MANCON was held on 5th October 1952 in the concert hall of the Waterloo Hotel, the venue for the Manchester group's regular meetings. The con attracted around 100 fans and brought about the fannish resurrection of Harry Turner. Guest of Honour was John Russell Fearn who screened a film he had produced and starred in, with Peter Ogden, titled 'Black Saturday' and based on his story 'Black-Out'. (Ogden later published ERBANIA, and moved to Florida.) Other items included '1966 And All That', a play by Frank Simpson; 'Fear', a play by the Lancaster Group (Wood and Potter); a talk on fandom by Mike Rosenblum; a quiz between teams from the Liverpool and Manchester groups; and a display of 'Future Fashions' by Frances Evans. It was apparently a reasonably successful con but the fact that no London fans bothered to show up was taken as a deliberate snub by Northern fans, salt rubbed into the wound the North/South split was fast becoming. Protestations from the London Circle that no snub had been intended and that Manchester was too far away were treated with derision by Northerners, who regularly travelled down to London for the national convention.
In the Autumn of 1952 the West Country Science Fiction Group was founded by George Whiting who lived in a pub (the Rising Sun Inn at Randwick near Stroud) -- a fannish dream. Being centred on an area rather than a particular city, this group had rather a wide 'catchment area' but attracted significant numbers from both Gloucester and from Cheltenham. The first issue of the group's newsletter, PROGRESS, appeared in September and was edited by Whiting. The seventh, and final, issue appeared the following March by which point one of the group's members, Eric Jones of Cheltenham, was co-editing SPACE TIMES (which he printed anyway) with Eric Bentcliffe.
Autumn was also when the first issue of NEBULA, the Scottish prozine edited by the 18 year-old Peter Hamilton, made its appearance. Brian Aldiss, Robert Silverberg, and Bob Shaw would all have their first SF stories published by NEBULA. It carried a fannish column by Willis that appeared in all but one of the 41 issues it would see until its demise in June 1959. The column was titled 'Fanorama' (though re-titled 'The Electric Fan' by Hamilton for its first twelve installments), and with its very first appearance it hooked someone who would go on to be one of the most active British fans ever... Ethel Lindsay of Glasgow bought a copy of the first issue of NEBULA, little realising how that act was going to change her life. As she recalls:
"In it was an article by Walt Willis explaining about fandom. There was also a short item by Matt Elder telling about the Newlands Club and so I contacted him and went along. I remember going home clutching a copy of SLANT that they gave me. It was a good job I was then in my thirties or I might never have gone back because I found these four men pretty shy of me...and found myself having to do most of the talking. Fortunately I could think of plenty of questions to ask them."
Apart from Elder the other members were Alan Mackie, Fred Smith, Brian Miller, and Dave Page. The meetings were held initially at Elder's house but later moved to Page's, where they were held on alternate weeks.
Spaceflight may have been the dream of SF fans, but they also had their nightmares. One of these became reality on 30th November when the US exploded the world's first Hydrogen bomb on the island of Eniwetok in the Pacific, totally destroying it in the process. Humanity finally had in its hands the means of its total destruction, and the world entered a dark and uneasy new age.
Around December '52/January '53, the Leeds group was re-born, and one of its earliest members was Mike Rosenblum:
"I was leading a fairly normal sort of life, when Derek Pickles of Bradford told me that he had a letter from some people in Leeds who were in the process of forming an stf fan club. He thought I ought to know of it. Well, they formed it and I joined and once again started getting into arguments, discussions, and flights of fancy. In brief, the old brain currents were flowing in fannish directions once more."
The 'people in Leeds' were two colleagues from a Leeds steelworks, Jack Smillie and Jack Darlington and the group called itself the Leeds Science Fiction Association (no relation to the pre-war Leeds SFA chapter). It held regular meetings in attic rooms at the Adelphi Hotel on Leeds Bridge. At first it consisted solely of Rosenblum and the two Jacks, but it was to grow in the months to come.
Around this same time, Lee Hoffman stopped publishing QUANDRY in order to devote time to galloping around the Savannah, Georgia countryside on the horse she had recently bought, realising a longtime ambition. Since QUANDRY was seen as the axis around which Sixth Fandom revolved and since so many of its members were unusually quiet at that point, (Willis, for instance, had come down with pneumonia in the wake of his epic trip and had had to drop out for a few months), there were those who concluded that Sixth Fandom was dead and that the conditions were right for a new generation of fans to take over. The young Harlan Ellison was one of the leaders of this group and they called themselves, naturally enough, Seventh Fandom. Inevitably, Seventh Fandom made contact with and allied itself to the young turks of British fandom, the Junior Fanatics. It was an alliance that was to contribute to the friction at that year's national convention, the CORONCON.
American fan Bea Mahaffey, who at the time was also editor of the US prozine OTHER WORLDS, visited Ireland and the Willises on her way from the US to the 1953 national convention, and travelled over on the boat to Liverpool with them and James White. Here she was presented with a copy of the Liverpool group's newly published symposium 'Sex and Sadism'. Here also she got to meet one of Britain's more colourful SF pros, as Willis relates:
"...Eric Frank Russell made his entrance. He stepped immediately into his natural niche as life and soul of the party, greeting Bea with the remark that while in his writing career he had often said what he would like to do to pro editors, he'd never imagined it could be a pleasure: and proceeded thus outrageously to skate on the thin ice on the brink of bad taste without once putting his foot in it. Larger than life and a great deal more interesting, he manages to set the standards in any company in which he finds himself."
The Willises, White, and Mahaffey took the train down to London, meeting up with Chuck Harris (whose first convention this would be) at Euston and travelling over to the White Horse. It was here, at one point in the evening, that Bert Campbell, seeing Mahaffey in conversation with a group of Manchester fans, said: "For God's sake, get her away from those bloody provincials!" This was not the sort of thing designed to smooth the ruffled feathers of already resentful Northerners, and afterwards a number wrote scathing convention reports with titles such as 'A Bloody Provincial At The Fiascon'. In fact, despite organisational problems and the shambles this made of much of the programme, CORONCON would be the first to break the mould of the traditional British SFconvention. Thanks partly to Willis's trip to the US, and to a subsequent scanning of American convention reports, British fans were determined to put on a con as lively as those they were reading about. This was to prove very much a case of life imitating art, since many of those reports had been wildly exaggerated....
The 1953 national convention, held at the Bonnington Hotel on London's Southampton Row over Whitsun weekend (Saturday 23rd May -- Sunday 24th), was important in that it can justifiably be regarded as the first modern British SF convention, setting the pattern for all those that came after. This being the year of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the convention was dubbed CORONCON ('LADIES & TEENAGERS may attend for HALF PRICE!', boasted the flyer) and among the new ideas to emerge there were name-badges, James White's zap-guns (a.k.a. water pistols), and room-parties. The greatest innovation of all, however, was the abandonment of the official programme, until then almost sacrosanct (as the Junior Fanatics discovered, to their cost). It was full of gaps, had many items cancelled, and ran late but while some sat and complained others, realising the possibilities of this unwitting liberation, went off to party at the homes of various local fans. An important change had begun to take place, one that would reach fruition at the following year's convention, the SUPERMANCON.
The Junior Fanatics had arranged to stage a play at CORONCON but with the departure of Cooper, its leading man, had scrapped the idea. Unfortunately the committee, having failed to delete it from the official programme, insisted that it must go on. Inevitably it was a disaster and the obvious discomfort of the unrehearsed players as they took the stage and read aloud from scripts received more laughs than the play itself. Hard on the heels of this debacle came what the JFs perceived as indifference on the part of Walt Willis when he accepted, on behalf of QUANDRY, a fanzine award they had initiated. They took this as confirmation that the older members of British fandom were unwilling to accept them on their own terms and that their running around in beanies earlier in the convention shouting "Sixth Fandom is dead! Long live Seventh Fandom!" had not been appreciated. Was it all a fuss about nothing, or the first serious generation gap in postwar British fandom? Dave Wood was later to write:
"There was a third and final issue of PERI. Grievances were aired, stones upturned and things generally smoothed over; the boat stopped rocking and we all gradually moved into the mainstream of fandom. A storm in a teacup? Yes, but at the time a spoonful of sugar would have helped."
Other points of interest at CORONCON included a speech by Dave Cohen at which Northern resentment at London's lack of support for MANCON was again aired and at which Bert Cambpell put his foot in things still further by telling Northerners that they could hardly expect celebrities to come to their convention ("Well, I'm a celebrity, aren't I?"). Northern fans were also upset at the suggestion that they hadn't advertised MANCON widely enough, particularly as cosy fan/pro social relations in the capital meant that London conventions usually got free plugs in NEW WORLDS and AUTHENTIC. 'Whiskers', a play Willis had written when he was down with pneumonia, was broadcast over the PA with Bill Temple playing Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Bert Campbell as Bert Campbell ("...a particularly fine piece of type-casting..." -- Willis). Among those at the convention was, surprisingly, radio personality Bob Monkhouse.
