In which I talk about stuff

Meeting an Old Soldier

It’s Sunday, and I’m wandering around the Braehead shopping centre like I’ve never been there before. Eventually I have to ask a security guard where the ‘arena’ is, because I’ve never been here while there’s been an event going on. I’ve been dimly aware that a local hockey team plays here, but never really given thought before today to exactly where they play.

Massive signs point the way once I follow the guard’s directions, and I make my way, three hours after opening time, into Collectormania 2011.

I did plan on getting there one hour after it started, as there’s a slightly higher entrance fee for the first hour, but I couldn’t ignore my body’s cries for sleep when my alarm went off early this morning. I pay for my ticket, then immediately have it taken from me by the guy who stamps my hand, leaving me wondering what the need was for the ticket in the first place.

The inside of the event hall is full of rows of tables, all seemingly displaying signed photographs from every geeky franchise I can imagine. I scan back and forth, looking for people sitting at tables, signing things and looking vaguely famous, but all I see is merchandise and people in home-made costumes. I walk fairly briskly through the first aisle, deciding instead to first find my friend.

My friend, Fraser, has a sci-fi web-series set in Scotland – the first one of its kind, in fact – called Night is Day, and he’s producing a film that’s coming out next year. Doing pretty well for himself with it, I’d say. He has his own table, lots of stuff on the wall behind him, and people are stopping to chat and watch the promotional clips. I wave, smiling and calling his name, while the actors from his show look as if they consider me a random fan that’s being rather unusually familiar. I laugh as I tell them that it’s odd, them being strangers to me yet stars of the show, and yet also being friends of my friend, therefore giving me a different vibe than if they were just actors of a show I liked. (I used to get very star-struck in the presence of even slightly famous people; I have since learned how to make actual conversation and not grin uncontrollably until my face hurts.)

Fraser points me to the stars’ tables, and I promise to return after having met the one person I came here to meet: John Levene, also known as Sergeant Benton, one of my favourite characters from Jon Pertwee’s time on Doctor Who.

It’s much quieter than I expected; there’s only one person at his table. Without the safety of a queue to hide behind, I hesitate at going over, and start to browse the nearby merchandise tables. I quickly learn that it’s not just signed pictures that are on sale here, but also toys, models, gadgets, books, DVDs and other memorabilia. Being a bit of a dork, I pick up a mug for a fiver that says ‘Bow ties are cool’.

After a minute’s more wandering, I notice that a different person is now talking to John Levene, so I realise that I’d better just get over there. I hover nearby with a nervous smile on my face, until he waves me over with a chuckle.

“I always know, when someone’s smiling, that they recognise me,” he says. Truth be told, he doesn’t look much like he did in the 70s (who does?), but there’s a mischievous twinkling in his eyes that tells me this is definitely the guy I came to see.

John Levene and Rachel
Me and Benton at Collectormania 2011

He asks if I want a picture, and comes round the table to stand next to me. The man sitting with him to collect autograph money is also apparently the unofficial photographer, and I show him the right button to press on my phone. John puts an arm around me and smiles, showing off his expensive new teeth, and I grin long past the click that tells me the picture is taken. I check the image, and John gives me a kiss on the cheek. He strikes me as the ‘awesome granddad’ type; just as when he was younger, he was the ‘protective older brother’ type on Doctor Who.

I mention that I have something to be autographed, and pull out my DVD cover of Inferno, one of my favourite Pertwee stories. It has interesting guest characters, alternate realities, and there’s some amusing banter between Sgt Benton and the Brigadier in the first episode that is always my go-to memory of Benton: smiling cheekily before being told off for laughing at the Brigadier’s old photos. The DVD cover has already been signed by Nicholas Courtney, who played the Brigadier. I mention to John that it was signed when I got it, and that I always wanted to meet him. We share a sad smile as he picks up a silver pen, and he tells me that Nick was an amazing guy.

The signature is personalised. He checked with me first, saying that non-personalised is worth more, but of course I’m going to be keeping this. I thank him, shake his hand, and tell him I’m looking forward to his Q&A, then I walk away grinning and clutching my newly-signed cover carefully.

It is a very interesting Q&A session, although I have nothing to ask. He talks about how he got into acting, his move from a faceless Cyberman to a UNIT soldier remembered and cherished by fans, his memories of Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Courtney, and the tragedy of how little time we have with the people we love. He reads a eulogy he gave at Nick’s memorial earlier this year, about the paradox of what we have, compared to all that we lack. I can’t lie; it makes me well up a little.

I look at my Inferno cover, now that the ink has dried, and read it once again, smiling. “Love & Peace to you, Rachel.” And to you, John. You made my weekend.

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Comments on: "Meeting an Old Soldier" (3)

  1. *Sniffle* I’m not sure why reading this made me feel all sentimental and happy-sad, but it did.

  2. Bentooooooooon! 😀 His teeth are impressive. You always meet the coolest people.

  3. John Levene is an amazing man. I literally bumped into him on a railway station platform last saturday evening. His train had been cancelled and, to cut a long long story short, he ended up staying at my house overnight! I couldn’t believe it – he’s a childhood hero! (And a total gent)

    Scarily I used the same picture as you in my own little mostly-wordless blog, then found this blog totally at random (using the ‘Next Blog’ button)…

    Anyway – great blog, keep going with it!

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