Most of my exposure to the sordid world of the Missing Episodes occurred after I met fellow fan Jason Stevens as a DWAS event in the summer of 1991; this is covered in my "Missing without trace revisited" article so I won't repeat it here. We were in touch for many years and he gave me a lot of valuable information, usually weeks before anyone else - it turned out they had come from Steve Roberts who had a close relationship with his DWAS group in Reading, "The Thames Valley Timelords."
Eventually, Roberts got in touch with me and I got information direct from the source instead and I was in the position of telling Jason before his DWAS chums did.
At about the time of my summer University exams in the summer of 1992, I received a customary letter from Jason, then at University at Aberystwyth. It wasn't quite as friendly or irreverant as his previous correspondence and with good reason. Jason used to phone his friends in Reading regularly to glean the latest information and was horrified to learn that his name had been reported to those responsible for protecting copyright. I was a little alarmed at this, especially when he told me that my name had been mentioned too. The Thames Valley Timelords were very close to Steve and had obtained latest rumours and news from Steve and pristine video recordings of archival episodes.
As it turned out, nothing came of these legal worries. Jason was convinced Steve Roberts had tipped off someone about copyright infringement but I was not too sure. After all Steve was a "pirate" himself - I'd got tapes from him either directly or indirectly and he even said in the letters pages of DWM that he had a copy of the Blue Peter edition from 1973 featuring the first regeneration which wasn't available publicly at that time (I am surprised no one made a fuss of this boast). Steve had told me that his bosses had even gently chided and teased him for copying BBC material ("Have you been copying again, Steve?") and he had even provided the DWAS with SVHS copies of rare episodes for the 1992 "Tombwatch" showing.
So if Steve had informed on us, he was a hypocrite. But the more I thought about it, he was the only person to whom I had mentioned Jason's name. I remain mystified by the whole episode. Certainly Jason wasn't too perturbed in the end and he ended up regarding Steve in the same light as I did (see later) when he wrote, "Steve Roberts is a god tra-la-la-la-la!"
The next time I met Steve, one exchange between us was less than cordial. Although I believed at the time that I could trust him, that information from Jason still rankled and Steve and I had a conversation that turned to some trivia, such as information I'd gained or new pirated tapes I'd acquired. The exchange went something like this:
"Did your friend - "
"No" I abruptly cut in. To this day I regret this exchange as I am not a curt person. But I didn't want to hear him even refer to Jason.
You ask when I first met Paul Vanezis; this was a few days before the DWAS Panopticon 30th anniversary Convention in 1993. It was at the usual watering hole of "The Fitzroy Tavern" and Steve Roberts was there, saying that "Paul Vanezis" would be there soon and I left him to saunter around, socialising. At some point fairly late on, Steve came and found me and told me Paul was here and led me off to the table by the door. We shook hands and I said, "So, you're the person who found the Reign of Terror episodes before the BBC!". Paul looked a bit taken aback and looked around at his compatriots at the table and said, "You're very well informed!" (Not at all - I just remembered the article in the DWAS newsletter from about 9 years previously). I think there were the usual pleasantries but it was late and I needed to get to my lodgings on the other side of London.
The next time I saw Vanezis was at the Panopticon a day or two later. He stormed right past me, a stern look on his face and didn't acknowledge my friendly "Hi". Lest it be thought that there was anything sinister about this; he was manning the mixing desk at the rear of the hall and there had been a malfunction, resulting in the video feed being lost. He had walked past me (probably didn't even see me) to ascertain the problem with the equipment. (As a matter of interest I never did learn how to pronounce his name: Roberts pronounced it "vaneezis" but Peter Finklestone said "vanezzis.")
So, things seemed to be OK. I was therefore a little surprised to receive an email about a year (or slightly more later) from him. He had read my "Missing Without Trace" article and had noticed that I had said that "Death to the Daleks":1 (PAL) had come back from the Middle East soaking wet, and he denied this was the case even though Finklestone had told me this and the two were very friendly. All very cordial, and I sent a "thank you" to him but it was bounced back and not long afterwards I got an email apologising and saying that he had the reply functionality on his compuserve email account turned off. The next email I got was a long torrent of abuse from him which was so disgusting it actually made me physically sick. I cannot clearly remember the contents but I recall it, amongst other matters, pouring cold water on the "finders fee" scheme and that my article saying that the BBC would pay whatever an episode was worth would hinder future recoveries and they would be sold on the black market and disappear. I found this odd, to say the least, as Steve Roberts had already told me that the BBC had instigated the reward scheme for missing episodes and all of this was being reneged upon. The language in the email was never vulgar but was horribly hostile and insulting and I sent off a half hearted reply to Vanezis, and he replied but I deleted it unread.
I was a regular denizen of the newsgroup "rec.arts.drwho" and was disgusted to find that Vanezis and his chums were trashing my reputation on that forum. In fact, this is something that they kept up for many years, on their missing episodes forum, the Restoration Team forum and the Gallifrey Base group. Their poison spread to friends I had made including fellow York University student Dominic Jackson and an Australian ex-friend (who said that "Missing without trace" was compensation for having a small penis - this was said on the Gallifrey Base forum; I complained to the moderators and they removed it with the gentleman issuing an apology).
Then an unexpected name resurfaced. Steve Roberts emailed me from his BBC account. I forget what his message was but I ignored it; it was probably just a cordial greeting but after the crap I had just received from Vanezis I wanted him to go away. He followed it up with one saying "are you still alive?". Unforgivably, and in light of the Vanezis exchange, I just send a reply back saying something like "could you please get Paul Vanezis off my back?"
