It was time to get the car tuned up and, once more, head to the Holiday Inn next to Rochester Airport for this year's Helpmates Convention on Saturday 4 November.
This year's theme was Musical Moments and, when you stop and think about it, music plays a big part in many of the Boys' films, which was reflected in the choice of films. Obviously, the background music, but also as a part of the films - Pom Pom!!
As ever, people came from North, South, East, West and everywhere in between, including Cyprus! Bill Winfield always makes the trip over especially for our events. It's also good to report that among those present were many new-attendees, some of whom were not members of Helpmates, but hopefully are by now!
Before further ado, I should point out that this year marked 40 years of Helpmates events, which was suitably, and surprisingly, celebrated later in the evening, but more of this later.
Doors opened at 11.30am and people were greeted by none other than Stan and Ollie - Thomas Seymour and our very own Gregg Taylor. They were available all day to pose for photographs. Thank you to the Boys!! The sales room was open for big business, selling everything from t-shirts, figures, books, 2018 calendars, DVDs, canvas prints and the list goes on! Kay Towsey and Gemma Sycamore did a sterling job looking after things here, once again - thank you.
CONVENTION GALLERY - CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE
We were lucky this year in having the authors of 2 recently published books available to sign copies of their books - Danny Lawrence (Arthur Jefferson - Man of the Theatre and Father of Stan Laurel and his earlier book The Making of Stan Laurel - Echoes of a British Boyhood) and Roger Robinson & Dave Wyatt (It Sure Is - telling the story of The Royal Variety Show in 1947 at the London Palladium, with other related chapters and more than 400 rare photos and illustrations). Ray Andrew was on hand to sign copies of his book on Charlie Hall, while Antony and Joanne Mitchell-Waite were selling copies of their books. Dave Tomlinson had his display of Laurel and Hardy autographs, with some genuine autographs for sale. Mark and Teresa Hammond had an impressive display of rare and unusual photographs, posters and autographs.
Many thanks are due again to Richard Ellis who compiles the film programmes, sets up all his own projection and audio equipment and keeps things running smoothly all day to ensure we're all entertained by the films. His skills were tested this year with, not one, but two live link-ups to the USA! First was film historian and researcher Richard Bann, who, along with Dave Wyatt (live from the Holiday Inn, Chatham!) spoke about the recently discovered missing reel of The Battle of the Century. The now-near complete film was then screened, giving hope that more hidden gems are out there (knowingly or unknowingly!). The second live link-up was a video call with author Randy Skretvedt, who joined us live from LA last year as well. Tying in with our Musical Moments theme, Randy spoke about Marvin Hatley, composer of Dance of the Cuckoos and other backing music. Following this came a definite first - Randy and Helpmate Peter Denmark played a duet of some George Formby songs and Honolulu Baby on their ukuleles. Not bad, considering that Peter was in Chatham and Randy in LA!! Despite a few initial technical hitches, I'm sure this was enjoyed by all. Hopefully, Randy will be joining us on an annual basis! It would be remiss of me not to say a big thank you to Russell Babidge, who arranged these link-ups and helps out with the technical logistics.
Russell also seems to keep finding rare and never-before seen film/publicity stills for the fun quiz each year!
Keeping us all under control and informed all day, our emcee was Kevin Doig who always does a great job - thank you Kevin. Other thanks are due to Rob Cox and Claire Bath for being on the check-in desk, and to Gill Lewis, Thomas Bath, Bethany Bath, Ryan Grosvenor and Josh Mitchell-Waite for their help throughout the day.
With an array of prizes, the raffle is always a popular part of the evening, and another big thank you to Celia Attree for spending the day selling tickets. Needless to say, thank you to everyone who bought tickets, which helps with the day's expenses, and to those who donated prizes. As I mentioned earlier, this event marked 40 years of Helpmates meetings and, before the raffle, Rob was genuinely surprised by the presentation of several gifts and 2 cakes - baked by Teresa Hammond and Denise Tomlinson. Another surprise, made by Mark and Teresa Hammond, was an actual tombola barrel, decorated with covers of past Laurel and Hardy Magazines, to draw the raffle. We can now throw away the carrier bag we've been using for years!!
The raffle was followed by the toasts and a fine rendition of We Are The Sons of the Desert. It was so good, we did it twice.
After this, some people made their way home, others watched more films, others sat and chatted. This is what makes our events so enjoyable. Everyone is free to do what they like (within reason, of course!). This event is the only time of the year that some people meet, so it's always good to see everyone and have a good day. Whether it was your first meeting or your 50th meeting, everyone is welcome and we look forward to seeing you again next year.
We should also thank the staff at the Holiday Inn for assisting us before and during the event.
By Howard Parker
By Howard Parker