Wolf 359 - The Gathering

This document is a report from the Wolf 359 - The Gathering convention, held in Blackpool, UK, from 7 - 10 June 1996. Although the convention ran from Friday until Monday, not a great deal was scheduled for the first and last days, so most of this relates to the Saturday and Sunday.

It's definitely a personal report, so opinions are rife! I've added some comments and/or clarifications while putting it into HTML, and eliminated a couple of side comments that won't mean much to you, O Public, otherwise it's pretty much as mailed out shortly after the con.

Although Wolf was a Babylon 5 and Star Trek event, I have little or no interest in Star Trek, so those of you wishing to find out what Rene Aubergenois and Jackie Stewart said ought probably to look somewhere else.

Friday 7th June

Blackpool is a five-hour drive from London; we left fairly early and managed to avoid the worst of the traffic, arriving about 1pm. The dealer's room didn't open until later, and neither of us fancied the videos that were on, so we read, played Mythos and generally passed the time until the opening ceremony that evening.

The opening ceremony brought both good and bad news; the bad news was that Michael O'Hare wasn't able to attend. The good news was that Andreas Katsulas had come along instead; since many people had heard that he didn't do conventions, this was a very unexpected treat.

Saturday 8th June

The scheduled start for the day was a showing of "Babylon Squared" at 9am; this was evidently a holdover from the days when Michael O'Hare should have been attending, because when it started (late, after some problems with the video), it turned out to be "A Voice in the Wilderness". Another one of the (in)famous B5 music videos was shown, this one to Genesis' "Land of Confusion". (My vote for 'best fitting line'; Lt. Keffer's final moments to the line "I won't be coming home tonight". OK, I'm sick.)

Bill Mumy and Peter David then took the stage to tell us all about their new series, "Space Cases". It's an SF series aimed at young teens (my guess). Five misfits from the Space Academy sneak aboard a mysterious alien ship; the head and assistant head of the Academy go after them (along with a completely insane android; I never did figure out quite why she was there) and the ship leaves and winds up at the other end of the galaxy. The episode they showed us was Peter David's revenge for the treatment of his wife's gift to JMS -- the bear that was spaced at the end of "And Now For A Word" (we think; I can't remember, and I can't be bothered to pull up the Lurker's Guide to find out at mobile-phone prices). The kids find a bear floating in space, in a region inhabited by a race known as the Strazyn... hmm.

Next up, the man everyone had been waiting for, the Great Maker himself. Blandly batting aside questions about renewal with "I'll talk about that later", he showed us the (first) S3 blooper reel and generally babbled happily away for an hour or so. He took a vote on whether to divulge the title for the last episode of Season 3 (the sides were about even, but there appeared to be enough people who didn't want to know that he decided not to say. Wusses).

Then he finally did talk about renewal, and wound us up something rotten before reading the fax from John Copeland which included the phrase "Pickup is official". The crowd, as they say, went wild. Forget the Derby, forget the European Cup, this was what we wanted to hear :)

[Later note: there must then have been a mad dash back to the room by anyone with a laptop and some species of modem, since three separate people -- including me -- posted this news to the Net within about half an hour of the talk finishing... are we sad? I think we are. :)]

There was a bit of the auction -- mostly Trek trading cards, it appeared -- before a talk by Andreas Katsulas, at his first B5 convention. He prowled around at the front of the audience, taking questions and talking about what it was like to work on B5 and what he did outside work (essentially nothing, it would appear. This guy has less life than I do). For someone who says that he is no good at public speaking, we were rather impressed. I think he enjoyed the session, anyhow; it remains to see if the UK fan contingent have scared him off doing any more cons. (For those who don't know, Wolf's a pretty huge con by UK standards; over 1500 registrations. The main hall holds most of those, should they wish to attend any talks -- pretty intimidating if you're not expecting it.)

The UK B5 Fan Club were holding a meeting at this point; they were hoping to have some more of the celebs show up, but all bar Andreas were still stuck in an autograph session, so he chatted some more to the rather smaller group gathered in one of the rooms.

We footled about in the bar for a while, having little or no interest in Rene Aubergenois' talk (nor, indeed, Jackie Edwards', which had preceded it. "Jackie who?" I hear you cry. Patrick Stewart's PA. Like we care). We also missed part of Stephen Furst's talk, but the half or so that we did catch didn't sound as interesting as the other two; the main surprise was that Furst is a lot older than I thought he was. I had him mentally pegged as mid-twenties, but if he has a child in school and has been acting for twenty years (and isn't Bill Mumy), then I think he has to be somewhat older.

