vimtoad over there, we have sweets, and we’ll be toasting with fizzy Vimto instead of champagne. The reason for all that is that as part of his special day, Michael wanted to share with you all something that he loves. You should consider yourselves lucky – you were all originally going to get a subscription to Playboy and a packet of fags each, but I talked him round.

I’ve never been a best man before. It’s not something I ever thought I’d be asked to do by anyone, so to be asked by somebody I look up to and respect……would have been lovely. But I’m here anyway, so I may as well get on with it.

I think we all know that Mickey has a few ‘quirks’ in his personality, and does a lot of very odd things. This may explain why he decided to give a man with social anxiety disorder the job of delivering a speech at his wedding. And made that same man, who also has a chronic fear of air travel, fly to Spain to celebrate his stag do. Cheers mate, really appreciate it.

When Mickey first asked me to be his best man, I was absolutely over the moon. Not only did I consider it an unbelievable honour, I thought that writing this speech would be the easiest thing in the world, I really did.

• This is not a man who carefully tiptoes his way through life, hoping not to be noticed.
• This is not a man who keeps his thoughts (no matter how ludicrous) to himself.

People who know him have been saying to me “oh, you’ve got the easiest job in the world, haven’t you – there must be LOADS of material you’ve got on Michael”. I found it actually really difficult though to be honest. I’ve found it very hard to find that right balance between the ridiculous things Michael says and does, and the UTTERLY ridiculous things Michael says and does.

There are times I’m lying on the couch at home, enjoying a quiet evening in with my wife, maybe watching a film in front of the fire, and I’ll get texts like…

*Can cannibals talk?*

Or…

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So Liz, I can’t even imagine the conversations you two must have at home, but one thing I can guarantee, you ain’t gonna get bored.

Michael and I have had what many would consider a pretty ‘unique’ friendship over the years. In fact, I don’t consider Michael a friend at all. I have thought of him for some time as my brother. He’s also been my priest, my driving instructor and my life coach, amongst others. I’m not the most confident of people at the best of times, but if I’ve ever been unsure about something, Michael has become that little voice in my head that goes ‘go on, do it. DO IT’…..I’m pretty sure it’s not just me who becomes a better person when he’s around.

As I said earlier, I am deeply honoured to have been asked to be Michael’s best man. I didn’t quite know how much of an honour it was, until I met Michael’s other mates and his uncle John on his stag do last month. They are, to a man, some of the best company I’ve ever spent time with, and to have been chosen as best man out of the choice Mickey had is incredibly humbling. So for those of you who are here – I win! Cheers lads.

So, we’re here to celebrate a day that’s a long time coming. The wonderful husband and wife I stand very proudly next to have been together now almost nine years and I am delighted for them both on their very special day. I’ve been lucky enough to be good friends with these two amazing people ever since they met, and I’ve never met a couple more perfectly suited for, or deserving of, each other.

So, I would like to ask you all to stand, raise your glasses of vintage 2014 Moet et Vimto and allow me to propose a toast. Nothing could make me more proud than to be the man to wish this amazing couple the most wonderful life together. Michael and Liz, If you two give each other even half as much joy and happiness during your lives together, as you’ve both given to us all over the last ten years or so, you’re going to enjoy a very long and very happy marriage.

To the happy couple! Nastrovie!

The Age of The Doctor

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It seems an age since the BBC announced that Matt Smith was taking over from David Tennant as the Doctor, but the debate that raged back then is still fresh in my mind. He’s too young, some said. He’s an unknown, others argued. I had similar reservations. I wanted a Doctor who looked like he’d been there, done that; a Doctor who had hundreds of years of knowledge, loss and pain in his eyes. I wasn’t aware of Smith’s earlier work but I will admit I feared the worst.

Smith’s Doctor turned out to be one of the most beautifully crafted, exciting and watchable incarnations of the character since the show began. I don’t think anyone can deny that Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor helped to sell the show across the world, and take it from cult sci-fi status to the stratospheric hit it is today. He leaves having given Doctor Who a truly worldwide audience.

Peter Capaldi has now been handed the keys to the TARDIS and, although his appointment has been met with almost universal approval, there are murmurs this time that he’s too old to play the part, that he’s not attractive enough for the role. I was delighted at Capaldi’s appointment, and not just because of his undoubted pedigree as an actor. I think we needed an older Doctor.