CORONCON was also the occasion when Carnell, during his Chairman's address, made first public mention of a fund that had been started by the Cincinnatti Fantasy Group to bring Norman Ashfield over for PHILCON, the '53 Worldcon. Ashfield hadn't been active in fandom for some time but he had kept up his correspondence with Cincinnati's Don Ford and this fund had resulted. As it turned out, Ashfield was unable to make the trip so the CFG were generously throwing the fund open to any fan that British fandom felt deserved it. However, since there wasn't time either to organise a trip to Philadelphia or to choose a suitable candidate it was decided instead to use the CFG donation as seed-money for a permanent fund to help US and UK fans to attend each other's conventions. The Willis trip provided the model and the inspiration, and the basics of the scheme -- the permanent system of financing trans-Atlantic trips and the organisational structure needed to make it self-sustaining -- were hammered out at CORONCON ready for the first UK to US race the following year. Walt Willis was to administer the fund on this side of the Atlantic and Don Ford would be asked to administer it on the other, each to be replaced in that position by the first fundwinners on their side, and they in turn to be replaced by the next, and so on. In no time, Vin¢ Clarke, Derek Pickles, Ken Slater, Tony Thorne, and James White had been nominated for the first race and details were announced in HYPHEN. Thus was born TAFF, the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund.
Following his return from service with the RAF in India, Harry Turner had settled in Romiley and had met up again with Eric Needham, who had also seen service in the RAF. Having made contact with the new generation of Manchester fans at MANCON -- a group whose main members at this point were Bentcliffe, Cohen, Brian Varley, Frances Evans, H.P. 'Sandy' Sanderson, and Terry Jeeves -- he and Needham stayed in touch and, early in 1953, Turner became involved in an attempt to revive ASTRONEER. Though intended as the group's official organ it had only seen one issue, the mantle of group fanzine falling instead on SPACE TIMES, which by this point was being edited by Bentcliffe in tandem with Eric Jones, and which had already reached its tenth issue. The unsuccessful revival of ASTRONEER led, in June, to a single-issue revival of Turner's wartime fanzine ZENITH, co-edited by Derek Pickles. As he explains:
"ASTRONEER -- the first issue was a gooey hektoed concoction. I was roped in to help out, but Paul Sowerby backed out and left me to do the second and final issue -- most of the material was remnants left over from ZENITH plus some items Eric cooked up. The response was zilch. As I had access to a Multilith machine at work, I produced that postwar ZENITH; but the result of that was zilch also. So I restricted my activities to doing covers for Eric Bentcliffe projects...."
This was an active time for the Nor'West SF Club, more active than they imagined. Although they didn't know it, one of their number was in the process of hoaxing them all...
Sandy Sanderson was one of the newer members of the Manchester group, and at this point he was a regular soldier. Having read about early American hoaxes shortly after he came into fandom in 1952, Sanderson had long been toying with the idea of trying one himself. He wanted to create a complete other fan, one he had decided to make female. As he explains:
"She had to be a woman rather than a man, partly because it was more difficult and would better show the extent of my success, and partly because in the beginning I only intended to hoax the NSFC, all of whom (with one exception) were men."
Choosing the name 'Joan W.Carr' for his creation, and having made plans for the development of the hoax, Sanderson was stymied by the sheer number of fan groups in Britain, the suspicion that would inevitably arise if she never showed up at a convention, and the chance of someone calling on her in a 'surprise visit'. Then the government came to his rescue:
"...a month or so before the '53 convention as my first year in fandom was drawing to a close, the War Office informed me that I would shortly be taking up residence in the Middle East for three years. Immediately I saw my chance. If Joan couldn't be created -- couldn't be made real in those three years, she never would. And she had to become real. She had to live. Joan wasn't going to be just another pen-name, to be used alongside or in place of my own. She was going to be a definite separate entity."
Since he needed a British-based co-conspirator, and since the hoax was aimed at the Manchester group's male members, Sanderson chose Frances Evans, the only woman in the group. Shortly after the '53 convention he was on his way to Egypt.
In several of the letters he wrote during his first few months of service Sanderson made mention of another sergeant he had met, a woman in the WRAC who was interested in SF. When fanzines arrived from Manchester he wrote letters of comment, remarking casually that he would pass them on to her. Soon 'Joan' was writing her own letters and had struck up correspondences with a number of fans. Early on 'she' began to get requests for photographs, something Sanderson hadn't foreseen. He solved the problem by using, with her permission, pictures of a cousin who, despite being only seventeen at the time, was readily accepted as the twenty-one year-old Joan. Dave Cohen might have blown the whole hoax at this point since he'd once met the cousin, but his memory was not up to the task. If Sanderson's military superiors thought it strange that he received letters addressed to a woman they never mentioned it, and when on leave he was able to arrange for Sgt. Joan Carr's mail to be forwarded to him in Manchester, by a friend in the post room at his camp. Joan's letters of reply were sent on
in a parcel and mailed back from Egypt by the friend. The hoax was up and running. It was to go on to succeed beyond Sanderson's wildest dreams.
In July, the owner of the Liverpool group's clubroom, The Space Dive, decided that he needed the cellar to store bananas and the group found themselves evicted. As Dave Gardner explained:
"Thrown on the streets with model spaceships, paintings, a library, and part of a skeleton (its appearance is still a mystery), the members searched feverishly for new premises. From one pub to another the trail led, until at last, late in '53, we found a bar which appealed to all and hired a room for Monday night meetings somewhere above it. The Stork Hotel now houses the LSFS, and it is there that we now do our entertaining, talking and drinking."
The group named their new meeting room 'Vat 69a' and took the opportunity afforded by the move to rid themselves of founder member Jeff Espley, whose claim to have psychic powers they found irritating, by not telling him where they had moved to. As Eric Bentcliffe observes:
"...his powers couldn't have been all that great as it was a move of only several streets and he never found the new place!"
The Liverpool group was also involved by this point in something called the British Amateur Science Fiction Foundation which was created in 1953. It was intended as a repository for all amateur publications from all over the world and its founder, Ken Slater, got things going by donating a two-foot stack of material. Dave Gardner, John Roles, and Norman Shorrock agreed to handle the project which, like the British Museum (which it was clearly patterned after) also involved a reference library and 'proof of copyright for an amateur publisher'. Ultimately, the BASFF came to nothing but during its short lifespan there was talk of it establishing a fannish equivalent of the International Fantasy Awards which would honour the best fanzine, fanwriter, and fanartist, an idea in which Bert Campbell showed some interest in AUTHENTIC. In years to come such awards would be created, but their time had not yet come.
In mid-1953 the Leeds group acquired a couple of new members. The first was George Gibson, followed soon after by Ron Bennett. A student, Bennett joined shortly before starting college, probably in late-July. Meanwhile, Gibson had been urging the others to put out a group fanzine. Called ORBIT, this appeared in October, and was edited by Gibson himself. It was the first of many that would come out of Leeds in the 1950s.
The June AUTHENTIC had carried a letter from Colin Parsons of Surrey who wanted to form a group in that area and who urged anyone who was interested to get in touch with him. In the letter column of AUTHENTIC 38 (Oct '53), Geoff Wingrove wrote:
"You will remember that recently Colin Parsons wrote to you about a club he hoped to form in Surrey. Well, he lives in the same district as I do, and if it had not been for AUTHENTIC I would probably never have heard of him."
He went on to say that they were planning a fanzine (it was called FISSION, and its first issue appeared the following January). They called the group they were forming the Surrey Circle.
AUTHENTIC's editor, Bert Campbell, travelled to America for the 1953 Worldcon, held that year in Philadelphia, and wrote in AUTHENTIC 39 (Nov '53):
"My proposal that London be the site of the next World Convention was seconded by Rita Khrone, and I am pleased to say that London got sixty-one votes."
Though well behind Cleveland and San Francisco (which was actually awarded the convention) this was quite an impressive tally for a bid that was no more than a spur-of-the-moment idea of Campbell's. A seed had been planted and the idea of a British Worldcon was to grow as the decade progressed.
Since the announcement of its creation in SFN some twenty months earlier the Medway Group had gone from strength to strength, and were putting out a group organ, THE MEDWAY JOURNAL, edited by club founder Tony Thorne and Brian Lewis, a talented artist. In April '52, Thorne had opened a part-time (four nights-a-week, and Saturday) bookshop specialising in SF and this, plus publicity in the local press, had allowed the group to grow to the point where, on Saturday 7th November 1953 they were able to put on their own one-day convention. Held at Chatham in Kent, the MEDCON was a lightly-programmed social convention that attracted mainly locals and fans from London, but which also succeeded in pulling in Norman Wansborough of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, Shirley Marriott from Bournemouth, Eric Bentcliffe from Stockport, and NEBULA editor Peter Hamilton of Scotland. As well as the usual crowd, the Londoners included Brian Varley, now living down South but still treasurer for SUPERMANCON, Walter Gillings, attending his first con in two years, and Geoff Wingrove and Colin Parsons, who were attending their first con ever. There were innumerable zap-gun battles, some films, and a one-shot fanzine produced at the con by Clarke, Harris, Dave Newman, and Pete Taylor, called BANG. Later in the month the Medway group put out the more formal MEDCON! SOUVENIR PROGRAMME. Unfortunately, Medcon was to prove the swan-song of the Medway group, which faded away sometime towards the end of the following year.
Towards the end of 1953 Norman Shorrock persuaded the Liverpool group to shell out £25 for a second-hand tape recorder, tape recorders being a relatively new piece of consumer technology at the time. (The short-lived wire-recorders that preceeded them had first been written up in the Sept '50 issue of OF.) It was a purchase that would transform the group. The seventh issue of SPACE DIVERSIONS, in December, was a mammoth 112 pages, after which the zine became increasingly irregular as members of the group concentrated their efforts on their new toy and began putting together elaborate plays. The first of these to get a public airing was 'The Alien Arrives'. It was written by Willis and Liverpool's Don McKay and played at SUPERMANCON.