Last solo speaker of the day was Bruce Boxleitner, who received a similarly rapturous welcome to JMS (complete with pyrotechnics). He talked about how much he liked Westerns, and had enjoyed doing "The Scarecrow and Mrs King". He also auctioned off some posters signed by the majority of the crew. Three posters, 2600 pounds. No, I did not miss out a decimal point. (Stephen Furst auctioned off his Season 3 crew jacket later on. It went for 1000 pounds.)

Following a break to rearrange the hall prior to the fancy-dress judging and the party this evening, the whole B5 crew reassembled for questions. Most entertaining was Bill Mumy's description of how JMS had persuaded him to wind up Jason Carter by telling him Marcus died in the next script... (a description complete with a reasonably convincing British accent, I should add)

The fancy-dress wasn't bad; the winner of the B5 section was someone in full Kosh-style encounter suit (very impressive). Andreas Katsulas seemed rather taken with the young lady who showed up in a Catwoman costume, complete with whip.

Tomorrow: most of the guest folks speak again; I have high hopes of getting some autographs (if the queue is shorter than today)

[Later note: Hah. See below.]

Sunday 9th June

Sunday 0250


Wake up. Uh. Whassat? Oh wonderful, the fire alarm is ringing. Stagger out of bed, throw on nearest clothes, weave way down corridor to front of hotel. There we assembled, either blinking blearily or bemoaning the fact that the disco had stopped. No, the hotel wasn't burning down, it was a false alarm, and I'm sure the Blackpool fire brigade were almost as pleased as we were.

Messrs Boxleitner and Katsulas apparently managed to sleep through that racket. Whether this means that they were very tired or very drunk, history will doubtless tell :)

Sunday 0955

Breakfast was sparsely attended, either because everyone else got up earlier (unlikely in the extreme), because the breakfast was unpleasant (actually it wasn't bad) or because everyone was still asleep after their rude awakening at oh-dark-hundred.

We were in the main hall ready for Bruce B's second speech at 11am, although this meant that we were also treated to fifteen minutes or so of Rene Aubergenois, whose main talent as far as public speaking goes appears to be in the field of "rambling off the point". I dare say he was a fascinating speaker if you were a Trek person.

Bruce said: "How many of you were here yesterday?" Everyone -- or at least 90% of the hall's population at that point -- raised their hands. "Oh God. I can't think of anything else to say... Any questions?"

There were about an hour's worth of questions, strangely enough. Someone asked about a film -- whose title escapes us at this late date -- which had been made in two versions, it would seem. The woman who asked the question was German, and she had seen the version which included the Boxleitner backside (or a motor-butt, as Delenn would have it -- GJH) in all its glory. Poor Bruce looked rather embarrassed. :)

There was one question which came from a little old lady, by the voice -- "Mr Boxleitner, could I ask you, how do you feel about working with that wonderful actor Andreas Katsulas?" No prizes for guessing who was asking the question; it was Andreas himself, who had snuck into the audience....

The next session was a choice between watching someone being made up by Optic Nerve (they raffled off the chance for this on Saturday) or the chance to line up for an autograph session. Those of you who have re-read the Saturday report may remember that I had expressed a hope of getting some autographs if the queue was shorter on the Sunday.


Very wrong.

By the time we got out from Bruce's talk, the queue for autographs extended back to the snack bar. (It actually joined up with the queue for the next talk, by JMS, at one stage.) To give you some idea of how long this actually was, the autograph session was in the same room which had been used for registrations. This is reached through a corridor, down a ramp, from the lobby. On the other side of the lobby is the restaurant. On the other side of the restaurant is the bar. The snack bar is on the far side of the bar. We're talking a couple of hundred yards, here. Eventually they cut the queue off (in front of me, dammit!) because there was just no way that they were going to get through that many people.

Instead we had lunch, played a little Mythos, chatted to a couple of people and then joined the queue for JMS' talk. (You may, by now, have formed the impression that queuing was a fairly major part of this convention experience. You would not be mistaken.)

It turned out that JMS had asked the con folks to delay his talk, as he did not wish to disappoint the folks who had queued for autographs. Fair enough. So before his talk we listened to Peter David discussing comics and such, and then we saw Jackie Edwards (you remember, Patrick Stewart's PA) talking about .. um ... well, not a whole lot other than Patrick Stewart, actually. Odd, that. Lots of pictures of Patrick with his cat, Bella, and some not-very-high-quality video of PS reminiscing about his childhood holidays in Blackpool. (Poor chap. For those of you who haven't visited, Blackpool is a haven of good taste -- in the form of "Kiss me Quick" hats, rock (it's a sweet), amusement arcades, rollercoasters, and hotels full of the over-seventies. Avoid.)

