The long decline of 1950s British fandom had started but none of this was readily apparent in the dying days of 1955. In SFN 14, Vin¢ Clarke announced that he was moving from Welling. On Saturday 26th November, following their marriage, he and Joy Clarke were setting up home at 7 Inchmery Road in Catford, an address that in its way would become as famous as Oblique House over the next few years. Another item in that SFN announced that:
"London fandom now has more active female fans than males in its ranks with the arrival from Bournemouth of Shirley ('the girl on the Convention room floor') Marriott and Frances (Houri) Evans of Manchester as permanent residents. Joining the British femme fan's Mecca in the New Year will be Ethel Lindsay frae Glasgow, and also expected in town is Bobby (Roberta) Wild, new fan from Slough who'll also be a permanent resident, she hopes."
The first fanzine of 1956 was something special. RETRIBUTION, edited by John Berry and Arthur Thomson, was what they termed "an offbeat esoteric all fan-fiction fanzine" ('fan-fiction' being fiction about fans rather than the amateur SF that is sometimes given that label), a thing which had never been attempted over here before. It showcased the talents of both men but was particularly significant for Berry. Here it was that he began to give full vent to his particular abilities, a form of writing that had infused his tales of Irish Fandom in HYPHEN with the quality of legend. A letter from Ken Potter on an early issue, one apparently (and almost illegibly) addressed to 'Goon Bleary' (ie. John Berry) led to the formation of the Goon Defective Agency (GDA), an operation with offices in all parts of the globe, whose adventures were chronicled in RETRIBUTION thereafter by Berry and enthusiastically illustrated by ATom. ATom and Berry started up VERITAS for OMPA towards the end of the year, a venture that was similar to RETRIBUTION but whose issues were usually shorter.
Also in January, Bob Shaw and wife Sadie emigrated to Canada, depleting the ranks of Irish Fandom. (They returned in 1958.)
The February AUTHENTIC was the first to be edited by Ted Tubb, long its most prolific contributer. He wasn't to be its editor for long, however, since it ceased publication the following year with its October issue. Previous editor Bert Campbell had vacated that position in order to pursue scientific research, his first love, and he was also soon to find less and less time for fandom. So it was that London fandom lost one of its most distinctive 'characters'.
Lee Hoffman was the winner of the third TAFF race, the first US to UK one, but declined to take the trip under the auspices of the fund since she was getting married and she and husband Larry Shaw would be attending the 1956 Eastercon on their honeymoon. The other candidates in the race were Ackerman, G.M.Carr, Kent Corey, Dave Kyle, Hal Shapiro, Lou Tabakow, and Wally Weber and, as with the first UK race, no-one actually got to take the trip. FEMIZINE 8 appeared in March, the first issue to be edited by Pamela Bulmer, who was told about the hoax shortly afterwards and who in turn let husband Ken in on it. Having her take the reins from Joan Carr while Joan faded away had been a good idea, but unfortunately the Joan Carr hoax was about to come apart at the seams. By one of those strange coincidences that happen so often, Ron Bennett had decided to run a hoax of his own and create a fake wife for himself...to be called Joan (and 'Joan Bennett' was in fact listed as associate editor in PLOYs 6 & 7). He mentioned this at a fannish gathering attended by Dave Cohen, who wasn't in on the secret, and Cyril Evans, brother of Frances, who was. Evans let slip that that hoax had already been done, and that put Bennett on the trail. With the hoax compromised the situation had changed, as Lindsay relates:
"...then we wanted to get the news out in FEZ first, and fully expected to see Ron beat us to it in his OMPAzine. Pamela and I watched the mailing with bated breath. The strangest thing happened, though -- nothing came out. Only rumours. No one seemed to know what to believe, and some evidently thought it was a double hoax! Amid all this confusion we breathed a little easier and went ahead with our plans..."
Before they could get anything out, however, there was the national convention to deal with. Called CYTRICON II, and held once again in Kettering, the con was abuzz with the rumours about Joan. She was certainly the main topic of conversation at a party in Willis's room on Good Friday evening, as Pamela Bulmer relates:
"I suppose there were about a dozen people in the room and there was a great deal of excitement as everyone was discussing the rumour of the Joan Carr hoax. The leak had originally come from Cyril Evans to Ron Bennett and we had been hoping desperately that he would keep his mouth shut and enjoy the joke as we were doing. 'You're going to look awfully silly, if it's true, Pamela.' I heard Joy's words above the hectic babble of voices. Odd incidences were being brought to mind. I daren't look at anyone but at the same time I daren't look away -- it would be too obvious. I contrived to look interested without seeming peturbed. I wondered if I looked as hot and bothered as I felt. Somehow I had to stop the conversation. Looking at Ken was no good -- he was himself endeavouring to strike up another conversation that would eclipse this one."
Somehow the hoax survived the Eastercon intact, and in May the ninth issue of FEMIZINE duly appeared with 'HOAX' emblazoned across its cover over a drawing of a deceased Joan Carr. Inside, Sanderson, Evans, Lindsay, and Bulmer laid out the whole hoax for a shocked British fandom. People had been so completely taken in that they were stunned by the revelation and immediate reactions to it were muted. Mal Ashworth's response was, perhaps, typical:
"Thanks for being Joan Carr, Sandy. Damn you for not still being Joan Carr: sincerest congratulations for the whole thing -- and please can I have back any love letters I may have written Joan, before Laney finds out?"
Ron Bennett, commenting in PLOY 6 (June '56), gave some clue as to why he hadn't blown the hoax in print when he observed that:
"I'm still not sure that Joan W.Carr does not, after all, exist. Sandy is to be congratulated on a most successful and hard-worked PLOY. Nevertheless, I had come to like Joan, as had my college room-mate Lee who had been stationed at Maida Camp, and I mourn what I prefer to think of as Joan's passing from the fannish scene, an enforced gafia as it were."
Sanderson finished off his piece in FEMIZINE thus:
"I still have complete files of the letters Joan received together with copies of her replies..! They range from the early ones in which Joan was warned about me, to the latest wherein it was said that Joan must be a woman because she couldn't spell! These letters, or parts thereof, will eventually appear in OMNIBUS...as part of a further detailed biography of the 'girl' who has been described as 'the most important femme-fan of this period.' Shucks, I blush."
Having such a prominent 'female' fan and the editor of the fanzine they had taken as their rallying point turn out to be a man was to take the wind out of the sails of the emerging female fandom of the fifties. That issue of FEMIZINE was the last for two years, and revealing the hoax was to have just the effect that had been feared. In FANCYCLOPEDIA II, published three years later in 1959, it was noted that:
"When the hoax was revealed it dealt British female fandom a jolt from which it has yet to recover."
American fanhistorian Harry Warner has called Joan Carr "fandom's most inspired hoax", and she may well have been, but she was also one that ended in tragedy.
Having put on the third of their taperas, 'Last And First Fen', at the '56 Eastercon, the Liverpool Group were ready to move beyond tape-recording. Not long after the con, Norman Shorrock bought a movie camera and this led, inevitably, to the creation of 'Mersey and Deeside Productions', a name usually abbreviated as 'MaD'. MaD's first film, 'May We Have The Pleasure?' received its convention premiere at a Midwestcon in America later that year.
PLOY 6 reported that Jim Linwood and Bruce Kidd were to collaborate on a fanzine called MILLENIUM, and Eddie Jones and Bill Harry on one called SCOUSE, but neither of these appears to have ever materialised. Eddie Jones, a Liverpool Group member, was later to gain fame as an SF book-jacket illustrator, but he was known up through the early 1960s mainly as a particularly fine fanartist.
New fanzines were still appearing, but the flood of a few years earlier was now slowing to a trickle. June saw the first issue of Michael Moorcock's FANTASIANA, August brought Bobbie Gray's VAGARY (for OMPA), September produced Dave Newman's NATTER, and in December came Dave Cohen's ONCE IN A BLUE MOON. Subsequent issues of the Cohen zine were called TWICE IN A BLUE MOON, and THRICE IN A BLUE MOON. The title scheme didn't lend itself to a fourth issue.
Also in PLOY 6 were the results of the fan poll Bennett had announced the previous issue. Due to low response there were no 'awards' in the categories of Best Fanzine, Best Single Issue, Best Article, Best Fan Fiction, Best Cover, and Best Illo, but Best Fanwriter went to John Berry, Best Artist to ATom, and Best Con Report to "Willis in HYPHEN", presumably for his report on the '55 con.
During its early years, OMPA's committees changed annually and they wereresponible for quarterly mailings, the first of which was in September and the last the following June. The most important position was that of OE (Official Editor, and responsible for putting together OFF-TRAILS and getting the mailings out). Vin¢ Clarke had been OE during 1954/5, a year which saw such classic contributions as WILLIS DISCOVERS AMERICA, Ashworth's MY FIRST REAL CONVENTION, and Harris' THROUGH DARKEST IRELAND. Joy Clarke had been OE during 1955/6, a year when OMPA had had an all-female committee, and in the year about to start Archie Mercer was to be OE, and Walt Willis the President.