We seem to live in a time where an individual’s appearance is often considered their most important feature. A time where the youth of today aspire to be like Joey Essex or some other dimwit whose only observable redeeming feature is that they scrub up nice. Clearly this is not an accusation anyone could level at Matt Smith, who carried the majority of the last two series on his own with some excellent performances, but one does wonder whether quite as many official Doctor Who lunchboxes, chocolate bars and bath sets would have been sold with a less aesthetically pleasing face emblazoned on the packaging.

In a time where the majority of our ‘mature’ actors seem to be poked with a walking stick toward the retirement home that is Downton Abbey and the like, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Capaldi being cast in one of the most important roles this country has ever produced. A whole generation of young viewers will have an older hero for the foreseeable future, which can only be a good thing.

I think age can be deceptive. Although Capaldi is pretty much as old as Hartnell was when he took the role, he’s not portraying Twelve as an aged, white-haired man with a walking stick. Although he’s evidently not a sprightly young man like Smith, I don’t think it’ll be too much to ask for the new Doctor to engage in his fair share of action sequences.

It is important for the show and its progress that each Doctor is absolutely different to his predecessor. Indeed, we are already hearing on the grapevine that the Twelfth Doctor will be more ‘dangerous’ than his previous incarnations. Although I tend to take rumours with a pinch of salt, I don’t doubt that Twelve will be portrayed as a little darker, and in this respect I think Peter Capaldi is perfectly cast. Capaldi is a fine actor, who has a proven track record in comedy and drama and has already shown through his work on The Thick of It that he is more than capable of leading man status.

Perhaps he may not sell quite as many lunchboxes, but you can be sure that Peter Capaldi will give us a brilliant Doctor.

Latersville.

Don’t call me a Grammar Nazi

There are not a great many things I get annoyed about. I’m just not the type to complain, generally speaking. I tend to keep my more negative opinions to myself, which would probably explain why I don’t post regularly on here, but one element of modern life I find increasingly difficult to ignore is the frankly appalling use of the English language I’m subjected to on a daily basis.

As a child I taught myself to read very early on. I would read everything – road signs, adverts, magazines, books, album sleeves, newspapers, shop fronts – anything I saw made of words. In my nursery years, while all the other kids were painting pictures around a table lined with newspaper, I was reading the television listings pages from said newspaper to them. I was the first child in my year to be given a reading book by my school (a Tim and Tobias story entitled The Highwayman, for those interested) and that probably still remains my most prized achievement.

While I appreciate that there is an almost unending list of things more important going on in the world, I am hugely irritated by poor spelling in public places. I understand that errors can slip through the net, and that nobody is perfect. There’s probably a hideous spelling/grammatical error in this blog entry somewhere (or maybe I’ve put it there intentionally…).

Now fully ensconced in my adult years, I am regularly asked what I consider my strengths. Most of the time, my answers are expected to include such mundane delights as ‘organisation’, ‘attention to detail’ or ‘hardworking’ but although these are all perfectly acceptable responses, they’re not actually true. What I want to say is “I am fiercely proud of my ability to spell correctly and I can spot a spelling error from over fifty yards”. I never do, though. Nobody else seems to be that impressed anymore, to be honest.

In Manchester city centre, just off Oxford Road, there is an official council street sign I passed pretty much every day while travelling on the bus to work. The sign reads ‘Univerisity halls’. That’s univerisity. Okay, so that’s a spelling error. It happens. I don’t believe for a second that the signwriter actually thinks that ‘university’ is spelled that way. But what I don’t believe is that nobody involved in the process of writing, submitting, printing, making and placing the sign hadn’t spotted it. I also don’t believe that I’m the only person in Manchester to have seen it. So why hasn’t it been taken down and corrected? Even a spot of paint over the rogue ‘i’ would suffice. The sign is placed next to a school, so it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that the pupils at said school may not have seen the word ‘university’ written down before, and that they may assume that this is the correct spelling.

I received a printed taxi leaflet through my door some time ago. I kept the leaflet as I use that particular taxi firm a lot, and they’re always reliable. Their advert however offers “Taxi, Mini Bus and Privet Hire”. In this case, I can actually let it go that they’ve split ‘minibus’ into two words. But ‘privet’? That’s a type of hedge. They’re distributing leaflets through doors that people are going to read. If I had still been a nipper I would have taken that information in, and quite possibly learned to spell ‘private’ incorrectly. Why didn’t the printers fix it? Why couldn’t they just call their client and double-check? It’s both tragic and hilarious.