December saw publication of the first issue of L.S.F.ORION. Produced for the Lakeland SF Organisation, this was edited by the geographically disparate group of Peter Campbell (who was also putting out his own zine, ANDROMEDA), George Whiting, and Paul Enever. Whiting was soon to move to Greece, thus ending the West Country group, but would continue to write a column for the fanzine. By the third issue, which appeared the following April, this publication had severed its links with the LSFO, was edited by Enever alone, and had shortened its name to ORION. It would go on to become one of the major British fanzines of the 1950s. At some point during 1953, Fred Smith of the Newlands group published HAEMOGOBLIN, the first fanzine to come out of Glasgow.
During 1953, Arthur C.Clarke began writing a series of short stories that were eventually collected together in book form as TALES FROM THE WHITE HART (Ballantine, 1957), whose dedication read: "To Lew and his Thursday night customers". The tales were narrated by Harry Purvis during the regular Wednesday night meetings of SF fans and writers at the 'White Hart' pub in Fleet Street, which quite obviously was a thinly-disguised White Horse. As well as the SF authors who made appearances other incidental characters included the landlord, Drew, Arthur Vincent (presumably A.Vincent 'Vin¢' Clarke), and Charles Willis (I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that one). At the end of the final tale in the collection, the regulars of the White Hart move to a pub called the Sphere, a move that actually occurred....
A chapter in the history of London fandom drew to a close in December 1953 when the London Circle moved from the White Horse to the Globe in Hatton Garden. The move was occasioned by the brewery transferring popular landlord Lew Mordecai from the White Horse to the Globe and the fans moving as well when they decided that their loyalty was to him rather than to the pub. The final meeting in the White Horse took place on Thursday 3rd December and the first in the Globe on the 10th, the following Thursday. The Globe would be the venue for the Thursday night meetings for the next twenty years and would attract many distinguished visitors, the first of them within weeks of the move when birth-control pioneer Marie Stopes attended a meeting.
Occasionally people would attempt to form fan groups in cities that, unbeknowst to them, already had them. A case in point was that of Dennis Egan of Birmingham who, in a letter in AUTHENTIC 42 (Feb '54), complained that:
"We have been trying to form a club for some time and there was a very good start, but after a letdown by the organiser it practically fell to pieces, with just a few of us trying to rejuvenate it without much success."
Actually, Egan and his friends would have had great difficulty finding out about the other group in the city, the Birmingham Circle. The Circle's pub meetings had ceased in 1953, after which several members had started meeting at each others homes. These meetings were to become more and more infrequent, however, until the group faded away quietly some time in 1955.
The trouble between Manchester and London continued to fester and by this point had even sucked in the prozine editors. Bert Campbell's cheery insensitivity had helped fuel the situation, but Ted Carnell tried to be the voice of reason. In an article that appeared in the Jan '54 SPACE TIMES he wrote that...
"...it is becoming increasingly obvious to anyone who buys, borrows or begs a copy of any British fanmag that there is a widening rift between the various fan groups in the country, and specifically between London and Manchester. The thought is even more deplorable because it comes at a time when fandom in the British Isles should be a united whole...The biggest bone of contention, which started in such a small way nearly two years ago, and now seems to be smouldering merrily, is the annual Convention. Everyone has their own opinion on where they would like it held, what sort of programme they would like to put on, and who they would like to see attending...The Manchester group have their own ideas on how a convention should be run and what sort of programme should be put on, and this year they're going to have to work like hell to make good all their criticisms of the last two London Conventions. Which is just as it should be -- the 1954 convention will be all the better for the determination to make it the best yet. What isn't helping the preparations, however, is the continued harping back on London's efforts...
The Annual Convention, however, is not the only bone of contention, although it is the foremost at the moment. There are differing opinions on how fan clubs should be organised -- and the fact that London is only a social group without secretary, dues, or organisation, often causes controversy outside the metropolis...Be that as it may, it's the way London fandom goes, and appears to be the way they prefer their activities to be directed. It's a personal expression and a personal opinion. It doesn't have to cause a war...Let's furl the standards for good and get down to a united fandom."
Unfortunately, this wasn't a message anyone seemed ready to heed yet, and things would get worse before they got better, beginning with a schism in the Manchester group...
In late 1953 Scion publications set up VARGO STATTEN SF MAGAZINE (first issue dated Jan '54), editor Vargo Statten being, in fact, John Russell Fearn. Probably because Fearn was the 'patron' of the Manchester group, a deal was struck between the group and Scion that the latter would print the covers for SPACE TIMES in return for ST carrying ads for VARGO STATTEN, which Scion would also print. ST was by this point being printed down in London for the Manchester group by Stuart MacKenzie and his wife, Constance, though it was still edited by Eric Bentcliffe. Bentcliffe mentioned the deal in a letter to Walt Willis who, in HYPHEN 6 (Jan '54), commented with amusement that it was...
"...nice, but ST mustn't be surprised if people make the same remarks as they do about girls and mink coats..."
and sent a postcard to Bentcliffe asking: "Will the golden calf be on show at the SUPERMANCON?" These innocent remarks caused a reaction out of all proportion to any they should have produced. Dave Cohen was furious and demanded that Bentcliffe resign from the editorship of SPACE TIMES for unauthorised disclosures of information leading to the group being brought into ridicule. As Willis recalls:
"Eric Bentcliffe sent carbons appealing to everyone involved about the injustice of this. I sent carbons appealing to everyone for calm and a return to the status quo after the convention. MacKenzie then wrote me enclosing a dittoed letter he had been about to issue, implying that he had lost the offer of a good job on account of Bentcliffe's 'ill-timed disclosures' (it had been MacKenzie, of course, who had arranged the deal with VSM), complaining bitterly about his editorship and refusing to serve under him any more. He wanted my advice on whether to issue it or not, revealing that Cohen's ultimatum had been the result of a complaint from him and Brian Varley. Before I could answer, Eric formally resigned, bringing the immediate crisis to a close but leaving a lot of unanswered questions and bad blood.
When the dust finally settled the VSM had gone bankrupt and the Northern SF Club was in fragments, but the editorship of SPACE TIMES was securely in the hands of Stuart MacKenzie and Brian Varley. It was at this point that I re-christened the latter Machiavarley, but I am sure this was an injustice. I am not so sure about MacKenzie, because all the following feuds in which he was involved seem to follow an eerily similar pattern."
Bentcliffe had edited all 19 issues of SPACE TIMES to date (issues 9-14 with Eric Jones as co-editor) but MacKenzie only managed to get out a couple more before it folded. However, before it did, art editor Terry Jeeves got a taste of the new regime when MacKenzie rejected work Jeeves had already commissioned and accepted. Jeeves quit in protest and joined Bentcliffe and Eric Jones in a new project, 'Triode Publications'. TP's first publication was CON-SCIENCE, a booklet on convention theory and practice that appeared in April. However, it was eclipsed by an Irish Fandom publication that appeared the previous month, one that was to go on to become the most celebrated fannish work of all time. And despite being eighteen months in the making it was to prove curiously timely....
In the beginning British fandom had been mainly sercon (serious and constructive) and to its members its purpose, to use the description applied to the pre-war SFA, was "...to encourage publishers to pay more attention to scientifiction and to stimulate public interest in science". Later it developed more light-hearted elements, but SF was still the focus of fandom. Then came Walt Willis. Analysing the effect of Willis on fanzines and their contents, Bob Shaw expressed the view that the appearance of SLANT and HYPHEN had caused a gradual but very real change in fanzines, saying:
"The humour-zine became the name for fan publications and I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that this was almost entirely due to the influence of the Willis creed. In 1952, while I was resident in London, Vincent Clarke said sombrely, concerning the New Look in fanzines: 'Willis has a lot to answer for'".
Indeed he does. Under Willis, who was doubtless influenced in this regard by Lee Hoffman, a new type of fanzine and fandom evolved whose focus was not so much SF as fandom itself, though the interest in SF was still there. Relations between fandom's sercon and fannish wings were not always harmonious, but by 1954 external developments, in the form of SF's increasing popularity were beginning to affect them both. Writing in HYPHEN, Bill Temple observed that:
"Today SF batters you with more magazines and books than you could hope to read if you did nothing else all day. It's all over the cinema and TV screens, and drools from the radio. It infests advertisment hoardings, strip cartoons, kids' comics, toy-shops, literary weeklies, and pantomimes. It's even been mentioned at The Globe.
We always wanted to spread SF, and now, God help us, we've done it. And somehow in the stampede the magic has been trampled underfoot."
To which Willis replied:
"Fandom does seem to be passing through a period of self-evaluation at the moment. For years its ostensible purpose was to promote science fiction; but now that SF has been promoted it snubs its old friends and scorns its humble beginnings. Fans are now 'unrepresentative', an esoteric clique... and the serious constructive fans have been left as high and dry as the rest of us -- in fact more so, because they have lost their entire reason for existence."
