More of me… Day 07: I’ve never seen one of those before…

24 Apr

Day 07- A picture of someone/something that has the biggest impact on you

This one’s tricky. So many things and people have influenced me over the years, and so many decisions have been butterfly effected. Where do I take it from? Family? Friends? Professionally, I’ve been so caught up with all things horror and Hammer that it would be very easy to suggest that. Too easy.

But there was a time before Hammer films when my tastes were being influenced. When knock-on decisions were being made. The stars aligned and a domino was pushed.

 

Out of the Darkness. (c) 2012.

Out of the Darkness. (c) 2012.

Yes, the humble Police Box – for me an eternal symbol of hope and escapism. You probably know if from Doctor Who. Actually that’s where I knew it from too, but long before the TARDIS arrived in Totters Lane, the Police Box was an actual physical object to be found on the streets of Britain (though not in Northern Ireland) as a point of contact for police officers. The arrival of short wave radios saw them fall into disuse, and by the time I was born, they were basically a neglected memory, defunct and now immortalised as a time machine.

It was an important part of my childhood, and I had a Denys Fisher TARDIS and 4th Doctor/Mike Gambit doll at home in the 80s. I played with that to the point where it was damaged (bad me). You never quite knew if Doctor Gambit would get stuck in the back of the box as your swiveled the knob. I watched the stories on tv, and later on VHS with my aunt and uncle in my uncle’s attic room in Derry/Londonderry. I read Terrence Dicks’ novelisations for stories I’d never seen – I remember Genesis of the Daleks was in my primary school, and reading it long before watching it in the attic.

It was part of the expansion of my imagination. It offered a chance to escape the humdrum life of being a kid in the country in NI, with few friends. Going to big school, it was a show that wasn’t aired any more. But my brother and I loved it. It became an ‘other’ and that otherness was something to set us apart. Unlike my brother, I wasn’t sporty, so this became even more important as the years went by.

I started a Doctor Who Society in school. Eternally labelled a geek as a result. But it gave me some confidence (ie. dealing with more bullies) and something on which to hang out with some of the older/posher boys improving my social skills. I grew to be good at organising. I tried writing a magazine – the Galifreyan Time Warp we called it, somehow abbreviated to GFTW (which one wag assumed was ‘Geeks For The World’). That was my first attempt at independent publishing – something which I now do professionally.  I also wrote for it, and did a bit of design work –  a good foundation for my later work.

I wrote a film script which basically ripped off Barry Lett’s The Daemons. Effectively a sequel which used the basic framework, but centred around a mysterious dolmen rather than a barrow. We had a sneaky Doctor Who allusion in there with a Police Box which came into shot behind the dolmen and from which someone looking like William Hartnell would retreat – there was an old gent at my church that looked uncanilly like him without the wig, and I hoped would indulge us. I wrote to Barry asking for permission to make it. He said – unofficially, non-commercially, fine.  It was very sweet of him to reply. I also wrote to Jon Pertwee and he became our patron. I was in the middle of writing a letter to him the day he died. That was my first proper contact with celebrity, again, something which I now do fairly regularly as part of my work.

That script spent ages being developed. I grew friends over it. One of whom became the first gay person I knew – still vividly recall the evening he came out to me – the first of many. I lost some of the same friends. And developed new ones – my friendship with Niall, which continues today, was cemented over rows about that damn script.

Through it we met girls. At an all-boys school, girls were something I was used to seeing only through the glass of the Mr Hunter’s chemistry lab, or from a distance as visiting girls’ schools would walk across the parade ground to use the school pool. Well, there and in church. There wasn’t many girls in our church, and I don’t think any of them ever took to me.

We set up auditions with several groups of girls over a one or two year period. There was some dating. I met my first proper girlfriend through those auditions. Several other crushes. More girlfriends. Shit, I even met my (now estranged) wife through those. Didn’t see that coming. I learnt a bit about how to deal with the opposite sex, and most of my actual sexual knowledge directly through that bloody script.

That script blossomed into several. And we lost the Doctor Who connection. And at 17 I made my first film from one of the original scripts I’d written. I directed, acted and photographed. Along with all my chums. Over a decade later and several of us still work together intermittently. And I’m still toying with those stories I first conceived when I was 16. I’ve tried pitching various projects directly as a result of that creative zeal which began in school.

Through those scripts I got a real taste for the film industry and after taking some time out after A-levels set off to study drama at university, only it became film studies. I got two degrees in that, with a PhD being worked on. I made a few short films, and ended up doing a little broadcasting work. Somewhere along the line it became Hammer that was my public focus, not Doctor Who, but every now and then I’ll come back to my old friend. I’m no super-expert, but it is part of my life and something I’m very fond of.

I finally saw a real Police Box when I visited my brother in Edinburgh after he started uni there. I must have seen them when I was in Edinburgh as a kid. but they don’t stick out in the memory. At any rate, they weren’t right. It was only later I went looking for them in Glasgow, and stumbled upon one I didn’t know about in Earl’s Court. And so began a photographic project, of which the image above is part.

You see, that humble Police Box – a conspicuous object out of time and place, which has the ability to take you anywhere  – really has been the foundation stone for so much of my life. It has been an inspiration – and now that I’ve seen and touched one in the flesh, it isn’t just a fantasy object. It is tangible. If you see me near a Police Box you will witness a transformation. My eyes light up and I become recharged. Its no Eye of Harmony doing it, it is the power of the ages, the opening up of my eyes and mind and potential.

 

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