Battle of the Lexes
Sunday morning: Everyone seems to enjoy the customary SF convention lie-in following the festivities of Saturday night, and descends to the restaurant at roughly the same time. The result is a colossal logjam of people and a vast, bad-tempered queue. Having already been accused by Andy Robinson of doing a deliberate comedy pratfall on the way out of the lift (I'm pretty sure it was unplanned) my disposition is not helped when Robert Rankin elbows me in the side of the head in the midst of a bravura display of queue-jumping. Hmm.
Amity breaks out when several of us lone strangers club together on a larger table. I find myself sitting with a quiet girl in a t-shirt with the Kryptonian shield on it, and someone who appears to be Tony Shalhoub. For once, it isn't Tony Shalhoub, but a rather bemused wine
dealer from one of the Mediterranean countries here for another event entirely. Many croissants are consumed but Tony remains none the wiser as to what the hell is going on around him.
'The person who was supposed to be with you now... can't make it. He is as drunk as a skunk.' (John Shea)
Yet more queuing culminates in me grabbing a pretty good seat in the Event cavern ahead of the start of the day's first panel. The Smallville boys are on first and I am not going to miss another instalment of the twisted world of Michael Rosenbaum. Things kick off
with some promisingly obscene out-takes from Babylon 5, shown on the main screen. All around me parents stuff paper tissues in the ears of small children as Jerry Doyle says '****'1 a lot.
The reason for these stalling tactics becomes clear as Sam Jones III does not show up. In
his place is the delightfully indiscreet John Shea who reveals that these young guys just can't
take the pace any more. Shea turns in a really good panel at what must have been quite short
notice - rather than do nothing but take questions, he talks unprompted and without notes for
nearly half an hour about his career, his affection for the UK, Lois & Clark, and his
current project Mutant X. It's a lot more engaging than endless requests for hugs.
But this impressive opening is entirely forgotten about with the unexpected and ultimately
unwelcome appearance on stage of Patrick Kilpatrick, a Hollywood character actor and, we're
told, a veteran of forty movies and fifty TV shows. As threatened the night before, he's here
to promote a movie he's trying to get made: he wants our money, but - he says quite casually -
he's not really interested in sums of less than five or six million dollars.
Appalled disbelief gradually settles upon the audience as it becomes clear this knucklehead
is entirely sincere. He goes on and on in what I can only describe as a gravely drone for
about twenty minutes, certain phrases reiterated over and over again: Forty films and fifty
TV shows. Arresting stories with redemptive denouements. Serious capitalists. And so on and
so on. At one point he even describes Marina Sirtis as an A-list star. So far as I can tell the
film he's trying to get made isn't even SF, though his brief description of it mentions a
'Dawn of the Dead style climax', whatever that means. Half the people here are falling
asleep, the other half actively want to kill Patrick Kilpatrick. For the only time all weekend,
there is only one question from an audience-member: 'Who the hell are you and why in God's
name are you telling us all this?' (I paraphrase, but only slightly.)
Eventually Kilpatrick sods off back to the autograph zone next door, but thoughtfully
leaves us his e-mail address (I hope his firewall is up to scratch, because he's riled a lot of
geeks today). We are too relieved to cheer. Sanity is restored with the reappearance of the
convention Dalek, which cheerfully trundles up and down at the front until Michael
Rosenbaum is with us once again.
Rosenbaum looks a bit blitzed to begin with and seems to have been told the rules; he sits
in his seat and stares off to a point twenty feet over our heads. But he seems mildly amused
by our guest from the planet Skaro. 'What was that robot thing? A Dalek? Whatever that
is...' Possibly sensing a double-act in the offing, the Dalek reappears. 'Don't upstage me,'
But you can't keep a good man down and soon enough he bounces off the stage over to
where the questioners are standing, pausing on the way at the sight of familiar faces in the
Rosenbaum: 'Hey, you two girls were both sitting there yesterday as well. What's the
deal with that?'
Girls: 'We're bored.'
Rosenbaum: 'You're bored. Well I guess you'd have to be. But I must say, you both have
really excellent hair.'
Several questions down the line, Rosenbaum meets a punter dressed entirely in stylish
Rosenbaum: 'Hey man, you look like you're wearing my costume off the show.'
Punter: 'I'm supposed to be Angel.'
The punter is short, rotund, bearded, and cheery, none of which are things one would
automatically associate with David Boreanaz's alter-ego.
Rosenbaum: 'Angel. Right.' (heroically maintains a straight face) 'And your
Punter: 'I don't have a question, I just wanted to congratulate you on your award last
Rosenbaum: 'Why, thank-you, Angel.'
For the first time an awful suspicion tickles my mind - is Rosenbaum laughing up his sleeve at all of us? Is he secretly taking the piss? Certainly he seems to adopt Angel as his straight man for the rest of the session. Someone asks him how he deals with his fans, and what makes a good fan - an interesting question to me, as my misgivings about the fan-actor relationship at this kind of event have been troubling me all weekend. 'Well, it's great to meet all the fans of the show and sign autographs and all,' Rosenberg says, looking off into the distance again, 'but you've got to realise, you don't really know us, we're not going to invite you back to our apartments - I know how disappointing that must be to you, Angel...' Angel grins back
in his rotund cheery way.
Rosenbaum shrugs off the concerns of an organising goblin worried by his walkabout
tendencies - 'Yoda here is worried I'm gonna get mobbed - you guys aren't going to mob me,
are you?' - and manages to work both him and his superior into the act. Before a particularly
fruity anecdote he turns to one of his handlers - 'Paul, am I allowed to swear? Can I say
****?'2 and when another punter hands him
some aspirin to help recover from the clearly very heavy night he and his compadres had, he
adroitly passes them on to his latest stooge: 'Paul, I want a complete analysis of these...'