THE ENCHANTED DUPLICATOR, a 26-page parable by Bob Shaw and Walt Willis, struck a deep chord in the fannish consciousness and has been reprinted many times since. An allegorical work telling the tale of Jophan's journey from Mundane to the land of Fandom and of his quest for the fabled Enchanted Duplicator, TED made its first appearance in February '54. Following the demise of the US component of Sixth Fandom and the changes alluded to above, Willis had felt that fandom needed to be re-defined, but even he was surprised by the reception TED received:
"The Enchanted Duplicator was received by fandom with such awe-inspiring enthusiasm that it must obviously have filled some deep-felt want for a new basis for our hobby, now that our former proselytising zeal for science fiction no longer seemed to make sense. More surprisingly, it was warmly received by people like Ken Slater and the new generation of serious-constructive fans in the North (Bentcliffe, Varley, Cohen, and MacKenzie) whose attitude to fandom it had criticised by implication."
In March 1954 Maclarens, a firm specialising in trade journals, took over Nova Publications. They retained the name, but the company formed by fans in 1947 to re-launch NEW WORLDS was now a wholly-owned subsidiary with no connection to fandom at all.
The 1950s were as yet still young and they continued to be an amazingly fertile time for new fangroups. Fans in the North-East finally got their act together in early '54. A letter from Don Allen in AUTHENTIC the previous October asking about fans in the area produced only one reply, from Tom Mason. However, the two got together, obtained lists of fans in the area from Clarke and Slater, sent out letters, and soon had enough responses to set up a meeting. Thus the first meeting of the North East Science Fiction Society (NESFS) was held on Friday 26th March in the Lampton Arms on Chester-le-Street, Newcastle. Fourteen fans turned up, various officers were elected (among them Ted Mason as Secretary and Fred Fairless as treasurer and librarian), much excited conversation ensued, and the club was off to a flying start. By the time the club's official organ, SATELLITE (edited by Don Allen), made its first appearance in May the group had found a clubroom and membership was up to 26. SATELLITE was where the work of artist Jim Cawthorn first saw print. Also making its first appearance around this time was the Kettering SF Club, a group formed by fan Denny Cowen, that met fortnightly in a local pub.
April saw the first issue of BEM, a lively fanzine from Bradford fans Tom White and Mal Ashworth. Ashworth had first made contact with fandom via the Bradford group, where he met and became friends with White, who was some nine years his senior. His first con had been MANCON. Following the demise of the Bradford group in late '53/early '54 White and Ashworth had decided to start a fanzine, and BEM was produced with help from Derek Pickles and with the assistance of the Leeds group's duplicator. Shortly after this both became members of the Leeds group.
From the start BEM's editors determined to have fun, and they started by running a hoax on Walt Willis. Having produced large numbers of 'seconds' while running BEM off in the Adelphi they conceived the idea of messing these sheets up still further by putting inked impressions of a tie, a hand, etc., on some and making up a special copy of the zine for Willis from these sheets. The real first issue would follow later. Willis, on receiving this, realised instantly what was going on. Since he was in the process of running off HYPHEN 8 he wrote a favourable review of BEM, razoring it out of the stencil before printing Ashworth's copy and inserting a new review that said:
"Would like to mention the first issue of BEM...which has proved the biggest disappointment to fandom since the Willis Death Hoax ((perpetrated a couple of years earlier by American neofan Pete Graham)). Some of us had hoped that these two neofen would have restored Bradford's tarnished reputation in the fan world, but even Chuch Harris would have disowned this slovenly botched up job. The mag is so carelessly produced as to be completely illegible in parts, the pages are out of order, and some of them are palimpsests. One gets the impression that they could not have done a worse job if they'd tried. DO NOT subscribe to this affront to fandom."
A mournful Mal Ashworth phoned his collaborator and was taken aback by how pleased he was by the HYPHEN review -- until it was read out to him. A quick comparison of their copies revealed which review was the fake, and Ashworth immediately came up with a response. He wrote a letter to Willis 'explaining' the hoax and how, even though White was 'out of town', the harm the HYPHEN review would do BEM had prompted him to write a letter explaining things, one he was about to distribute to all HYPHEN readers, SPACE TIMES, OPERATION FANTAST, N3F, ORBIT, and many others. The next day a telegram arrived that read: "HOAXED YOURSELF SEE WHITE'S COPY". White wrote the affair up as 'The BEM-HYPHEN Hoax' for their second issue and concluded, in regretful tone:
"We worshipped him as a Ghod -- and he isn't -- even a demi-god would not be taken in by a counter-hoax, even such a diabolical one. We later learned that Walt had received the letter and immediately jumped upon his bicycle and furiously pedalled the twenty-odd miles to the nearest telegraph station. I suspect, though he doesn't admit it, that he was dressed only in pyjamas..."
BEM would see five issues over the next eighteen months, and Ashworth was to start contributing material to other fanzines becoming, after Willis and Clarke, one of the most prolific fanwriters of the period.
By the close of the first ever TAFF race in April 1954, the final slate of candidates was Vin¢ Clarke, James White, Peter Campbell, Tony Thorne, Derek Pickles, Mike Rosenblum, and Walter Gillings -- and that was the order they placed in the voting. In HYPHEN 8, under the heading 'Transfanfund Election Results' and the headline 'VINCE CLARKE WINS BY HUGE MAJORITY', Willis reported 79 people had voted -- 71 British and 8 American -- and that some £69 pounds had been raised. Unfortunately this was significantly less than the £102 round-fare of the time, but it wasn't to matter anyway. Due to losing his job at a crucial time, Clarke was unable to make the trip and it was decided to hold the money already collected over until a new race could be organised, the following year.
Meanwhile, the London-Manchester feud had taken on a new dimension thanks to a plan to subvert the SUPERMANCON that went by the codename 'Operation Armageddon'. This had first been been mooted during a party given by Ted Tubb at CORONCON and had begun to take form in September during a visit to Belfast by Vin¢ Clarke. Clarke's stay at Oblique House, jokingly dubbed 'AVCON', was later written up by Willis for his American 'Harp' column:
"The affair was treated as a convention (Robert Bloch, Shelby Vick and others also having been invited but unfortunately unable to attend) and there was an official programme. Item 6 was 'In Secret Session: Proposals for brightening up the SUPERMANCON'. We found that the idea had already occurred to some of the London Circle. We kicked around a lot of wild and hilarious ideas, but when Vin¢ Clarke went home we thought that would be the end of it. It is an axiom in Irish Fandom that the London Circle never get anything done unless they have to."
Not this time. The Thursday following his return, at the regular Globe meeting, Clarke sounded out certain London Circle members on the idea and it transpired that the Woolwich Science Fiction and Vargo Statten Appreciation Society had independently come up with the same idea. (The WSF&VSAS was a not-terribly serious group consisting of Ron and Daphne Buckmaster, who were living in married quarters at Woolwich barracks, and Bob Shaw, who was then living and working in the area -- he was resident on the mainland from mid-'52 until his return to Belfast at the end of the year.) Pooling talents as 'Anarchs Interplan' they named their project Operation Armageddon and on 10th September held their first meeting, at which Clarke, the Buckmasters, Pete Taylor, Jim and Dorothy Rattigan, Dave Newman -- and LC newcomers Bob Eadie, Austin Cox, and Syd Fletcher were present. The project objectives were discussed, various strategies explored, and the decision taken that "...professionally, fanpolitically, and geographically, the Medway group might be unwilling to co-operate as wholeheartedly as London Inner Circle fans...", so details were to be kept from them. Ken Bulmer, Ted Tubb, Chuck Harris, and Bert Campbell were all to be drawn into the project.
Some time later OPERATION ARMAGEDDON, a one-sheet flyer for the project, appeared. Produced by Clarke and defining the project as: "A plan to brighten up the SUPERMANCON...without the co-operation of the Manchester group...", this sheet listed a number of ways by which this objective could be achieved, many of them dating from Clarke's Belfast trip. These included Londoners forming their chairs in a circle and playing cards during dull sessions in the programme, getting Ron Buckmaster to arrive early and secretly wire a microphone in parallel with the committee's to override their PA announcements, putting various fake notices about the place (eg: 'No spitting except at the platform'), putting skull and crossbone stickers on unattended bottles, and so on. It also announced that:
"Dave Newman will be supplying chemicals for making explosive paste, smoke-producing chemicals, explosive top hats, etc. Also wanted in this line...explosive cigarettes, 'snowflake' producing pellets, etc etc. Suggestions wanted. Nothing fatal tho."
Nice to see that some restraint was being shown. Though exact details were kept secret the fact that something was being planned for the convention was leaked in order to give the Manchester group something to worry about, not that they didn't have enough on their minds anyway. Following a period of some inactivity Dave Cohen had joined the SUPERMANCON committee, and Eric Bentcliffe had resigned. Meanwhile, Brian Varley had moved down to London and, since he was still involved with the convention, the London Circle were careful to keep their plans from him.
Late in April 1954, a flyer titled OPERATION SPLASH was published by Clarke and Newman (all these various 'Operations' being parodies, in title at least, of Slater's Operation Fantast, of course). This concerned itself with co-ordinating details of the convoy of fans that intended setting off from London at the stroke of midnight on Friday 4th June. It ended with a mention of Operation Armageddon ("Remember...the SUPERMANCON will be the finest convention the London Circle has ever held!"). There was one more Operation Armageddon flyer ("It will split fandom apart" -- Carnell) with further suggestions for disrupting the convention. These included Chuck Harris's idea of releasing a live mouse during the opening ceremony and having London Circle women jump up on chairs crying "A rat!" then 'fainting' (he called this 'Project Pandemonium'). Then there was the idea of getting all committee members drunk on such Ted Tubb homebrews as 'Martian Dew', 'Venusian Swampwater', and 'Old Spacedog', all of them being otherwise innocuous concoctions that had been laced with absolute alcohol. It was going to be an interesting convention.
