The prevailing view of the state of fanzine fandom in Britain in the immediate post-SEACON period is that it was a wasteland with most of the new titles being full of book reviews, poetry, and execrable amateur fiction -- same tired old neofan formula in fact. As Greg Pickersgill later wrote, it was...
...just as if everything was H-bombed flat and fandom as it was vanished without a trace, creating a gap in which there existed nothing for the new rising sons of fandom to measure their own efforts against."
In other words British fandom found itself in the same position as it had been in during the early 1960s -- or did it? True, a Lot of new fanzines did adhere to the 'neofan formula' but a lot didn't. Each wave of newcomers brings something new with it and among the influences these had absorbed were such things as the Punk/New Wave fanzines that had sprung into existence a few years earlier, which gave some of the work they produced a different flavour. While it saw many examples of the neofan formula the year following SEACON also witnessed the arrival of fanzines from people new to to fanzine fandom that were interesting and entertaining. Some, such as Trevor Briggs and Alan Ferguson's SECOND-HAND WAVE, Cyril Simsa's AMANITA, and The Red Army Choir's DRYGULCH were a little unusual in their approach but most were cast in more familiar moulds. These included titles such as Roz Kaveney and Abi Frost's NEW RIVER BLUES, Jimmy Robertson's TWENTYTHIRD, Nic Howard and Chris Leuis's THE USUAL, and Glen Warminger and Alan Marshall's THIS FARCE. When it came to pre-SEACON fanzines there were further issues of ONE-OFF, PERIHELION, GROSS ENCOUNTERS, OCELOT, PERIPHERY, TWLL DDU, DOT, SMALL FRIENDLY DOG, DRILKJIS, and NABU among others, while this same period also saw new titles from established fans such as Ian Williams with CHIMERA, Steve Higgins with STOMACH PUMP, Joseph Nicholas with NAPALM IN THE MORNING, and Harry Bell with SNORKEL. And when CHECKPOINT ceased publication shortly before SEACON, with its 100th issue, the task of putting out a regular newszine was picked up immediately by Dave Langford with ANSIBLE, a fanzine that continued with the annual fan-poll and quickly became as indispensable as its predecessor had been. So, while fanzine activity in the immediate post-SEACON period didn't match the levels reached in the late '70s it was still far from being the wasteland of popular myth. Nor were the pre-SEACON fanzines that continued into the 1980s entirely without influence among the new fans, though much of that influence was to prove negative...
Ian Maule's NABU, an entertaining if largely unremarkable fanzine, achieved a fair degree of notoriety in some quarters due to its regular inclusion of 'K is for Knife', a column of fanzine criticism by Joseph Nicholas. While this started out as a reasonable and cogent feature Nicholas soon began demonstrating an unfortunate attitude to newer fans. By the column's third installment in NABU 7 he was boasting of...
...positive success in respect of Robin Hughes' CANOPUS; the Letter I sent him in response to his first issue was so vicious that apparently it caused him to abandon his plans for a second."
Around this same period (mid-79) Nicholas also announced a forthcoming fanzine, to be edited by Alan Dorey and him, called ANOTHER BLOODY FANZINE that was being touted as containing the fanzine criticism to end all fanzine criticism. The wind was very neatly taken out of the sails of this venture by an ingenious fake flyer (attributable to Langford and/or Smith) that was convincing enough to fool several people completely. As D.West puts it in his article'Ah, Sweet Arrogance'...
...so well did this forgery capture the manner and message of the Dynamic Duo that the poor sods had little alternative to giving it their own (rather petulant) endorsement. After all, a couple of variations on 'Rivers of blood will flow' and 'Lots of dead wood will fall' left them with scarcely anything to say.
It might have been thought by the time the first (full) issue appeared they would have dreamed up something new to say -- but no. ABF 1, trumpeted as the Killer fanzine of the year, turned out to be about as lethal an engine of destruction as a wet cigarette end."
Indeed. Though obviously patterning themselves after critics much as Pickersgill and West, and though picking up something of their surface tone, neither Dorey nor Nicholas absorbed the substance of their criticism. Describing the way they worked, West wrote;
"Mostly they operate on gut-reaction backed up by assertion and bluster. The unspoken rationale is: If we don't like something and can think of six colourful ways of saying how bad it is then that makes us critics, and no scumbag editor had better say different."
