During the early 1980s, after becoming a ‘proper’ Doctor Who fan in 1979, I joined the Doctor Who Appreciation Society — I was a member for a couple of years. I’d receive my copy of The Celestial Toymaker, via Royal Mail, and scour its three or so pages of A4 for any titbit of news and peruse the many adverts for fanzines, information sheets, and posters that numerous local groups and the society itself would be producing at the time.
Then I happened across the announcement for Panopticon V (1982) and desperately wanted to go. Thus, my postal order (remember them?) was dispatched and I received my attendee’s pack. This amounted to a badge, a booklet, accommodation details, and a train ticket. I eagerly waited for the weekend of the event to arrive.
Soon enough, I made my first trip to Birmingham. From when I arrived, on the Friday evening, to when I left, on Sunday afternoon, I was like a child in a sweetshop; it was the first time I encountered cosplay (even if the term wasn’t used back then), bought my first independent fanzine, and I got to meet and have small chats with John Nathan-Turner, Fiona Cummings, and the legendary Douglas Camfield, and I got free (yes, FREE) autographs from the above, along with Peter Grimwade, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Nicholas Courtney, and John Levene.
But my tale concerns the last event of the convention: the raffle that occurred on the Sunday afternoon. It was straight after the Pertwee/Courtney/Levene panel and all three were still present.
Just to set the scene, I was approaching 17 years old, lanky and with long hair. Not heavy metal length, but long enough. I was also near the back of the rather large hall.
Pertwee pulled out a corresponding ticket to the one that I had. Result! I stood up and as I got to the aisle, Pertwee announced, “Ah, that young lady over there.” As I walked down the aisle to collect my prize, each row burst out laughing as I passed it; it was probably the longest walk I’ve ever made.
When my prize was handed to me by one of the DWAS officials, Pertwee realised his mistake and announced, “oh, that young man!”. As I walked back to my seat, prize in hand, I now faced the mocking crowd who all seemed to be cackling louder than before and all pointing at me (or so it felt). I think I shrank a bit on the walk back. To this day, I am convinced I should be six foot five and not the dwarfish six foot three that I am now.
Thankfully, it was all forgotten as the next prize was drawn (although my hotel room-mate was giggling for ages).
But sadly, dear reader, the embarrassment wasn’t over. We all joined the queue for the after-panel autograph signing and I made it to the first in line of autogaphers (is that a word?), John Levene. There was no way I was ever going to get the chance to remonstrate with Pertwee over my public humiliation, as he was pretty much being dominated by everyone else around me (so was Courtney, come to that). I settled with Sergeant Benton.
“It’s that young lady again,” I mumbled, hopeful for some recognition. He signed his autograph, looked up at me, looked at my name badge and said – in a perfect deadpan impersonation of the late Geoffrey Palmer’s character, Ben Parkinson, in Butterflies – “is that a joke?”
There is that saying about wanting the ground to swallow you up…
Needless to say, it wasn’t very long before I had my hair cut.
And the prize that led me to this Doctor Who themed humiliation? A hardback copy of The Nightmare of Eden, signed by Terrance Dicks (and subsequently the three blokes mentioned above).
I’d love to hear from anyone who was at Panopticon V and remembers my misgendering…
All photographs are (as far as I know) copyright DWAS 1982.