Starting point for Operation Splash was Stuart MacKenzie's flat at Hans Place in Knightsbridge (MacKenzie having thrown his lot in with the London Circle after the break-up of the Nor'west SF Club). At midnight, in a motley collection of vehicles, the London Circle roared off for Manchester, Brian Burgess waving them goodbye as they left. (He was also there to greet them when they arrived.) Bert Campbell set off on his motorbike, with Vin¢ Clarke riding pillion, but he never made it. The bike broke down on the way, and though Clarke was given a lift by the others Campbell had to remain with his machine and was not seen again that weekend. This may well have been a good thing since one of the programme items the committee had planned for the con had been the 'trial' of H.J.Campbell.
As it turned it wasn't necessary to put Operation Armageddon into action at SUPERMANCON. The official programme began on time but soon disintegrated almost completely, without needing help from London fandom. Far from being the disaster it could have been, this proved the salvation of the convention, the chaos being so complete that both committee and attendees treated it as a joke. In fact, the convention generated so much good humour that the North-South conflict evaporated, years of acrimony washed away by common adversity and the cameraderie of good times shared. Writing about this later, Willis waxed poetic:
"It was as if all the sins of British fandom -- the smugness of the North, the malice of the South, the snobbery of the Old Guard -- as if they were all expiated by the SUPERMANCON committee as they crucified themselves in the Grosvenor Hotel. The point was that they bore their agony in such a way as to demonstrate the inherent goodness of fan. If they had showed signs of bitterness or pomposity in their ordeal things might have been very different. Instead they met every disaster with such informality and good humour that they won people's sympathy. In the face of this sporting attitude the London Circle (though admittedly things might have been different if Bert Campbell had arrived on schedule) dropped their plans for sabotage. Not one of the fiendish plots hatched over the last nine months in Operation Armageddon was put into effect. The official programme was allowed to die peacefully by mutual consent. It was the way it died that was important. Last year in London it lingered on in agony. People sat around, bored and irritated, waiting for life to be pronounced extinct. This year people realised at quite an early stage that the official programme was already part of the pavement of Hell, and it was at this point that the British Convention completed the transition that had begun last year in the Bonnington."
Indeed. This marked the end of the traditional British lecture-hall convention, the process begun at CORONCON reaching culmination in Manchester. From this time on fans now felt free to attend only those items that interested them and to ignore the rest of the programme in favour of conversation, the bar, and whatever other activities took their fancy. At SUPERMANCON these included zap gun battles (Ted Carnell introducing a new wrinkle when he filled his with sherry), a Liverpool group party at which the two most attractive female members sold kisses for TAFF at five shillings each, and a couple of pros racing along on hands and knees to borrow an aspirin from Carnell's room, Fred Robinson being official starter with his zap gun. Though this was only his second convention NEBULA-editor Peter Hamilton was Chairman but he didn't have too good a time of things. At his first convention, MEDCON, Stuart MacKenzie had asked him to run a questionnaire on readers tastes in SF. He did, and when the results were counted NEBULA came out as most popular prozine. The London prozine editors pointed out that it would be a bad show if those answering a poll in a prozine didn't vote it the best, a proposition with which Hamilton disagreed. As a result a certain coolness had developed between Hamilton and the London editors. As well as this, he was also unlucky enough to have his room chosen by Brian Burgess as the place to dump some animal entrails Burgess had brought along for use in a mock human sacrifice, one of the stunts of the now aborted Operation Armageddon. Unfortunately, this being a rather hot June weekend, they became very rank very quickly. Hamilton was not amused.
The one hoax the London Circle did put over on the Manchester fans wasn't part of Operation Armageddon at all. Since Connie MacKenzie wasn't joining her husband at the convention until the evening of the first day, they decided to pass her off as 'Pat Mahaffey', sister of Bea and an unexpected visitor from the US. A pre-arranged telegram was sent from London signed 'Pat', the contents of which the London fans pretended to be trying to keep anyone from knowing. Eventually, Dave Cohen taxed them about it and they admitted that, yes, Pat Mahaffey was coming that evening and they had hoped to keep it a secret, but now that Cohen had cleverly found them out he could join their welcoming committee. Cohen hired a taxi to take them -- Willis, Carnell, MacKenzie, and himself -- to the station to meet 'Pat'. On the way back he told the taxi driver to take them by a circuitous route so that she could see something of England, while Carnell and Willis questioned her about American friends such as Bloch and Tucker. At the hotel, Cohen introduced her to the other Northern fans, who were all completely fooled. After the con many of them wrote her up in their convention reports. Some weeks later Stuart MacKenzie spilled the beans, as much as anything to discourage a local fan by the name of Ron Deacon who had been as taken in as the Northerners and who since the convention had been persistently trying to date her. Although only one or two people knew it at the time, a far more audacious hoax was already under way, one that went national with a fanzine that made its first appearance at SUPERMANCON. It was called FEMIZINE.
Sandy Sanderson was probably the only member of Manchester's NSFC largely unaffected by its disintegration earlier in the year. He had other things on his mind, primarily Joan Carr who by this point was his 'fiancee':
"Shortly before the '54 convention the question of an all-female fanzine had come up. Several letters had passed between Frances, Ethel Lindsay, and Joan, and finally it was decided that something should be done. Without really thinking about the possible consequences I undertook to edit such a fanzine, and FEMIZINE was born. Ethel had been writing to Joan for some time and she had no idea then of the truth."
Indeed she didn't. Lindsay later recalled her first contact with Joan:
"...one day a letter arrived from Joan. At the time I was delighted at the appearance of another femme fan; the only other I knew was Frances Evans. Frances and I had been discussing trying to count us all, and putting each other in touch. She first proposed the idea of a fanzine of our own. I wrote to Joan mentioning this. Back by return came a full-fledged scheme to produce one, with herself as editor and I as her assistant. I felt a bit miffed about this on Frances' behalf, as her idea had more or less been lifted from her. Especially as she admitted to some disappointment..."
This incident coloured Lindsay's opinion of Joan Carr, though she got on marvellously with Evans and Sanderson (then home on leave) when she met them at SUPERMANCON. Sanderson produced a photo of 'Joan' that was admired by all but sniffed at by Lindsay:
"Yes, I was already critical of Joan. Her letters were becoming more and more dictatorial. Shortly after Sandy returned to the Middle East I must have produced the first growl of 'No wonder they made her a sergeant'. I also wrote Joan a letter telling her what a nice guy I thought Sandy was and how lucky she was! Joan smugly wrote back to say she thought so too..."
With Lindsay on the staff of FEMIZINE (which was sometimes also known by the nickname 'FEZ') Evans and Sanderson decided they couldn't really continue to keep her ignorant of Joan's true identity so, shortly after Sanderson's return to Egypt, Evans broke the secret to her.
Reporting SUPERMANCON in HYPHEN 9 (July '54), Willis referred to it as 'The Magnificent Flop' and wrote about it in the glowing terms seen above, causing Harry Turner to comment that:
"I don't know if I approve of all your philosophising about the Superfiascon; by making the con a spiritual success if not a material one, you have given Dave Cohen a new lease of life. He has now convinced himself that that was the way he planned it all along, and has completely forgotten his pre-con threat to retire from fandom."
Even before the Vargo Statten affair had split Manchester's NSFC apart the group had lost much of its sparkle and members had started drifting away. As Dave Cohen was to write in AUTHENTIC 50 (Oct '54):
"...September 1953, when plans were being prepared for creating the SUPERMANCON, it was decided that the NSFC would go out with flying colours while making a great success of the SUPERMANCON, after which the NSFC would no longer exist in its present form. An informal get-together like the London Circle seemed to be the answer -- a few enthusists meeting together, welcoming any other fan who popped in at the chosen site.
Came the SUPERMANCON -- The Magnificent Flop -- as quoted by Walt Willis. The NSFC apparently wasn't going out as hoped, with flying colours. Still, the previous idea was followed up, a search for a suitable pub for the informal get-togethers was made. The Thatched House was found. Are these informal sessions the answer? No subs, pop in when you like, and get togethers are every Sunday evening, no officialdom. The future will show. 'The Manchester Circle' has been born."
Having lost its Rawson Market Chambers clubroom to postwar redevelopment, the Bradford SF Association had been unable to find a suitable alternative venue (pubs were out due to the number of under-age members) and had gradually faded away. However, Derek Pickles and Stan Thomas, his brother-in-law, had attended SUPERMANCON, which sparked a spurt of renewed fanzine activity in Bradford. As Pickles recalls:
"PHANTASMAGORIA was revived (I'd already published a 'Final Issue'), really, as a one-off after Stan and I attended the SUPERMANCON. We were only there the Sunday afternoon and evening, but Stan wrote a po-faced, straight con report -- it was the first and only con he ever attended. The response was amazing: MalAsh, Dave Wood, Ken Potter, and other Junior Fanatics, and like-minded wrote screaming letters full of utter disbelief that anyone could be so antedeluvian, out-of-touch, heads-in-the-sand, etc. This response stimulated us to publish three more new series Phts, developing the stick-men cartoons and, in our first ish, 'the usual' terms for receiving a fanzine."