Christened 'Kill-The-Fuckers,' or 'KTF,' this school of fanzine criticism differed from the Linwood/Pickersgill/West school in a number of important respects. Not only was it less analytical but also more destructive. When Pickersgill tore into the first (and last) issue of VIRIDIANA in FOULER he was doing so as a neofan in his first fanzine, but when Nicholas tore into the first (and only) issue of CANOPUS, it was as a member of the fannish 'establishment' and as such, like it or not, his word carried weight. As speculated at the time, it's not impossible that 'K is for Knife' was responsible for that inevitable but nonetheless uncomfortable period of antagonism between any new influx and the established fans lasting Longer than it need have done.
In 1980 ALBACON 80 was held in Glasgow, the first Eastercon of the '80s and the first ever held in Scotland, with Colin Kapp as GoH and Jim Barker as FGoH. It's a measure of the growth of fandom in Scotland, and in Glasgow in particular, that it was able to go from organising its first regional convention in 1978 to putting on an Eastercon two years later. Both the FAIRCONs and ALBACON '80 were organised by Glasgow's FOKT (Friends of Kilgore Trout) group, founded in 1974 following the Tynecon, and among whose core members were Sandy Brown, Jimmy Robertson, Bill Carlin, Kevin Clark and, of course, Bob (fake) Shaw. They had also been putting out a groupzine called GET FOKT since 1977. Shaw is interesting in that he never generated any great fanzine presence yet was to be the driving force behind a sizeable number of early-'80s conventions. He was also, according to most sources, rather diffcult to get along with and agruments between him and other FOKT members led to Carlin, Brown and Robertson leaving in early 1980 and, with other fans, setting up a new group. Alone this trio formed The Red Army Choir (and put out a fanzine called first DRYGULCH, and Later INDIAN SCOUT) and with the others they were Cretinfandom.
In the early '80s, Glasgow fandom appeared to be divided into two camps -- Cretinfandom, who were interested in fanzines and fandom at large; and the rest, who seemed to put all their energies into organising conventions (primarily for several hundred Glaswegians who turned up each year, paid their money at the door but had no other contact with fandom), among whom were Bob (fake) Shaw, Bob Jewett, Dave Ellis, Bruce Saville, Ed Buckley, and later on Joan Paterson, Ian Sorensen and Mike Molloy.
At FAIRCON 4 in 1982 a further clash between Bob (fake) Shaw and the rest of the convention committee resulted in the regional conventions being renamed ALBACONs (the name previously reserved for Eastercons) while Shaw started advertising his rival FAIRCONs to take place on the same weekend as the 'real' con (and apparently organising hotel facilities and guests, etc.). Whether these were pure hoax to upset the running of the ALBACONs or a genuine attempt to provide an alternative venue is debatable: none appears to have actually taken place. Both Shaw, with his scurrilous (some said libellous) series of ROCKON PROGRESS REPORTS (the name taken from an earlier hoax), and others of the con-running fraternity (e.g. Ian Sorensen with MINCE) began to produce solo fanzines.
Eventually FOKT (or "Trout") became dissatisfied with the pub they had been meeting in for the last seven years, and the ill-feeling and/or lack of communication between factions led to no fewer than three groups meeting in separate pubs: the remnants of Cretinfandom (Jimmy Robertson having moved to London) plus a few old-timers talked out of retirement in one; the ALBACON committees and friends in a second; while Shaw started a new video club aimed at younger (and mostly teetotal) media fans. ALL three continued to meet each Thursday night, and there was some overlap between personnel.
Interesting though all this Glaswegian activity was it did tend to obscure the fact that Glasgow wasn't the only fannish centre in Scotland. In mid-1979 a number of Edinburgh fans who had attended FAIRCON '78, but failed to meet there, got together and formed FORTH (Friends of Robert-the-Hack), yet another informal group meeting weekly in a pub. They started putting out a groupzine of the same name in November 1980 and continued doing so until the fifth issue in Spring 1982. Later that year Owen Whiteoak produced EARTHQUAKE COUNTY and SKULLFUCK, and the following year UGLY RUMORS, which was quickly followed by Jim Darroch's SUSPECT DEVICE, Chris Anderson's CHRIS ANDERSON, Matt Sillars and Brian Hennigan's THE HEAD and Matt Sillars' own TALES FROM THE BEAVERBANK. However, only Owen Whiteoak and Chris Anderson carried on producing fanzines, Anderson switching to the title WISHFUL THINKING and Whiteoak perversely continuing to change title with every issue. FORTH also collaborated to organise Edinburgh's first convention, RA CON, in February 1983, and this was judged a great success by many who attended. An attempt by Scottish fans Jim Barker and Dave Ellis, together with Edinburgh fans Andrew Rose and Jeremy Johnson, to produce a SILICON-type convention, SILICLONE, in February 1985 was only partially successful.
