The 24 Seven Guide: Let's hear it for Reg Varney's barmy army

The truth is out there, in Walsall and Stanford-Le-Hope, for followers of Noggin the Nog and David Duchovny. Be it Gerry, Gillian or Pamela, somewhere there's an Anderson Appreciation Society for you. Anthony Clavane enters the obsessive domain of cult TV land

October is, traditionally, the conference season. Keynote speeches are delivered, issues are debated and soundbites are dispensed. And, although public displays of unity are the name of the game, revolts are always threatening to break out.

Conference organisers, of course, always insist their organisations are broad churches. "We cover a wide range of groups," insists Henry Cook, of Memorability 96. "From The Professionals to Noggin the Nog." But David Bailey, assistant editor of Cult Times magazine, admits factionalism is rife: "There's acrimony between rival groups. Trekkers are constantly attacking the Babylon 5 people and vice-versa. In the 1980s, the Dr Who lot split over who was the best doctor."

Cult TV organisations, like political parties, are particularly prone to in-fighting. Martin Sudds boasts that his Dr Who society prefers "intelligent comment over a drink" to sectarian slagging, but is keen to disassociate himself from the official, BBC-recognised Dr Who Appreciation Society, which parks its Tardis in Coventry this weekend. "Far too structured for my liking," he says. Martin is neither a Bakerite nor a Pertweeite (the two most militant Whovian tendencies), but a fan of the 1980s era. "I realise this is heresy," he smiles.

At the M96 convention in Birmingham last weekend, it was noticeable that the Tony Hancock Society had a stall but the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society did not. This is like allowing the Popular Front of Judea to affiliate but not the Judean Popular Front. THS stalwart Anthony Roberts jokes about "entryist" THAS members infiltrating and taking over, but chairman Dave Sandall adopts a more serious tone, arguing that theirs is the more active group, putting on library exhibitions and campaigning for statues to be built. "We had a, er, difference of opinion," is all Sandall will say. "I suppose it was a clash of personalities. But that's all behind us now."

Rather than split like Trotskyite cells or religious sects, most fan clubs manage to contain their differences. Margaret Parson tried to set up a Last of the Summer Wine appreciation society at the same time as Clive Eardley, but Clive's letter reached director Alan Bell a day before hers. She accepted the post of Co-ordinator (South), but there are certain things she keeps to herself, like the private phone number of actress Jean Ferguson (who plays Maria). "I'm not allowed to give it to anyone else - even Clive."

The 59-year-old widow, proud owner of a Nora Batty doll, goes up north for a "nose around" during filming, and has produced a location guide for fellow fans. "They're all great except Foggy. He's the most miserable character ever. Whenever you try and take a picture of him he deliberately turns his back on you."

A photo of Stephen Lewis graces her official Summer Wine headed notepaper, which is a bit disorientating to Britcom devotees who revere him as the legendary Blakey from On the Buses. "He'll always be Blakey to me," says Anthony Roberts, also a member of the OTB Fan Club (and Stop Messing About, the Kenneth Williams society: "It's like an addiction - once you've joined one, you find out about another and you join that and you just can't stop...").

He flicks through a copy of The Depot, delighting in the fanzine's idiosyncracies. "There's crap photocopies, spelling errors, grammatical howlers and here's Reg Varney with a crown on his head. The idea of Reg being made into a member of the Royal family on the basis of a sexist sitcom is more amusing than the sitcom itself." Even Anthony thinks purchasing memorabilia at conventions is "pretty sad". Martin's family has always treated his Whovianism as a joke, and Margaret's eldest daughter thinks she's crackers.

Yet, in the past couple of years, cult TV has not only shed its nerdy image, but re-invented itself as the new rock'n'roll. The reason for this is quite simple. The X Files. Although an official fan club has, mysteriously, been blocked (FBI conspiracy, surely?), there are thousands of trendy truth-seekers out there, communing through the Internet group, the David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade and the Friends of Gillian Anderson group, advertising for "fellow Believers" in hip magazines sold at record and video shops. It might have been an apt put-down for Trumpton enthusiasts or Bless This House buffs, but "Get a Life!" is the last thing you'd say to these people. Henry Cook argues that the series is responsible for the cult TV boom, and the fans attending the M96 convention are certainly youthful, sharply- dressed and affluent. "Some have turned up with pounds 8,000 to blow. They take it very seriously." Anne Rixen, an organiser of the Cult TV Weekend 1996, claims conventions are now anorak-free zones. "I'm a secretary in real life. I meet lots of doctors and scientists at these sort of things and I'm able to talk to them on the same wavelength. This is what fandom's all about."