The nationalisation of the Anglo-French Suez Canal company by Egypt's President Nasser in July 1956 led to diplomatic protests by Britain and France, an invasion of Egypt by Israel on 29th October, an ultimatum to Israel and Egypt to withdraw from the canal and, on 31st October, to an Anglo-French raid on Port Said. The Americans were furious. They began putting intense behind-the-scenes pressure on Britain to withdraw and engineered a run on sterling in the world money markets. Britain was told bluntly that American financial help in preventing a total collapse of sterling was dependent on a British pull-out from Suez. It was a harsh lesson in the new realities, a powerful demonstration of American financial clout. Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden and the British Cabinet had no choice but to agree, the humiliation the Government was forced to endure bringing UK/US relations to their lowest point this century. Fortunately this sour state of affairs was not echoed in fandom, and in 1956 American fans voted to allow Britain to host the next year's Worldcon....
In 1954 Arthur C.Clarke had sailed to Australia with Mike Wilson in order to go diving on, and write a book about, the Great Barrier Reef. On the way they stopped at Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka). In 1956 Clarke moved there and the island has been his home ever since. Mike Wilson joined him there later, also making the island his home, and eventually becoming Swami Siva Kalki. That same year Clarke was Guest of Honour at the Worldcon, his meteoric rise in prodom already bringing its rewards.
The 1956 Worldcon was held in New York and it was here that the site of the 1957 Worldcon was determined. A group of London Circle fans had worked long and hard on a British bid and Ken Bulmer, in charge of publicity, had placed an ad in the NEWYORKCON Programme Book. This was a rather curious piece of work that claimed London held the world record for the number of conventions held in a single city, which it then proceeded to list. It omitted the 1939 convention, called the previously unnamed 1938 convention NECRONOMICON, renamed 1948's WHITCON as LONCON, and gave the following year's LONCON the name RAGCON. In addition the gathering of fans in London in September 1941 was now elevated to the status of a convention (a dubious proposition at best) and named BOMBCON. Despite this the 1957 Worldcon was awarded to Britain, though there was an attempt to torpedo the bid later. Soon after the con Vin¢ and Joy Clarke received a telegram from New York for the Bulmers (who were away) that read:
"SUGGEST LONDON WITHDRAW BID TO PREVENT SPLIT IN FANDOM. PUBLISHERS GUARANTEE LONDON IN '58. -- ARTHUR CLARKE."
Fast and costly exchanges of telegrams between Arthur C., the Clarkes, and New York fan Dick Ellington quickly revealed the telegram to be a hoax and initial suspicion rested on Mike Wilson as the probable culprit. However, detective work by Ellington revealed the true culprit as Bob Chazin, an Ohio fan then a student at Harvard, who was warned not to show his face around New York fan circles as a result. This affair was one of the main items reported in a new fanzine that debuted in October....
CONTACT 1, dated 16th October 1956, was a twice-monthly newszine published by the 'Contact Group' of Ron Bennett, John Hitchcock, Ellis Mills, and Jan Jansen. Hitchcock, an American, edited UMBRA (Mills was also American, and apparently stationed with US armed forces in Europe at this point), and Jansen was a Belgian fan who edited ALPHA, then continental Europe's only fanzine, and ran the International Science Fiction Correspondence Club. CONTACT's editorial address was Jansen's but as its editorial line-up implies it was intended to give coverage of fandom internationally. The first three issues were distributed free to members of OMPA, FAPA, NFFF, and the ISFCC, as well as to those on the mailing lists of ALPHA, PLOY and UMBRA. Thereafter it would be subscription only, as newszines have mostly been ever since. Apart from the hoax telegram that first issue also reported the demise of the New York SF Circle due to the strain of putting on a Worldcon, the low level of activity in Holland, and that Bruce Kidd, the art editor on Moorcock's BURROUGHSANIA (which ran from 1956 to 1958 and saw 18 issues) was quitting fandom after an argument with Moorcock at the Globe (which may explain why MILLENIUM never appeared).
PLOY 7 (Nov '56) announced that Bennett and Mike Rosenblum were now associate editors of each other's fanzines, the hope being that they would alternate so that either a PLOY or NEW FUTURIAN would appear every other month with anything either wrote appearing in whichever fanzine was due next. Also in PLOY 7 was an article by old time fan Dennis Tucker, 'The Upstairs Basement', lamenting the way modern conventions had turned away from SF and deploring the behaviour of those attending them. This might have been seen as just the ramblings of an old fuddy-duddy, but over the next few years more and more fans would come to agree with his assessment, with consequences we shall see later. Another old-time fan, Doug Mayer, emigrated to Canada in late-1956, leaving Britain and fandom behind him.
CONTACT 2, the first November issue, gave details of a possible new haunt for London fans under the headline 'SF GOES HIGH SOCIETY -- NEW CLUB IN SOHO':
"One of fandom's most valued letter writers has got herself involved in a new venture, that of running a club in Soho. Helen Winnick, who is half the management and two-thirds the staff of this 'establishment' is attempting to provide, in a room above the club, a fannish haven...where fen can drink, talk and be merry. Write to Helen at: The Space Club, 67 Berwick St., London W1...."
Also listed in CONTACT 2 were the candidates standing in the US for the 1957 TAFF race. These were Ackerman, Dick Ellington, Dick Eney, Stu Hoffman, Bob Madle, Ed McNulty, George Nims Raybin, and Boyd Rayburn. The method of voting was to be the same as in the previous race, three choices being provided for with a first, second, and third place votes being worth three, two, and one points respectively. However, US administrator Don Ford had decided that this time you could fill in your favourite in all three places to garner him a total of six points. On his ballot Ford had also refused to list any voter requirement beyond the vague one that you be known to a 'club'. Thus the stage was set for the first serious feud over TAFF.
In CONTACT 3 there was some discussion as to whether a national convention should be held in Britain in the same year as a Worldcon and, if not, whether a small 'business' con should be put on "in order to clear the path for the September World Con" and to finalise its programming. It was also reported that the Cheltenham Circle had displayed what was claimed to be "possibly the first working model of J.W.Campbell's version of the Hieronymous Psionic Machine" at a local Hobbies Exhibition, and that following a possibly drunken evening at the Globe, Mike Moorcock had handed out copies of BURROUGHSANIA to all his fellow bus passengers. As far as is known, no new subs resulted from this generous act.
In 1956 a new SF writer made his first contact with fandom...or was it his second? Brian Aldiss tells the tale:
"My earliest fan activity goes back to the thirties, which is why I am a member of First Fandom. Indeed, I started an oral tradition of SF story telling -- in the school dormitory...
In the war, I received a badly mimeographed flier for a fan group. I must have written for it. It carried a photo of the group. My father siezed it at the breakfast table, shouted, 'They're all perverts!' and flung the brochure on the fire. So I had no acquaintance with fandom until they got in touch with me in 1956, after I had won the 'Observer' prize for a short story set in the year 2500 AD. My contact then was Helen Winnick, who worked in London in Hanging Sword Passage. We went down to the White Horse, where I met Sam Youd and John Brunner -- though I'm afraid the rest of the mob didn't make a tremendous impression."
Aldiss' first convention would be the 1957 Worldcon, and the pub he went to was obviously the Globe, of course, since the London Circle had moved three years earlier. However, London fans were beginning to realise they had made a mistake in moving from the White Horse. Typical of the concern voiced was Chuck Harris's response to Bill Morse in OMPA:
"I share your uncertainty as to whether the Globe is better than our old boozer, The White Horse. The Globe is too big for a fan pub. In our old slum, The White Horse, the bar was so small that everyone present got caught up in a sort of social whirlpool and was forced to circulate. The long bar of The Globe acts differently. Instead of clutching your glass and being carried with the current, you sit at a table and talk with the half dozen people who share it with you. The regulars tend to form groups, rather than a group, and nobody mixes very much except with their own special friends. The place just doesn't have the atmosphere of The White Horse and a lot of people who used to attend every Thursday have dropped out. There were less than a dozen there when I went up a fortnight ago."
Following the completion of his tour of duty in Egypt, Sandy Sanderson returned to Britain and to a job with the War Office in London, which led to him leaving Manchester and moving in with Vin¢ and Joy Clarke at Inchmery Rd. In December the Clarkes put out the sixth and final issue of EYE in which they mentioned a promising new fan, George Locke, who had recently shown up at the Globe, and also commented on the current TAFF race in a piece that ended with the line: DOWN WITH POLITICAL CHICANERY IN FANDOM! The piece was in response to, and agreement with, a special supplement on TAFF that had gone out with CONTACT 4 that same month. Pointing out that Don Ford's new voting system was unfair in that it allowed people to vote more than once for the same person and that it discriminated against knowledgeable fans by giving greater weight to those who didn't know enough about other candidates to choose second and third places, Jansen had then attacked Ford's lack of voter requirements:
"Don Ford has refused to lay down any criterion of those qualified to vote except that if they're not known in fandom they may give reference to a 'club'; so anyone can call his friends a 'club', and the double votes of a couple of dozen of these strawfen, obtained for the outlay of a few dollars, will outweigh those of discriminating fans who try to place the candidates in order of merit for long services to fandom. One result of this undiscriminating voting would be that, in order to counterbalance the blind power of these machine voters, the fans who normally exercise their knowledge and discrimination will feel bound to 'plump' for their favourite candidate by giving him their six full points...Candidates, especially those who represent what some people call 'fanzine fandom' will feel forced to withdraw to avoid splitting the fanzine fandom vote...The way will be open for all kinds of political deals, intrigue and chicanery."
