Collectors Edition

Down Time meets two überfans and their collections.

Meet James Bull, 37, from York. Married with children. Known as 'Drumjay' or 'Todd Hunter' on the Red Dwarf WebBoard. A familiar convention face... and the owner of more Red Dwarf stuff than you could comfortably fit in... well, in Red Dwarf.

"I work for a double-glazing company, a family business, which I have been there for over 17 years, so suppose I must like it, every day is different and you never get bored, it also pays for my addiction to Red Dwarf collecting..."

Regular readers may remember Joel Benson, a 55 year-old lawyer with a penchant for invention. Aside from making his own Talkie Toaster, Joel has recently collected a mass of items from the programme and had them shipped to the States.

"I am presently a senior partner in my firm and spend much of each day representing my clients in litigation over rights to inventions. I devote the time that remains to my interests and hobbies, which include, among other things, science fiction in general and Red Dwarf in particular. I do not have a collector-type personality. As a kid I had a comic collection, which my mother threw away when I went off to college. That's it."

Which, frankly, smacks of a man in deep, deep denial if his amazing collection of props and costumes is anything to go by. Still, Joel is insistent: "Even given my great interest in Red Dwarf, I had no desire to acquire baseball-size cards of the characters, bits of cloth from their costumes, posters, pins, or any of the other stuff that people seem to collect. My appreciation for the show centred on the brilliance of the concept, the excellent writing and acting, and the flat-out outrageous humour. Obsessively collecting trinkets did not fit into my appreciation for the show."

All of which is miles - and the entire Atlantic - away from James and his World-o-Dwarf. Except for the bit about finding the show funny, obviously: "It's hard to say when you actually become a fan, but I would say that it is when you can't wait for the next episode, the theme tune excites you when it starts as you wait for it to begin, all distractions are either let out, locked out or covered in tape over their mouths. Plus you look further than the actual episodes; try to find more information about the programme that you watch. Which in Red Dwarf's case was quite hard at the time..."

Ah, those were the days. In 1988 Red Dwarf didn't even have a logo it could call its own, and the main source of merchandise was from the boot of Craig Charles' car. James, ever diligent, actually had to wait a few years before the merchandising juggernaut (okay, mini-van) rolled up.

"Boy did I find it hard at first - there wasn't anything at all! Until one day at a car-boot sale I found someone that had some Smegazines for sale, I couldn't believe my luck. I didn't even know they had made anything like that. Judging by the cover date and the time that I bought them way back in 1992, they were quite new and in perfect condition. Rule Number One: always try and get the item in as near-perfect condition as you can. Or is rule Number One don't let the wife catch you spending all her food money on a cigarette used by Lister?" A pause. "I'm sure it's the first one."

"The real beauty of collecting Red Dwarf is that unlike many other programmes, they take their time over a product and don't make over 20 models of the same thing with different parts glued to it, giving me more time to afford it, firstly, and time to find other things which have been made but not collected yet. So after the initial excitement of finding some Red Dwarf collectables I went on the hunt for more, which can be as much fun as getting the item you want... and expensive if you get carried away bidding on eBay."

Back across the pond, though, Joel was getting itchy fingers: "The eighth season ended, leaving a peculiar, empty Red Dwarf void that could not be filled. The series was released on DVD, and about six months ago I opened one such DVD, and out fell a flier announcing the web site for Prop Store."

Thus the marketing department slept happy - Joel must have been a dream customer for the company. "It had never occurred to me that anyone could purchase props from a television series. All I could think was, 'wouldn't it be great to actually hold in my hands some of the cool props that had been used in this great show and know that, for certain one-of-a-kind items, I of all people in the world would own that particular prop.' This was very exciting to me and seemed to me to be the proper way to celebrate a great show that was, for the time being, gone."

"I immediately investigated and ordered a prop knife that had been used in Justice, and also a background "keyboard" prop from several episodes. I couldn't put the knife down! I cleaned and polished it until it sparkled."