As I briefly touched upon earlier in my post, I can spot a spelling error incredibly quickly. It’s both a blessing and a curse, to be honest. I’ve lost count of the amount of restaurants I’ve visited, skimmed through the menu and spotted ‘ceasar/caeser’ salad on offer. It’s now the first thing I look for when the menu is handed to me. If they’ve spelled caesar correctly, then I can relax a little. Generally speaking, while I read a book or magazine nowadays errors almost jump out at me from the page, like when you spot a bug crawling across your wall from the corner of your eye. I can’t write texts like ‘Hw R U M8’ because I actually find that more difficult than typing out the whole thing.

Errors in published works are, for me, unforgiveable. Not only should the manuscript be double-checked by the author, but if it is written on a word processor the series of little red squiggly lines should make mistakes perfectly obvious (NB: I just looked up ‘double-checked’ online to confirm whether it should be hyphenated or not. I am not too proud to admit that I don’t know everything, and that if I’m unsure, I’ll look it up). After the author submits their manuscript to the publisher, the work should then be copy-edited and proofread to minimise misprints. There are people who are employed, both freelance and salaried, by the publishing companies to do this job. I’ll be honest with you, it’s my dream job. If I felt I could make enough money to live on while retraining as a proofreader/copy-editor then I would do it immediately. Unfortunately I’m a lawyer with fifteen years experience in my field and not much in the way of available savings, so I’m not in a comfortable enough position to leave my post to get myself qualified. Instead, I’m left to curse silently under my breath when I come across a mistake.

The internet is shocking. On social media I see post after post after post laden with badly spelled, badly worded entries which make me absolutely cringe. I feel however that I cannot do anything about it. It seems that nowadays there is a tendency to view anyone who corrects spelling as a ‘Grammar Nazi’. Why are we so derided by the public as a whole? Why, of all the negative comparisons people could use, are we compared to the Nazis? We’re trying to help, that’s all. I see arguments on YouTube (mainly because that’s all there is on there) where horrendous accusations and foul language and tirades of abuse are launched at anyone and everyone, and barely anybody does anything about it. It seems the acceptable norm. But as soon as someone points out a spelling mistake, THEY’RE the evil one. Apparently correcting someone’s usage of English nowadays automatically means you’ve lost an argument. Sorry, that’s just bollocks. Besides, I have never seen an online argument won or lost – just one side who thinks they’ve won and another side who’s decided they have better things to do with their day. But I digress.

I don’t expect everyone in the world to be able to spell perfectly. I can’t spell perfectly. There are plenty of enormous words in the English language I have never even seen, never mind learned to spell. But to use the word ‘Nazi’ to describe someone who cares enough about the written word to actually try to do something about bad usage is both disingenuous and downright insulting. I joke about being a Grammar Nazi myself, now. I learned a long time ago that the best way to make yourself utterly bulletproof from bullying and insults is to learn to not take anything people say about you seriously. It still doesn’t mean though that being proud of an ability should be treated as a negative.

Latersville.

Sherlock – Caitlin Moran: BFI Q+A (SPOILER FREE)

I was one of the very lucky few to attend the BFI screening of the Sherlock series three opener ‘The Empty Hearse’ this weekend. This blog is not about the episode, and will contain absolutely no information, clues, spoilers or anything else relating to it.

It started for me on the train home to Manchester from London. I checked my phone, refreshed Twitter, and searched for posts relating to ‘bfi sherlock’. I wanted to get an idea of other attendees’ views on the episode and their experience of the day. What I found was surprising. Or maybe it wasn’t.

If I had not attended the screening that afternoon I might have come to the conclusion that two very highly regarded Hollywood actors had been coerced – nay, forced – into ridiculing a shocked and distraught audience with a reading of hardcore pornography. These terrible events had been orchestrated by the host, who had set out to humiliate the actors and belittle the author of said work, before picking off random members of the outraged audience with a handgun, in a final, bloody, coup de grace.

As it happens, I did attend the screening, and I did attend the Q+A – and I would like to share with you what actually happened, in front of my eyes.

