Longleat 21st Anniversary Celebration
Sunday 14th August 1994
This event proved that it is possible to keep a secret in this age of Doctor Who news and information. Planned since the start of 1994 by Lorne Martin (who administers and sets up the various Doctor Who exhibitions) and John Nathan-Turner (ex-producer who was handling the guests), the celebration of 21 years of the Doctor Who exhibition at Longleat House in Wiltshire was not publicised anywhere in the fan press. Instead, the organisers opted to go for local publicity and word of mouth in an attempt to prevent the chaos that ensued the last time a Doctor Who event was organised at Longleat.
This policy seemed to work as, although there were a great many people there, there was nothing like the queues and general confusion of the 20th anniversary convention in 1983.
To mark the occasion, the exhibition was extended by the simple addition of a tent outside (which was entered via a fire-escape door from the console-room display room). The extension contained around 12 displays including a Pipe Person, the Terileptil Android and a Yeti, while the Cybermen, Daleks and Haemovores retained their positions in the main area.
There were formal all-day signings performed in shifts by Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Nicholas Courtney and David J Howe (the paperback edition of the award-winning Timeframe was on sale for the first time) in the Orangery with John Nathan-Turner, Gary Downie (PA and choreographer), David Rodan (co-author of 'Dimensions in Time') and Peter Darvill-Evans (Editor of Virgin’s Doctor Who books) also on hand to chat and sign.
The Doctor’s yellow Edwardian roadster, Bessie, was present for people to pose for pictures in, and, in the afternoon, Jon Pertwee took to the wheel for further photo opportunities. There were Daleks, Cybermen, Time Lords and other monsters wandering about filled by the sweating and good humoured people from the Hyde Fundraisers, a Birmingham-based group of fans who have in the past raised much money for charity through fundraising activities.
As the day progressed, there were further photo-opportunities as the Doctors posed for the press, first with a Dalek, and then to cut a special anniversary cake. The cut cake was later distributed to waiting fans by John Nathan-Turner and Gary Downie.
There was an auction of original props and costumes, possible the last official such auction to take place as Lorne Martin confided that this has just about cleared out all the extra bits and pieces from the stores. Items up for grabs included a Cryon head, Time Lord collars, Rassilon’s crown, a battered Cyberman suit and numerous other items from Ace’s striped top from 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' to crossbows from 'Paradise Towers'. The auction was well attended and it was standing room only as fans, collectors, and dealers battled verbally to gain ownership of the key items.
There was even the destruction of a Dalek billed but I missed this completely. Visual Effects designer Jim Francis had reportedly wired up one of Skaro’s finest for a spectacular pyrotechnic display out on the front lawns of Longleat House, but by the time I got there, nothing at all was to be seen. Did this actually happen? Who knows.
The Doctor Who shop was hopelessly overwhelmed in its normal position at the back-end of the exhibition. This was badly planned and should have been re-sited to somewhere larger for the day. There were few new items available – the only celebration item was a T-shirt and even the latest issues of DWM and Virgin’s books were not in evidence – the shop rapidly sold out of just about everything else.
There were permanent queues for the exhibition and the signings, and whenever any of the Doctors ventured out for a break there were masses of people craning, jostling and trying to get a photograph or a glimpse of their heroes.
Overall it was a good natured and low key event. Local advertising had ensured an excellent turn-out of people on the day, and despite the withholding of information from fan-read publications (like Doctor Who Magazine), numerous fans had found out about the celebration and had turned up to join in. Even the weather was kind. In contrast to the rain and gloom of 1983, the sun shone brightly all day long.
As a day to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the longest running permanent Doctor Who exhibition, it was well conceived and ran smoothly with but a few gripes and faults. Hopefully there will be another celebration when we reach the 25th or even 30th anniversary of the display, but that possibility remains in the hands of the new Marquis of Bath.
David J Howe