CONVENTION REVIEW: LONDON FILM AND COMIC CON 2021 - Star Wars Autograph News (2022)

London Film & Comic Con returned to the historic Olympia Exhibition Centre this weekend after a delay of 16 months due to the pandemic. The convention is Showmasters’ flagship event and usually takes place over three days in July, with two smaller events in spring and winter. The show is often able to attract A-list guests but does also include many smaller, niche guests.

In the run up to the event, the guest list was quite volatile with new guests still being announced whilst others were being cancelled or rescheduled to later events. Bigger name Star Wars cancellations in the weeks before the show included Riz Ahmed (Bodie Rook – Rogue One), Guy Henry (Tarkin – Rogue One) and Fiona Shaw (Andor).

Olympia is currently undergoing a large-scale redevelopment so the outside of the venue did look like a building suite. The main convention hall spaces don’t seem to have been affected by this however. As with any London venue, public transport links are generally good and there are several hotels and numerous guesthouses within walking distance. Olympia also has its own parking although this needs to be pre-booked.

PRE-SHOW

Showmasters runs a ticketing system with several levels of benefits. Standard entry gets you into the event but provides no other benefits. Gold passes allow early entry to the event and the ability to join any queue without a virtual queue (VQ) ticket (diamond level guests excluded). Diamond passes are guest-specific VIP passes that provide queue jumping ability in that guest’s autograph queue, and priority entry to their photoshoot and/or talk.

Gold passes and diamond passes were advertised as available for collection from 1pm on the Friday of the event. Due to some confusion over actual event start time some attendees reported they had been there since 8am, expecting a 9am start! The doors opened around 20 minutes late but other than that the process went fairly smoothly. There were some last-minute changes to covid policy sent out to everyone by e-mail including some perspex screens in some photo shoots and mandatory masks. These instructions were largely discounted however as very few people at the event were masked. There were also no Perspex screens for signing guests making the event feel pretty much normal for autograph collectors.

DAY 1

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Unusually for LFCC, this years’ event started with an evening preview on the Friday night. As darkness fell, on an unseasonably mild November evening, fans began gathering outside Olympia. The entry process, including covid pass checks, went smoothly and the reduced attendee numbers probably helped with this. As 5pm rolled around the doors opened to a cheer and a small round of applause that spread through the crowd – relief perhaps that the event could finally happen after 16 months of delays.

A number of Star Wars guests were announced for the Friday night but unfortunately there were several who did not attend. Jim Dowdall (Bespin Guard), Quentin Pierre (Bespin Guard, Imperial Guard) and Syd Wragg (Stormtrooper, Imperial Officer, Rebel Transport Driver) were all absent. However, there were some short notice announcements of Max Rebo puppeteer Simon Williamson and Stormtrooper Samuel Burleigh.

Most of the Star Wars guests were located in the same area Joe Gibson (Luke Double, Hoth X-wing Tech, Snowtrooper), Sean Crawford (Yakface, Mon Cal), Tim Dry (Whiphid, Elom, Mon Cal), Rochenda Sandall (Sith Fleet Officer – The Rise of Skywalker). The area was fairly busy and most guests appeared to have a steady stream of customers. I didn’t meet all of the Star Wars guests but was able to add a new name to collection. Joe Gibson was Mark Hamill’s stand-in on Empire Strikes Back and did wetsuit work on the Dagobah set. He also played an x-wing tech in the Hoth rebel base – a role which he reported only recently came to light. I also met Simon Williamson who signed on an image of Max Rebo – one of my favourite action figures as a kid.

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The Friday night line-up also included Mandalorian guests Natalia Tena (Xi’an) and Mark Boone Jnr (Ranzar Malk). Mark was in attendance with a several other Sons of Anarchy guests but did have a number of table images from The Mandalorian. Mark is an interesting character and was happy to take time chat to fans. Natalia was slightly elusive for autograph hunters as she had a photo shoot booked during the short opening hours of 5-9pm. A couple of times I was in her queue when it was closed – luckily, she was attending for the whole weekend. Both guests appeared popular and had fairly long queues for at least the first few hours of the show.

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Away from autographing, photo shoots and talks were starting to take place. The show being on smaller scale than usual meant that only one of Olympia’s two main halls were used for the convention space, whilst he other was used for indoor queuing. However, there was room for a decent range of stalls selling a variety vintage and modern merchandise. Cosplay groups such as the rebel legion were present but in smaller numbers than usual – possibly due to another big event taking place on the same weekend. I noted that unlike previous conventions, the event was not promoting any particular upcoming movie – perhaps due the studios promotion plans being affected by unpredictable release schedules. The lack of posters, banners and promotional booths did make the convention hall feel rather empty and unfinished however.

Although it felt slightly strange attending a convention in the evening, it actually seemed to work quite well. The lower numbers in attendance made for a relaxed atmosphere, and may have helped some people who haven’t attended large-scale post-pandemic conventions to gently ease themselves back in to the swing of things.

On the downside, during the show on Friday night we learned that show headliner Robbie Coltrane had been taken ill and had to cancel his appearance. Although not a Star Wars guest, it did obviously have a detrimental effect on the show overall, especially with another headliner Riz Ahmed cancelling only days before.