Fan groups were springing up all over the place in the early '80s, possibly as a result of previously isolated fans having been brought together by SEACON, and in its April/May 1981 issue the BSFA's MATRIX Listed 38 active groups (a figure which included university SF societies) but there were some obvious omissions. Not least among these were the London groups Friends In Space (which included many former Ratfans) and the Harringey & District Sci-Fi Discussion Group ("firm wrists essential") which later evolved into the monthly North London pool-playing evening, but there were many others. The BSFA itself got into the act in October '80 by setting up a monthly meeting for London-based members that was first held above various pubs in Hammersmith before moving, in January '82, to the King of Diamonds, a pub only a few short yards from the One Tun. With the now-chronic overcrowding in the One Tun, the BSFA meetings, which were frequented by a sizeable portion of local fanzine fandom, were generally considered more enjoyable. Which is not to say that the One Tun had lost all its appeal or that there weren't those who envied it its drawing power because only a few years earlier, in February or March of 1979, the Leeds Group decided to set up a monthly meeting designed to attract fans from as wide an area in the North as the One Tun did in the South. Christened, naturally enough, 'the Northern Tun,' this was held in the West Riding Hotel in Leeds on the final Friday of the month and though not as big a draw as the One Tun, not least because of the smaller number of fans in the North, it was still successful in forging links between the scattered Northern groups. Remarkably, the Northern Tun was set up only weeks before that year's Eastercon, the first YORCON, which was also being organised by the Leeds Group and which was an enjoyable and relaxed convention which failed to stir up any controversy. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the second YORCON.
YORCON II, the 1981 Eastercon was held in the Leeds Dragonara Hotel as its predecessor had been and was, if anything, even more relaxed; which was part of its trouble. Though another enjoyable convention there were accusations that the committee were taking things too easy, were resting on their laurels, and some complained that it was underprogrammed. What really caused a storm of protest, however, was the size of the profit the convention made and what they decided to do with the money. They used it to set up an SF magazine. In retrospect it's difficult to see what all the fuss was about, because while conventions are traditionally non-profit-making affairs an unexpectedly large number of walk-in members or an over-cautious committee will inevitably generate more income than was originally budgeted for, and this money has to be disposed of somehow. By common agreement any money made by a convention should be ploughed back into fandom, but in what form? It's long long been accepted practice to make donations to fan funds such as TAFF and GUFF from convention profits, but the odd £50 or so this usually involves hardly made a dent in some recent surpluses. SKYCON got over the problem by using the money to provide a free bar for members on the final night, while ALBACON bought various pieces of equipment for use by future conventions. YORCON II chose a different course and funded INTERZONE, a non-profit making SF maazine run by an unpaid editorial collective that initially included people such as Roz Kaveney, Malcolm Edwards, Simon Ounsley, Graham James, Colin Greenland, and others. As a magazine set up to further the cause of SF in Britain rather than to line the pockets of the publishers, it might have been expected to cause rather less controversy than it did, but it continues to this day and is currently Britain's only native SF magazine. Getting back to fanzines; the second half of 1981 is generally considered, by those who viewed the preceeding year-and-a-half as a wasteland, as the time when fanzine fandom in Britain returned to life. The first real sign that better times were on the way was the publication in July of Malcolm Edwards' TAPPEN, which was followed later that month by the first issue in almost three years of Rob Hansen's EPSILON and in August by the seventh (and, alas, final) issue of Greg Pickersgill's STOP BREAKING DOWN. This particular happy conjunction occurred because they saw each other every week at Friends In Space meetings and egged each other on but it seemed to act as a signal for others who'd been 'resting' since SEACON to resume their own fan activity. As Pickersgill wrote,
"I knew there was absolutely no escape when Malcolm Edwards put out TAPPEN. Fanzine publishing suddenly bacame something more than a vague desire. It suddenly seemed possible again."
