Babcom '96

22nd - 23rd June

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Disclaimer: As with the Wolf 359 report, this is a personal report and therefore has a boatload of my opinions and impressions within. (If you are involved in the management of the Shepherd's Bush Empire, I suggest you stop reading right now.)

Saturday 22nd June

Ahh, Babcom. A convention that will live in my memory for many reasons. Perhaps for the all-star lineup; perhaps for the chance to get Claudia Christian's autograph (sorry, folks, I had to make sure I mentioned that as close to the beginning as possible); perhaps for the queues.

Here we are early -- too early -- on a Saturday morning, approaching the Shepherd's Bush Empire theatre. Our heroes have come equipped with notebook (to make the writing of this report slightly easier) and camera equipment. (Quite a bit of the latter. They counted themselves fairly lucky not to be caught by the Professional Photography Police.)

Shepherd's Bush is some way from the home of our heroes, so they have been battling the London Underground for approximately an hour by this point. They are looking forward to being able to get inside, take their seats and relax a little before the start of the show. Imagine their surprise -- or, if you know them and their almost Ivanova-like optimism, imagine their lack of surprise -- when they reach the SBE and find that there are queues rivalling even the greatest of those at Wolf 359 (see con reports passim). From the front door, around the side of the theatre, to the back of the theatre, and along the side road beyond, there is a queue. In fact there are two queues, but naturally it is the longer of the two that our heroes must join.

With truly remarkable percipience, the show's organisers delayed its start by about half an hour to allow most of those outside to get in before the show began; I do not doubt that there were some still standing in line at that point.

The experienced con-goers amongst you may be confused by my references to a 'show'. Make no mistake, Babcom was not a convention that many people would have recognised as such; it could be more accurately described as a stage show. The actors took questions from the audience, and one could get autographs signed, but there was little of the casual interaction that made Wolf work well. The audience was also very different; many, perhaps most, of those present had not attended a traditional convention before, and would probably run a mile if it was suggested that they should. ("But, but, don't all those weirdo SF fans go to those? No, it's too strange for me, someone might think I was a nerd or something.") Compared to Wolf, the audience were very quiet.

So, on with the show.

First up on Saturday was Peter Jurasik, who looks very different indeed to Londo, the Centauri we all love to imitate. He chatted about the poker games at his house (participants; himself, Stephen Furst and Andrea Katsulas), and about his thoughts on the show so far. He revealed his own personal titles for the seasons so far; Season 1 was something fairly long and convoluted about the theme park that was the Centauri Empire [although your correspondent did take a notebook with her, the lighting at the SBE is completely inconducive to writing anything, so these notes were made on her return home], Season 2's working title was "Is it getting dark in here, or is it just me?" and Season 3's tag line is "Me And My Shadows".

[Notes from here on about PJ's remarks; take with pinch of salt, and bear in mind that he was speaking to an audience who had only seen up to Severed Dreams at this point. This is not a spoiler per se -- M]

Peter went on to say that his personal belief was that Londo wuld not survive until the end of Season 5. He also didn't believe Londo would be Emperor, and definitely didn't believe Vir would be Emperor; basically he thinks Lady Morella's prophecy is a red herring.

His final remark was that his ambition is to manage Andreas Katsulas in a vaudeville show...

Next on the schedule was Andrea Thompson, but due to her car being stuck in traffic (see later), Jason Carter was the next one to grace the stage. This man, I have to tell you, has more energy than any one person has a right to have; he was bouncing around the stage extremely happily.

One of the early questions ran roughly as follows:

"Did you have to have much training in how to use your pole?"
[F/X: audience laughter.]
"No, I mean your weapon..."
[F/X: audience hysteria. Never say that us Brits don't have a sophisticated sense of humour.]
Another question ran:
"Hello Jason"
"Aargh! What are you doing here? Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you all to my mother..."
Her question was about when he was next coming home, since they saw him more often on the television than in person these days. :)

He was born in Southall [London], his family moving to Lincolnshire when he was 4; he kept his London accent, although both of his younger brothers speak with a broad Lincolnshire accent (which he demonstrated).

We also heard his side of the infamous "Death of Marcus" incident, of which Bill Mumy had told his side of at Wolf; apparently there was even a comment inserted into the script which read something like "[You can relax now, Jason]". JMS sent him a "Beers of the World" basket to make up for it, but apparently the note which read "I will never kill you again" was typed, and not signed by Joe -- and therefore not a contract. A shame. :)

Finally he recited a lovely dialect poem about his gran being sucked down the (outside) loo; I'm sorry, but I can see why he wouldn't have brought that out at an American convention, the language just wouldn't translate...