Both Jansen and Willis tried to get Ford to change his mind but he rebuffed them with the reply that he couldn't do this as he had counted some votes this way in the last race and had already distributed the ballots for this one. This response didn't satisfy either Jansen or Willis and things looked like getting heated in the months to come.
Meanwhile a new round of bickering had broken out between fans in London and those in the North. It was a lot more limited in scope than that which had wracked British fandom earlier in the decade, but still gave cause for concern. In CONTACT 6 (Jan '57), Archie Mercer observed:
"...it strikes me that it might be a good idea to assemble everybody concerned at some likely spot -- such as Kettering or Trowbridge -- assort them in pairs on the basis of their London or Northern affiliations, and knock their heads together -- hard. If it's just a put-up job to make it seem as if Anglofandom's more alive than it actually is, same applies."
CONTACT 8 (Feb '57) was the penultimate issue, and the last one for some months. Its lead report told of the venue for the British Worldcon being switched from the Royal Hotel (site of earlier London conventions) to the Kings Court Hotel on Leinster Gardens in Bayswater. The Worldcon was on many people's minds at this point. In March, in PLOY 8, Ron Bennett suggested that the con's slogan, 'Snog in the Fog', gave the wrong impression and ought to be quietly dropped. In a reply printed in the lettercolumn of the following issue Willis agreed:
"Consider me nodding wisely at the suggestion we play down the fogsnog angle. Apart from the point you make, if we're not careful some of these sex-starved Americans will ask for their money back if we don't run the con like a brothel."
This innocent, if mischievous, exchange was to come back to haunt Willis and to get entwined with another Worldcon bid....
In the late 1940s American fan Rick Sneary used the slogan 'South Gate in '58' in his fanzines, the joke being that Sneary's home town had only 30 000 or so residents, hardly the sort of population that could draw a Worldcon. By 1949 however, he had begun to take the idea seriously. With the British Worldcon being the one at which the bid would be presented he began to take it very seriously. Willis wrote to him that:
"The life of the South Gate tradition has coincided almost exactly with mine in fandom and I think of it as one of the eternal verities."
Which was when Sneary made a proposal to Willis:
"One of our dreams is to bring you and Madeleine over for the convention. It is a crazy fannish type idea, just as South Gate in '58 was, and yet one means almost as much as the other."
Willis had long contributed as much, if not more, of his output to US fandom as to UK fandom and was the most prominent fan of his day on both sides of the Atlantic, so the offer was perhaps not too surprising. Willis accepted and the campaign to bring the Willises to South Gate was announced by Sneary in mid-1957.
Over the Easter holiday of 1957 a small and informal convention was held at the George Hotel, one that appears on no convention listings and isn't included in the numbering of Eastercons! Among those present were Ron Bennett, Ken Slater, Ted Tubb, Eddie Jones, Archie Mercer, visiting American Dave Jenrette (who later wrote the whole thing up for PLOY, and also touched on it in his own QUELLES HORREURS), and a contingent from the Liverpool group consisting of the Shorrocks, Dave Newman, and newcomer Bill Harry. The convention was largely unprogrammed, but it was here that Bennett became a Knight of St.Fantony. This was a medieval-style 'chivalric order' created by the Cheltenham Circle earlier in the year in order "to honour the Liverpool Group for their work in fandom". At the beginning the order's officers were Eric Jones -- Grandmaster, and Bob Richardson -- Knight Armourer.
When OMPA OE Archie Mercer gave 31st April as the deadline for a mailing Walt Willis, with a novel interpretation of the line in OMPA's constitution that gave the President "...powers to deal with situations not covered by the constitution..." issued an order:
"I have noticed that in past years there has been a lot of trouble in various parts of the world on the first of May, on account of labour parades and Communist demonstrations. So this year I rule that there shall be no first of May. Instead the day following the 30th April shall now be known as the 31st April and shall be succeeded without interruption by the 2nd May. Instead of May Day, the new date shall be known as Mercer's Day, in honour of our infallible association editor, who has so intelligently anticipated my wishes."
Spring brought the first (and only) issue of TYPO from Mike Moorcock and Jim Linwood, the most determinedly fannish of all the various fanzines Moorcock was to produce. TYPO appeared later than announced, Moorcock's excuse being one of the more unusual ones ever given in a fanzine:
"Just recently I've had to rehearse a lot for a recording I did at HMV on the 5th of Feb. -- and when you're trying to cut a 14 verse song down to a 7 verse song so that it'll fit onto one side of a 10" 78, you don't get much time to worry about anything else."
CONTACT 9, the final issue, appeared in July and was distributed with OMPA and FAPA. The main news item, under the heading FORD'S FARCE, was the result of the TAFF race, which Bob Madle won with Stu Hoffman coming in second and Richard Eney, the candidate favoured by most British fans, third. Hoffman's near-win came about as the result of 'vote-buying' on his part and scandalised a number of Americans, but fans over here were far more put out by Madle's win. The most vocal of many who raised their voices in protest was Chuck Harris, who wrote of this period later, and of...
"...this delusion that TAFF is some sort of international popularity contest open to anyone who thinks he can claim the label of 'faan'. It isn't. It NEVER was. I was part of the group who dreamt up the idea at the 1953 con, and although it was delightfully vague, we did make one qualification for all the candidates. I will quote it from the first publicity that was ever given to TAFF -- Ken Slater's 1953 Convention Report. Here it is stated explicitly that the candidate SHOULD BE SOMEONE FAIRLY WELL KNOWN TO BOTH BRITISH AND AMERICAN FANDOM. That's what I've been bitching about....
Madle should never have been allowed to be nominated. He was NOT 'fairly well known' over here and this made him ineligible. Only Ackerman, Eney, Ellington, and Raeburn fulfilled the qualification and the election should have been fought between them. This is what we were sore about. We were not 'bad sportsmen' because 'our' candidate didn't win, we are just annoyed that the one basic rule of TAFF was completely ignored....
You want some more? Well, you know that every candidate was supposed to have five nominees before he could stand? That's another rule. In the last election only one candidate (who happened to be Eney), had five nominees who actually voted in the election or made a contribution to TAFF. Two of Madle's nominators lost all interest after they fixed it for him to stand, and did not vote nor contribute a solitary cent to the Fund...."
Harris also complained that "it was quite obvious that the voting list in this election had been heavily padded by candidates' friends and neighbours..." (most of them being, presumably, Hoffman voters) and that "it was patently unfair that they should be allowed to vote in a TAFF election". Don Ford's view was somewhat different:
"It seems that in the British area there are about 25 or so fanzine publishers. They seem to feel that they comprise all of fandom in Britain. When their favourite candidate did not win the 1957 election they somehow felt cheated."
This affair was to simmer on all year, taking up a lot of space in fanzines and generating a lot of bad feeling.
The 1957 Worldcon -- like many another London convention, called LONCON -- was the first Worldcon ever to be held outside North America. The con took placeover the weekend of September 6th-9th, (the pre-con Globe meeting being packed out, and to all intents an extra night of the con) with John W.Campbell as GoH, John Wyndham as convention president, and Ted Carnell as chairman. It attracted some 250 fans, a figure which included a substantial number of Americans, and followed the tradition of contemporary Eastercons in being unusually informal and fannish. By all accounts the Americans and their British hosts got on extremely well together. Willis waxed lyrical about the visitors: "It was as if for all those years there had been gaps in British fandom which we'd never noticed, just the size and shape of each one of them, and at the Worldcon, suddenly...click! There they were in place". The BBC made a film of the convention that (naturally) showed the fancy dress, and included interviews with, among others, John Brunner, John Campbell, Dave Kyle, Ted Carnell, and Rory Faulkner (a 70 year-old female American fan).
The Cheltenham Circle showed a film they had produced titled 'All This Grass Is Chiming Bells', and put on a Knights of St.Fantony ceremony in which Bob Silverberg, Boyd Raeburn, Bob Madle, Rory Faulkner, Ellis Mills, Frank Dietz, Roberta Wild, Terry Jeeves, Walt Willis, Eric Bentcliffe, and Ken Slater were made new knights and ladies of the order.
The Liverpool group contributed their 'March of Slime' tapera and also showed their films 'May We Have The Pleasure?' (a trip through Liverpool's fan culture), and 'Fanzapoppin'. In addition, at the costume ball Pete Daniels' 'Merseysippi Jazz Band' provided the music. Other music at the con was supplied by Ray Nelson and his skiffle group.
