Blake's 7 - Herstmonceux

Taking part in BBC Choices Over the Moon programme. Report by Judith

Monday turned out to be quite an interesting day: cold, but interesting. I dumped the boys at their respective schools as early as I possibly could (including Kelvin with stacks of wargaming stuff for his after school club - he was not happy at the prospect of having to carry it all home himself...), drove into Poole and parked at the station. Buying a ticket, I discovered, not really to my surpise, that the railway telephone enquiry line had got it wrong as usual. They'd given me the correct train, but had wrongly informed me that I could use my railcard on this journey. <sigh> Ten quid more than what I'd hoped for.

Several changes of train later, I'd survived the total lack of any buffet thanks the the kindness of a fellow traveller who fed me a chocolate and orange flapjack. We ended up having a very interesting discussion on geology all the way to Brighton. (At least I wasn't thirsty. One of my unbreakable rules is never embark on any rail jouney, no matter how short, without taking a bottle of water.)

I finally got to Polgate station around midday and was collected by a man from the BBC who drove myself and a couple of other fans to Herstmonceux. Talk about the perfect place to film a Blake's 7 episode. This used to be the home of the Royal Greenwich Observertory (prounounced Grennich, just to confuse foreigners) and some of the stuff is still there. The copper covered domes that housed the telescopes are green with verdigris now and look fantastic. Round each dome there's a small balcony and we could see a group of fans standing on the balcony as we drew in. We waved to them (Hi Steve) and went on into the canteen (the place is now a science centre and obviously open to the public most of the time). Patrick Moore was already there, though I'm sorry to say that we were all so busy discussing fannish things with one another that we said very little to him.

We gossiped and laughed and as more fans arrived, we gossipped even more. I'd brought a few bits and bobs along with me. Sheelagh Wells had originally been going to appear on the programme as well, but unfortunately work committments got in the way. I brought a few of her tapes along for good luck. I loaned Fiona the one that I'd been listening to on my Walkman, waited for the inevitable laugh and then went in for the kill and promptly sold her two tapes. You don't need a sales pitch for those tapes - they sell themselves.

Reminds me. Sheelagh is planning her next tape now. She won't be drawn as to who will appear on it as that depends to some extent on people's work committments at the time of recording, but it will be called 'Solstice'. The dictionary says of a solstice that it is a moment of pause and reflection. People ordering the tape from her in advance will be entered into a draw for a B7 related prize.

More fannish chat. I passed Sheelagh's regards onto Patrick - she knows him of old and rather regretted not being able to see him again (I guess make-up artists get to know all sorts of interesting people). Various invividuals vanished to be interviewed. I passed my Gareth photo collection around and sold a couple of fanzines. Several of us had been asked to bring photos, fanzines, costumes, etc. but in the event none of these were used as the weather remained dry and Ralph decided to film everything outside and use the local scenary as a backdrop.

We ate a rather sorry-looking ploughman's lunch courtesy of the BBC and more fans arrived. I think there were ten or fifteen of us in all, though I suspect at least half will get lost in the editing as I believe there's only going to be about ten minutes of fan stuff in the final programme.

When my turn came, I was very glad I'd brought a warm coat. I was warmer than Ralph Lee was as he crouched behind the camera on the narrow balcony of a telescope dome. A white fabric reflector leaned against the camera and added a little to the light levels as the day was a bit cloudy. We talked about Blake's 7 and the reasons for its continuing appeal, which from my viewpoint are the scripts and the quality of the acting and the relationships between the characters. We discussed 'The Web' which is the episode they will be showing. I believe there were several reasons for the choice, one of which is that it isn't a continuity based episode. Many of the most popular episodes require you to have seen other related episodes in order to get the most from them. From the questions I was asked, I think the topicality of the issue of genetic engineering was another aspect that appealed. When does a genetically engineered race reach a level where it has human rights?

Ralph also showed me inside one of the domes as he knew I was interested. The telescope is amazing. He told me that Patrick Moore had mapped most of the moon using that particular telescope. (The programme will be called 'Over the Moon', so it's a nice connection). The floor of the dome can rise and fall. This was to allow the astronomers to be at the right height to use the telescope (which is about 15 feet long) whatever angle it is at. There was an old chair with an unusual shape to allow astronomers to look down the telescope for long periods while lying virtually flat on their back.

Back to the canteen to thaw out and swop notes. Do you suppose they'll use the bit about Tarrant's bum...

Diane had brought various bits of Horizon stuff, so I stocked up on memo pads and looked at her latest Gareth photo. We saw a preview of some bits of the next Horizon newsletter. There's a really groan-indicing pun in one article, but I promised I wouldn't give it away. (I have a great weakness for bad puns).

Andy arrived, somewhat later than anticipated, with some splendid Federation trooper outfits. Three fans prmoptly donned these and went out to be shot patrolling the domes. I was originally slightly dubious about this idea, but to be honest, it would have been a terrific waste of the setting not to do it. Those domes were just made for Federation patrols. Jenni, in her silver Avon outfit, borrowed my son's replica Liberator gun and went out to be filmed being arrested. The rest of us watched and gradually froze. We weren't allowed to talk when they were actually shooting, so as to not be picked up on the soundtrack.

Then we watched Patrick recording the voiceovers.

Back indoors to drool over Horizon's replica Orac and to take a quick peek at some costumes Rob had brought. I also had great fun playing with a replica Federation gun. Who wants to grow up anyway?

Click for larger picture

Then it was all over and time to head back to the station. I'd swear those winding Sussex roads had doubled in length from the first journey. Or maybe the driver got lost and wasn't telling...

Four hours of so later, I staggered home, having survived once more without a buffet. Kelvin had managed to get a lift home from school so he was happy. I had a chat with the baby sitter and then collapsed to answer the e-mail. With excellent timing, Sheelagh phoned up just as I'd finished reading the e-mail, so I passed Patrick's regards back to her, chatted about the events of the day and then crawled off to bed.

It was fun. I believe the programme will be broadcast in January on the BBC choices digital channel. Heaven knows if anyone will ever see it, but if you want to know what a Blake's 7 episode looks in a digital quality broadcast, then you'll have to find a friend with a digital set or get one yorself.


The actual programme was a severe disappointment. We'd had the idea that there might be five or ten minutes of fan stuff in all, but in fact it was far less than that, just brief clips of troopers and domes and a quick glimpse of Jenny being arrested. I was one of the lucky (?) ones to survive the editing, although they had gone, inevitably, for the most irrelevent remark. Ah well, it was still an intesting day out.

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