This is the story of my greatest regret.
(Daily Doctor Who #109)
Well, not really. But from a Doctor Who fan point of view, it’s one of my regrets. As I’ve been sharing recently, I used to make my way to various Doctor Who (and Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and so on) conventions back in the 80’s, mostly in New York City. I quickly got into the idea of collecting autographs of the stars, back in the days when these weren’t particularly expensive, and one could usually secure an autograph for just the price of a 8×10 glossy photograph.
The largest and last Doctor Who convention that I ever attended was in 1993—an event in Chicago called Visions ’93. There were lots of Doctor Who-related guests at this one, and I enjoyed spending the time there with my good friend and fellow-Doctor Who fan, Matt.
One of the guests that I was pretty excited about was William Russell—Ian Chesterton from the first two seasons of Doctor Who, back in 1963-1965.
From my first discovery of Doctor Who, Ian was one of my favorite characters, and I always enjoyed Russell’s presence and performance.
I didn’t have a chance to hear William Russell speak at the convention, not that I remember, anyway. Although I heard him share briefly at the “closing session” of the convention, when everyone said their final message. He took the opportunity to share with everyone how much he appreciated all the people who expressed sadness at the passing of his co-star in the series, Jacqueline Hill, who had died that past February.
Another feature of Visions ’93 were the autograph sessions. Matt and I got to snag the signatures of all sorts of our favorite stars. Unfortunately, because of something that I can’t remember, we missed out on getting William Russell’s autograph. I feel like it had something to do with long lines and something being cut short, but I don’t really remember.
But there was another feature of this conventions, and this was the photo opportunity. William Russell was appearing in one of these with Carole Ann Ford, who had co-starred with Russell as Susan Foreman.
Matt and I decided to be bold and to see if we could sneak an autograph from William Russell during the photo op, even though we weren’t really supposed to do that. Very graciously, albeit a bit reluctantly, Mr. Russell agreed.
But that’s where Part 1 of this Deep Regret comes in.
For whatever reason, instead of asking him to sign my autograph book, or a 8×10 glossy of the actor, I decided that the thing to do was to ask him to sign my copy of The Early Years by Jeremy Bentham.
The what? Well, The Early Years was one of a series of coffee-table reference books that were produced in the old days about Doctor Who. This one was a reasonably detailed look at the early days of the series. It included a section of color photographs, including one that included William Russell I can’t remember what it was).
Probably slightly confused, he obligingly signed the book, on the page opposite the photograph.
So now, instead of having a handy, contained autograph of one of my favorite actors, I’ve got this giant book that he’s signed…a giant book that eventually decided was no longer interesting to me (as the years have gone by, space has become much more of a premium).
So, I decided to get rid of the book. But knowing that William Russell’s autograph was contained within, I eventually decided to tear out that page, so at least I’d have his signature, even if it wasn’t placed anywhere particularly interesting.
But then we get to Part 2 of this Deep Regret. I thought that I had filed away this autographed piece of memorabilia (or less positively, this autographed scrap of trash) along with all my other signed photographs.
But as I started to create this series of blog posts, I realized that…it wasn’t there.
And I have no idea where it is.
I went to all this effort of getting William Russell’s autograph, but I had him sign it in kind of a stupid place, and then I went ahead and lost it.
It’s possible it’s somewhere in my parent’s place (my “ancestral home” as one might refer to it) back in New York. When time and global circumstances allow it, I may have an opportunity to have a look. And then maybe I’ll have an update to share. Until then, at least I have this photograph of me with him and Carole Ann Ford, taken within minutes of the autographing.
At the time of this writing, Mr. Russell is still alive, at the impressive age of 96. He has had a long and distinguished career outside of Doctor Who, although he never achieved any sort of “stardom” precisely. I did recently discover that he’s actually the Doctor Who actor that I have seen in the most non-Who performances.
I think it’s a regret that neither Ian nor Barbara were ever brought back into the series for a return appearance. I especially think it’s one of the 50th anniversary’s biggest missed opportunities to not have William Russell do a cameo of some sort, even sometime in the season. He did show up as Harry the BBC doorman in the docudrama An Adventure in Space in Time, which talked about the origins of the series. But that’s not quite the same thing.
Fortunately, William Russell has made extensive appearances in Big Finish audios, as Ian and sometimes doubling for the First Doctor. Indeed, the promise of his appearances was one of the factors that drew me to Big Finish in the first place.
So, even if I never find his autograph, I’ll always appreciate the opportunity to getting to briefly meet William Russell (and to even be a guy he could show quiet patience to) all those years ago. He impressed me as a man of genuine dignity, as well as skill.