The three Hugos awarded at LONCON went to ASTOUNDING for Best Professional Magazine (American), NEW WORLDS for Best Professional Magazine (British), and American fan James V.Taurasi's SCIENCE FICTION TIMES for Best Fanzine. The last ever IFA was also awarded at LONCON and went to J.R.R.Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS. Tolkien didn't like public recognition but he was persuaded to go to LONCON to receive the award -- and was apparently visibly relieved when it was time to return home. The 1958 Worldcon was awarded to South Gate.
This was the Campbellian Age of Science Fiction and British fans of the time were devoted followers of the SF Campbell championed (while often disagreeing strongly with his editorials in ASTOUNDING), as would be the case well into the 1960s, and they were in awe of him. As Chuck Harris noted in the report he later wrote:
"He has an impressive personality, and he gesticulates like a Frenchman, but it struck me that just below the surface , he was very shy, nervous, and tense. I suppose it must be a bit of a strain at that -- to be damn near revered by 300 people...As the con went on, he grew more at ease and seemed more relaxed, but the mere fact that he is THE Campbell seemed to act as a moat between him and the rest of us that has not yet beeen bridged. I suspect that this demigod would dearly love to step down from his pedestal if only he knew how...."
Some American fans had registered with the Kings Hotel and, on seeing the renovation work going on concurrent with the convention, had left to seek other accomodation without paying the hotel anything. This left the committee with around £100 to raise to cover uncancelled reservations, consuming the small profit they would otherwise have made.
The month following LONCON a new era started, one that vindicated the dreams of countless SF fans the world over. On 4th October 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik 1, the world's first ever artificial satellite. The Space Age had begun. It was Walt Willis (who else could it have been?) who best captured the mood of the day and the jubilation among SF fans, in a piece he wrote for his American column and titled '1 578 000 000 NEOFEN'. He ended it:
"...all of a sudden all the newsmen became indistinguishable from science fiction fans. They proclaimed that the start of space flight was comparable to the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel and its development the greatest thing in Man's future. The few die-hards who dissented were mocked as fuddy-duddies, the way we used to be mocked as crackpots. So now we have the two greatest nations in the world hellbent for the moon and Mars. The race may have started for the wrong reasons but they're rapidly being rationalised into the right ones, borrowed from us, and by the time we get there, with any luck, everyone will realise that the only race that mattered all along was that of Man. We're off!"
"It's a proud and lonely thing to be a fan" had long been the fan's response to the ridicule his faith in the dream of a future for humanity in space had inevitably produced. After Sputnik the pride increased...and it was a lot less lonely.
In the issue of her fanzine VAGARY that went out with the next OMPA mailing, Roberta Wild made it clear that she been impressed by Madle at LONCON:
"...having had the pleasure of meeting Bob Madle, I honestly can't imagine him buying his way. It was obvious, once you got to know him, that he won fairly and -- if it isn't an outmoded expression, he's a square shooter... It's a pity this misunderstanding ever arose and it wouldn't have done if some of us over here had waited until further news had come through before going off at half cock.... Incidentally, I think Don deserves our thanks for all the work he's done, so here's mine. Now, how about standing for TAFF yourself, Don?"
Chuck Harris remained unimpressed, and replied:
"...I am well aware that bickering won't help TAFF -- and I'm aware that I bicker incessantly about it. For why? Because if a thing is right it's worth fighting for, and because I'm incapable of sitting down whilst the very spirit of TAFF is perverted and twisted away from its original form.
Next, the undisputed fact that Madle was a 'square shooter' does not automatically make him the ideal choice for TAFF or put his policies or beliefs above reproach...You see, you blithely ignore all the arguments of the 'rebel group' ((as laid out above))....
And you want me to give Ford a vote of thanks? You can include me out. I thought he had a Dictator Approach to the whole business. I thought him bigoted, stubborn, completely uncooperative, and I think the mess TAFF is in now can be laid solely at his door. You go praise Caesar, darling. Me, I'm strictly the undertaker's assistant around here.
As for your final diabolical suggestion that Ford should stand for TAFF... well, words fail me. Haven't you realised that if he won he'd run the fund for a whole year afterwards? Not on your nelly, O moon of my delight."
According to SFN 15 (Feb '58) "...details on the voting procedure, which was so strongly criticised, were settled in a summit meeting at 7 Inchmery during the con, in which Willis, Madle, and Bulmer settled their differences". Walt Willis, with Jan Jansen, had been among the first to let Ford know that he didn't like the way the 1957 TAFF race was to be run and, though less vociferous than Harris, had expressed his opinion of the result. This is where GMCarr entered the picture.
Mrs G.M.Carr was a Seattle fan and member of FAPA. In her fanzine GEMZINE, in the autumn 1957 FAPA mailing, she expressed outrage because Willis had written lightly about the 'snog in the fog' slogan and because of what she claimed was his anger over Madle's TAFF win:
"Ever since your attempt to dictate to US fandom how it should conduct our end of the campaign was opposed you have displayed an increasing bitterness. I can understand that this problem of establishing a caste system in fandom impinges on a very real and basic difference in social attitude between Europe and America. The unsportsmanlike way you have acted in expressing your disappointment that your favoured candidate did not win has been a disgrace not only to yourself but to all of the United Kingdom. Don't you think it is time you apologised for your unfounded accusations and your lack of confidence in the Americans?"
Though only a small handful of fans sided with Mrs Carr the attack put Willis in what he considered an impossible position. In February 1958 he decided not to accept the invitation to South Gate, announcing to fandom that Madeleine's pregnancy and sitter problems were among the reasons. However, as he later admitted:
"With consummate timing GMCarr took the chance to publish her allegations that I was anti-American and an embittered loser over TAFF... It was obviously impossible for me to accept money from Americans when many fans believed I despised them, or to appear to be competing with TAFF when they thought me a frustrated dictator. The other reasons I gave at the time for not coming were real enough, but this one was the most depressing."
Shortly after this Willis retired from FAPA, and in the announcement that appeared in his final contribution to the APA it was clear he felt himself to be an 'old-fan-and-tired':
"I'm not leaving FAPA merely to put as much distance as possible between myself and GMCarr. There are two main incentives in fandom, ambition and pleasure. By 1952 I had achieved pretty well everything open to a fan and I began to find that achievement itself destroys the other incentive. I've never got used to being thought of as what is called a BNF and I don't like what it involves. The main reason I carried on so doggedly after my trip to the States in 1952 was that I felt it would be mean to cash in my winnings and quit. By early 1957 I was beginning to think that gafia too might be a way of life. I felt I had done as much after the CHICON as before and that in some weird way the books were square."
CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, formed in February 1958 following a meeting on the 17th of that month at Westminster's Central Hall that had been attended by around five thousand people. After the meeting around a thousand of these people, including Doris Lessing (who, like C.S.Lewis, had once dropped in on a Globe meeting), walked the short distance to Downing Street to chant "Ban the Bomb!" A more spectacular demonstration was planned for Easter in the form of a march from Trafalgar Square to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, near Reading. Like fans of an earlier age British fans of the time were strongly sympathetic to this, the peace movement of their day. Atomic weapons were a horror the public had had to face since 1945, but SF fans had been pondering their implications a lot longer than that so it was not surprising that a number of fans became actively involved with CND, while many others spoke out against the Bomb in their fanzines. Thirty years later another generation of fans would do the same.
The February SFN, the first issue in over two years, announced that CYTRICON IV would, like the previous three, be held over Easter at the George Hotel in Kettering and would be unprogrammed. It also carried news of a number of projects in the offing:
"After devoting their major fannish energies for over a year to the 15th World Con., British fans feel weak but triumphant. They have also had a taste of what really concerted effort can accomplish, and signs are that a number of Projects will soon be under weigh.
In OMPA, discussion is starting on the pros and cons of setting up a new, nationwide SF society. Readers who have any marked interest in this should get in touch with Vin¢ Clarke for the preliminary details...for discussion, not society blueprints!
In London, London Circle members, having heard glowing accounts of the Liverpool Club's quarters and listened to accounts by visiting American con visitors of their own clubrooms, are discussing with new seriousness the possibility of getting a room. The Winnick-sponsored idea has died due to the breakdown of arrangements and the virtual disappearance of Helen, but new plans are being formulated."
More would be heard of these projects in the months to come. The new Liverpool group quarters mentioned had only recently been 'officially' opened by Ron Bennett (who was resident in that city in 1955/6), not that London and Liverpool were the only cities where fans were considering new accomodations....
The Manchester Circle moved from the Thatched House early in 1957 after numbers attending had started declining, and relocated their Sunday evening meetings at the Ping Hong, a licensed restaurant. This was short-lived, however, and by early 1958 they had moved again, this time to the York Hotel. At this point membership had dwindled to a hard-core of Phil Sless, Frank Simpson, Cyril Evans, Ken Smith, and Dave Cohen. Shortly after Christmas, Cohen published TWICE IN A BLUE MOON, and in his editorial wrote:
"Rumours are going around that a certain Northern fan has been making statements claiming that he was speaking for all Northern fans on certain critical matters. I will not go into this matter deeply for I do not intend to light the fuse of a North vs South feud, or even cause a spark in case it does light the fuse, for I think as do the rest of the Manchester Circle, that the whole matter is too ridiculous for words..."
