2019 was my fourth visit to Sci-Fi Scarborough, my annual geek-out in the delightful seaside town on the North Yorkshire coast. Astoundingly, it was my wife, with only a passing interest in sci-fi, who first suggested we attend. Now it has become an annual tradition; not only do we attend the con, we make a long weekend of it, dinner out on Saturday, fish ‘n’ chips on Sunday, walk along the sea front and my compulsory annual pilgrimage to visit the Scarborough Police Box which, despite the local council’s best efforts, is still standing down near the lifeboat station.
In the 90s I used to go to a lot of conventions, mainly Doctor Who, and the social aspect was always the most important factor. I have unpleasant memories of pushy stewards; little tin Hitlers corralling people into queues. By the end of my 90s convention-going, my little group of friends barely watched a panel or queued for an autograph, preferring to hang out in ‘our’ corner of the hotel bar and watch the world go by. As always happens, the little group drifted apart; people got married, kids, careers and the conventioneering stopped. When I married a girl who – as I stated earlier – has only a passing interest in sci-fi, I kinda surmised I’d never see a convention again. Shows how wrong you can be.
The location for Sci-Fi Scarborough is the Spa Centre, a sprawling Victorian spa on Scarborough’s south beach which has been repurposed as a concert venue and convention centre. It’s a sizeable location, with three large rooms, an indoor theatre, an outdoor theatre and many antechambers. Sci-Fi Scarborough utilises the lot – which is a very good thing because there’s nothing worse than a con where everything is crammed into one noisy chamber. This allows them to separate different elements of the convention; the dealers and the autographs are in two of the large chambers, with props and models in a third.
For all of the years that we’ve been there, the R2 Builders Club and the Sons of Skaro have been there displaying some of their excellent props. This year they both seem to have really gone to town! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many R2 units or Daleks in the same place. On top of that, there were a wealth of Star Wars stormtroopers, wookiees and Darth Vader and Judges (Dredd variety, not High Court). One day we came out of the Spa to see Darth and some of his stormtroopers on the upper deck of the open-topped bus being photographed by the local press. They also had pictures of Chewbacca on the beach with a surfboard, heading out to catch some radical curls (good luck to him, it was bloody freezing out there).
Sci-Fi Scarborough may not have the mega line-up of guests that some of the big corporate sign-o-thons have, but that’s okay because you get much better value from the guests that they do have. This isn’t just a line of bored-looking celebs drearily dishing out autographs that you need to take out a mortgage to buy; you can see the guests being interviewed in the theatre and spot them milling around the place, often happy to chat. Readers of a certain age in the UK will remember Hugo Myatt as Treguard in the kids’ series Knightmare, who was one of the guests. My wife had fond childhood memories of Knightmare and (though we’re not big autograph collectors) bought a signed photo for a very reasonable price. Not only that, but Mr Myatt and his wife happily chatted to us for around 10 minutes. It’s great when celebrities turn out to be genuinely nice people.
Also present were Hattie Hayridge and Mark Dexter, who played Holly and Howard Rimmer respectively in Red Dwarf; Chris Rankin who played Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films, Ross O’Hennessy who played the Lord of Bones in Game of Thrones; Caroline Blakiston and Willie Coppen who played Mon Mothma and an Ewok respectively in Return of the Jedi and Andrew Lee Potts, Connor Temple from Primeval, back for his second turn at the con. We watched the interview panels with Myatt, Hayridge/Dexter, Blakiston/Coppen and Rankin and they were all very informal. There’s nothing worse than when an inexperienced interviewer is firing boring or overly technical questions at a bewildered celeb about a job they did 30 years ago, but there was none of that here. The interviewers were very professional and even put the guests at their ease by starting with a series of random yes/no fun questions.
If meeting TV celebs isn’t for you, there’s also a whole host of writers and artists, happy to discuss their wares, a sword-fighting display and the inevitable cosplay. Cosplay was barely a thing when I attended conventions in the 90s and it was predominantly middle-aged men dressed as the Delgado Master or something, but these days it’s a major part of convention life, especially with the younger attendees. I don’t think I saw anyone there under 25 who wasn’t in some form of cosplay; us old farts just need to accept that the convention scene has changed. The fact that Sci-Fi Scarborough caters to fans of all ages is one of its big plus points; basically, there is something there for everyone. The gaming section, for example, is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s incredibly popular, especially with the younger attendees.
And, of course, if it all gets a bit much for you and you need a breath of fresh sea air, you can wander in and out of the Spa Centre to your heart’s content. It’s at the far end of a delightfully unspoilt British seafront with all the attractions thereof: fish ‘n’ chips, amusements, candy rock – and even donkey rides! Hands up who else though they no longer existed? There’s also one of the best stretches of sand on the east coast. Last time we came, the weather was absolutely stunning and the beach was packed with people in bathing suits and bikinis. This time, at the same time of year, you couldn’t go out in a bikini without falling victim to hypothermia, but hey, that’d the British weather for you. Who knows, we could always get another stunner next year.
Sci-Fi Scarborough is a friendly, welcoming, relaxed convention and I’d recommend it to anyone. You don’t need to sell the family silver to attend for the full weekend and walk away with a bag of goodies and an autograph or two, because it’s organised by people who do it for love not money. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but what is? My wife and I will be attending again next year because we genuinely enjoy it and look forward to it for the whole year. Conventions are, and always have been, as entertaining as what you put into them. If you start with the mindset that you’re going to be disappointed, you will be – but why would you live your life that way? Go with an open mind… or better still, go with the intention of having a great time – and you will! Three cheers for Sci-Fi Scarborough, a great British independent convention.
Photos by Michelle Ferry