To Waen, from Darth Vader
An autograph from a genuine stand-in
To Waen, Love Darth Vader xxx
In August 1979, I queued up with hundreds of other kids to meet Darth Vader in Lewis’s, a department store in Blackpool. I like to think it was in the lingerie section but it was probably the children’s department. I also like to think his entrance was accompanied by the majestic sound of The Imperial March, but it was probably just a Northern woman saying “Please give a warm Blackpool round of applause for Darth Vader.” And she probably pronounced it “Vaader” (to rhyme with “larder”). And that music can’t have been used because - [puts nerd specs on and speaks in shrill voice] - that piece wasn’t written for the original film and only first appeared in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, which hadn’t been made yet. [Removes nerd specs.] Vader then silently took a seat behind a desk and started signing autographs. It was almost certainly not David Prowse. Whether I was aware of this at the time, I don’t know (it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, after all) but I like to think I had doubts. He never spoke, so there’s no way of telling whether he had a West Country accent. Then again, when I was seven years old, I still thought David Prowse sounded like James Earl Jones, so I wouldn’t have been any the wiser if he did. It’s certainly possible that the guy didn’t even have a proper Darth Vader costume - there’s a picture of such a man in Bob Fischer’s excellent book, Wiffle Lever to Full, whose costume looks distinctly home made. But the signing was presumably officially sanctioned by Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox - it’s official Black Falcon merchandising, after all - so he may well have looked spot on, just like he does in my feeble memory. It was a long wait to get to the front of the queue, but very exciting to finally meet Darth Vader. I remember him spelling my name “Wayne” to start with (which is how it’s pronounced, for readers who don’t know me). When we told him that wasn’t right, without uttering a word, he abruptly tore the photo in half, then screwed it up and threw it aside, before rewriting the name on a new picture. This kind of scared me. But I can’t tell you how chuffed I was to finally have a bona fide autograph from a genuine fictional character, with my name spelt properly and everything. Looking back on it, I feel really sorry for the guy in the costume. I’ve done this kind of thing myself since - just the once - and found it completely debilitating. I once had to walk around Oxford on a hot sunny day in a leotard with a big foam dinosaur head on, handing out leaflets in the sweltering heat. I could only last ten minutes before pegging out in the shade. God knows how it feels to sit in a stuffy department store for several hours dressed as Darth Vader. I’ve also worked alongside people in Pokemon costumes at Bluewater Shopping Centre, who had a much worse experience. If it wasn’t bad enough walking around for hours on end dressed like a big fuzzy yellow rabbit, the children of Bluewater seemed to view a man in a Pokemon costume as a licence to practise karate, and most of the poor actors got attacked. I don’t remember Darth Vader being attacked, but I don’t remember him having bodyguards either. Maybe we were more polite in those days. Or maybe we knew that Darth Vader might very well give us a legally sanctioned clip round the earhole if we tried anything on. I might be wrong about the year. Maybe I met Darth Vader the following year, in 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was doing the rounds and would presumably be accompanied by such publicity stunts. But the photo says 1979, so I’m erring on the side of trusting the source material. It’s not like the Star Wars craze died in the interim between the first two films. Star Wars toys were big business, and anything anyone could do to rack up sales would doubtless be tried at any time. There was a new batch of action figures out that year, and an amazing Cantina set to play with them on. Which I made my poor Gran buy me that year in Blackpool. My first ‘big’ Star Wars present. But it wouldn’t be my last.
TERM 1 (Sept - Dec 1979) Week 0 (Aug 25 - Sep 2, 1979) Week 1 (Sep 3 - Sep 9, 1979) Week 2 (Sep 10 - Sep 16, 1979) Week 3 (Sep 17 - Sep 23, 1979) Week 4 (Sep 24 - Sep 30, 1979) Week 5 (Oct 1 - Oct 7, 1979) Week 6 (Oct 8 - Oct 14, 1979) Week 7 (Oct 15 - Oct 21, 1979) Half Term (Oct 22 - Oct 28, 1979) Week 8 (Oct 29 - Nov 4, 1979) Week 9 (Nov 5 - Nov 11, 1979) Week 10 (Nov 12 - Nov 18, 1979) Week 11 (Nov 19 - Nov 25, 1979) Week 12 (Nov 26 - Dec 2, 1979) Week 13 (Dec 3 - Dec 9, 1979) Week 14 (Dec 10 - Dec 16, 1979) Week 15 (Dec 17 - Dec 23, 1979) Christmas (Dec 24 - Dec 30, 1979) New Year’s Eve (Dec 31, 1979)
ENGLISH 1 A few tentative steps into a world of terrible writing
TOPIC 1 He knows the names of all the dinosaurs
HISTORY 1 Sept 1979 - Oct 1981
WAEN SHEPHERD Who was this strange little boy?