In his column in PLOY 11 (March '58), Sandy Sanderson agreed with Cohen and savaged Bentcliffe over this, with a ferocity not often seen in the fanzines of the time. He saw Bentcliffe as being obdurately anti-London and opposed to anything, such as OMPA and LONCON, originated by them. If so, then it was strange that Bentcliffe was soon to find himself an officer of an organisation that arch-London fan Vin¢ Clarke, more than anyone else, was to be responsible for starting...
CYTRICON IV was held over Easter (April 4th-7th) at the George Hotel in Kettering. As usual it was unprogrammed, but this time it was hardly without purpose. In the sixth issue of his OMPAzine ZYMIC, which went out with the December '57 mailing, Vin¢ Clarke railed against the prevailing apathy of British fandom and the falling numbers of both fanzines and fans. The response to that issue surprised even him:
"I appear to have struck a spark and started a conflagration. The case for Doing Something about the apathetic state of British fandom has certainly been put before, and I'm surprised that the response to DON'T JUST SIT THERE...has been so great; I feel like a man who has casually pushed a button and seen the ICBM take off with a whoosh."
The Liverpool group, and in particular Dave Newman and Norman Shorrock, had been so taken with the idea that they sent Clarke a tape of their discussions of the possibility of setting up a new national organisation and urged him to start up a round-robin tape correspondence with everyone interested in the idea. This Clarke did, and though Inchmery Fandom weren't able to attend the Eastercon his ideas and those of the others who had participated in the correspondence had received enough circulation to enable Newman to put a strong case for the new organisation during the discussion that took place at CYTRICON on the Sunday...
Newman brought the meeting to order, gave a brief resume of the ZYMIC article and the tape discussion that had followed, and threw the meeting open to the floor. In the debate that ensued it was decided that most of the fanzines being published no longer had any real connection to SF and were hardly likely to attract new people, and also that conventions themselves had moved so far from SF that they were not likely to attract new people either. There was evidence to support this in the attendance figures of the previous few Eastercons. Those attending in 1954 had numbered 150, but there were only 115 in 1955 and 80 in 1956. This drop coincided exactly with the shift in emphasis of Eastercons from strongly SF events to largely social affairs, and the fifty or so fans who turned up at CYTRICON IV realised that drastic action was called for. The almost complete absence of channels of recruitment to British fandom, particularly since the demise of Operation Fantast, was a cause of much concern and a number of ways by which the situation could be improved were explored.
Eventually, after hours of debate, it had been decided that a new national organisation was the only answer to the problem, one that was ostensibly devoted to the serious study of SF but whose publications would also carry material about fandom, the hope being that those hooked and nurtured by the organisation would eventually provide fandom with vital new blood. Having taken this decision they then proceeded to elect officers.
Over some reluctance Jeeves and Bentcliffe were persuaded to take the job of Secretary as a joint position, Ted Tubb was elected 'by acclaim' as Editor of the Official Organ (which Jeeves suggested should be called VECTOR), Archie Mercer was persuaded to take the job of Treasurer, and Dave Newman became Chairman. There was some debate over whether the organisation should have 'science fiction' in its name with Tubb opposed and Newman for. Their arguments, as revealed by a transcript of the debate, were:
Tubb: "Consider what the BBC did at the World Science Fiction Convention. They did not go there with the idea of worshipping at the feet of idols but of making mugs out of people who'd come a long way to do something they thought highly of. We don't want that to happen every time we meet the Press, and every time we meet the Press that is what happens."
Newman: "Well, merely calling ourselves 'The Imaginative Fiction Society' or 'The Fantasy Society' is not going to make any difference; the Press immediately say 'This so-and-so Society, they call themselves----; well what are they? Oh, they're science fiction readers.' The damage is done. My personal feeling about this is that avoiding the use of the name 'science fiction' in the title is cowardice in the face of the enemy, and I strongly disapprove of it."
On a show of hands Newman carried the day. It was further agreed that the organisation would henceforth be responsible for the annual convention, the 1959 con to be held 'at the seaside', place unspecified, at Whitsun. Ignoring the fact that the name had surfaced twice before in fandom's past, it was agreed by a show of hands that the new organisation should be called the British Science Fiction Association. Sid Birchby was in that audience, and later wrote:
"For a moment we see that fandom is slipping away, and with a unity of action and lack of heroics that is rare in fan politics, we do something about it. The feeling of the meeting is extraordinary. This is the third national fan society I've seen, and the most likely to succeed where the SFA and BFS have failed."
Perhaps so, but in the months and years to come this BSFA was not always to be the docile and obedient beast those who created it might have wished for.
Reporting the convention in PLOY 13 (July '58), Bennett mentioned that new faces at Kettering were Phil Rogers, Bryan Welham and Barry Hall. Welham and Hall were members of a Clacton-on-Sea SF group that had formed sometime in 1957, and that met above a fish shop. They published a fanzine, PERIHELION, whose first issue appeared in October of that year. It saw four issues, the final one appearing in October 1958.
July saw the publication of the first issue of Sandy Sanderson's APORRHETA, the last of the major British fanzines of the 1950s. During the summer the sixth and final issue of BEM, the first since September '55, appeared as did the eighth and final issue of NEW FUTURIAN, leaving Ron Bennett as the only Leeds fan still publishing a general-circulation fanzine. PLOY 12 (April '58) had revealed that Bennett, John Berry, Bobbie Wild, and Dave Newman were standing for TAFF, a contest that Bennett won. Berry's supporters, led by Arthur Thomson, decided that they wanted him to visit the US regardless of this result and started up a special one-off fund, similar to those that had earlier sent Carnell and Willis across the Atlantic, to accomplish this.
PLOY 13 (July '58) carried ballots for the 1959 TAFF race with Don Ford, Terry Carr, and Bjo Wells (later Trimble) listed as candidates and 31st December 1959 given as the voting deadline. That line-up was to cause further trouble with TAFF, not that things had quietened down since the previous race...
On 16th August, British administrator Ken Bulmer published TAFF STEAM, a special issue of his OMPAzine STEAM, contained a new set of rules which, unannounced, had replaced those of the founders and which were being used by Madle and him. These were widely welcomed. As Chuck Harris wrote:
"I had not always seen eye-to-eye with Ken over TAFF, but these rules that he published were good, fair, and would have stopped the abuses of TAFF which had been so evident in the previous election and they resounded to the credit of Administrators Bulmer and Madle."
The new set of rules required potential voters to meet certain minimum requirements before their vote would be accepted, and would have eliminated most of the causes of the friction in the previous race. Unfortunately this set of rules lasted just three weeks. When Bulmer's term of office ended Ron Bennett, the 1958 winner, became British administrator and on September 9th in Indianapolis he and Madle, who must have had second thoughts about the earlier rules, came up with a 'simplified' set of rules that removed the voter qualification requirement. Indeed, the relevant rule, number five, read:
"Anyone who is considered to be a science fiction fan is eligible to nominate, be a candidate, and vote. In brief, if you're reading this, you are eligible."
Harris was incensed. In his OMPAzine, SWAN SONG 1, he wrote:
"I found these ((the new rules)) in Ted White's GAMBIT 23, and I have received assurance from elsewhere that they are published in all seriousness and that it isn't some fannish hoax, but I can still hardly believe that Ron would have signed them unless he had been mentally ill or violently drunk...From here on down only literacy itself is needed. You need only flash your copy of GAMBIT -- or, indeed, of SWAN SONG -- in front of Old Frank Hartnett Snr, or Mrs Olive Troetschel, or Mr Shorty Rogers, ((apparent non-fans who had voted in the previous TAFF race)) and their votes become as good and as eligible as anyone else's around here. Their wives, their children, and their aged grandmother can nominate and vote like crazy...And one last question -- were you drunk, Ron?"
In SWAN SONG 2, Harris apologised for the tone of his remarks but not their content. Bennett replied in the seventeenth issue of his OMPAzine, BURP!, in the September mailing:
"I don't doubt for a minute the sincerity of Chuck's arguments. There are those amongst us who firmly believe the TAFF rules as they stand are too lax, but after considering their viewpoints, I stand equally firm and resolute that the existing rules and constitution are most fair to all concerned. To those who quote the foundations of the Fund, I'll merely point out that times change. Since TAFF was inaugurated, fandom itself has changed radically. Many Names and Ideals have been replaced by other Names and Ideals. Whether this is good or bad I cannot say, nor do I think can anyone. Obviously, we all have our nostalgic feelings, but what we are concerned with is TAFF -- and fandom -- as it exists today."