This appears to be the first time that the usual -- contribution, letter of comment, fanzine in trade -- were explicitly given in preference to money as the price of receiving a fanzine.
An American organisation that various British fans had been members of from time to time, was FAPA. FAPA (Fantasy Amateur Press Association), was the first fannish APA of all, and was started by Donald A.Wollheim in July 1937. APAs, for those who don't know, are organisations with carefully limited memberships designed to both maximise the response to contributions (the APAzines) sent out in their regular mailings, and to generate an intimacy impossible in general-circulation fanzines with their comparatively high print runs and open-ended readerships. On Saturday 19th June 1954 at 'Tresco', the Bulmers' Catford home, Vin¢ Clarke and Ken Bulmer (a former FAPAn) created Britain's first APA. As Clarke recalls:
"It's hard to say what was the catalyst which finally acted on this particular project. The atmosphere was right: British fandom was on its feet in a burst of activity which made this, the year of the SUPERMANCON, a small Golden Age. Numerous fans were interested in publishing, and the SF professional 'zines were bringing in new faces throughout the year. I think it was Ken who decided that now was the moment for launching into reality the dream of years, and I think it was myself who, after various euphonious titles had been tried out for a couple of hours, suggested OMPA. It would, we thought, disperse any stuffiness about the introduction of an association with a real Constitution into the happily anarchic fandom of the time...and moreover, it ran trippingly off the tongue."
OMPA, they decided, would stand for 'Off-trails Magazine Publisher's Association'. Bulmer would be President, Clarke the OE, Chuck Harris OMPA's Treasurer, and dues would be 6/- a year. Response to the flyers they sent out announcing the birth of OMPA exceeded Clarke and Bulmer's expectations. The initial constitution had specified a membership of 25 but this had to be increased to 29 for the first mailing, to 37 by the second, and by the seventh was up to 45, which was to be the size of OMPA during its early years. Contributors to the first few OMPA mailings included, among many others, Vin¢ Clarke, Joy Goodwin, Ken and Pam Bulmer, Archie Mercer, Ken Slater, Mal Ashworth, John Brunner, America's Ted White, Walt Willis, and Ethel Lindsay (with SCOTTISHE, destined to be one of the longest-lived British fanzines of all time); almost a listing of the most talented and active fans of the day. A pair of fans who were members of OMPA from the beginning were Eric Needham and Harry Turner, and it gave them the opportunity to start a new 'group', as Turner explains:
"Eric and I were addicts of The Goon Show, the finest radio comedy series ever. So when OMPA started we decided to let our hair down and became members with a hastily improvised sheet, supposedly the proceedings of the Romiley Fan Veterans & Scottish Dancing Society, called NOW AND THEN, an occasional publication. Eric should have been a scriptwriter for the Goons, he came up with such marvellous ideas worked out to their logical conclusions. Every issue we came up with episodes which contributed to a consistent mythology about our life and times in Romiley -- a strange mixture of fact and fantasy that confused our readers and us too, occasionally."
The first NOW AND THEN went out with the first OMPA mailing in September and soon others, such as Walt and Madeleine Willis, were inducted into the RFV&SDS. Eventually requests for NOW AND THEN from non-OMPAns grew beyond the ability of Turner's defective duplicator to produce and the fanzine went to the wall, its final issue appearing in June '56.
New fanzines continued to appear. Spring brought the first issue of Mike Rosenblum's NEW FUTURIAN, an excellent zine that carried a series of important articles by Gillings on the early days of British fandom under the heading 'The Clamourous Dreamers'. It was also responsible for reactivating Sid Birchby, who came up with some reminisences of his own. In the Autumn, Ron Bennett put out PLOY, the first issue of which was number two. In September came issue one of TRIODE from Bentcliffe and Jeeves, the first in a long and successful run. September also saw the appearance of the first issue of EYE, a fanzine put out by London Circle members Vin¢ Clarke, Joy Goodwin, Stuart MacKenzie, Jim Rattigan, and Ted Tubb, that would achieve fame not only for the quality of its contents but also its length -- 40 pages was standard and the third issue weighed in at 170, making it probably the biggest single fanzine ever published in Britain. BRENNSCHLUSS, which had made its first appearance as a single sheet in the SUPERMANCON combozine, appeared as a fully-fledged 44-page zine in October, courtesy of editors Dave Wood, Ken Potter, and Irene Gore.
In PLOY 2, mentioned above, it was reported that the Leeds group had moved from the Adelphi. Their attic quarters had been painted and furnished and made quite presentable, mainly by the two Jacks. Unfortunately, this made the Adelphi's landlord see the possibilities in letting the rooms...and the group were evicted. Thereafter they met in the offices of Mike Rosenblum's business, next to the Leeds Dispensary.
The second FEMIZINE appeared in August 1954 but where the first issue had been given a moderately favourable review in AUTHENTIC, Bert Campbell panned this one. As he wrote in AUTHENTIC 51 (Nov '52):
"The second issue of FEMIZINE is to hand -- and disappoints us. The first issue held a promise which has not been realised here. We thought the girls of fandom would be able to turn out something that would at least rank equal with some of their male counterparts. Instead, maybe because mistakenly chivalrous comments on the first issue and the venture as a whole have gone to their heads, the editresses have turned out a thing which is so obviously trying hard to be intelligently witty and just hasn't got what it takes. Also, there is an emphasis on the smutty side of things that may well be unhealthy. No doubt these women will one day stop trying to act a part and will be themselves. When they do we'll tell you where to get this fanzine and how much it costs. Until then, chivalry is stone cold dead!"
This was a fairly harsh review, one taken to heart not only by Sanderson, Evans, and Lindsay, but also by most of the other active female fans in Britain, of whom there were quite a few by this point. Things had come a long way since the 1948 convention when, apart from the wives of other fans, Daphne Bradley had been the only woman present...
It's funny how our lives sometimes seem ruled by chance. When Vin¢ Clarke, travelling on a bus in 1947, saw a soldier reading an SF magazine and introduced himself he set in motion a chain of events. The soldier, Ron Buckmaster, married Daphne Bradley and his sister, Pamela, went on to marry Ken Bulmer. If Clarke had caught a later bus the lives of at least four people would have been much different. Pamela Bulmer would play a part in the story of FEMIZINE, but she was not one of the more prominent female fans of the decade -- unlike Glasgow's Ethel Lindsay, by far the most active fan in the Newlands Club. And of course, Frances Evans in Manchester, Madeleine Willis in Belfast, and Ina Shorrock in Liverpool, ensured there was a female voice in the actions of those groups. As male fans of the time have since observed, somewhat ruefully, most of their female counterparts were assertive and self-confident, many of them feminists. Needless to say Bert Campbell's review wasn't well received by them. In EYE 3 (Dec '54), the female contingent of the London Circle inserted a small piece in that fanzine's 'classified' section that read:
"BERT CAMPBELL LIES IN HIS BEARD!
He alleges in Authentic that FEZ 2
is a Filthy Fanzine. Get one and
judge for yourself! Then tell Bert
what you think of him!
Inserted by LC femme-fans on behalf
As Lindsay recalls:
"The other femme fans rallied to our side, and defended us stoutly. They did all they could to help, and began to take a real pride in FEZ. That was when my troubles really started. I had been thinking of Joan as a separate personality; I always called her 'darling Joan' in the way a woman does when she doesn't really mean it. I really had her dissassociated in my own mind entirely from Sandy. However, I began to wake up to the fact that I could not expect the rest of fandom to feel the same way. I began to worry what they would say when the news came out. At the same time so did Frances, who asked me if I ever woke up in a cold sweat thinking about it. I did."
They told Sanderson of their worries but he dismissed them, saying that all fans could take a joke. Evans and Lindsay still had their doubts, but for the moment they decided to let things continue as they were. In its original role as a joke on Manchester's male fans the hoax was performing magnificently, as Evans recalls:
"One night Dave Cohen forced me to accept a bet on the certainty of Sandy's marriage to Joan. I said that I didn't think it would come off. Dave assured me that he knew something I didn't and that it was really a shame to take my money from me. Another time Machiavarley, on leave from London, sat in the Thatched House positively drooling in his beer at the thought of meeting Joan, as he put it -- 'in the FLESH.' 'Joan,' he gloated 'will be out before Sandy, and all's fair in love and war. And,' he confided, 'from certain recent correspondences I've had with her I feel sure that even though she is a sergeant she'll be a very amenable type of girl...some of the sex and sadism she dishes out sounds quite shocking coming from a woman.' 'Well,' I parried, 'that's probably because she's in the Army.' 'Yeah!' he agreed."