CONVENTIONS

THE DOCTOR WHO APPRECIATION SOCIETY

Convention at the Hotel Leofric, Coventry, this weekend. Guest speakers include Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Press officer: Andrew Eaton. Membership address: PO Box 330, Swansea SA2 OYU

ASSIMILATION CONVENTIONS

Sci-fi convention at the Britannia Hotel, Daventry. Guest stars: Andrew Robinson (Garak in Deep Space Nine) and Jason Carter (Marcus Cole in Babylon 5). 77 Holyrood Avenue, South Harrow, Middx, HA2 8UD; 11-14 Oct

MEMORABILIA 96

Convention at Olympia in London, with hundreds of dealer stalls, fan clubs and large-screen viewings of those cult TV classics. Henry Cook, Made In Heaven, 19 Broughton Road, Biggar ML12 6AN (01899 221622); 20 Oct

CULT TV

TV appreciation society weekend at Haven's All-Action Centre in Caister, near Great Yarmouth. Guest speakers: Gerry Anderson, Gareth Hunt and Norman Lovett. Organiser: Anne Rixen, PO Box 1701, Peterborough, PE1 1EX (01733 63454); 25-28 Oct

THE BRITISH COMEDY APPRECIATION SOCIETY

Dedicated to the stars and works of British comedy from the 1930s onwards.

66 Wendover Road, Staines, Middlesex

KALEIDOSCOPE

Promotes the appreciation of vintage, classic and populist TV through conferences, events and research. Chief executive: Chris Perry, 18 Adelaide Street, Brierly Hill, West Midlands (01384 823645)

STARS (Savers of TV And Radio Shows)

Free access to large private collections of vintage shows. Quarterly newsletter, programme guides. Contact: Malcolm Chapman, 96 Meadvale Road, London W5 1NR

THE FRIENDS OF GILLIAN ANDERSON

Six newsletters each year. Due to copyright battles, there is no official X Files fan club. Keith Gooch, 2/7 St Clair Road, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 8JY, Scotland

FANDERSON

Bi-monthly magazine and exclusive merchandise of Gerry (not Gillian) Anderson. The great man appears at Cult TV convention this month (see above). Official Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society. PO Box 93, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 IJX

DAD'S ARMY APPRECIATION SOCIETY

Contact: Jack Wheeler, Sinodun Road, Wallingford, Oxon OX10 8AA

GEORGE AND MILDRED MEMORIAL SOCIETY

Contact: Paul Curran, 34 Eaton Court, Hornby Lane, Liverpool L1 3HQ

THE TONY HANCOCK APPRECIATION SOCIETY

Produces quarterly newsletter, Railway Cuttings. President: Dan Peat, 426 Romford Road, Forst Gate, London E7 8DF. (0181 552 5305)

THE TONY HANCOCK SOCIETY

Convention at The Hexagon Theatre, MAC, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, Saturday 26 Oct Chairman: Dave Sandall, 77 The Avenue, Acock's Green, Birmingham B27 6NL (0121-707 4095)

HI-DE-HI FAN CLUB

Rob Cope, 24 Woodland Avenue, Cheddleton, nr Leek, Staffs ST13 7BZ

ON THE BUSES FAN CLUB

Fanzine, The Depot. Phil Leong, 108 Western Avenue, Walsall WS2 ONJ

ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES APPRECIATION SOCIETY.

97 Whalebone Grove, Chadwell Heath, Essex, RM6 6BL

SIX OF ONE

The Prisoner appreciation society. Quarterly magazine featuring the "latest Prisoner-related news and members views". PO Box 66, Ipswich, IP1 9TZ

OFFICIAL STAR TREK FAN CLUB

John Freeman, 42/44 Dolben Street, London SE1 0UP (0171-620 0200)

Also:

Quadrants Trek Fanzine. PO Box 1701, Leicester, LE4 0ZU

Patrick Stewart Appreciation Society 12, Anderson Close

Harefield, Middlesex UB9 6HF

THE STEPTOE & SON APPRECIATION SOCIETY

President: Lisa Sargent, 47 Cornwall Crescent, Stanford-Le-Hope, Essex SS17 7DL

STOP MESSING ABOUT

The joint Kenneth Williams and Sid James society. Bi-monthly Fanzine, SMA. pounds 8.50 per annum. Contact: Carl St John, 27 Brookmeade Way, Orpington, Kent BR5 2BQ

SUMMER WINE APPRECIATION SOCIETY

Organises location trips. Fanzine, Deep in the Heart of Yorkshire. President: Clive Eardley, 114 Dalefield Road, Normanton, West Yorkshire WF6 IPS

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