Indeed it did, and enough were published before year's end for Chris Priest to be able to put out a third issue of his own DEADLOSS (the first in two years) devoted entirely to reviews of them. He observed that ..fanzines have started talking about each other again; a sure sign of a fannish spring...", but his conclusion that "...there is a fannish rennaisance...it might be minor as yet but it is happening..." was made ironic by subsequent events. Spring never became summer and in spite of all the high hopes held for it the boom of late-1981 proved to be a false dawn. Even so, while the level of activity achieved during that period wasn't maintained it was nonetheless psychologically important in breaking the long spell of apathy that had afflicted established fanzine producers after SEACON. The pre-SEACON fans were back, but they weren't the only ones. In the same period something very strange happened -- the 1950s fans returned!
In early-1981 the long-gafiated Vince Clarke was more concerned with thoughts of getting the house painted and of his daughter's impending wedding than of fandom, but in May he received a letter from someone called Terry Hill. Hill wanted to compile a comprehensive index to the old SF magazine TALES OF WONDER as a tribute to its editor Walter Gillings, who had died in July 1979 (shortly before he was due to fly to the US as a guest of that country's 'First Fandom' -- to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first British SF group, ironically enough), and was wondering if Clarke could help him in his research. Clarke wrote back, the two met and became friends, and Clarke borrowed a stack of current BSFA publications from him. Finding he could read them without memories of the Inchmery blow-up souring his enjoyment, he wrote off for some of the fanzines listed in the MATRIX review column, eventually going on to form the group Kent TruFandom with Hill and local fan Elda Wheeler and to launch a new fanzine, NOT SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS, in October 1982. In connection with his proposed index Hill also wrote to Walt Willis and this led to contact being re-established between Willis and Clarke, Willis suggesting in turn that Clarke contact ATom and Chuck Harris. He did, and his phone call was the first occasion on which ATom had spoken to another fan in seven years. Coincidentally Eric Bentcliffe, who had never actually gafiated and had always maintained some presence in fanzines, wrote to Clarke soliciting material for his anthology of 50s fanwriting, WHEN YNGVI WAS A LOUSE, and mentioned that Mal Ashworth had also reappeared. Curiously enough, the reappearance of most of these people came to the attention of many British fans not through their native fanzines but through those of the Americans. This was due not only to the fact that Chuck Harris had been confining his renewed activity to American fanzines, as had ATom following the demise of SCOTTISHE, but also to the nature of US fandom at this time, and to the appearance of a fanzine called PONG.
In October 1980 Dan Steffan and Ted White got together and decided to put out a fanzine they intended should act as a sort of rallying point for the more fannishly-inclined members of what they (and, it must be said, many in Britain) regarded as a fairly fragmented and uninteresting American fandom. In actual fact a number of important changes had taken place in American fandom from the mid-70s onwards. These were largely changes in attitude, an increasing awareness of the role and needs of women in SF and in fandom caused by the impact of Feminism on the SF/fan scene. A direct result of this change was a rise in the number of women writing and producing fanzines in the US and it had a subtler but no less important effect on those fans, both male and female, in whose early, formative, years in fandom it occurred. These people would become prominent fans in the years ahead and their writing, writing which had assimilated those changed attitudes, would help shape the fandom of the '80s. However, most of this was not apparent to a British fandom largely out of touch with its US counterpart, nor to American fans not involved in the changes that had taken place around them, and it appeared that much of the available talent in late-70s US fandom had vanished into the APAs, leaving little visible above ground that was of much interest. Which is where Steffan and White came in...
PONG was an initially fortnightly fanzine that was sent out not only to currently active fans but also to the semi-gafiated and the long-gone in the hope of reactivating them. Which is how contemporary British fans receiving PONG often had a first encounter with their own forebears within its pages. Some of these returnees came to call themselves, only half seriously, BAFFs (Born-Again Fifties Fans) but others, such as ATom, were uncomfortable with a name that tied them to a particular decade feeling, not unreasonably, that as long as they're active in fandom they're current-day fans. Another event around this time led to a resurgence of interest in the writings of Walt Willis and was part-and-parcel of a resurgence in American fandom itself in the early '80s...