CAMBER 3 (Dec '54) was the first issue to appear in over a year, and the first to be edited by Alan Dodd. Previous editor Fred Robinson had dropped out of fandom by this point, the Cymrades presumably fading away with him. Dodd was a recluse who communicated with other fans only through the mails, a situation that was to cause him some trouble later in the decade when American fan Dave Jenrette 'revealed' him to be a hoax. The December issue of HYPHEN, the twelfth, was particularly notable for the announcement it carried on the inside front cover:
"With this issue we introduce you properly to the two new members of the HYPHEN staff, Arthur Thomson and John Berry. Besides doing most of the cartoons and headings in this issue, Arthur is also responsible for all the little filler illos scattered all over the place (I suggest 'fillos' as a name for these things). 'ATom' lives in London (though, to be fair, his grandfather came from Northern Ireland) and will be working hand over fist with Chuck. John Berry is the latest recruit to Irish Fandom and has converted the Belfast Triangle into a sort of polygoon. Although he's quite young (27) he has a wife, two children, and a moustache. He is a policeman by trade, but you wouldn't think it by the way he behaves."
ATom's first contact with fandom had come early in 1954 when he and a workmate who also read SF had learned of the Surrey Circle and gone along to one of their meeting in Sutton. According to a letter in AUTHENTIC the group had around eight or nine members by this point, the most active of them being Wingrove, Parsons, and John B Hall. Hall lived at 68 Leopold Rd., a huge house in Wimbledon, one room of which contained nothing but trestle-tables piled high with fanzines and books. These were not his but the property of the Lakeland SF Organisation, whose running Hall had taken over from Pete Campbell in May. It was while going through the fanzines one night while visiting that ATom came across a pile of HYPHENs. He borrowed them, liked them, and sent a subscription to Willis. Soon he was contributing cartoons and in no time had taken over from Bob Shaw as HYPHEN's cover artist. Willis put ATom in touch with Chuck Harris, the two of them forming a sort of London bureau to HYPHEN. ATom also soon became a regular contributor to the prozine NEBULA, his cartoons gracing many a back cover.
Where ATom was received with open arms by Irish Fandom, Berry was originally regarded with deep suspicion. Willis remembered Operation Shamrookie all too clearly and at first he wasn't at all sure about this expatriate Englishman who had apparently never made contact with fandom while living in Birmingham. In fact John Berry turned out to be as prolific a writer as Willis and as big a fan of the Goon Show as Turner and Needham. Ironically, when Berry's writing first started to appear he was assumed by some to be a Willis hoax. Having learnt of HYPHEN through the prozine review columns Berry had, like ATom, sent off a subscription. In late August he accepted an invitation to Oblique House and Irish Fandom gained a new member.
For the first time, though unfortunately not last, TAFF became a source of friction in late-1954. It started innocently enough when, on 3rd November, Ted Tubb wrote to Walt Willis with "some constructive suggestions for TAFF", which raised a point that had not been previously considered:
"I take it that all nominees are both able and willing to go if elected. It seems to be a waste of time running a list of candidates who are only there for the fun of it and with no real intention of going. So, why not ask for a bond? A fiver say, as proof of good intent, money to be returned if nominee is genuinely prevented from fulfulling his bargain, death, illness, etc., but forfeit for any other reason."
This was reasonable enough, so Willis circulated a letter to those who had already announced their intention to stand in the next race (Ken Slater, Eric Bentcliffe, Terry Jeeves, Stuart MacKenzie, and Tubb himself) which started:
"Some members of the London Circle have proposed that each candidate should be required to post a £5 bond to guarantee that they are serious about accepting nomination. One doesn't like this sort of thing among friends, but I can see their point of view...."
Willis accepted that there could be valid reasons why some candidates were unable to come up with £5 at that point, a not inconsiderable sum of money in 1954, but didn't want to disqualify anyone. He finished:
"I propose merely to ask you to send in the fiver. I will state on the ballot form the names of the candidates who have done so and leave it to the voters to draw their own conclusions...."
One candidate who was extremely unhappy with this condition was Ken Slater who, in a piece titled 'I Decline' in his zine IN RE: YOURS that went out in December with the second OMPA mailing, wrote:
"In view of the unfansmanlike position adopted by 'some members of the London Circle', who have suggested that candidates nominated by the Trans Fan Fund Trip should be called upon to post a bond, I feel regretfully compelled to decline the nomination which Peter Campbell has so kindly made for me.
I cannot recall, when Walt and I, with a number of others, discussed the setting up of the Fund, that anyone suggested after I'd nominated Walt to run the Fund -- that he should post a bond as security for the money he would collect. Nor can I recall in the fandom I used to know any proposals of a similar nature being made in similar circumstances. My conclusion is therefore that the proposal comes from a newer -- and if this is their attitude -- undesirable section of fandom. My desire to be associated with such is non-existent."
Slater finished by offering to stand the bond of any candidate who was unable to come up with £5...with the exception of members of the London Circle. Shortly after this Willis received a letter from Bentcliffe enclosing the £5 bond and commenting on Slater's piece that:
"I must say that I agree with most of his comments, appertaining to this £5 bond. However, I am not declining because of this , for I cannot rule out the possibility that this idea stemmed from the warped mind of a certain infamous member of the London Circle (I think you will know who I mean without a naming of names), and that the intention of this gambit is that of reducing the 'opposition'."
It was clear that both Slater and Bentcliffe thought Stuart MacKenzie responsible for the bond idea, a notion Willis did nothing to disabuse them of when, in a letter written to the candidates on 6th December, he wrote:
"OK boys, relax. Somebody has to make a decision before this develops into a full scale row, and it'll have to be me. I cannot have Ken Slater withdrawing from the election in protest against a principle which hasn't been approved by representative fandom, so I have decided to cancel the bondposting proposal. Will you all please strike out the relevant portion of that circular and return it to me signed? Thanks."
PS. No mention will of course be made of this affair in the election literature, and I hope everyone will treat this correspondence as confidential."
Slater was not to be mollified, however, and wrote back:
"Much as I appreciate the action you are taking, Walt, I feel the die is cast, the cheek slapped, the gauntlet on the ground. The kicker comes in your PS, of course, and is what I'm getting at. In my OMPA PM2, 'I Decline' has been included and it has also gone to a number of other erstwhile foremost fans, so any attempt at secrecy is out, I fear. And, with all due respects to everyone, a withdrawal now, the upcoming of Slater on the ballotsheet, would look rather like a put-up job, wouldn't it? And, of course, would allow anyone who felt like it to stand on their soapbox and scream: 'Slater dictates to Willis! Fascism is rife and rampant in the ranks!'."
Subsequently, Ted Tubb wrote to Slater explaining that the bond had been his idea and only one of a number of suggestions, no more, that he had made to Willis regarding TAFF; Willis wrote to Slater expressing his surprise at Slater's actions; and Slater replied to Tubb, expressing surprise that the bond idea should have originated with him. The matter didn't end there, however. On 10th December, Ken Bulmer wrote to Willis protesting....
"...the unwarranted abuse of the London Circle by Ken Slater in his declamation 'I Decline!'. The London crowd have become very used to being the whipping post of British fandom. The fact that, when the Northern fen, after years of cribbing, eventually held a convention that, but for the good humour of the attendees would have been the fiasco of fan-legend, no derogatory remarks came from London has been conveniently forgotten. It was felt that the latest installment of the mud-bath had, perhaps, been too much...I wish to make it quite clear that the London Circle are determined that their name should be cleared of the unjust and sneering attacks so recently and ruthlessly made, that individuals' personal quarrels should not be extended to cover in their bad humours all the members of an organisation which does not concern itself with such quarrels, that the London Circle can, on occasion, rise together to protect its own fair name and that of any of its members and that the time is long overdue when our side of the controversy should receive its just due."
Bulmer asked for, and received, copies of all the correspondence which was then edited by Joy Goodwin, duplicated by Vin¢ Clarke, and put out as a one-shot (called COPIES OF CERTAIN LETTERS CONCERNING TAFF) that was sent to all OMPA members. Later, Ken Bulmer joined the slate of candidates, and ultimately faced off against Bentcliffe and Jeeves. Though not adopted at this point, the posting of a bond later became an accepted requirement of standing for TAFF.
One fan who, more than any other, proved how universal the fannish impulse is, was Julian Parr. A member of the wartime Stoke-on-Trent group prior to being conscripted, Parr landed a job with the British Consulate-General in Dusseldorf in the early-50s. He soon got in touch with the pioneer West German fans of the time, telling them about fandom in other parts of the world and assisting them as they began to build their own. In 1954 he learned that a West German publisher was going to start issuing a series of translations of British and American SF and managed to convince the editor, Walter Ernsting, to include a letter column which he hoped would help a fully-fledged fandom to develop in the country. This column, 'Meteoriten', helped inspire the formation of West Germany's first nationwide fan group, Science Fiction Club Deutschland (SFCD), in 1955, a formation that Parr played a large part in. The SFCD grew phenomenally, and soon affiliated with the many local groups springing up across the country. The fully-fledged fandom that Parr had hoped for had been born. One tribute to Parr towards the end of the decade said that he:
"...made an essential contribution regarding the formation of German fandom, and its foundation would have taken place many years later without his active assistance and precious advice."
Incidentally, 'science fiction' was borrowed from the English language by German fans, who used it almost exclusively in preference to its German equivalent. In addition to his activities with German fandom, Parr was also to contribute articles to many British fanzines of the late-50s.
AUTHENTIC 53 (Jan '55) carried a letter from Eric Bentcliffe demanding an apology from Campbell for referring to him, Jeeves, and Jones (the 'Triode Publications' group) as misfits two issues earlier, and threatening legal action. Campbell apologised. In his editorial in the April AUTHENTIC, Campbell wrote of another matter that was increasingly exercising the imaginations of the fans of the day:
"The wheels are turning to make London the site of the World Science Fiction Convention. All of these have so far been held in one of the major American cities. When I went to the 1953 World Convention in Philadelphia, I suggested that London would make a good place, too. Nobody out there seemed to have thought of it before. Anyway, the word went around and it became obvious that very many American fans would welcome the chance to come to England, using the convention as a convenient excuse!