And things proceed with the usual mixture of jokes, teases, droll non-answers and
impressions. He does a good Christopher Walken, and a knockout Keanu (with whom he worked
on a movie called Sweet November). Only requests to sing are politely batted away,
possibly because the first song-related question somehow ended up with a punter yodelling
Rod Stewart's 'Sailing' at the somewhat nonplussed actor. Someone is clearly worried all this
musical stuff has given undue offence.
Punter: 'Michael, I know you've said you don't want to sing to us - so I was wondering
what song you'd like us to sing for you at the end of the session?'
Rosenbaum: 'What song?' (turns away, clearly fighting the urge to laugh) 'Gee, I
don't know. Why - why don't you sing me something by Morrissey. Ha, there's a guy there
going 'oh, God, anything but that!!!' I don't know. I'll think about it.'
I for one am always ready to belt out a few verses and a chorus of 'Reel Around The
Fountain' but as it happens, when our time together is through, Rosenbaum departs singing
'Fly Me To The Moon' himself, his voice reverberating around the cavern long after he's gone
due to the wonders of a radio mike. What an extraordinary fellow - and I haven't been able
to take Lex Luthor quite so seriously ever since.
'So I said to Terry Pratchett, if you think I'm going to sit there and watch you win yet
another bloody prize, you've got another think coming. So I went to the pub and missed my
own award.' (Robert Rankin)
Convention fatigue is starting to set in as Rankin hits the stage for more a capella
bawdiness and verbal abuse. A punter who's in the middle of writing a trilogy of unauthorised
Stargate novels is bluntly told to stop wasting her time and write something
publishable, but apart from this it's pretty much a retread of yesterday, just with different
songs. 'Even I'm bored shitless and I'm up here on stage3,' Rankin says at one point - 'Let's all go down the pub.' (This from a
man who earlier railed against his reputation as a 'drunken b*st*rd'4!
I suspect this is not a genuine offer, and Rankin has already reneged on his promise to buy
us all a pint if he won an award last night, so after he clears off I head next door for some
last minute video shopping. Chris Barrie and Norman Lovett are now signing autographs, but
the queues are a bit long and I really can't be bothered. Michelle Trachtenberg from
Buffy is also just visible behind a wall of admirers - only faintly creepy, this - but
there's no sign of Jimmy Doohan - clearly sense and medical advice have prevailed (although I
bump into Tracy later this evening on the concourse of Euston station and she reveals he was
about earlier and quite clearly delighted to meet his fans and give autographs, so maybe I
should stop being so patronising and shut my cake hole).
Queues are shorter over in the robot zone. Yesterday the only team in sight were the
under performing Plunderbird, today they have been replaced by current UK Robot
Wars champions Tornado (well, two of them, anyway) - a team noted for their robot's
stamina and resilience, and their own rather creative interpretation of the rules of the event.
They're just back from the Dutch event where Wedgehog took a big chunk out of the robot's
frame - an innocent young girl asks why they don't build the thing out of adamantium. The
roboteers haven't a clue what adamantium is, a prime demonstration of insular different geek
tribes can be.
Over at the SEX magazine stand I catch up with Jayne Dearsley and the editor, Dave
Golder. Golder hasn't a clue what Patrick Kilpatrick was on about either. As Jayne is the
outgoing reviews editor, and still in awe of my predicted fecundity (I hope), I mumble
something about writing the odd film review myself. She suggests I send a friendly e-mail to
the frankly scary new reviews guy, Steve O'Brien, and see if he needs any new
Well, it can't hurt.
A few minutes later the weekend's penultimate panel kicks off, the second coming of
SEX's editorial team, who all look exhausted to some degree or other. They get a rather
eclectic mix of questions and comments - 'why in hell did you let Patrick Kilpatrick up on
stage' is one of the most popular enquiries, 'doesn't it bother you when people assume that,
just 'cos the cast and crew don't get on, a film's gonna be crap' one of the most peculiar - and
revelations both predictable and startling. Northern midget Guy Haley still doesn't like
Doctor Who, Golder wrote something nice about Andromeda once, and there are
three people in the audience who actually enjoyed Crime Traveller. 'Security, take
them away at once,' Haley commands.
Time's ticking on and I need to start thinking about my train... but I hate to miss the end
of anything and so lurk about as Michael Shanks and Anna-Louise Plowman do the last session
of the day. All other activity in the cavern - photos, autographs, whatever - has stopped and
all attention is on the stage. The Dalek and its keepers are sitting, all apparently rapt - a
charming family scene.
I don't watch Stargate so most of the session doesn't mean very much to me, but it
seems like the usual stuff - pose this way for us, Michael, show us your appendectomy scar,
was it hard to leave? - except, once again, somebody asks about how it feels for them to meet
their fans. And, like Rosenbaum, both actors stare off into space a bit awkwardly while they
answer as tactfully as possible. It would be a disaster for them to bluntly say 'You don't
really know us. You can't all be our friends. There are lines we don't want you to cross,' but
they're still clearly ill-at-ease even delivering gentle paraphrases of these things. It's
interesting and a bit illuminating.
And then, following a brief and rather limp closing announcement from Golder, it's all over,
and off we go, spilling out of the cavern, out of the centre, onto the flyovers and docklands
light railway, then dispersing through the tube and railways and motorways and airlines,
carrying our signed photos and life-size cardboard cut-outs of Orlando Bloom and memories
with us, dissolving out into the general population.
Until next year, when it will all happen again.
this bit.4This bit we
will hopefully compromise on.5To cut a short story even shorter: no he doesn't.