Following the screening, the cast and crew of Sherlock were introduced onto the BFI stage alongside our host for the afternoon, journalist Caitlin Moran. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were there, with co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue and director Jeremy Lovering. Caitlin began proceedings with an invitation to the gathered masses to get one enormous admiring scream out of the way right off the bat, and the audience duly obliged.

The questioning began with a long conversation about the episode we had just watched. Again, no spoilers here. Everyone on stage was having a good time, with plenty of good natured banter between them. All involved had a chance to speak for a while, and plenty of topics were covered, none of which I can describe, simply because it was entirely spoilerific for a good half an hour.

Eventually, the conversation (note: conversation, not simply questions and answers) turned to the subject of Sherlock fan-fiction. To great amusement from the audience, specifically the throngs of fangirls, Caitlin briefly suggested future plot ideas to the crew taken from three ‘fanfics’ she had found online. As the title of each fanfic was read out, the fangirls around me gasped excitedly and leaned forward in their seats, suggesting to me that the majority of them knew these stories very well, and very clearly wanted their heroes to know about them too.

Finally, Caitlin revealed the title of the story that has caused so much fuss in SherlockFandomLand over the last 24 hours. It was entitled “Tea”, which was, as it turns out, a sequel to “Coffee”. Yes, this got a laugh. Not just from Caitlin, as many would have you believe, but from the entire audience (including all the fangirls sat in my line of sight), cast, and crew. It got a laugh, because it’s a fact that Tea (a sequel to Coffee) is a cute, funny title in any universe. Not mockingly funny, just funny. Caitlin did state that the story “doesn’t contain anything bad”. I have read the story. It does contain a lot of bad. But not the section we were about to hear. Unless you think a gay kiss is ‘bad’, and I certainly don’t.

Then the moment of truth. Did Caitlin Moran really FORCE Benedict and Martin to read an extract from this fanfic? Were Benedict and Martin MADE to perform like monkeys in front of a baying crowd?

No. No she didn’t, and no they weren’t.

Printouts of the fanfic were passed to the pair. That’s ‘passed’. Handed over. Let’s just make it perfectly clear that nothing was thrust into either actor’s face. At this point I would recommend you watch the three-minute video which has circulated online. It’s happily spoiler-free, so everyone can see what transpires. Obviously I was there, so I saw it all happen in context with the rest of the show, but this is the next best thing. My own observations are highlighted in bold.

It begins with Caitlin asking the actors to play their roles in the fanfic while also reading their respective narratives. She then light-heartedly (watch the video) jokes that Jeremy Lovering is directing, to which Martin responds, with great comedy timing, “Get them in”, gesturing to the audience. This is a reference to something joked about earlier in the session, wherein it was acknowledged how difficult it was to film an episode without onlookers getting into shot. Again, the audience are all laughing. It was a funny moment.

Martin begins to read his part. As he reads, I am watching the audience. Being sat towards the rear of the not-very-large theatre, I can see everything. What you cannot see on the leaked video is all the fans/fangirls leaning forward, huge smiles on their face, giggling away. They are not laughing at the fanfic. They are laughing excitedly at their heroes reading an actual fanfic in front of their eyes.

Benedict then responds with his first line, which is “Sherlock licked his bottom lip”, to which Steven Moffat responds with “Whose bottom lip?” This of course gets a laugh from the audience. This is not mocking laughter, aimed at the piece or the author. This is laughter at a quick-witted response from Moffat. All on stage know what’s coming, clearly, because they are all very aware of Sherlock fan-fiction. The subsequent laughter comes from anticipation. “How far are they going to go?”

As a result of Moffat’s interruption, Benedict points out a slight narrative error in the script, nothing serious at all, which is swiftly brushed over as it is unimportant. Again, at this stage the audience are hooked to this. It is fascinating. Is Benedict Cumberbatch really going to read aloud from a fan’s work? It certainly seems so. Even better, Benedict’s next line is read in his Sherlock voice. For me personally, being in the same room as the actor who plays Sherlock actually playing Sherlock is phenomenal.

Martin responds with what I actually consider a very well written line of narrative – “John turned to the left, his body at attention” – before tilting his head in a knowing way towards the audience. The double entendre here causes plenty of merriment. Soon after this, another line read by Martin, “John swallowed” gives us the biggest laugh, and curiously, a round of applause. A ROUND OF APPLAUSE.

This is not awkward. This is not an unpleasant atmosphere. This is joyful – these two A-list actors are on stage sharing in something fanmade, to an adoring audience, who are loving every second. And I feel I should reiterate, the majority of the attendees are most certainly fangirls (and fanboys, if you include me).