SCIENCE 1 Sept 1979 - Apr 1980
Clarke Hall The place and time where it all began… September 1679?
The Forgotten World John and Mick fall foul of some extreme potholing
String Orchestra A visit from the North Yorkshire County Council Orchestra
OTHER DELIGHTS
Great Space Battles Three mighty empires take their first steps into outer space
TOPIC 2 The one where it all kicks off
Waen Shepherd 2 Waen’s heroic antics in the far-flung future of 2007 AD!
Ward’s 7 John Ward and his band of rebels fight the evil Federation
Superman the Movie Souvenir programme from when I went to the pictures with Louise
HELP ME KEEP THIS WEBSITE ALIVE
To Waen, Love Darth Vader xxx
In August 1979, I queued up with hundreds of other kids to meet Darth Vader in Lewis’s, a department store in Blackpool. I like to think it was in the lingerie section but it was probably the children’s department. I also like to think his entrance was accompanied by the majestic sound of The Imperial March, but it was probably just a Northern woman saying “Please give a warm Blackpool round of applause for Darth Vader.” And she probably pronounced it “Vaader” (to rhyme with “larder”). And that music can’t have been used because - [puts nerd specs on and speaks in shrill voice] - that piece wasn’t written for the original film and only first appeared in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, which hadn’t been made yet. [Removes nerd specs.] Vader then silently took a seat behind a desk and started signing autographs. It was almost certainly not David Prowse. Whether I was aware of this at the time, I don’t know (it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, after all) but I like to think I had doubts. He never spoke, so there’s no way of telling whether he had a West Country accent. Then again, when I was seven years old, I still thought David Prowse sounded like James Earl Jones, so I wouldn’t have been any the wiser if he did. It’s certainly possible that the guy didn’t even have a proper Darth Vader costume - there’s a picture of such a man in Bob Fischer’s excellent book, Wiffle Lever to Full, whose costume looks distinctly home made. But the signing was presumably officially sanctioned by Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox - it’s official Black Falcon merchandising, after all - so he may well have looked spot on, just like he does in my feeble memory. It was a long wait to get to the front of the queue, but very exciting to finally meet Darth Vader. I remember him spelling my name “Wayne” to start with (which is how it’s pronounced, for readers who don’t know me). When we told him that wasn’t right, without uttering a word, he abruptly tore the photo in half, then screwed it up and threw it aside, before rewriting the name on a new picture. This kind of scared me. But I can’t tell you how chuffed I was to finally have a bona fide autograph from a genuine fictional character, with my name spelt properly and everything. Looking back on it, I feel really sorry for the guy in the costume. I’ve done this kind of thing myself since - just the once - and found it completely debilitating. I once had to walk around Oxford on a hot sunny day in a leotard with a big foam dinosaur head on, handing out leaflets in the sweltering heat. I could only last ten minutes before pegging out in the shade. God knows how it feels to sit in a stuffy department store for several hours dressed as Darth Vader. I’ve also worked alongside people in Pokemon costumes at Bluewater Shopping Centre, who had a much worse experience. If it wasn’t bad enough walking around for hours on end dressed like a big fuzzy yellow rabbit, the children of Bluewater seemed to view a man in a Pokemon costume as a licence to practise karate, and most of the poor actors got attacked. I don’t remember Darth Vader being attacked, but I don’t remember him having bodyguards either. Maybe we were more polite in those days. Or maybe we knew that Darth Vader might very well give us a legally sanctioned clip round the earhole if we tried anything on. I might be wrong about the year. Maybe I met Darth Vader the following year, in 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was doing the rounds and would presumably be accompanied by such publicity stunts. But the photo says 1979, so I’m erring on the side of trusting the source material. It’s not like the Star Wars craze died in the interim between the first two films. Star Wars toys were big business, and anything anyone could do to rack up sales would doubtless be tried at any time. There was a new batch of action figures out that year, and an amazing Cantina set to play with them on. Which I made my poor Gran buy me that year in Blackpool. My first ‘big’ Star Wars present. But it wouldn’t be my last.
August 1979
To Waen,
from Darth Vader
TOPIC 1 He knows the names of all the dinosaurs
OTHER DELIGHTS
FAIRBURN The place where I wrote all this rubbish
TERM 2 The birth of the 1980s - Blake’s 7, Blondie and battles in space
Waen Shepherd 2 Waen’s heroic antics in the far-flung future of 2007 AD!
Ward’s 7 John Ward and his band of rebels fight the evil Federation
Superman the Movie Souvenir programme from when I went to the pictures with Louise
Super Jesus A special pin-up of your favourite Nazarene webslinger
HELP ME KEEP THIS WEBSITE ALIVE