Finally JMS re-emerged from the tortures of writer's cramp, and showed us some rather interesting reels of the process of putting the special effects together. The main moral of the reels seemed to be; if you think it's all a stage set, you're very likely wrong. The sheer amount of B5 that exists only as CGI is mindboggling. He answered many questions, a fair proportion of which received the reply "Good question!". As they say, all answers are replies, but not all replies are answers. :)

He also told us a lovely story about a convention which he was attending in the US. His first talk was scheduled one afternoon -- a weekday -- in a room which could hold 50 people. He suggested to the con organisers that perhaps this would not be large enough. "No, don't worry," they said, "this will be plenty big enough." Demonic grin from Straczynski. "No, you don't understand. My people are coming." Needless to say, the room was packed to the rafters, and many, many people couldn't get in. On the next day, his item was scheduled in a room which could hold 150 people. "It won't be big enough ..." he said. It wasn't. Day 3, they said, "We have this room which will hold 1500 people. At last we'll have enough space, and there won't be anyone needing to stand at the sides, or in the doors ..." He just smiled. There were people standing anywhere there was a square foot of floor on which they could stand.

Next up, Bill Mumy and Stephen Furst. They chatted happily for a while; I have to confess that I went in search of a possible second autograph session. No such animal appeared to exist at this point, although we were told that Furst would be doing another signing once his talk finished. I did, however, run across a certain writer chappie doing some press interviews in the lobby; I waited respectfully until he drew breath (well, finished :)) and then asked him to sign my copy of Creating Babylon 5 (a fine book I recommend to all B5 fans, except for those of you in the US because it hasn't been published there). I also thanked him for Susan's line in the last five minutes of Ceremonies of Light and Dark.

Stephen Furst had, by this point, started signing things, and I joined the NOT VERY LONG AT ALL DAMMIT queue (it really wasn't, it was about 15 people. Probably because Andreas Katsulas was speaking in the main hall, of which more later). He was still amazingly cheerful, perhaps he also slept through the fire alarm...

I reached the main hall about ten minutes after Katsulas started his second talk; I missed his singing (how sad). He was answering questions from the audience, but insisted that everyone prefaced their question with their favourite phrase, which made for some interesting questions...

There was one more thing which he said that might be of interest, but you will find it in the Spoiler section. It is a spoiler for an episode now seen in both the US and the UK. (I'll leave it on a separate page for visitors from other countries.)

After that we had the whole B5 con contingent back again -- Straczynski, Boxleitner, Mumy, Furst and Katsulas taking questions from the audience, and things started to get just a little bit silly. Katsulas got to choose the person who was going to ask the final question.

A young lady was his choice (no surprise :)). She stood up and, in a clear voice, asked:

"We've already seen some lipstick lesbianism on the show, now it's the men's turn. If your character was to have a boyfriend, who would you choose?"

The hall dissolved into hysterical laughter. Katsulas fell off his chair (literally). Nothing coherent happened for about three or four minutes ...

About all we can remember is that Bill Mumy said that Lennier would go for Garibaldi, because he was the baldest, and that Sheridan would go for G'Kar.

The crew left the stage to much cheering and applause.

There was a break before the closing ceremony, and we were treated to some comedy. George Marshall is a young chap who usually does a one-man show involving impressions of Star Trek characters (TNG). The con committee had sat him down the previous day with some Babylon 5 videos in the hope that some of the B5 characters could also be included. He did, and the show was hugely funny. He also announced at the end that he would now be watching B5 regularly (another convert -- he has been assimilated).

The closing ceremony involved awarding prizes to those who'd won the various competitions, gifts to all the guests, and congratulating the con committee. It certainly seems as though the B5 folks enjoyed themselves a lot, so hopefully they'll all be back next year...

After that the night's entertainment was a toga party. (I bet the hotel were really pleased to have hordes of confolk stripping their beds. It's really hard to make a toga when you only have seven items which pin or fasten, between two...) Graham and I had just left it, at about 0030, and were walking back to our room, when I said "I hope the fire alarm doesn't ring again..." Open room door, enter room, close room door, the fire alarm rings. Even if it was June, standing around outside in a toga in the middle of the night is no fun at all!

Monday 10th June

Monday 0400



By this point many people were just turning over, putting the pillow over their heads and mumbling "let me burn, let me burn..."

Monday 0925

Breakfast again, and there were some more queues to join. These were to check out, and to check the lists of winning raffle tickets, both from the main raffle and from the raffle which had, as prizes, 200 signed photos from Michael O'Hare (from War Without End), which Bruce B was also going to sign. We didn't win anything in the main raffle, but of the ten tickets we bought for the photo raffle, three were winners -- whee!

There were some more Star Trek videos showing if anyone was interested, but by this time we just wanted to get going (it being, as you may recall I have already mentioned, about a five-hour drive from Blackpool to home). Also, I felt really dreadful; I can recommend standing about in the middle of the night, toga-clad or otherwise, as a great cure for a cold. Not.

Back to Mel's Babylon 5 index.