After Martin read a further line, Benedict paused briefly. This was the main incident, which needs to be clarified. Benedict did pause. Martin turned to him, expecting him to continue with the story, but Benedict had turned to Caitlin to suggest ‘let’s stop it here’. Caitlin immediately obliged and announced “yes, shall we stop it here – this sounded a lot better in my head”. NOTE – VERY IMPORTANT– both Benedict and Martin laughed at that statement, asking “did you write it?”. They did not feel put upon, they were not forced into a corner, they were obviously having a good time. So much so, that Benedict actually asked Caitlin whether they were ruining anything by stopping early.

Caitlin, as can be seen on the video, was almost over-apologetic, thinking that the previous minute or two hadn’t been entertaining, but it had. There was nothing unpleasant, nothing derisive towards the author, except for one statement – that the last line was “clumsily written” – but we’re not exactly talking about a damning critique on the author’s work. It’s all there to see on the video.

Benedict then made a statement. And it is this statement which I feel has caused all the uproar against Caitlin Moran. If Benedict hadn’t said this, the backlash towards Caitlin would not have happened, I am sure.

Benedict’s statement was this: “It’s just a point, I mean the fans can do what they like, but there’s a point, we do what we do with it, and that’s the fun we have with our fiction of it, is to point out that that [a kiss between John and Sherlock] is ludicrous in our universe of this storytelling. So, sorry to be all ‘mmmmm’ about it…*adopts cockney accent* His nibs ain’t doing that”.

Caitlin at this point apologised, explained that she was very sorry, and throws it open to the audience. All is rosy again. This was lighthearted.

Benedict’s statement caused the problem. The issue we have is that Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the show and the hero to the fangirls, has just stated openly and publicly that he doesn’t like fan-fiction. This causes a problem, because the fans are not going to turn on him, are they? No chance. They’re not going to turn on the rest of the cast and crew either. No, they’re going to turn on the one easy target – Caitlin Moran.

And so, this is what happened. Even though everyone in that room thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, through countless generations of Chinese whispers and misheard/misunderstood comments, the whole Sherlock fandom formed an army against Caitlin Moran, bombarding her Twitter with all sorts of unpleasantness. She’s been accused of going into that Q+A with an agenda from the outset, to use Benedict and Martin as pawns in her carefully planned attack on the fandom. And then there’s the other angle, that the whole thing was a direct attack on fanfics and through that, a direct attack on feminism. To paraphrase Benedict, THAT’S ludicrous. It’s nonsense. Utter, utter nonsense.

I will state at this point that I am aware of the other issues people have raised in relation to the event, such as ‘was it morally/legally right for this author’s work to be performed without permission?’ or ‘what about the breaking of the fourth wall (mixing up fan-fiction with the actual original canon actors)?’ but these are questions for other people to discuss and debate. I just want to put the actual unbiased facts out there, as it’s obvious that a great deal of misinformation has been fed to people through blogs and Twitter.

At worst, the introduction of the fanfic to proceedings was an error of judgement on Caitlin’s part. Simply that, a mistake. And I do have sympathy for the writer of said fanfic, who has stated that she never wanted the cast to read her work. But it certainly wasn’t torn apart like it’s being suggested it was.

For those who launched their tirades against Caitlin for ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and sharing fan-created material with the stars of the show, I’m reminded of a talk some time ago, where Martin Freeman was asked by a young fangirl whether he would wear ‘red pants’ for the show, to which the whole room full of fangirls shrieked with excitement, while Martin called them ‘dirty minded f**kers’. This was a direct reference to fan-made material involving artwork featuring John Watson in red underwear, and a direct request for the actor to wear said underwear in the show. Interesting then how this fourth wall opinion has now changed, simply because Caitlin Moran is someone in the public eye.

I am not defending Caitlin Moran because of any political, or feministic, or any other reason. I don’t read The Times and I have not yet read her books. I’m defending her because I’m sick of seeing the pack mentality on Twitter, especially when it comes to fandoms, ganging up on someone for reasons they have only heard second, third or fourth-hand. Or from watching a three-minute video of an event which lasted three hours.

Thank you for reading this, if you did. If you share my opinion, great. If not, then equally great, it’s up to you. I’m just stating the facts.

Latersville.