Interest became fascination, fascination became addiction. Anyone who's ever hung around conventions looking for a special signed edition of Danny John-Jules' Tongue Tied 12-inch single will understand.

James, meanwhile, has had to build himself a set of rules in order to keep control of his collection. "The first rule I made for myself was to collect only Red Dwarf and not get carried away with the actors other projects, which can split a collection and send you off in another direction." Not that he's overly blessed with determination. "It can be hard at times, when there are so many other things that the cast have been involved in, and most of the time I buy them anyway. Rules are meant to be broken you know."

"My collection is in two parts. There are the things that can be bought from the shops like videos, DVDs, magazines, books and T-shirts, the things that everyone collects, and are quite easy to find. To list the first part would take up most of the week and intelligence chips are quite expensive these days and they melt easily. Things that are from different parts of the world are quite hard to get hold of - and now there are items available from Australia, Japan and the U.S. Luckily I have friends in some of these countries and they send me things as they come along."

And the toughest find? "There's one book in particular, which is the Penguin's Scenes From The Dwarf. It was only published in limited numbers. I've only seen a few of these books listed anywhere in five years, making it Red Dwarf's rarest book, and can cost anything from £30 upwards if you're lucky." This small mini-book originally retailed at 60p.

"But to make a collection complete from any show you need the personal items that were made specifically for the show - the uniforms and the props. These are much harder to come by, and in many cases they have been lost or destroyed after each show." The landscape of prop purchasing has, of course, changed massively of late. "Until only this year, items like this were only available from the conventions or from people who actually worked on the show."

James's hard-earned collection is also pretty wide-ranging - covering all eight series with equal lunacy... often from very direct sources. "I have met quite a few people who worked on the show - Lister's GELF bride, the authors of the quiz books, and the cameraman that worked on just about every Red Dwarf show to name a few. Each of the things I have obtained off these people mean something more to me than just a magazine or a T-shirt, they come with a history and an excitement that it was actually used by that person or used on screen."

"I've got a Nova V costume from Kryten, Cat's plaster cast from Thanks for the Memory and his gold lamé shirt from Stasis Leak, part of the curry monster costume, a Dibbley family wig, the Monroe droid remote from The Last Day, Rimmer's Series I costumes, landing bay controls and set dressing, crew overalls and Lister's cigarettes. I also have many actual scripts used by the cast and crew, some of which I asked the people concerned to sign for me."

Exhaustive, but still not the end of the story. A Dwarf jacket owned by Robert Llewellyn has one the best stories attached to it:

"When at one of the Red Dwarf conventions I bid and bought his jacket at the auction, a great thing to have by itself, and I took it back to my room... only to find Robert's car keys still in the pocket! My first thought, as any good citizen would have, was get into the car and drive it around the car park a few times. But I'm a collector not a car thief, so I decided to take the keys back just in case he had missed them."

"It was a bit embarrassing as he was having his dinner with the rest of the cast and fan club team, but my embarrassment vanished as he shook my hand very warmly saying, 'I cannot thank you enough for returning them, and didn't you have a ride first? You can also keep the £7,000 in the pocket.' He wished!"

"Things like that are worth more than any money paid for an item, and I have spent quite a bit over the years - much to my better-half's disgust. I wouldn't like to put a price on the things I have, cost isn't important if it's something you love, but the most expensive items I have would be the Rimmer costumes, Light Bees used in over 4 episodes of the show, and also Lister's Series VIII guitar signed by Craig Charles in person. All worthy of divorce proceedings..."

Joel's list is equally impressive. Legion and Mamet's costumes, a guard's outfit, a Canary costume, some items from Cat's wardrobe, some from Kochanski's, guns, knives, drinks cans, a triplicator, space craft, Talkie Toaster, bazookoids...

"The superbazookoid was made for the U.S. version of Red Dwarf which never got off the ground. Ultimately this huge weapon was used in the Babylon 5 show. This thing is almost six feet long and weighs about 40 pounds. It is a wonder that any actor could lift it, let alone point it and remember his lines!"