Ironically the voter qualification requirements Bulmer proposed in the tenth and last of the rules published in TAFF STEAM are largely those now incorporated in the current TAFF ballot. However, besides eligibility to vote these new rules also differed from those in TAFF STEAM in that they did away with a vote for second and third places. This was to provide the fuel for the trouble over the result of the next race. Meanwhile, the current trouble with TAFF was only one of a number of affairs that was casting a pall over British fandom. As Bennett observed in that same issue of BURP!:
"...there has been a lot of nastiness in fandom lately. We've had a progression of events which have been partially, if not wholly, responsible for the resignation from FAPA of Walt Wilis and Sandy Sanderson, amongst other events. In the OFF TRAILS ((OMPA's Official Organ)) of the last mailing Bobbie Wild stated that she was disgusted with it all, and -- who isn't? I have to confess that I owe it to TAFF, the prospect of occupying the Editorial chair in OMPA, and friends like Bobbie herself, Archie Mercer, Norman Shorrock, Bob Pavlat, and the Inchmery syndicate that I'm still a fan. Again, I don't know whether this is good or bad, but I do know that just before Easter I was ready to call it a day."
Having been unable to attend CYTRICON, Inchmery Fandom decided instead to make a fannish 'tour of the North' in July/August. Among the places they visited was Liverpoool and they were much impressed with the Liverpool Group's clubroom. On his return, and picking up on the discussions mentioned in SFN 15, Vin¢ Clarke published MOVE, a one-shot devoted to the idea of a clubroom for London fandom. Lamenting the continuing decline of the weekly Globe meetings, which by this point were down to around half-a-dozen attendees a week, Clarke pushed the idea that a clubroom would breathe new life into the London Circle. For whatever reason -- apathy, lack of money and/or suitable premises -- this idea came to nothing, but everyone realised that something had to be done to save the London Circle. Before the end of the year something would be.
The first issue of the BSFA's official organ, VECTOR, didn't appear until the summer of 1958 and was edited by Ted Tubb. In a circular issued shortly before titled THE CHAIRMAN SPEAKS that called for memberships at an annual fee of £1 (considered high at the time), Dave Newman had apologised for the silence from the BSFA since CYTRICON IV and explained that they had needed the time to properly formulate the organisational structure and responsibilities before seeking members. Ironically, not long after VECTOR appeared Tubb announced that he didn't have the time to continue editing it and Newman resigned as Chairman following a move from Liverpool to Bournemouth. This left Bentcliffe as de fact Chairman and Jeeves took over VECTOR. Hardly a complaint was heard about this quiet coup d'etat. Not long after this the BSFA got involved with fandom on the Continent. Neither group was to profit by the experience.
The North East Science Fiction Society had been going for four years at this point, but not without the problems that often affected other groups. Don Allen explains that:
"...when the club finally took off its members were mainly SF readers and not at all interested in fandom. Only myself, Jim Cawthorn, and Ted Mason were fannish types. After a while the NESFS split into two groups, serious types and fannish. Though, some of the serious types did eventually cross over when they realised what they were missing!"
Since SATELLITE had become Allen's own fanzine after its first issue a new group zine was needed and in 1955 Alan Burns had started up GESTALT. However, by 1958 Burns had fallen out with the group and left to start up his own fanzine, NORTHLIGHT. GESTALT was taken over first by Con Turner, its sometime co-editor, and later by Jim Marshall.
In September 1958, Ethel Lindsay re-launched FEMIZINE under the name DISTAFF. The fanzine was welcomed by Britain's female fans but the name-change wasn't, so with its next issue, the eleventh, it reverted to its old name. Lindsay published FEMIZINE, which continued to be a showcase for the talents of female fans, until its fifteenth and final issue in September 1960. September '58 was also the end of OMPA's fourth year, about which Vin¢ Clarke wrote:
"This year did see some monstrously large mailings, mostly due to the US membership who comprised over a quarter of the total. Such items as Bill Evans' 58-page REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST, Bob Pavlat's 25-page FANZINE INDEX and similar offerings helped swell the total, tho' new British publishing fan Bobbie Wild probably ran away with the year's honours in material publishing at 93 pages!"
On 8th November 1958, Inchmery Fandom moved from Inchmery Road to 236 Queens Road, New Cross, but they retained the Inchmery name. That same month, in APORRHETA 5, Sanderson reported that Willis was "...recovering from GAFIA...". However, Willis was never again to be as highly active in fandom as he had previously been.
In December a move was made to get to grips with the problems plaguing the London Circle. Though the idea of a clubroom had been a non-starter it was widely accepted that something had to be done to arrest the Circle's decline. Ken Bulmer recalls the first move in this process:
"Not wishing to see an institution that had given us a great deal of pleasure die, Ted Tubb and I, together with Pamela and other freely given help, put into effect a scheme which we had talked over for the best part of a year.
We had talked over privately for most of 1958 the disease attacking London SF enthusiasts, so that when the meeting of 18th December 1958 attracted the usual Christmas gathering, which we had anticipated, we were ready. I stood up and announced that from now on the London Circle would meet officially on the first Thursday in every month, but stressed that the usual Thursday gathering would still continue. The idea was obvious; to bring together friends on a night they knew they would meet without the chance that the meeting would be poorly attended. Ted Tubb then called for a shilling a head. Enthusiasm was by this time mounting headily and the silver made a lively ringing on the bar table."
One of those caught up in the excitement this move generated was Sandy Sanderson, who wrote it up in APORRHETA 7 (Jan '59):
"Ted Tubb and Ken Bulmer were in great form, and before my very eyes they did something I would not have thought possible. They ORGANISED the London Circle. For the first time in its existence the Circle has a membership fee (1/- per month) and a regular meeting time (first Thursday in each month). The enthusiasm for this innovation was quite fantastic. I understand the idea originated with Ron and Daphne Buckmaster, and since something had to be done to stop the rot at the Globe, it is a good one."
Designating the first Thursday of the month as the night the London Circle officially met inevitably led to gatherings on the remaining Thursdays fading away. This was but the first step in the transformation of the Circle, and there would be further developments in the months that followed. One of these involved the appearance, around this time, of the last of the major female fans of the period, someone who was to go on to leave her mark on 1960s fandom....
Ella Parker was already in her forties when she discovered fandom. Having made contact with Archie Mercer, she wrote to him enquiring about fandom and shortly after received a copy of Paul Enever's ORION, her first fanzine. Soon she had taken over from him as editor. As she recalls:
"I was pitched into amateur publishing purely by accident. Paul Enever came to The Globe one night when I was there and he had a fanzine for which he wanted a home. Until that very minute, so help me, the idea of publishing, or even writing, had never entered my tiny head. I doubt very much that I ever would have become a faned if it weren't for Paul. I would probably have developed into the father and mother of all letterhacks for the zines, but no more than that."
With assistance from Bobbie Wild and Sandra Hall, Parker put out her first issue, ORION 21, in February 1959. The flat in Kilburn that she shared with her brother and nicknamed 'The Penitentiary' was soon to become an important meeting place for London fans.
The 1959 national convention, BRUMCON, was held over Easter at the Imperial Hotel in Birmingham, a city that was hosting its first SF convention some sixteen years after the 'near-miss' of MIDVENTION. This was the first con to be put on under the auspices of the BSFA and was more formal than had been the case in recent years, seeking as it did to appeal to newcomers as well as to the old guard of fanzine fans. Only fifty or so fans attended, but along with the old familiar faces were those who had been introduced to fandom by the BSFA. It was a small beginning, but there were signs that the patient might now recover. BRUMCON was apparently a fairly quiet affair, one of the few incidents of note being the individual who spoiled the fancy dress contest by yelling abuse at the female contestants. He was eventually identified as a religious fanatic rather than a fan, and ejected. The IFA was long-dead but the con made some awards of its own, with NEW WORLDS for Best UK Prozine, ASTOUNDING as best US Prozine, and TRIODE as Best British Fanzine.
The BSFA held its first AGM at the con and new officers for the year were elected. Bobbie Wild took over as VECTOR editor with Sandra Hall her assistant, while Doc Weir became Secretary, and Archie Mercer remained treasurer. Arthur Rose 'Doc' Weir was a member of the Cheltenham Circle, and somewhat unusual in that he discovered fandom, in 1958, when already in his sixties. Age, however, did not stop him from fully and enthusiastically involving himself in all that fandom had to offer.
The BSFA was getting some useful publicity at this point from NEW WORLDS, long the British prozine most resistant to printing fannish news. In an issue of PLOY that appeared not long after the convention, Carnell explained that NW had never carried a fan column because he considered it would be of too little interest to the majority of readers. However, he was plugging the BSFA because:
"It seems to me that here is the basis for new members of fandom and that in the Association's quarterly journal all the fan magazines which are reviewed will be brought to the attention of such new members of the Association who join from the general readership."
BRUMCON led directly to the formation of at least one new group when Ken Cheslin, Mike Kilvert and Peter Davies of Stourbridge, who attended it after hearing an SF con was being held in nearby Birmingham, were so inspired by the convention that they promptly formed the Stourbridge and District Science Fiction Circle -- or SADO, as it was also known. Becoming greatly enthusiastic about fandom, Cheslin and friends began planning a fanzine, and later placed a small-ad in NEW WORLDS for new members that pulled in Dave Hale and Darroll Pardoe early in 1960.
