Cover-aggedon – Part One
It was on the walk into town, just past the college which I’m an alumnus of, where I bumped into someone that I used to go to school with. The shame of being an on-going failure in life; a failed scientist and a failing writer still living in my parents’ back bedroom, means that I’m often keen to avoid former acquaintances in the flesh as I dread the inevitable question: And what do you do? Meeting the Queen’s a right bugger.
As such I’m in hiding from a lot of people I used to know, avoiding any outing to local places I imagine them to frequent, but when I’ve finally made my fortune I’ll surely be rocking that fiftieth anniversary school reunion. In conversation the subject of drug-taking came up, as it does. I’ve often wished I had a vice, like all famous writers seem to have had, and it seems to be where I’m going wrong. Where’s my absinthe? Where’s my chronic alcoholism? Why can’t I chain-smoke my way through fag after fag whilst I work away in solitude creating a masterpiece? I can’t even muster an addiction to prescription drugs or the occasional cocaine binge. I simply admitted to my school friend that I don’t have an addictive personality.
I noted, later, that it was perhaps an ironic statement to make seeing as the next thing I did was march into WHSmith to paw over their TV listing guides before buying two alternative editions of the Radio Times: each inspected for mintness in condition before encasing them in plastic sleeves to preserve them for posterity. Where’s my vice? I must be the worst writer ever.
The story of my Radio Times madness, as it became, started out quite simply, but then so, I’m sure, does heroin addiction. The whole sorry scenario began with a twenty-first birthday present, from my parents, of a limited edition postcard set of all fourteen examples that the TV series Doctor Who graced the front cover. It was an ideal gift for any fan of the television show which came to an abrupt end in 1989. You may remember it, but if not ask your parents. Plus, with the limited nature, it was sure to only appreciate in value. Obviously. The gift satisfied the obsessive-compulsive fan’s every need until, that is, in November 1999 when the publishers decided to bring out another one, just for the sake of it.
This left me with a quandary. My prized postcard set which I was trying to have framed by an inconsiderate picture man, who wanted to just stick them all down, was now no longer complete. Should I scan the new cover and print off a flimsy miss-sized copy on inferior paper? No matter how much fiddling I could never get exactly the right dimensions. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to hold onto the new fifteenth cover until I’d worked out what to do with it.
All of a sudden the world just didn’t go around the same anymore as there was always that niggling incompleteness that just ate away whilst so-called normal people, I imagine, went about living happy lives seemingly oblivious to my plight.
And then, whilst fandom was still reeling from this dilemma, the Radio Times went and rubbed salt deep into all our wounds by devoting another week’s cover just to celebrate the fact that an old show, no longer on TV anymore, was forty years old. However, worse than that, the publishers had obviously started to realise the financial potential of fan-power as they issued multiple covers by press-ganging all the previous lead actors who could still fit into their costumes, and even those that couldn’t, and in one foul swoop they made a once pristine fourteen-issue postcard collection five covers out of date.
I was £3.52 out of pocket, because I had to buy them all, and as all four of them joined up to make a pretty panorama it almost made the whole endeavour worthwhile. So for the week 22nd – 28th November 2003 I had four copies of the Radio Times and, being a poor student in Wales, I didn’t even have a TV but I sure knew what was on that week. And with this I finally felt that I had descended into some sort of madness. I owned, frankly, one out-of-date postcard set that was now unlikely to ever be featured on The Antiques Roadshow, plus five copies of the Radio Times which I didn’t know what to do with. And then, in 2005, the unthinkable happened and disaster struck: the series came back onto TV.
In that first year, as I started getting that sinking feeling, they pumped out three more covers including one with fold-out flaps, another that went on to be voted the best British magazine cover of all time, and for the first time the cover of the much-heralded Christmas bumper issue. And after that they didn’t stop. They just never, ever, stopped.
There came good covers, naff covers, multiple covers, and I felt compelled to purchase a Sunday best cover of each and every one. I was in too deep and there was no jumping ship now as I’d invested way too much in this maniacal way of living. It was an absurd lifestyle choice illustrated no clearer than in the case of the great Comic Relief swindle of 2010 when, to coincide with the biennial charity event, the Radio Times produced twenty-one different covers featuring a range of celebrities against a plain white background: one of them being a headshot of David Tennant; the incumbent actor in the lead role. This lead to a great deal soul searching and head scratching with the moral question: was it really a Doctor Who cover?
The question was academic though as a personal trawling of all the magazine vendors in the area turned up only 2 or 3 covers in each shop and, desperation led to the purchase of one at random, for household use, which featured on it the well-know philanderer, and close person friend of every celebrity, the actor James “Jimmy” Nesbit. A plea sent out across the internet led to my friend Emma helpfully offering a swap for her Sanjeev Bhaskar, which was no use to me personally but open up the possibility of a three-way swap if someone would do a Tennant swap for Bhasker, but not for Nesbit. This was what my life had become.
I did a lot of soul searching that week. I’d discovered that the Radio Times had a special helpline in case someone just so happened to want to purchase a particular version, that they were somehow unable to find in the shops, but did I really need it? Was I morally right to pay for out cash for a redundant magazine when there were people starving in the world?
Close examination of the Tennant portrait led me to believe he was in costume and that if I didn’t get one my collection would forever have a hole. So now, all of a sudden, I knew that my peace of mind rested on obtaining one. I reluctantly phoned the hotline.
With trepidation I asked the girl who answered the phone if they still had a David Tennant cover and nervously waited for her response. In retrospect I now imagine her peering over her shoulder, at the tower of them threatening to crush her under the weight of them should they tumble, before high-fiving her way around the office after she’d taken my payment. I presume that this was a clever scam to sell David Tennant covers at an inflated price as who were the fans so desperate to get hold of the Lenny Henry, or eager to find the Ronan Keeting or the Graham Norton? And if it wasn’t a scam, milking the fans, then please explain to me how I received my copy (7th – 13th March) in the post from the people themselves on the 18th. Lets see what’s on TV then? I don’t think so.
So how has it come to this where a TV listings guide is somehow now considered an adult magazine where the weekly journey to the newsagents has become an arduous quest beginning with the search for the perfect copy and ending with the bagging of a supposedly disposable magazine in a plastic sleeve before sealing it shut in an airtight box for perpetuity to make sure it’s preserved for the generations to come?
Like any addiction it was a lifestyle which couldn’t go on forever. Plus as I’d ended up spending nearly thirty pounds over the previous four years on twenty-five different copies of the Radio Times then matters were sure to come to a head sometime soon. The crunch was looming.