DAY 2

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Day two and the first day of the show proper. Saturdays at LFCC can be extremely busy, and often quite hard work for autograph collectors. However, as the queues formed on the Saturday morning, it became clear that numbers in attendance were much reduced on previous shows.

Probably the biggest-name Star Wars guest at the show was Ming-Na Wen. Attending on her birthday, Ming-Na had a large queue of fans from the start the day. A good range of table images were available – predominantly from Marvel’s Agents of Shield but also several from The Mandalorian, Mulan, ER and evenone from Streetfighter. I noted that there didn’t appear to be any images from The Bad Batch however so Star Wars animation fans might want to consider this when attending future shows.

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Although obviously best known for Star Trek rather than his voice role in The Clone Wars, George Takei was another big name attending the show. Due to his advancing age, he was only signing for a limited period each day and was understandably busy. He was in his own booth so I wasn’t able to tell if he had any Star Wars related table images.

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After failing to meet Natalia Tena on the previous evening I had more success on the Saturday. Anyone who has met Natalia at a convention will know she has an extremely zany personality – on this occasion expressed by her wearing large fur trapper’s hat for the entire show. She is always fun to chat to and I was happy to add her name to my Mandalorian collection, after previously getting her on a Harry Potter piece.

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Another Mandalorian guest, Richard Brake also appeared to be a popular. He was very engaging to talk to and we discussed what it was like filming with Bill Burr in what was my favourite scene of season 2. I noted that Richard brought his own collection of pens with him – always a reassuring sign for autograph collectors.

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One slightly unusual Star Wars guest for me was Nick Frost – probably most famous for his roles in the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ movies and the sitcom Spaced. During the filming of the movie Paul in Roswell New Mexico, Nick and Simon Pegg filmed a comedy sketch for College Humor where they played Artoo and Threepio. I found some cool fan art from this sketch and got him to sign an 8×10 of it – hopefully I can add Simon Pegg to this piece at some point.

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The youngest guest of at event was little Dolly Gadsdon, signing alongside her older sister Beau. Both of whom played younger versions of Jyn Erso in Rogue One. Beau is also known for playing the young Princess Margaret in the hit Netflix drama The Crown. Both girls seemed to be coping well with what I imagine could be a rather overwhelming experience. It made me think it would be great to see all three Jyns at an event someday – if Felicity Jones can be tempted back to do another in-person signing. Dolly and Beau were joined by their screen mother from Rogue One, Valene Kane. I have met Valene before and I have always found her very friendly, and this occasion was no exception.

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DAY 3

Day three of the con – often when convention fatigue starts to set in. But, also a less crowded day when many smaller guests are often booked – and this show was no exception.

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I started with another Rogue One guest – Angus Wright who played hammerhead Captain Kado Oquoné. Although relatively new to the signing circuit Angus knew his character name and was happy to add quotes to pieces.

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Also from Rogue One was Darth Vader suit performer Daniel Naprous. Daniel was a popular guest at the show having worked on not only Rogue One, but also providing his skills as a stunt performer in Game of Thrones, Bond, and Harry Potter.

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My final guest of the weekend was Watto voice performer Andy Secombe who signed a shot from The Phantom Menace.

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I had hoped to meet Brian Blessed again but he was a very popular guest and a couple of hours into signing he was still getting though his diamond pass queue. Sadly, I had to leave before I got chance to meet him.

Unfortunately, Milton Jones (Captain Bewil – Empire Strikes Back) didn’t attend the show.

Price List

(Only guests who actually attended are listed)

Andy Secombe – Autograph £15, Photoshoot £15
Angus Wright – Autograph £10
Beau Gadson – Autograph £15
Brian Blessed – Autograph £40, Photoshoot £35, Diamond Pass £80 (Autograph, Photoshoot, Gift)
Daniel Naprous – Autograph £20, Photoshoot £20
Dolly Gadson – Autograph £10
George Takei – Autograph £55, Photoshoot £55
Jimmy Vee – Autograph £25, Photoshoot £25
Joe Gibson – Autograph £15
Mark Boone Jnr – Autograph £30, Photoshoot £30
Ming-Na Wen – Autograph £45, Photoshoot £45
Natalia Tena – Autograph £25, Photoshoot £25, Green Screen Photoshoot (Harry Potter theme) £35
Richard Brake – Autograph £20, Photoshoot £20
Rochenda Sandall – Autograph £15, Photoshoot £15
Samuel Burleigh – Autograph £10
Simon Williamson – Autograph £20
Tim Dry – Autograph £15
Sean Crawford – Autograph £10
Valene Kane – Autograph £15, Photoshoot £15

A note on table photographs and selfies: – Most guests had a ‘no posed photographs’ sign over their desks but it was fine to photograph them whilst signing. I didn’t see anyone charging for selfies however so I suspect this was a Covid measure to keep some distance between guests and fans, and to keep queues moving. Most bigger guests had ‘no photography’ signs over their desks.

This London Film and Comic Con was very different to the normal July convention. Not nearly as busy or as hectic and, if anything, less stressful. It did feel like an event finding its feet again in a post-pandemic world. I have been to a few smaller and medium sized conventions since reopening, but this was the first large scale event I have been to and I have to say I really enjoyed it.

The spring LFCC is scheduled for 26th-27th February 2022 with the three-day summer event planned to return 8th-10th July 2022.

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