Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Craig Hinton

On Sunday evening, just before Torchwood, Keith Telly Topping heard the horrible news that an old colleague and friend from the Virgin New/Missing Adventures days, Craig Hinton, had died at the appallingly young age of just forty two.

This stunned me in a way that even the death of a close relative hasn’t always in the past. Possibly it was the completely unexpected nature of the news that so upset me. He was a lovely, lovely man and if there was one person that one could never in a million years imagine dying young, it was Craig Hinton. Not when he had so much humour, passion, energy and fun left in him. I knew Craig for nearly twenty years off and on and in all that time, I don't think that there was anybody who better represented all of the genuinely good things about Doctor Who fandom.

The deaths of people I know, even if only casually, always leave me feeling sad - I'd like to think that's true of anyone with a heart beating in their chest. It's seldom that the death of someone I knew has left me both sad and angry at the seemingly arbitrary nature of life and death. I'm still finding it incredibly difficult to form a coherent sentence on the subject.

But, here goes…

I first met Craig at the initial Fictionmeet (basically a house party held by Ian Atkins over a long weekend in Wimbledon in 1986 and attended by twenty or twenty five fan-fiction writers). I didn't know him as well as some of his contemporaries in fandom (Andy Lane and Justin Richards, for example, went to Warwick University with Craig in the early 1980s – they must, along with many others, be feeling like they’ve lost a brother at the moment) but he was someone whom I used to see quite often during trips to London for Fitzroy Tavern nights, or to Virgin writers events or conventions. He was always someone that I looked forward to catching up with.

We shared a fair few pints and daft jokes at the Fitzroy over the years and I will, at least, be able to cherish spending quite a bit of time with Craig at the two Gallifrey One Conventions he attended in Los Angeles in 2001 and 2005. In particular, I can recall a wonderful evening with him and Tony and Jane Kenealy and a bunch of other conventioneers at a Sizzler's restaurant in Van Nuys when he kept us all effortlessly entertained for three hours or more.

Shortly after getting back from the event this year, I e-mailed Craig and told him about the new hotel and how he'd love the little Thai place we’d found round the corner. His reply, as his replies always were, was swift, witty and genuine. Craig had been really enthusiastic in 2005 about a new direction in his life – he was just about to start teacher-training. We’d had quite a bit of online contact during the couple of years previous to that but this year, as both of us started on new paths in our life, we sadly fell out of touch and I last spoke to him by e-mail in May 2006. That’s something I now bitterly regret.

Craig was one of the most articulate, instantly likeable, witty, gregarious, violently - and endearingly - bitchy(!) and genuinely warm people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. He wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination and he could hold a grudge for a long time if he felt it was warrented. But there wasn't so much as an ounce of maliciousness in the guy. He was a proudly “out” gay man who championed openness and freedom of expression for the individual and he was a very good and very under-rated writer.

He wrote several Virgin novels and a couple for the BBC as well as – something he was always very keen to mention in conversation with strangers! – three erotica novels for Virgin’s “Black Lace” imprint. He was also a regular contributor to a number of the genre magaziness and it was in his role as the columnist of Shelf Life, the book review section in the Doctor Who Magazine (or the Doctor Who Monthly as it still was then back) that he first used the word 'Fanwank' in a critique.

Whether Craig actually 'invented' this word or not is still the subject of some debate. But, he was certainly one of the first to popularise its use - and use it in print - and it has now become a very widespread term, particularly in the online communities of in both SF and general TV fandoms. The irony is that many uses of the word these days are in a wholly negative context – it's become a stick to beat individual writers with if a reader or viewer doesn't like a particular continuity reference in the text. However Craig initial meaning of the term was much warmer and more quirky - “a continuity reference thrown into a story and having little relevance to the plot, but there purely as a device to please fans.” Afterall, as Craig noted "who doesn't enjoy a wank every now and then?!" Craig, himself, often used exactly those kinds of references in his own stories (particularly in 2001’s Quantum Archangel – a sequel to the Jon Pertwee story The Time Monster which was a particular favourite of his) and he even celebrated his status in this regard among fandom by wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed him FANWANK GOD! at the 2005 Gallifrey One convention.

Craig's most recent published work was as one of my fellow reviewers for Shaun Lyon's Second-Flight - - and, as with most of his work, his passion for the subject of Doctor Who is there for all to see. The audience for The Runaway Bride at Christmas will be a poorer one without Craig's raucous laughter and perceptive commentary of the episode's highs and lows.

Daniel Blythe, another Virgin colleague of ours, noted that there's something delightful in the Memorial Thread to Craig currently running on Outpost Gallifrey. Something that actually gives both of us a bit of hope for fandom - that out of this occasionally seething cauldron of poison, spitefulness and bitter divisionism we can, collectively, have the capacity for acts of great compassion. Much of the thread - often comments from people who had never met Craig personally but whose lives had been touched by his work or by his online presence - terrifically moved me and, I hope, will give some comfort to Craig’s family and his many, many friends. Particularly, I have to say, I was touched by my friend Martin Day's posting which managed to articulate so many of the things that I myself wanted to say but couldn't, quite, find a way of saying without them sounding crass or obvious.

Craig was, as I've said above, a good bloke and a good mate. He was talented, he was sympathetic, he was genuine. But, most of all, he was ONE OF US and I still can't believe he's gone. But, the beat goes on and we, however reluctantly, have to go on with it. Besides, Craig, of all people, probably wouldn’t have wanted all this fuss. As my mate Jon Arnold noted, he’d quite probably have made a number of really tasteless (but VERY funny) jokes about the subject instead. So, as a final tribute to Craig, I’ll hopefully leave you with a quick chortle by retelling my favourite story concerning him. There's a few different versions of this floating around, but this is the one he told me:

In the mid-1980s during the "let's make something up and see if we can get DWB to print it"-era, Craig along with, I believe, Andy Lane, Justin Richard and Peter Anghelides decided to write a fake script which was, supposedly, one of several that Terry Nation had written for a proposed Dalek spin-off series in the USA. They wrote it as a Nation script so, it included all of the stock traits like a character called Tarrent et cetera. Then, when they’d finished, they photocopied it several times, stained it with coffee cups and generally aged up the document so that it looked like something that had been written in 1967.

When writing it, however, they started putting in-jokes into the thing so that, if you knew what you were looking for it was obviously a hoax: Like three characters called John, Scott and Martin, for example. They also decided that they wanted to include the title of every Doctor Who (and, I think Blakes Seven) episode that Nation had written somewhere in the dialogue and divvied them up between them. Craig, inevitably, got lumbered with the hardest of the lot, The Keys Of Marinus.

So, he wrote a scene in which someone describes how there is a vicious creature on Skaro called the Keysof. There are, it turns out, two types of this creature, a land-based version (the Keysof Landus) and the one that lives in water (the Keysof Marinus)! It was, apparently, only when he got to that point in reading the script that Jeremy Bentham realised this was a huge con!

We lost a star these last few days.

Craig, I’ll miss ya, fellah.