On June the 3rd 2006, that rough band of gypsies, chosen to wear the white band of courage and valour, came together for the first time in thirteen years. It was hard to comprehend that it had been so long, but here we were back again as a group for one of the UK's largest autograph signing fairs at a Heathrow hotel.
I had been in touch with the boys separately and some I'd hung out with socially but a full reunion of the original Chosen Men was an absolute novelty. The journey to Autographica 06 wasn't always a smooth one. The event is organised and sponsored by Dave Phillips, but securing the attendance of the lads to ensure that 'complete reunion' status, was down to me. A feat I would find out is easier said than done!
In the months preceding the event, I e-mailed, sent texts and phoned the assorted members trying get align our schedules. After several near misses, all the pieces fell in to place in the forty-eight hours before the occasion began.
Quick stop at the house to recreate our first photo together
The first ensemble photo for thirteen years
I awoke the day before with a childlike, Xmas-morning feeling in my stomach. After surviving the day time with a flurry of extra confirmation phone calls, I picked up John Tams at St Pancras Station. We made a dash along the Westway to my house, then it on to the Radisson Edwardian hotel where we met the organisers and other 'star guests' for a drink. The evening ended at a quieter watering hole for a night cap and a rapid summary of the previous six years.
The drive into the hotel from home was mercifully quick due to an unusually empty highway, but it was already unmercifully hot for that time of the morning. Rather fitting as each year's Sharpe shoot began at the height of a summer at an English airport.
I knew John was already in the building but I couldn't fully exhale until I saw everyone with my own eyes, especially Big D who was coming off a flight from Dublin that morning. To divert the anxiousness, I started setting up all the assorted paraphernalia at my disposal and place signs alerting the punters as to the location of the Sharpe room.
First to arrive in the hotel lobby were Lyndon, Michael and Paul, the latter I hadn't seen for at least five years. Lyndon, I'm in touch with all the time and Mike I'd seen at a Sharpe Appreciation Society event recently; we now awaited Daragh.
My diary collaborator, Drew Sutton shoots a few indents for future Harris episodes
Daragh O'Malley all the way from Dublin, Ireland
Lyndon sets about his chosen task with gusto
Daragh had promised he'd be there so that was good enough for me; but we knew he had competing engagements and until I saw his considerable presence in the room, I wouldn't count my chickens. Until then we at least had a full reunion of all the original cast of Chosen Men from 'Sharpe's Rifles'.
Needless to say our leader (before the 'Rifles' barn fight) slipped into the Sharpe room and it was all hugs and welcomes as the first full reunion (bar Sean) since the press showing for 'Rifles' thirteen springs ago. The game was now on!
Accompanying us in the Sharpe room on the day were the 95th rifles Living History Society who had their 'camp' set up to one side; the six of us were seated at desks along the wall.
The crowds were slightly patchy due to the mid morning closure of the M-4 and the weekend shut down of the Piccadilly line running out to Heathrow.
With his Harris style specs, Mike Mears, signs his 8 X 10s
Splendidly kitted out in their finery
Autographica 06 was due to be held in March, weather wise a preferred time of year for an indoor event. The organisers had settled on the hottest day of the year so far, so unfortunately we had three factors keeping down the attendance.
I mattered little to our enjoyment; we were able to throw Chosen banter and re-found snatches of memory across the room at each other. The open conversation was immensely enjoyed by the fans that had made it out to Heathrow to see us.
The second day was scheduled to run pretty much like the first with the exception of a proposed Q & A session to be held if demand was sufficient
Just like the old days down the Goat and Balalaika in Yalta
One of many golden chosen moments that kept us creased up with laughter
If nothing else, it was an absolute honour to meet a childhood hero, Sir Norman Wisdom
With little Perkins tucked up in his bed, the older boys played on
The previous evening the organisers threw a splendid formal bash where the 'star guests' sat with the punters and ate dinner. Occasionally a microphone was passed between the guests who took turns to recall amusing anecdotes pertinent to their specialist subject. So it was left to assorted veteran astronauts, cosmonauts, Richard Kiel [Jaws from Bond] and little old me to do the honours. I'll take a long march in full kit under a hot Crimean sun over this any day.
It was a great night out with the boys, paying homage to Bacchus and relating the sequence of events long clouded by the mists of time. While producing the video diaries I've been re-living the Sharpe years and feel as though the lads had never left my consciousness but being here in the flesh with them was a real buzz.
The crowds picked up very slightly on the second day and it looked like the house sold plenty of signed photos, hopefully justifying the cost of bringing us together.
Big Dan Hagman and his little name sake Dan Salkey
We show our appreciation to Autographica organiser, Dave Philips
Sepia toned memories are made like this
Another of the guest stars that weekend was the iconic Richard Kiel or Jaws from Bond, as many people know him
After a lengthy photo call was completed we shuffled off to a 'lecture room' where we did a brief question and answer session which quickly became a Chosen dialogue that the less bashful attendees could contribute.
The whole weekend flew by too quickly for my liking, especially as it had taken thirteen years to materialize. Some might say that until the Blade himself joins us- and believe me, we tried- it's not a real Sharpe reunion.
One day we may achieve that, but until then we had set a precedent and all those who visited Autographica were very pleased and would happily attend for more of the same. So, if fans from any Sharpe territory in the world can organise a venue and sufficient sponsorship then contact me and have your very own Sharpe reunion.
Tooled up with a little help from the 95th