The decision of the London Circle to follow the example of other groups and to formally organise itself in the hopes that this would breathe new life into the group, took another step at the Globe on 2nd April 1959 when it was decided to elect a committee. As Ken Bulmer recorded:
"Charlie Duncombe was confirmed in his post as treasurer, as was Sandra Hall secretary. Subs had been set, for the time being at least, at 5/-, and yellow membership cards were issued. Voting was by upraised arm -- and the hand that topped that arm had to be clutching a yellow membership card for the vote to be counted. Ah me, for the fine fannish days of yore! Seven members were needed for the committee. Ted Tubb then stood and said that Vin¢ ought to be on the committee, and this was agreed to. It was proposed that we ought to have a Publicity Officer, and Peter Taylor's name was put forward. Arthur Thomson then proposed Joy Clarke. On a show of hands, 22-23 voted for Peter, and 12-13 voted for Joy. This left two places on the committee yet to be filled (I'd been bunged on somewhere along the line), and four names came up. Jim Rattigan, Ella Parker, Rog Peters, and Ted Tubb. When the waving arms had been disentangled, Ella and Ted were on. I declined the job of chairman and Ted was nobbled for that position. The seven members of the committee then went into a huddle and I introduced George Locke as the man willing to undertake editorship of the Official news sheet."
At the next meeting of the Circle, held at the White Horse on 14th May, it was unanimously decided that as from June the first Thursday of every month would be a social meeting held at the Globe, and that on the third Friday of every month a business meeting would be held at the White Horse. By early April the London Circle had signed up forty members and it was looking as if the rot might have been arrested.
At this point the US had a lively newszine, called FANAC and edited by Terry Carr and Ron Ellik, but Britain had lacked coverage since the demise of CONTACT two years earlier. This was rectified in April 1959 when the first issue of Ron Bennett's SKYRACK appeared. Commenting on the death of CONTACT, Bennett wrote:
"A year ago I wrote to Jan asking if I might take over CONTACT but received no reply. About the same time FANAC came on the scene... FANAC has filled the gap left by CONTACT's departure very nicely, but deals primarily with Stateside news. Recently Archie Mercer attempted to balance this bias by issuing a newszine called ANGLOFANAC. This is to be infrequent.
In the hope of balancing FANAC's Stateside slant even further I am hoping to produce SKYRACK at regular intervals of a month. If there is enough news to merit more frequent issues, then I'll produce such issues. However, I have no intention of stepping on Archie's toes, especially as ANGLOFANAC is free and distributed with FANAC. When Archie is preparing an issue, I'll merely turn my news over to him and skip an issue."
Since ANGLOFANAC only saw two issues this wasn't to prove a problem, and SKYRACK was set for a long and successful run. Of course, this meant less time for PLOY and the June issue, the fourteenth and the first in almost a year, was the final one.
At BRUMCON, Bennett had suggested his native Harrogate as the venue for the next Eastercon. However, over the Whitsun weekend of 16th-18th May, during a meeting of BSFA members occasioned by a contingent of London Circle members descending on the Cheltenham Circle, it was decided to award the con to London. Those who made the trip included the Bulmers, Mike Moorcock, Pete Taylor, Archie Mercer, Ted Tubb, George Locke, Bobbie Wild, Ella Parker, Barrington Bayley, Jim Rattigan, Sandy Sandfield, Ivor Mayne, and Sandra Hall. It wasn't all business, however. In SKYRACK 3 (June '59), Bennett reported that:
"A fancy dress parade paid homage at the Shrine of St. Fantony and later Ted Tubb and Sandra Hall were admitted to the select company of Knights and Ladies of this ancient fannish order. I'm told that Eric and Margaret Jones, Frank Herbert ((a local fan, not the SF writer)), Doc Weir, Les Childs, Bill Gray, Keith Freeman, and Audrey Eversfield of the Cheltenham Circle made merry with the visitors."
After the weekend London fans who hadn't travelled to Cheltenham argued that those who did had, as Ken Bulmer put it, "no power to conclude a final agreement". Consequently, it took a business meeting at the White Horse for the Circle to formally accept the BSFA's offer of the convention, and the split the affair almost caused was a symptom of deeper tensions in the group. SKYRACK 4 (July '59), reported this affair, adding that the con would take place over Whitsun 1960 and that, according to Ken Bulmer, the London Circle intended holding a one-day convention -- which they termed a 'Conversazione' -- in the latter half of September. By the time SKYRACK 5 appeared, four weeks later, this had become a 'Symposium' and was now scheduled for early October. That issue also reported that the first issue of George Locke's fanzine SMOKE, apparently originally intended as an official organ of the London Circle, had appeared.
Although some of its members were at BRUMCON the Manchester Circle may have faded away by mid-1959. At any rate, in the June SKYRACK Alan Rispin was reported as being interested in contacting fans interested in forming a Manchester SF Circle to meet on Saturday nights. This couldn't have come to anything, however, because by January 1960 he and a friend had reportedly formed Irlam SF Society, Irlam being the area of Manchester where he lived. A similarly confusing item appeared in the July SKYRACK when it was reported that Don Allen, Jim Cawthorn, Tom Porter, and Mary Munro formed the Newcastle SF Circle, which would seem to indicate that NESFS had faded away.
On 8th July 1959, John Brunner and wife Marjorie opened an Exhibition at Kingsway Hall that had been planned by their Hampstead CND group. That same day it was announced in Parliament that, within two months, seven squadrons of nearly 200 H-Bomb carrying planes would be sent from France to bases in the UK, giving Britain the greatest density of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. Joy Clarke recorded this in APORRHETA 12, commenting:
"What two more contrasting things could have happened on the same day? Vin¢, Sandy and I visited the Exhibition, thanks to the kindness of Ella Parker who babysat for us. Paul Hammett, the fan who is a doctor, drove with his wife and four children from Dorset to London especially to see the exhibition. Joan, his wife, is the Chairwoman of the Midland Region Group. Dr Shevaji Lal, another fan and an Indian, was there too -- he came with the Hammetts. Naturally the Brunners with John's parents were there. The anti-bomb feeling is spread pretty widely through fandom: fandom must make it spread through the world."
Indeed. In his American column, Willis had added his voice to those who were appalled by the strident militarism displayed by Robert Heinlein in STARSHIP TROOPERS, which had been published the previous year, and by his support for nuclear weapons, which a number of US fans shared. A lively argument had ensued.
In the lettercolumn of TRIODE 16 (August '59) the strange affair of the ISFS came to a head. The International Science Fiction Society was set up in 1958 in order to improve links between the various national fandoms. Organised primarily by German-speaking fans it grew out of an Austrian group called the Utopia Club and was intended as an international fan centre and clearing house. However, since it was weakest where fandom was strongest, ie. the English-speaking nations, its ambitions in this regard were obviously hampered. Eric Bentcliffe had already arranged loose links between the BSFA and a continental group called Science Fiction Club Europa during his time as BSFA Chairman, so Erwin Scudla, a mainstay of the ISFS, approached him about similar links between the BSFA and ISFS. Bentcliffe discussed this with Doc Weir, his successor, who had friends in Vienna check the society out. They reported that it was receiving funds from the International Society for Science and Technology, an outfit they claimed was a Communist-front organisation. Scudla admitted that, technically, the ISFS was a branch of the ISST but denied that either had anything to do with Communism. He was particularly incensed with Bentcliffe for running a piece on this in TRIODE because in these Cold War days such rumours could put Western members in danger of losing their jobs, and on the other side of the Iron Curtain might cause the authorities to suspect the two organisations were linked with American espionage, which would obviously be extremely dangerous for their members there. Inevitably, the idea of a link with the BSFA died amid the recriminations. The American LASFS group had affiliated with the ISST but they too had second thoughts after the revelations in TRIODE.
NEBULA 41 (Aug '59) was the final issue. South Africa (where a large part of NEBULA's circulation went) banned all imports of paperbacks as part of its programme of dealing with its balance-of-payments problem, and soon after American customs decided to clamp a retroactive duty on all the copies of NEBULA that had been sent to the US, even though only about two-thirds of those sent had sold. These were body-blows that the magazine couldn't recover from. There was also a new factor affecting domestic circulation, as editor Hamilton recalls:
"...Independent Television stations were spreading throughout Great Britain, and I think there was a general dropping off of people reading at all, because this was a novelty -- two channels of television."
Fanzines, too, were undoubtedly affected by television and the distractions it offered. How many might have otherwise been written in evenings now given over to TV watching will never be known.
The special fund set up for that purpose having succeeded, John Berry set off for America on 25th August. Like Willis, Berry had done a lot of writing for US fanzines and quickly built up a following in America. After many adventures he returned to Belfast on 17th September. His epic trip report, THE GOON GOES WEST (some 20 000 words of which was been written during a hectic four-day stay in New York), was first published serially in US fanzine CRY and later as a separate volume.
At the end of August a spoof on SKYRACK appeared. SKYHACK, which claimed to have been edited by 'Cecil Bennett' but which textual analysis showed to have been written by Archie Mercer, was a clever parody with many of its 'news' items being plausible enough to fool a number of fans into thinking it was the genuine article.