The lunch break gave us our chance to get autographs. Rather than having it as a 2000-person free-for-all, the organisers had sold 300 tickets (at a fairly reasonable price) which entitled you to the autographs of whoever fancied signing that day. (On Saturday it was Peter Jurasik, Andrea Thompson, Mira Furlan, Jason Carter, Claudia Christian and Richard Biggs.)

This may sound like a reasonable plan, but in practice it was a nightmare. 300 tickets, one and a bit hours for lunch; you do the maths. We were told that we would be called down by sections; in practice, when it got to about fifteen minutes before the end of the session and we still hadn't heard anything other than "Downstairs, right hand half" being called out, we thought 'Sod this' and went to queue up to get downstairs to get into the queue...

I feel that this would be a reasonable point to explain the geography of the Shepherd's Bush Empire. It is a theatre in traditional British style; that is, it has several levels, each of which is generally banked quite steeply. The bottom level (called 'Downstairs' in this report) was on the flat with rows of free-standing chairs. There were three levels of balconies above this, of which we were on level 2. (As an aside, two prices of ticket were available: 'standard' seating and 'privileged' seating. Level 2 was privileged seating, so was level 1 and, I assume, most or all of the downstairs area. I'm guessing that the only non-privileged seating was up on level 3, waaaay up in the gods...).

Now, this layout wouldn't be so bad, were it not for two things.

  1. Apparently fire regulations prohibit there being more than a certain number of people on any given level at a time. This meant that one had to get a pass to go to a different level (this system appeared to have broken down by Sunday, and not before time)

  2. The dealers' room. Some of the dealers were at the back of the downstairs area; some were in the corridor on our level, level 2. Given that said corridor was only about three people wide to start with, this was bad news for (a) the dealers, (b) people who might have wanted to buy anything, (c) anyone who happened to be sat on level 2 to begin with.
Moving back to the autograph session, things were getting quite frantic towards the end as it became obvious that they weren't going to get through everyone with tickets. To be fair, many people early on in the queue had taken the opportunity to have multiple items signed and to have long chats with the stars, but it was still fairly irritating to have to dash through quite so quickly. Once we'd had our items signed and taken a few photos (see archive elsewhere), the security folks were ready to escort us back to level 1; they seemed moderately put out that we'd dared to come down from level 2 before being summoned. Tough shit, guys.

Those who'd obeyed orders and, as a result, not had their items signed, were told that they would be able to get autographs on the Sunday.

(Rumour had it that some enterprising soul had popped out earlier on in the day and bought another book of raffle tickets of the same colour as they were using for the 'official' tickets. This, if true, would have explained the chaos very well indeed.)

After the end of the lunch interval, next up was Claudia Christian. Interspersed between jokes, impressions (Christian as Janeway: 'Oh, didn't you know we have helium and not oxygen on the Voyager?') and double entendres, we gained the following information:

Last up in the afternoon session were Andrea Thompson and Jerry Doyle. Apparently the reason that Andrea was late had more to do with the organisers failing to arrange to have her picked up from her hotel, than with the traffic from the football match [Editor's note: the show was held in the middle of Euro '96]. Moreover, she and Jerry were both suffering from food poisoning -- Jerry wandered offstage a couple of times to find a convenient bucket -- but they managed to get through their hour or so onstage nonetheless.

Andrea talked about the JAG series -- which she left B5 to do -- and the character she plays in it; said character seems to be a bit tougher than Talia Winters.

Jerry was asked about the injury he sustained during the filming of Severed Dreams. In fact, he told us, it was two injuries; first a stuntman moved the wrong way, causing him to fall and break his elbow, then the same stuntman moved the wrong way again as they reshot the scene and he managed to break his wrist. By the end of the shooting, where Zack is helping him down to the floor, the director was reduced to saying, "Yes, that's just the facial expression we want ..."

Both of them talked about how much they enjoyed being married, and how they wished they had more time to spend together.

The make-up department used to paint Jerry's head to disguise his thinning hair, but he became thoroughly sick of that and shaved his head before the publicity photos for S3 were taken; hence Garibaldi's sudden loss of hair between seasons 2 and 3.