Rimmer's diary, his hologram suit, Ace's jacket, Lister's (other) guitar, spear gun, vest, prison manacle and space-suit ("this suit is shown on the back of all Red Dwarf DVDs. Compare the paint blots on the suit with the DVD picture, they match exactly!"), model miniatures, prison outfits, the Inquisitor's time gauntlet, escort boots, the Ouroboros shuttle (formerly Blue Midget)... Will it ever end? And, more importantly, where does one keep all this stuff?

Well, Joel has a solution - simply devote an entire room of your house to the collection. "Since I had the room, I thought I could display costumes from the show. I was momentarily stumped as to how - somehow, it didn't seem interesting to show costumes on hangers. Suddenly, I had the thought: 'why not put the costumes on my own mannequins?' Eventually I acquired 11 full mannequins and several half mannequins for wall displays."

Yep, that's it. That's the moment we went from 'keen interest' to full-blown devotion. Tables, miniature backdrops, mannequins... Joel's room is a shrine to the history of Dwarf. He's even augmented many of the working props and models, improving the electronic workings. Also installed in the room is an LCD television. "It's fun watching episodes of Red Dwarf on this monitor while surrounded by the props and costumes," he confesses.

Still, there is one disappointment to date. "I haven't participated in any 'meet and greet' activities. It's hard to find the time, and there would be no significant time to talk one-on-one with the actors in any event, to get their views on what they do."

James, meanwhile, is a Dimension Jump convention regular. "Also another part to collecting is to meet the cast at fairs and personal appearances, have a chat, and get the things you have signed by them. This year will be my third time at a Red Dwarf convention and I'm really looking forward to it. As always it's the highlight of the year for a Red Dwarf fan, being able to see the cast in the flesh and naked!"

We didn't ask about that one. It's entirely possible that James has been peering through the casts' hotel-room keyholes. If so... well, he's yet to be caught. "The chance to talk and mingle with the stars of your favourite show is fantastic, meet all the people from the fan club and members of the webboards, and I would recommend it to any fan thinking of going."

Thankfully, James's family seem very understanding about their rapidly-diminishing floorspace. "My family have always been supportive, especially my wife who has to put up with a dining room full of Red Dwarf memorabilia, it's a good job she likes the show as well."

"Most of my friends now are people I have met through the internet and webboards, so I think their reaction is usually good. 'And how much tat have you got now, Drum?' All of which I take in good humour, which is what Red Dwarf is all about. People I have met over the years are great to know and add to the whole experience. I would like to personally thank everyone who has helped me with my collection."

Joel's family...well, that's another story. "My college-age son thinks I am nuts, but he's used to Dad getting involved in quirky and strange events having to do with far-away places. I am not married, so I don't have a spouse looking at my activities with a critical eye. Everyone tells me they are 'impressed' with what I have done, but then they edge away and give me strange looks.

Both men have further plans - but in Joel's case these mostly centre around slowing down a bit. "I could purchase many more costumes and minor props, but the mannequins and things would eventually fill my house and people would come to take me away to a padded room somewhere."

"With that said, I would really like to get the Ace Rimmer spaceship model from whoever purchased it a year or so ago, before I could get to it. I would also like to have a model of the Starbug, which is the central model of many episodes, and any other Red Dwarf ships that are in good condition. I also need a black Kryten costume, with groinal attachment, and a Kryten head. I would also like to have a complete Lister costume from an early show and weapons, if any, that I am missing. Lastly, I would like to marry Hattie Hayridge if she is available. I worship the ground she walks on."

Well, that certainly puts James and the keyholes into perspective. Speaking of whom: "Apart from the conventions, the DVDs and Starbug model are keeping things cooking on the Red Dwarf BBQ, plus there are many items I still don't have. Plus you never know what piece of Dwarf history will turn up on the internet or sale room, there is a bargain out their still and it's got my name on it! Collecting never ends, I think that is what keeps it interesting. New items new people..."

Let us know about your Red Dwarf collection on the WebBoard.

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