In September, Bobbie Wild married the Cheltenham Circle's Bill Gray and moved to that town, while SKYRACK 7 reported Mike Moorcock's first professional sale, to NEW WORLDS. Moorcock thus became the last of the SF authors to emerge from British fandom in the 1950s, others being Bob Shaw, James White, John Brunner, Ted Tubb, and Ken Bulmer. In late-September, Cheslin and Davies of SADO published the first issue of LES SPINGE. It wasn't a particularly auspicious beginning, but SPINGE would go on to become one of the major fanzines of the early-60s. September was also the end of OMPA's fifth year, a year in which the waitlist had grown from 17 to 21, in which British fans found themselves in the minority of the membership for the first time, and in which OMPA saw its largest ever mailing -- the massive 422-page 16th mailing that went out in the summer. OMPA also contained, in its April mailing, the first issue of Terry Jeeves' ERG, a fanzine that would go on to have the longest record of continuous publication of any British fanzine ever.
Russia continued to make all the running in the space race at this point. On 14th September the Soviet Lunik-2 craft crashed onto the moon, the first man-made object ever to reach another body, while the following month Lunik-3 took the first ever pictures of the far side of the moon.
The London Symposium of Saturday 3rd October 1959 would have been considered a full convention ten years earlier. An overnight affair, the Symposium was held at the Mayfair Restaurant, 65 South Audley St, in the West End. Anyone who was anyone in London fandom was there as well as out-of-towners such as Ken Cheslin, Archie Mercer, Alan Rispin, Ron Bennett, Keith Freeman, and Eric Jones. Attending from the US were Frank and Belle Dietz. Frank Arnold and Ted Tubb opened the gathering with introductory speeches and Walter Gillings, making a rare appearance, compared the gathering to the very first convention in Leeds in 1937. The Dietzes showed films of the last few Worldcons, and among other events were the showing of films made by Alan E.Nourse and by the Los Angeles group. It was here that Vin¢ Clarke and Ella Parker resigned from the London Circle, a sign of the problems that still plagued the group. In itself the Symposium appears to have been a success, but as a means of revitalising the London Circle it was a failure.
Under the headline LONDON CIRCLE DISRUPTS, the November SKYRACK carried the following report:
"Although it had been hoped that the overnight Symposium held at the beginning of October would strengthen internal relationships, the London Circle was disbanded at its business meeting of Friday 16th October, following the resignation of Chairman Ted Tubb. It was agreed to revert to the system of seven months ago, social meetings at the Globe and no business meetings at the White Horse. The Globe meetings will continue to take place on the first Thursday of each month. It is still intended to hold the 1960 convention in London and the provisional date has now been changed from Whitsun to Easter.
Some London fans held a meeting in a room made available at Inchmery on Friday 23rd October, when a new club -- the Science Fiction Club of London -- was formed. Ella Parker was elected Chairwoman and Jim Groves, 29 Latham Road, East Ham, London E6, is Hon. Secretary. Meetings will be held twice a month. The membership is already over the dozen mark..."
Though the name would still occasionally be used to refer to London fans in the following years, the London Circle was dead. The SF Club of London held its early meetings at Inchmery before switching to 'The Penitentiary', Ella Parker's flat. Unfortunately, this wasn't the end of the schisms and gafiations in London fandom.
The voting deadline for the TAFF race had been moved back to 15th January 1960, and soon after SKYRACK ran the results. Don Ford won the race, and the result caused almost as much fuss as the 1957 result had. Wells and Carr split the fanzine fan vote, to the dismay of most British fans who were convinced that the absence of second and third place votes had allowed Ford in. There was consternation in the US too, and when FANAC polled its readers 55 out of the 106 who responded rated TAFF's rules and procedures unsatisfactory. However, the fuss was largely ended when a detailed breakdown of the voting figures showed that as well as winning comfortably in the US, Ford would also have led by a narrow margin in UK voting. Nevertheless, it was too much for Chuck Harris and he quit fandom in disgust:
"You see", he later wrote, " I had a sort of personal trinity in fandom. I had a hand in founding three things: HYPHEN, OMPA, and TAFF, and I had a sort of weird parental affection for all of them. They all seemed worthwhile projects and I was very proud of them. And I was especially proud of TAFF."
The January 1960 TRIODE, number 17, carried the news that Bentcliffe, Ashworth, and Sanderson would be standing in the next TAFF race.
On 3rd January 1960, at Inchmery, the Science Fiction Club of London held its fifth meeting (meetings were on the first and third Sundays of the month), and its first AGM. Apart from welcoming Paul Enever, whose first meeting this was, those present (Ella Parker, ATom, Vin¢ and Joy Clarke, Jim Groves, Sandy Sanderson, Ken and Irene Potter, and George Locke) elected officers for the year -- Parker as Chair, Groves as Secretary, Sanderson as Treasurer, and Joy Clarke as Publicity Officer -- and debated what the objectives of the club should be. Two decisions were made: to search for a proper clubroom (the longtime dream of London fans), and to publish a combozine for the 1960 Eastercon. Combozines were a little like one-off apazines, or maybe clubzines, with each member contributing a set number of pages as his or her contribution. The first in Britain had been put out for SUPERMANCON and featured a number of special two or four page versions of contemporary fanzines, bound together.
The SF Club of London held the first meeting at their new venue, Ella Parker's flat in Kilburn, on 3rd April, when a brief 'drumming out' ceremony was held for George Locke whose last meeting this was before entering the Army to do his National Service. On 12th April, Parker discovered that that year's Eastercon hotel had cancelled the booking without bothering to tell anyone. After a very hectic day she succeeded in booking it into another hotel, the Kingsley. Which was just as well as not only was Easter over the weekend of 15th-18th April, but the original hotel had turned out to be a teetotal one!
By all accounts the (unnamed) 1960 Eastercon was a fairly sedate affair. The con proper didn't start until Saturday but people turned up on the Friday evening anyway. Among those who were there, indulging in the usual drinking and chatting, were Joy Clarke, Sandy Sanderson, the Buckmasters, Brian Aldiss, Don Ford, and GoH Ted Carnell. Saturday began with opening speeches from Carnell and Ford (who also put on a slide show), and other items that day included a TAFF candidates quiz moderated by Doc Weir, and the Fancy Dress. Sunday started off with the BSFA AGM in which officers for the year were elected. Ella Parker became the Association's new Secretary, Jim Groves editor of VECTOR, Ina Shorrock its Chairman, Brian Aldiss its President, and Archie Mercer its Treasurer for the third (and final, he said) year. The afternoon programme started with a much-appreciated take-off of 'This Is Your Life' with Eric Bentcliffe as host and a stunned and startled Norman Shorrock as the unsuspecting victim. Doc Weir gave a talk on Karel Capek and in the evening was the TAFF auction, conducted by Ron Bennett, and a showing of 'The Day The Earth Stood Still'. The day ended with partying. As Sanderson reported in APORRHETA 17, the final issue:
"...Joy and I organised an OMPA meeting in Ethel Lindsay's room. Eventually we went from there to a party in Don Ford's room. This was the only really big room party in the place -- but not to worry...KETTERING is the word for next year, and things will be back to normal then. We got back to Inchmery about 3am and the con was over. Not bad, not good. I enjoyed myself."
In a way that wasn't the end though, because the following day some twenty fans, including Don Ford, the Buckmasters, Inchmery, Ethel Lindsay, Ella Parker, Ron Bennett, and the like, gathered in Trafalgar Square to watch the end of that year's march from Aldermaston by CND. They were among 30 000 who gathered there to greet the marchers. In the evening the fannish contingent returned to Inchmery and Sanderson showed a film of the 1957 Worldcon taken by Carnell.
At certain times in fandom certain groups of people appear whose talent, energy and, most importantly, written output in the form of articles and fanzines, is such that they form almost a central axis around which the fandom of their day seems to rotate. They become, in fact, a fannish focal point. By the beginning of the 1960s Inchmery Fandom in general, and APORRHETA in particular, had achieved just such a position but they had done so in a British fandom much weakened by the conflicts of the previous few years. And while new fans had begun to trickle in with the advent of the BSFA, increasing numbers of older ones were leaving because of disillusion or the pressure of increasing career and family demands on their time. New groups, such as the Clacton group which had faded away the previous year, could be short-lived but even long-established groups such as that in Leeds -- whose meetings had become increasingly infrequent, the group dying with the decade -- were passing away. Long-established fanzines too, were falling by the wayside, and in February TRIODE had ceased publication with its seventeenth issue. Other fanzines that ceased publication in 1960 were RETRIBUTION, SIDEREAL, SPACE DIVERSIONS, and FEMIZINE.
In mid-1960 personal problems within Inchmery Fandom led to the destruction of the group, with Joy Clarke and Sandy Sanderson emigrating to the US and eventually marrying, and Vin¢ Clarke quitting fandom. And so 1950s British fandom died, the fall of Inchmery marking the end of an era. Yet, the seeds of the fandom to come had already been planted...and this new fandom was to be a very different animal to the one it had replaced.