A gathering of all eight B5 stars who were present was the last item of the day; Andrea and Jerry stayed long enough for a photo call, but then left pleading illness. Most of the questions asked of the remainder of the group were fairly unexciting; the biggest surprise was one woman who had learnt Serbo-Croat specifically to talk to Mira Furlan. Mira was pretty much flabbergasted, as were most of the audience; they exchanged a few remarks in that language before switching back to English for the benefit of the rest of us :)

Sunday 23rd June

We started out a little earlier on the Sunday morning, so as not to be quite so far back in the queues as we had been on Saturday. This time there were three queues; one for downstairs and one for upstairs, as before, plus one for people wanting to buy autograph tickets (needless to say, there were a lot of very confused people waiting in the wrong queue). Only 100 tickets for autographs were on sale today, as opposed to Saturday's 300; to my profound irritation, Graham and I were numbers 102 and 103 in the queue. While waiting, we did at least see Claudia Christian and Mira Furlan arrive -- unfortunately, I was so busy gawping that I forgot to get my camera out!

The Babcom powers-that-be had slightly improved the turmoil of the previous day by putting up diagrams for each level showing the seat layout. Did I forget to mention in my previous report that the seats at the Shepherd's Bush Empire are not numbered? I must have blanked out that particular hitch. :)

Leading off the Sunday morning appearances was Richard Biggs. He didn't spend too much time taking questions from the audience, preferring instead to run an impromptu quiz with prizes of signed photographs, followed by an acting class, coaching two rather shy members of the audience through a scene between Sheridan and Delenn -- the female half of the pair had the Delenn simper down quite well, I thought.

Andreas Katsulas was the second to appear, evidently having decided that being a con guest was not all bad (he had obviously looked forward to Wolf with some trepidation, and looked much more relaxed at Babcom). He proceeded to tell us scurrilous tales of how his co-stars prepared for their scenes; allegedly

I cannot emphasise the word 'allegedly' enough ... Andreas also regaled us with some songs; perhaps feeling the urge to prepare for his vaudeville show that Peter Jurasik is going to manage (see earlier in this report)

The autograph session during this lunch break seemed to go slightly more smoothly, probably because there were far fewer people in the queue. (It took about the same length of time, but there you go ...)

After lunch it was Mira Furlan's turn in the spotlight. She seemed much quieter than some of the other maniacs ... ahem, actors ... from the series; she'd promised on Saturday that she would sing something today, and sang a Yugoslav lullaby. She has a lovely voice, and the audience were most appreciative.

Apparently she used to sing in a band back in the former Yugoslavia, and that was how she met her husband (on a video shoot).

Mira seemed rather less relaxed in front of the audience than, say, Richard Biggs or Claudia Christian (or even Andreas Katsulas). I got the impression that she wasn't used to large groups of people being interested in what she had to say, especially when it was because she happened to star in a TV series which they liked.

After Mira's talk, we were told that an exclusive event was about to happen. "Hmm," we thought, and waited a few minutes. What was it to be?

It turned out to be Claudia Christian performing one of the songs from her new album (see earlier in this report; an album of erotic dance music). The song was called "Tabu", and it was, well, it was OK. She had dragooned some of the Psi Corps to help her onstage, as backing singers, dance partners, etc. (quite where Jason Carter came into it, nobody was entirely sure). I'm sure the Psi Corps folks hated every minute of it :)

Claudia was a hard act to follow, and those whose mission it was to try were Andrea Thompson and Jerry Doyle (this was supposed to be Jerry's slot, Saturday afternoon was supposed to be Andrea's slot, but they appeared as a couple on both occasions). The content was fairly similar to the talk on Saturday; they wandered around, chatting, and flirting horribly with the audience.

Finally there was another gathering of all eight stars, on the Babcom couch; someone had helpfully provided cigars, for no readily apparent reason. The questions went broadly along the same lines as the last session on Saturday, although some members of the audience did ask pointed questions about the organisation, and what the actors had thought of it. We formed the impression that most of the actors thought things were going a lot more smoothly than the audience did.

Overall, Babcom was worth going to simply because they had some actors appearing who I'd not seen in the flesh before. However, the organisation was abysmal -- all kudos to the volunteers who tried to make it better -- and the Shepherd's Bush Empire is not a suitable venue for it. (This is an understatement.) If there is another one next year, we'd only be likely to go if it was in a much better venue, and if there were likely to be people appearing who were not otherwise going to be at a UK convention.

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