WARHOON 28, which appeared in late 1980, was devoted entirely to reprints of Willis' writings and is the biggest fanzine ever published. Produced by Richard Bergeron and weighing in at over 600 pages, this magnificent hardcover collection was ten years in the making and made a whole new generation of fans aware of just how good a fanwriter Willis was. Even so it was only one part of a larger reawakening of American fandom, and but one factor in the new relationship between our two fandoms. During the '70s transatlantic links had not been all that strong and though there was a certain level of exchange of fanzines only a few fans on each side were determined enough in promoting the link that they become well known on the other. Peter Roberts, by way of EGG and CHECKPOINT, was probably the most successful in that regard on this side of the Atlantic, as Terry Hughes by way of his fanzine MOTA was probably the most successful fanzine editor in that regard on the other, and their oft-expressed mutual regard doubtless helped both. However, each stopped publishing after SEACON and the lack of activity by established fans in the months after the convention did little to strengthen the transatlantic link. Which is where PONG came in. The advent of PONG and of a whole new wave of excellent fannish fanzines from America, coupled with the re-emergence of so many previously active British fans, led to a new level of transatlantic intercourse that was to be one of the main influences on the shape of early-80s British fandom. It was not, of course, the only one.
Where the 1970s had seen a change in the nature of British conventions caused by the huge increase in attendences as the decade progressed, the 1980s saw another brought about by the huge increase in the actual number of conventions being held. This trend started in a small way in the late '70s but it really took off as the '80s got under way. For instance, UNICON (University of Keele) was added to the convention calendar in July 1980; ANGLICON (University of East Anglia) in September '80; BECCON (Basildon) in July '81; CYMRUCON (Cardiff) in November '81; SCOUSECON (Liverpool) in February '82; FENCON (Cambridge) in October '82; RA CON (Edinburgh) in February '83; INVENTION (Glasgow) in September '83; and MEXICON (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) in May '84. Unlike SILICON and FAANCON, which had been a response to the changing nature of the Eastercon and the growth of NOVACON, these new conventions were largely organised by new fans who perceived con-running as the prime fannish activity and gave little or no thought to fanzine publishing. However,as early as September '80 there were signs that their sheer number was reaching saturation point when the first (and last) ANGLICON attracted only 45 members. While these new conventions were all very well, not everyone felt unable to work within the framework of existing conventions.
The 1982 Eastercon, CHANNELCON, was held at the Brighton Metropole and was organised by an almost all-female committee, a first for Britain and some indication of the extent to which women were increasingly making their presence felt. Guests of honour were John Sladek and Angela Carter, a respected 'mainstream' writer and fantasist who was also a member of the advisory board for feminist publishing house Virago Books, but CHANNELCON is of most significance to British fandom for being the real starting point for one of the most surprising developments of the early '80s -- the return of the APA.
Fannish APAs had ceased to exist in Britain following the death of OMPA and, since the decline in fanzine activity in the US in the late '70s (as perceived over here) was generally attributed to the APAs and their habit of swallowing up the writings of some very talented fans, few had any real interest in starting a new one. Indeed, there might never have been another viable APA in Britain if not for the determination of one person.
When Linda Pickersgill (then Linda Karrh) first made contact with British fandom at SEACON '79 she can have had little inkling of how dramatically it would change her life. Out of the interaction of British and American fans at SEACON a number of relationships were forged and Linda became one of a number of female American fans to marry British fans they met there. Raised in New Orleans, Linda had confined her fan activity to APAs while in the US, and after marrying Greg Pickersgill and settling in Britain she sought an APA where she could continue as before -- only there weren't any. Eventually Linda, aided by Chris Atkinson, would start up THE WOMEN'S PERIODICAL, a women-only APA that grew out of the 'Women in Fandom' meeting at CHANNELCON. It proved a success where earlier attempts to revive the APA had flopped.
