Where can you find a half-dozen hot dancers on four-foot actuators, their endless changes of fantastical costumes towering over the assembled mass? Where can you find Tom Baker’s sincerity, love and dry wit – and James Marsters’ American accent cussing the sparkly vampires of ‘Twilight’? Indeed, where can you find Aliens shagging the foyer – and a red-faced fan couple shagging in the TARDIS?
If I told you it was in a bedraggled and shabby ‘Hi-De-Hi’ holiday camp, you’d think I’d been on the little pink pills. But, no pills – this was the SFX Weekender at Pontin’s in Camber – a sensory overload where ‘surreal’ became an inadequate word to describe increasing layers of wackiness.
By day, we were defended by the Forbidden Planet trading table – able to see over the heaving seethe of fans to the talks and panels of the main stage. Not only Tom Baker and James Marsters, but Gareth David-Lloyd, Lis Sladen, Gerry Anderson – all of whom the business has met before. An impressive line-up – and one that had the Weekender’s attendees queuing for signatures in great fan-serpents of patience, winding across the floor.
And it wasn’t only about the celebs. A series of talks and panels by the best in speculative fiction and comic book talent gave the weekend another level of appeal. A thank you to the guys and girls of Gollancz and Tor UK for dropping by our table, and lending us their support and time.
I should also insert a special thank you to Dave Gibbons for, not only signing for us, but this – the moment which made the weekend of Watchmen fan Gus: –
By night, there yet more layers – from a teenage compulsion to play the arcades to donning an evening dress to hit a sweaty dance floor. The DJ set was played by Pat Sharpe (a name ever-associated with children’s TV and that god-awful mullet) and decorated by male dancers shedding sparks from angle grinders, actuator girls covered in the most glorious CyberDog-esque LEDs and a miniature Lucifer, enticing us all us to dance our way to certain doom.
So we did.
With a wealth of costumes and performers everywhere we turned – from fan to pro, frock to Stormtrooper, confident card magician to blue-painted Na’vi – the SFX Weekender was all about layers – more than I’ve ever seen at an industry event. But however many there were, there was that same sense of community that comes with the bigger common interest – that comes with being a fantasy island, secure away from the real world. That, perhaps, is why the nostalgic seediness (and peculiar ‘Prisoner’ atmosphere) of the Pontin’s Holiday Camp worked so well.
Part Fan Con, part SF/F Con, part costume parade, part rave, part quiz, part signing, part chaos and all wonderfully surreal, this was an ambitious, wide-appeal winner. No-one had known what to expect… what we got, was everything.
Well done to Stuart and the SFX team. We look forward to next year!