Neutral Zone (Blake's 7 con)
|Dates:||March 14-15, 1997|
|Type:||celebrity guests, non-profit|
|Focus:||Blake's 7 (though it could have been more broad than that)|
|Founder:||one of the main organizer was Diana Lawson|
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Neutral Zone was a 1997 Blake's 7 con in England.
Gareth Thomas was one of the guests, and apparently a very entertaining one. Bjo Trimble was also at this con, and after hanging out with Thomas, felt he should star in the new Doctor Who. See Open Letter by Bjo Trimble to Doctor Who Fans.
This is only the second con I've attended. I only discovered B7 in 1992. Shame on me!
I met Judith Proctor at the railway station and went onto the hotel room we were to share Friday through Monday morning. A lot of people were due to arrive on Saturday. Come Saturday morning, I help Judith set up her dealer's table, and in return she helps me set up my drawings in the art show. I find out Gareth Thomas is to do the judging.
I can't wait.
I met a lovely lady, Chris Blenkarn, and she kindly helps relieve us at Judith's dealer table when we are either stewarding or going to watch Paul and Gareth talk. They do the auction and are going at it "a storm." They spark off each other. It's very amusing impromptu entertainment.
Sadly, we are informed of Terry Nation's death a few days before the con. Gareth asks us to give thanks for Nation's life.
Later that night, Gareth puts on an unscheduled reading session and includes his own work of a portrayal of a miner trapped underground. This he hopes to include in a one man show. It's a riveting, moving, powerful performance. I'd never seen him perform - except for Blake and one other piece. His acting is stunning-first class.
Then Judith and I join Gareth in the bar after we'd done some filking. We went to bed about 3 A.M. [Not all three together. I'm sure.]
Sunday, Paul has breakfast with lucky Ginny Syn (another nice lady whom I later met) who won the bid in the auction for this.
Paul has kindly agreed to sign one of my drawings for charity. He, also, auctions and sells it.
At 10:10 A.M., Paul and Gareth gave an enjoyable talk, including anecdotes and jokes. One of Paul's is about the Jewish kid with the nice watch his grandfather sold him on his deathbed. [Isn't it refreshing the British don't have to be so darn PC!! An American would get "lynched" for this joke.]con. 
Thanks to dear old BritRail, I was so delayed I got to Newcastle about 6:45 PM on March 14. At least my cabbie knew the Forte Posthouse. My reward at the desk was Gareth Thomas! Now that made everything worthwhile!
Ahem...there were drawbacks: not the least being that despite Diana Lawson (chief NZ organizer) also meeting me at the desk, first it took awhile to get just my 'generic packet' - then nobody mentioned that the sole autograph session arranged for NZ had just started. According to Ms. Lawson, we'd have lots of time that weekend to get autographs on our own. (Not hardly.)
Thus, my Friday evening was spent getting to know my Con roommate. Besides the great hotel, I really lucked out. Alex was a petite, fun redhead who definitely was a kindred spirit. To my surprise, she was really into the Video Room - me, I always go for the actors and "shopping" for Blake's 7 stuff.
Saturday, 15 March: Up early to hit the Dealers' Room, my first delightful discovery was Joe Nazzaro and Sheelagh Wells with copies of their masterpiece BLAKE'S 7: THE INSIDE STORY. It was quite a shock when Joe informed me that B7 creator Terry Nation had died earlier in that week. [Nation died on Sunday, March 9th. The con started Friday, March 14th.]
Later, a gleeful Gareth mentioned that he had volunteered to fetch Paul Darrow from the airport; it seems the bars are open there much earlier. Evidently, he hadn't shared that with Paul. Paul's greeting was nicely warm and pleasing.
Compared to the Dealers' Rooms at Who's 7 and Visions in '96, Neutral Zone '97 proved a treasure trove of goodies. Horizon, the Blake's 7 Appreciation Society was the clear winner with tons of photos in all sizes (even snagged a bunch for Stateside friends), and kitchen magnets. Hey, it's only money. [I recommend HORIZON merchandise, too.]
Both Judith Proctor and artist [Whitby27] were lurking about [perhaps on the lookout for Servalan - or the Borg Queen?]. Judith's voice had partially recovered. Besides spotting a great selection of fanzines, I came away with a very nice addition to my B7 art collection, thanks to [Whitby27] - whom I was quite pleased to meet at last, since she did many illos for the Avon APA BATTLESTATIONS!, as well as GAMBIT [Both are defunct now.] and other fanzines.
Oops - made it in to the Charity Auction just as Gareth started the almost-traditional 'ceremony wherein he and Paul auction each other. Yes, I did get into a bidding war with someone over Mr. Darrow - and won!
Oddly, Paul took but one-third the time to award Gareth to another young lady.
[If I ever made it to a con, there'd be the mother of all bidding wars for Gareth for breakfast! Sigh... I do so envy ever)'one who goes to these cons.]
The Masquerade contest had two particular highlights for me: standing next to Gareth by the ballroom wall, I got the lovely full effect when he started singing along to "It's Not Unusual" -- how was he to know I'll never hear T. Jones anymore, I'll always recall his vocal delivery?; and, entering to Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady," the Borg Queen strutting her/his stuff. Naturally, she/he was the overwhelming winner.
Since Paul had earlier checked with me on the time of our upcoming breakfast date, I headed back to the room. With all the catching up on events and videos, Alex and I didn't get to sleep til wee hours - myself not til 3:00 AM.
Sunday. 16 March: Lucky me -rising at 7:30 AM, in order to prepare for breakfast with Paul Darrow. I chose rather formal wear - from the Forever Knight/Nigel Bennett wardrobe, a great navy blue jacket dripping with gold braid and brass buttons. [It's an actual costume Bennett wore that Ginny got at another con.] A true challenge, all those buttons. So. I barely arrived on time: Yeah, I was a bit worried 'cos Gareth came up from the lobby with me. (He is not generally on time.)
Fortunately, Paul and I were given the first corner table. We both needed a caffeine fix. He did insist on my trying their northern bacon. "You are supposed to eat the fat, you know!" I prefer Western-style: lean and crispy. Such a pleasant change to just visit with him; and he even made it to his 10:00 AM panel.
A couple more infamous incidents: Poor Paul not killing me for asking just what role he had worn the least for, and would he please elaborate on that: and The Gift of the Red Nose, wherein Gareth entered the ballroom to hand a red clown nose to Darrow. After some harassment, Paul gamely donned it, putting on a high squeaky voice. Drat! 'Blake' simply refused to model said schnozz.
Gad - Couldn't believe NZ had a second Charity Auction: as I lack resistance and sense, my further penance included an autographed Richard Biggs (B5) photo, a really gorgeous 2nd Season Kerr Avon original drawing signed by both the artist [Whitby27 and Paul Darrow, and a Star Wars poster. One pair of auctioneers tried to turn me up sweet by dubbing me "Sergeant Pepper" in honor of my jacket.
Just have to mention that both Paul and Gareth were saddened by the passing of Terry Nation. Gareth reminded all the fans at the beginning and closing of the Neutral Zone con of Terry's wonderful contributions to sci fi, and had the con dedicated to his memory.Now, if Paul would just let me know why he spent the rest of Sunday scrupulously avoiding me...