I don't blame Steve for being angry with receiving a message like that after he had been reasonably friendly in his first message and he shot back a message saying that he had known Paul for many years, was one his oldest friends and wouldn't intercede on my behalf, that my insistence that there was a finder's fee was doing harm, and unforgivably, he told me to "lighten up" and "that it was only a TV show" (which is ironic as you will see how heavy handed he was with regard to the claims of a missing episode, which I will relate shortly). He also gave me the impression that I was ungrateful as he was the one was responsible for getting me that "gig" (as he put it) on BBC-1 during the 30th anniversary celebration. If I'd have known that the BBC were going to deliberately misrepresent fans in that so-called "gig" I would seriously have thought about not doing it.
There was one thing about that email that was particularly upsetting. Steve told me that Vanezis called me an "upstart" - and from what I recall, they found people were treading on their toes looking for lost episodes to be a nuisance and irksome, as if I had strayed onto their hallowed territory.
That was my penultimate contact with Steve - the last time was in 2003.
At this point, I introduce Steve Phillips into the story, whom I had known for about three of four years, and our parting was somewhat sour. After the Vanezis exchange I tried to explain to Phillips that my interest in Doctor Who was minimal and to apologise that I had fallen behind in answering my email, as I was suffering badly from depression and had seriously considered suicide (in fact I was even admitted to a mental hospital for a few days). "Oh so what?" his reply said, and that he had a stomach ulcer. I have no doubt that he passed this information onto others as he had broken my confidence once before. Let me explain:
For a while in the early 1990s, correspondence between myself and Steve Roberts was fairly fluid and regular but then it dried up and the only time we were in contact was when I phoned him or up or I went to the Fitzroy Tavern. I felt at the time that now that he was a famous fan he had no time for the plebs like me - and for what its worth, the Thames Valley Timelords felt exactly the same way. But out of the blue, (about the spring of 1994) Roberts emailed Phillips and congratulated him on his "missing episodes clips list". Phillips was wary as I had told him of my feelings that Roberts had washed his hands of people who were of no further use to him and he asked for more details and why I felt this way. I regaled Phillips with my reasons and told him that was in confidence. Shortly afterwards I got a reply from Phillips saying that he had met up with Roberts, had been shown some of his collection (including a restored version of "Ambassadors of Death" part 5 which was not available publicly but which he had obtained legitimately having worked on it, and which he refused to let Phillips get a copy of) - and the two had talked about me, including stuff I had told Phillips in confidence. I remember distinctly his email said that Steve Roberts denied there was a time he was never in contact with me and was surprised as he thought things were OK between us. I never trusted Steve Phillips 100% again. After that "ulcer" message Steve was to contact me one more time and that was it.
So, with the news that I was suffering from depression in the wild, I started getting vile emails. I should have reported them but I didn't as I was no longer thinking straight. I don't know who sent them, but there were a fair number, most of them barely literate. A lot wished harm to come to me, and that because of me their favourite episodes would never be seen again, that I was "scum" and a "f**king bastard." There was a lot of other stuff that I have tried to blot out of my mind (I apologise for this vagueness). I don't doubt that the aim of the missives was to drive me into a full nervous breakdown or suicide, and with my reputation being spitefully destroyed, they nearly succeeded.
It eventually got so bad that I asked a friend (an undergraduate computer genius) to install a filter programme to my University email. I think we could have got into trouble for unauthorised modifications to our systems. I didn't care. Eventually, I configured it to automatically delete messages relating to various keywords and it mostly worked as I don't recall any more horrendous emails. Unfortunately, I was part of a scientific collaboration that had many "Doctors" in it and sometimes the filter picked up on those and I lost some important messages. The damage of the missing episodes messages was done though and my work suffered. I kept all this Dr Who related business from my supervisor and the head of the department and I remember a crisis meeting in the head's office where we discussed my mental state and saying that I could take time off with their blessing if I needed it. I declined this offer and soldiered on. I am not sure of the date of all this but I believe it was late 1994-summer 1995.
It left me with the unpleasant feeling that I had been naive and I couldn't trust anyone, so I made a conscious decision to abandon Dr.Who which I did for nearly a decade. I only watched the odd episode now and then and when friends came around to my student house to watch some stuff, I did it through gritted teeth, not really enjoying the experience. If I got an email or letter from a Dr.Who friend I didn't bother to reply, which is a shame as one of the letters might have been beneficial.
I finally returned to the Doctor Who world in about 2002 or 2003 after chancing upon a missing episodes website and - once again - my work was under fire so I decided to tell my side of the story. I tried very hard to hide my location as I didn't want anyone to trace me. Memories of those death threats were still in my mind and I didn't want anyone appearing on my doorstep in the middle of the night. I didn't even make my presence on the internet public knowledge until I bought my domain in about 2000.
I occasionally visited the Restoration Team Forum. There were occasional insults aimed at me. But one exchange horrified me. Although I can remember the gist the details are hazy. It amounted to one man's claim that he possessed "The Space Pirates" part 4 and Steve Roberts threatened to expose him as "[name given] - the only person known to have a Doctor Who episode." I was disgusted by this heavy handed attitude and I wrote to various departments at the BBC to complain about this unilateral behaviour. I didn't get a reply but a day or so later, Steve issued an apology to the man in question. I don't think my complaints prompted this but I recall thinking that this "name and shame" behaviour would be likely to drive episodes underground that bring them to the surface. It also exposed another piece of hypocrisy as Steve had said that he had a copy of a Harry Worth episode "James Bond where are you?" (which he had informed us was missing) in his locker at the BBC for a whole year but had done nothing with it. But all of a sudden, a Doctor Who installment required full and immediate (and somewhat militant!) behaviour. I remember thinking that nothing had changed in ten years.
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