FEAPA (Fannish Elite Amateur Publishing Association) was the first, an invitation-only APA devised by Chris Priest and Dave Langford that was virtually stillborn. The first mailing, in March 1980, was also the last and carried FEAPA's obituary. Next came an APA that went by the cumbersome name of APA SF & F and was the focus of Linda's first attempt to resume her APA activity. Having heard that a new fan named Simon Bostock was interested in organising an APA she got in touch with him and coaxed him into actually getting it started. The first mailing appeared in July 1981 and included contributions from Greg and Linda, Chuck Connor, Martyn Taylor, Rob Hansen, and Bostock himself, but the APA only succeeded in putting out a few more mailings before collapsing through general lack of interest. It appeared that APAs were an idea whose time had not yet returned, nor would it until CHANNELCON.
With the exception of people such as Ella Parker, Ethel Lindsay, and Lisa Conesa, most of the women who had been involved with British fandom down the years had come in as the wife or girlfriend of a male fan and they had always formed a small minority of the total number of people involved with British fandom at any time. So much so in fact that at early conventions women were offerred free memberships in an effort to encourage more to participate but fandom can hardly have been an appealing place to them. Quite apart from the sexism inherent in such a predominantly male sub-culture (much reduced in these more enlightened times but hardly eradicated) there was no place in it where specifically female concerns could be voiced or female talents nurtured. None that is until the advent of'THE WOMEN'S PERIODICAL.
Following the success of THE WOMEN'S PERIODICAL, particularly its ability to involve a lot of women not previously active in fanzines and the fact that it generated some of 1982's livliest fanwriting, many who'd been apathetic, or even openly hostile, towards APAs began to look at them with new interest. Since TWP had a specific purpose the APAs that sprang up in its wake were not usually random and purposeless. The first of these, APA-B appeared early in 1983 and was the brainchild of Peter Weston. It was set up as a way of getting non-active members of Birmingham's Brum Group interested in fanzine publishing and had some success in this area. At SILICON 7 (August 1983), during the traditional 'debate' (which always degenerated into a free-for-all on that perennial favourite 'whither fandom?'), the general wonderfulness of TWP was much remarked upon and a number of people who were not as fannishly dynamic as they perhaps should have been decided that the discipline of a monthly APA deadline might be just what they needed to get them writing again. So it was that Greg Pickersgill found himself running FRANK'S APA, whose first mailing appeared in October '83 and which listed among its members people such as the Pickersgills, Harry Bell, Rob Hansen, David Bridges, Jimmy Robertson, and Rob Jackson. Shortly afterwards SLAPA, the Surrey Limpwrist APA, came into being, followed in turn by PAPA, a men-only 'response' to TWP, and GET STUFFED, a 'soft-toy' APA whose mailings included contributions supposedly written by the soft-toys owned by certain fans (and no, I am not making this up). Not all of these APAs would survive for very long, and some of those that managed to did so in strangely mutated forms.
FRANK'S APA never really gelled the way it should have since many in it failed to understand the purpose and grammer of APAs, the importance of such things as mailing comments in generating the sort of gestalt an APA should ideally develop into. Also, the apathy that some of its members had hoped the monthly deadlines would curb crept back as the initial enthusiasm of those same members started to wane and a slow attrition began during its first year that accelerated during its second, when control passed to Alan and Rochelle Dorey, and became critical during its third year when Ron Gemmell took over. Eventually all the original members had left and in mid-1986 those who replaced them deciding, reasonably enough, that the APA they now belonged to bore no resemblance to the APA set up on a wave of enthusiasm in 1983 changed its name to PIECES OF EIGHT. So died FRANK'S APA.
APA-B changed its colours for other reasons. Peter Weston's hope that it might spark off a wave of fanzines from the quiescent Brum Group proved a forlorn one. Culling the APA's membership from the Solihull Group (Martin Tudor, Paul Vincent, Eunice Pearson, Cath Easthope, Phill Probert, Tony Berry, Kev Clarke, Joy Hibbert, Steve Green, etc.), a group created in large part as a deliberate alternative to the largely non-fannish Brum Group, he hoped for a renaissance that never happened. The steady stream of fanzines from the Midlands continued, titles such as Hibbert's SIC BISCUIT DISINTEGRAF, Green's SOUNDING THE RITUAL ECHO, and Vincent's ABDUMP, but only Tudor's EMPTIES was a direct result of the experiment. Realising that it wasn't accomplishing its purpose the membership of APA-B uncoupled it from the Brum Group and changed its name to The Organisation. For a couple of years in the early '80s APAs caused a lot of excitement and some of the best, like TWP, still survive, but their moment of glory has passed.