Blackpool Remembered

I spent a large part of my childhood drawing Doctor Who. I was obsessed with the show, so when I wasn’t watching it or thinking about it, I would be putting pen to paper, creating countless (usually unfinished) comics or drawing my ultimate obsession – the Daleks.

In December 1988, Doctor Who Magazine published one of my drawings in the readers’ letters section. My picture was of the Daleks (of course) bursting through the TARDIS walls to face Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. I was over the moon! As a ten-year-old, that moment felt like a dream come true, seeing both my name and work on the sacred pages of the magazine. I’d seen other fans’ drawings in there before, but somehow it felt impossible that mine would ever make it there. 

Despite the show’s cancellation the following year, my interest in Doctor Who carried on into the early 90s, thanks to the increasing number of old stories coming to video. But as life went on and I grew up, I gradually left the series behind.

For a while…

Things changed in the spring of 1999, when I rediscovered my love for the show. I had a lot of catching up to do with the BBC Video releases, and while I was a few years into my professional career in graphic design, I still enjoyed producing comic artwork, so I had another couple of attempts at doing a Who comic. In 2002, I launched sevenzero.net, my fan site dedicated to the show and a platform showcasing my various endeavours – this included an illustrated comic, Tea Time, but it would be my last illustrated foray into the world of Doctor Who for almost a decade. 

Fast-forward to 2011, and a new project. I had decided to write a short book compiling my favourite memories and experiences of growing up with the show in the 1980s – it was called Who, Where & When. It included a section about my visits to the original Blackpool exhibition in 1985, and this was the spark of a new obsession… I decided to create a plan of everything that was on show in the exhibition during its final year, so I began researching online and connecting with other fans. Back then there was very little information and few photos online, so I did what I could, but I knew more work needed to be done to get it right.

When John Collier contacted me in the Spring of 2020, it was a delight to discover that he had enjoyed Who, Where and When and wanted to re-use my Blackpool piece for his ambitious book project, Blackpool Remembered. Of course my ears pricked up, as I had recently revived my 1985 floor plan project to make various corrections. This would form the basis for the year-by-year exhibition floor plans John wanted to include. The cogs were turning again, and I completely re-wrote my memories of Blackpool, which had become clearer in my mind, thanks to the plethora of photos on Facebook.

Due to lockdown, John finally had the time to dedicate to his long-gestating idea of creating a detailed and comprehensive book about the exhibition – and this was just the kind of Doctor Who project I had always wanted to be involved in. Soon, ideas were being exchanged, memories discussed, new things written and having put John in touch with Steve Cambden, the momentum was really growing.

I started working as a freelance science fiction artist in 2010, so I’m always on the lookout for the next cover project, and Blackpool Remembered was a no-brainer. I pitched my idea to John, and set to work immediately, returning to a style of illustration that I hadn’t done in many years – and it was great fun! 

My cover illustration was a representation of the exhibition – a young boy emerging into that amazing console room, gripping his bag of newly-bought merchandise (okay, if he was just entering the console room, he wouldn’t have been to the shop yet!) and gazing in awe at his surroundings, singling out one display, just as I had – the Daleks.

I originally produced the piece in mono with just one subtle accentuated red detail on one of the control panels. Then I worked up a second colour version, which became the front cover. This led to the suggestion of having a series of illustrations throughout the book to introduce each main section.

For some of the pieces, this meant actually drawing the exhibition, including the famous TARDIS entrance and that distinctive staircase leading down into the subterranean world beneath Blackpool’s Golden Mile. This staircase has a special place in Who fandom – speak to anybody who went to the exhibition, and they will tell you a story about descending those stairs, often in terror! While the detail of the staircase illustration would actually focus on the distinctive shape of the ceiling, with its hexagonal pattern, “no smoking” sign and ceiling chaser lights, there needed to be some hint of what awaited you down there, so I added subtle shadows at the base of the staircase; a looming K1 Robot and the obligatory Dalek.

The shadow concept came into play again for the piece depicting the entrance to the shop, but this time it would be the shadow of a parent and child. This was the way many of us went around the exhibition – with the protection of a parent. This added a sense of the journey to what was essentially a less-interesting piece. I didn’t want to illustrate any specific exhibits; this way, people would be able to project themselves into the scene, and it could reflect the time(s) they were there. With this in mind, the illustration depicting the winding corridor was more impressionistic, only seeing the colourful glows emitting from the display windows. Very few clear photos seem to exist of the corridor itself; my overriding memory of it was that it was indeed very dark!

In my memory, the exhibition had a very distinctive colour palette. I remember the lighting being mainly reds, oranges and greens, which made it all very atmospheric, resulting in many of the props looking much better than they had done on screen – this was increasingly confirmed by the vast number of photographs that came in for the book. So I used a similar palette across all seven illustrations.

The Cybermen were a regular feature at the exhibition, but one of the more common encounters for visitors was that with a ‘real’ cyberman, as many fans would volunteer to don a cyber-costume for the day in order to terrify the younger visitors (such as myself). I was quite pleased with how my Cyberman piece came out, as I probably hadn’t drawn one since the 1980s!

Finally, the Dalek. I had previously produced a couple of pieces of Dalek artwork in 2010 and 2015, in ink and digital for my personal portfolio, but I wanted to create a brand new piece for Blackpool Remembered. Daleks are incredibly tough things to draw, especially when you’re out of practice, but this piece actually turned out to be my favourite. One of my lasting memories of the exhibition was meeting a real, screen-used Dalek by the entrance, so I decided he would be the focus of this piece, finally breaking free from the shackles of the entry fees sign! I also wanted to pay homage to the vintage artwork in the Daleks Omnibus or Dalek Annuals of the 1970s in the styling of this illustration.

Blackpool Remembered evolved into a much bigger beast than either John or myself ever expected. The interest and subsequent reaction has been phenomenal. We have met so many great people along the way, willing to share their personal recollections and photographs with us. It has been so rewarding to re-visit the exhibition through all of this, and for me as an artist, this is the most gratifying kind of creative collaboration. It isn’t very often that so many different elements and interests collide to create something really special, but this has been one of those moments, all thanks to John’s vision for the project.

Explore my Doctor Who artwork gallery (new pieces coming soon!).

To find out more about Blackpool Remembered, head over to the project website, where you can also download the book for free.

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