Frivolous Monsters

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.Viktor-Oliva-The-absinthe-drinker-1901 (500x310)

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.

Radio Times Doctor Who Panarama 1999

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.

Nu Who Eccleston Radio Times Covers

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?

Comic Relief Collection

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.


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21 thoughts on “Cover-aggedon – Part One

  1. I’m sure there’s a BBC documentary in this… possibly with a helpline to call: ‘If you’ve been affected by the issues RT addiction in this programme…’

  2. You are an alumnus. Alumni is plural. I’m sorry I pointed that out; I literally cannot help myself.

    I (as a struggling writer) have often wondered whether I’d really be great if I had a fancy absinthe addiction, or if I too could pen a Jekyll & Hyde type opus on a 4 day cocaine trip. The vast majority of writers have been addicts at one point or another. But a lifetime of ‘Just Say No’ campaigns have instilled a very strong disinclination in me for any drugs. I don’t even like to drink much. I’ve decided I can be a good enough writer with just the social awkwardness, rampant self doubt, and tendency toward depression that all of us have in common.

    Up until about 2 years ago, I was in the same boat with avoiding all acquaintances in order to not be asked what I was doing with my life. Now, my answer has changed from ‘oh, um, I’m in between projects’ to the not-much-improved ‘I edit nursing textbooks. Yes, it’s as boring as it sounds.’ I am beginning to expect only a very small handful of people (daredevils, porn stars, good liars, marine biologists) don’t mind being asked the career question.

    • You are right. Alumnus (male singular) and alumni (male plural). You live and learn. As someone who doesn’t drink much I do feel I’m missing some addictive personality. I did buy a bottle of absinthe once (first payday or something) after seeing it just sitting on the top shelf of the local off-licence / video rental store for ages when I lived in Wales. I was expecting a lot from it and was disappointed. It turns out that the active ingredient wormwood is not legal in this country, or some such guff, so we get the watered down stuff. Forty pounds that cost.

      • p.s. It was only at the last minute, as I was uploading this, that I sorted out biennial / biannual. All these little things to trip you up if you’re unaware.

  3. You need to feed your creative core – if that means a ‘different’ obsession stands in for absinthe, then so be it.

  4. Very entertaining. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Even though we live in France, I always get my husband to bring back the RT from the UK (he commutes) as I like to keep up with what’s happening on British T.V. Even though we have to jump through hoops, plug various widgets into various sockets and use Wifi boosters and laptops since they moved the Satellite, we can still manage to get some programmes and I want to know what’s on – French T.V. is complete pants. Also, it’s not a bad magazine. According to my husband, who is definitely not a Dr. Who fan, there is a Dr. Who cover every other week (or every week when there is actually a series showing).
    As for your addiction, I think you probably should have claimed to be a drug addict instead. If you are ever suspected of being a serial killer, filing magazines away in plastic folders is just the sort of thing they will use to make the case against you.

    • I do think there’s something very British about the notion of the Radio Times. And yes they have certainly ramped up the number of Doctor Who covers these days. I assume they really must be lucrative and there are a lot more similar-minded people out there. Plus it’s not been on TV for six months (tomorrow) and yet there have been two DW covers in that time!

      Plus it’s not actually owned by the BBC any more, since they were forced to sell it off for competition reasons (or something), so it’s got an odd link to the BBC (I’m not sure how this works) but is purely for profit now. This will (I presume) lead into how this story ends.

      I know I should confess about my heroin addiction instead. I’m sure it must be more socially acceptable that keeping magazines in plastic folders in plastic boxes!

  6. While I thoroughly enjoyed learning about your OCD, Doctor Who fanaticism, (particularly your David Tennant cover search) and your rather strange longing for a “street” addiction, I must say don’t understand your vehement dislike of Mr. Nesbitt. I know about his philandering past, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a charming and entertaining N. Irishman with a engaging accent. Please fill us in on the real story behind your dislike of Jimmy.

    • It is in relation to the charm, it’s the lack of humility, which I just process as smarm. That and the way every celebrity refers to him as Jimmy Nesbit. And the famous advert he did where he had to get a girl’s hair cut and (even though we know he’s loaded) he decided to save a few quid and do it himself, before making a right mess of her. I know that’s irrational, I know it’s not real, but what can you do? I do seem to hold it against celebrities who have affairs for a very long time.

      It was once suggested, after he starred in Steven Moffat’s ‘Jeckyl’ – and did OK in my honest opinion, I don’t know if you’ve done that yet? – that it was suggested he would be the new Doctor Who. Talk about sweaty palms.

  7. A compelling glimpse into the dark recesses of the mind of a serial collector.

    I did a google search on ‘strange things people collect’, and soon realized it isn’t the items collected, nor the size of the collection, which makes the act of collecting interesting, but rather it’s the fervor of the collector himself. If I’m right about this, then you rank right up there with the guy who collects used toilet seats and the woman with the banana sticker collection. There’s gotta be some street cred in that.

    • I didn’t know if this would be interesting for anybody, so I’m glad I am opening up some monstrous persona for other normal people to see. Hopefully I led the reader by the hand from a credible beginning before my decent into madness.

      One of the things I was worried about is that I have posted this story before. I’ve been doing this blog for two-and-a-half years now and I’m pretty sure no-one read it originally (spread over three posts) and that was very nerdy. This took a whole lot of re-writing, with a proper ending, and hopefully this version is a lot more accessible.

      I am interested in that “it’s not what you collect, but the mania with which you do it” and I guess psychologists should be (or probably have) studying that sort of notion. Thanks for ranking me “up there” with the others. I think I have heard of the banana label thing before, although I feel that both of them are more worth to society in that they have some sort of historical aspect to them. Although it they’re not ancient toilet seat that that man is collecting then I withdraw my comment…

      Still not sure there’s much street cred for any of us to be had. Oh well.

  8. I used to love collecting things. I still have a pile of The Face magazine, though some bastard stole issue 1, so that pension plug has gone. Nowadays I avoid collectibles as I have a small and very full flat.
    I agree with the first comment, and think perhaps you should offer to be interviewed by Radio 4. There must be some series that covers fandom.

    • I used to have something as a child (it may have been TV Comic) and I’m still distraught that that pile disappeared somewhere. My grandparents used to get me ‘Look In’ as well, as I guess that was what the cool kids read, although I was never a cool kid and it took many years to ask my granddad to knock it on the head.

      I guess Jon Ronson’s radio programme covers segments like that, but for now I’m ready to bide my time. After all who wants to put their hand up an draw attention to craziness? Thinking about that, I guess these days that that’s lots of people. Oh well.

      Oh and talking of pensions I reveal the value of my collection in the final part. It turns out I’m minted!

  9. I hate to break it to you, but trying to collect full sets of magazine covers of stuff you like is a game you can’t win. Just when you think you’ve got them all, another magazine comes out. It’s never ending!

    • Well I know that… now. It started off with good intentions, and if the series hadn’t have come back then who knows, but I hoped to portray my descent into madness before breaking the dependency cycle. Eight months clean.

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