Just about now a number of prominent fans in England and my good friend John Campbell are 'voting' for it in no mean manner. Propaganda is winging its way across the Atlantic and spreading through the States. Quite a furore is being worked up. With a bit of luck, the stout yeoman work of British fans may see fruition and the cry will be a definite 'London in '56!'."
When George Whiting moved to Greece early in 1954 he handed control of the West Country SF Group over to the remaining members. Eric Jones of Cheltenham, along with others such as treasurer Bob Murray of Gloucester tried to drum up interest over the rest of the year but their efforts came to nothing. Yet, as 1955 began a new group had arisen from the ashes of the old. Eric Jones, writing in SIDEREAL 2 (April '55), explains:
"When George went to Greece he handed over to us to see what we could do to evoke some sort of action in the group but, as we soon found out, it was a hopeless task. Newsletters, requests for comments, meetings, all proved fruitless. It seemed evident that there were no fans in the West Country. So we called a halt to the retrogression.
Fandom's Ghods look after their prophets well, for it was only a week later that things began happening. Real fans began to appear, bashing down the door of 44 ((Jones' home on Barbridge Road)), so, after some discussion, it was decided to have another'go' with a purely local organisation based on the well-tried LC method of informality, and so appears the CHELTENHAM S-F CIRCLE.
We are eight in number at the moment but this time we are not going to make the same mistake. We shall make it known locally that such an organisation exists but further than that we will not go. If there are more local, interested, fans they will find us, not we them. This magazine, however is being continued despite the fact that the WCSFG has folded and from this issue onward is an irregular, independant, zine produced by your Editor."
Other Cheltenham Circle members at this point included Peter Mabey, along with Jones a member of the old WCSFG, and SIDEREAL's art editor Bill Nelder, who lived next door to Jones.
By 1955, Ken Slater had set up Fantast (Medway) Ltd., his mail-order SF business and Operation Fantast faded away. The final issue of the OF Newsletter had been the previous September, the Fantasy Art Society had been suspended because Harry Turner no longer felt able to keep it running, and OPERATION FANTAST, the fanzine, ceased publication in March 1955. Operation Fantast was dead and with it the main route into British fandom for new fans, though it would be a while before the full impact of the situation this created was felt.
AUTHENTIC 57 (May '55) carried a letter from one V.K.Hardy of Farnsworth about his local group, The Science Fact and Fiction Club:
"The SFCC, now eight weeks old and boasting eighteen members. Our meetings are held weekly at the Post Office inn, the landlord allowing us the room free of charge, every Thursday."
As far as is known this group never produced a fanzine or had much of any contact with fandom nationally.
In the spring, with the help of Pete Taylor and Arthur Thomson, John B.Hall -- having decided that the 'L' in 'LSFO' should now stand for London rather than Lakeland -- put out the first circular of the London SF Organisation. In this he announced that the Organisation now had four branches with himself in charge of LSFO HQ at Wimbledon. These other branches were in Prestwick (run by Alistair Ferguson), Redditch (by Eric Cox), Edinburgh (by James McArthur), and in the USA (by Dave Rike).
The fourth EYE appeared in June, six months after the previous issue. It was explained inside that:
"...in order to explain the delay and rumours this is the real gen. Stu MacKenzie has gone GAFIA with an abruptness and violence somewhat rare in anyone who, up to so short a while ago, was so keen."
It was further explained that he had taken off "...with all the letters, contributions, accounts, subscriptions, ready cash and postal lists". Thus ended the short fannish career of Stuart MacKenzie just as that of another London fan, the 17 year-old Michael Moorcock, was beginning:
"I entered fandom with the advantage that most neofans don't have -- I'd had my 'initiation' in a different sort of fandom, one in which youth was actually frowned upon. I stopped reading what they read and turned to SF through ERBurroughs and from there to an evening at the Globe..."
The 'different sort of fandom' Moorcock was referring to was "...Old Boys, Book Fandom...nothing to do with SF".
In contrast to what had happened on the previous two occasions no-one put in a bid for the next year's convention when Ted Tubb had called for nominations at SUPERMANCON. Tubb had solved this by unilaterally declaring that the 1955 con would be in London and that Shirley Marriott was taking registrations. The London Circle appeared to accept this as their destiny, but after the con Denny Cowen and the Kettering group had volunteered to hold it in their town in 1955. Thus it was that the 1955 national convention was held at the George Hotel in Kettering, a sleepy market town in Northamptonshire. It was held over Easter, the slot the national convention has held ever since, and was the first SF convention anywhere to take over a hotel in its entirety.
Called CYTRICON, after the Roman name for Kettering, the convention was chaired by Denny Cowen. The convention was, as Willis later wrote:
"...a happy, friendly affair...at least for us who already knew people there. It may have been worse than the SUPERMANCON for strangers, but then there was less publicity to mislead them into expecting a lecture session. It was whole-heartedly a fannish convention, and as such the best of all time."
Bert Campbell and Teds Tubb & Carnell were as always the life and soul of the programme, such as it was, and the hotel staff were the friendliest and most accomodating anyone could remember. The only awkward moment with the hotel came when an over-enthusiastic fan joined in with the forces of Terra during a screening of 'War of the Worlds', the water from his zap-gun damaging the silvered screen. A whip-round to pay for the damage smoothed things over but, as Willis observed:
"...this incident could have ruined the convention, and it seems to be the general opinion among the leaders of fannish thought that the zapgun should be outlawed. It had its uses at the dry-as-dust British Convention of a few years back, but we all know how to enjoy ourselves now without mechanical aids to informality. Many of the actifans left them behind in 1954 and hardly any BNFs toted them at Kettering. The trend will probably continue."
And it did. In its place at Kettering quite a few people wore propellor beanies, made popular as a symbol of the fan by American fan Ray Nelson some years earlier. At CYTRICON the Liverpool group's tapera (tape-opera) was 'The March of Slime' (after the 'March of Time' newsreel series), and regarded by those who heard it as a genuine masterpiece. There was the usual partying at the convention, and also a meeting about the future of FEMIZINE. Evans and Lindsay were becoming increasingly uneasy about the lie at the heart of FEMIZINE, that a fanzine that had become a rallying point for Britain's female fans was secretly edited by a man. Something had to be done. According to Lindsay:
"Eventually we came up with the idea of throwing FEZ open to males as well. I was deputed to put this idea to ((the other female fans)) at the first Kettering convention. So Frances and I invited some of them up to our bedroom and brought the suggestion up. It was no good. They turned the idea down cold, wanted us to stick to women alone. After they had gone Frances and I sat and looked at each other in dismay. 'I feel sick,' she said. 'I think we'd better emigrate,' I replied. We got hold of Sandy as soon as we could and told him firmly that, in one way or another, this monster Joan was going to have to be killed off."
Sanderson was at CYTRICON, having got lucky with his leave again, and as he later wrote:
"While I was in England, Ethel, Frances, and I spent quite a lot of time trying to decide what to do with this rather frightening creature who threatened us all, and in the end it was decided to make FEZ a really all-female fanzine by having Joan withdraw from it completely and to ask Pamela Bulmer to take over the reins.
Joan had been too successful, she was too real. What had started three years ago as a funny hoax against a dozen people had now become something that might amuse a few people but might equally hurt others. It was now something that would affect all of fandom and not just a dozen people. There appeared to be only one solution to the problem -- Joan had to go GAFIA before I returned to England again. She had to fade from the fannish scene and no one would ever know that she had never existed."
HYPHEN 14 (June 1955) carried the results of the second TAFF race, the first to result in a trip. Ken Bulmer won out against Eric Bentcliffe and Terry Jeeves, and 54 fans voted (44 in the UK, 14 in the US -- American interest in TAFF was picking up!). Between them the Bulmers saved up enough to enable Pamela to accompany Ken to the 1955 Worldcon in Cleveland, Ohio. They left for the con in August, somewhat inconveniencing Sanderson:
"...for one reason or another, including downright laziness, I only completed the stencils for the seventh FEZ and mailed them to Pamela (who had agreed to take over from Joan) as she was leaving for America."
Joy Goodwin leapt into the breach to put the issue out, aided by Vin¢ Clarke. She and Clarke were by this point romantically involved, a state of affairs that would lead to them getting married and be responsible for Clarke being largely inactive over the next few years. As for Joan Carr, according to Sanderson:
"The stage was re-set, Joan became more and more inactive, answered fewer letters, acknowledged receipt of fewer fanzines, even though they continued to pour in. I became more active under my own name and argued with Joan about her attitude in OMPA etc. Two issues of OMNIBUS ((Joan's OMPAzine)) were prepared in which I announced that Joan and I were no longer on speaking terms and it looked as though she might easily slip into that limbo of all forgotten fans."
The culmination of all hoaxes is the grand revelation in which the hoaxer reveals how clever he's been but there was to be no such denoument in this case. For the sake of the damage it could do to the newly emergent active female fandom in Britain the fact that Joan Carr never existed must remain a secret.
What a shame things didn't work out that way.