Thirty Years Ago

Did I really once run an Eastercon? I did the publications, anyway, and was vaguely cheered whenever some fan pundit admitted that these were pretty good. Unfortunately the pundit's next word was invariably "But ..."

Skycon 1978 was the first Eastercon to be held at Heathrow, in what was then the Heathrow Hotel but has wisely changed its name. The other committee members were Kevin Smith (chair, 1982 TAFF winner, and long gone from fandom), Martin Hoare (hero Hugo-accepter who gave me a lift to Orbital), Liese Hoare (no longer with us, alas), Dermot Dobson (famous Mad Scientist and Person of Average Height), Stan Eling (forced away from fandom to care for his wife Helen), Keith Oborn ("has laboured long and hard not to look like John Brunner" – Skycon Programme Book), Ian Maule (now a fannish recluse but rumoured to be attending Orbital), and Eve and John Harvey (about whom it has so often been said, but never proved).

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Leroy Kettle was our fan guest of honour, a career boost which may have helped him – decades later – to become an OBE. Robert Sheckley was the main guest of honour, which I hope very much didn't contribute in any way towards his becoming, in 2005, the late Robert Sheckley. He gave a terrific Skycon speech (published in Vector 89) that revealed his infallible cure for writers' block: making himself type 5,000 words a day, any words so long as he met the quota, grimly bashing out stuff like ...

Oh words, where are you now that I need you? Come quickly to my fingertips and release me from this horror, horror, horror ... O God, I am losing my mind, mind, mind ... But wait, is it possible, yes, here it is, the end of the page coming up, O welcome kindly end of page....

Days of this led to the great revelation that it was now actually easier to write a story than go on suffering.

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The Skycon programme was OK, I think (Bob Shaw also gave a fine speech), and Chairman Kevin's on-the-spot accountancy led to a very happy hour when he worked out that in spite of ruinous function space costs, we had a profit that could be squandered on a free bar for members. Hundreds were trampled in the rush. But despite honeyed words beforehand, the Heathrow Hotel management had some nasty surprises for us when the convention began. They ignored block booking arrangments and scattered rowdy fans among rooms where exhausted air-crew were sleeping, so room parties became a major problem. They neglected to inform us that the corridors were patrolled at night by airport security thugs with draconian powers of offensive rudeness and room-party closure. There were frantic committee negotiations in the small hours. Argh.

A low point came when the authorities decided to discourage all this promiscuous late drinking by closing the main toilets, just downstairs from the lobby. One fan who had better be nameless – but will I think be with us this weekend – heroically protested by pissing on the stairs. If Orbital were being held in that same hotel, which fortunately it isn't, it would be tempting to announce a mass anniversary re-enactment of this civil disobedience.

Skycon also got criticized for its remote location: "the hotel was isolated, the prices high, the staff rude, and the management indifferent," quoth Peter Roberts in Checkpoint 88. Little did the knockers know that the future of Eastercon contained that even remoter hotel at Hinckley. To this day the Skycon committee still renounces all responsibility for the Bad Sight of the convention: the late Brian Burgess, veteran of many a nudist camp, appearing in the Fancy Dress clad only in a minuscule posing pouch. If there was any announcement of what SF character he was supposed to be, it was drowned by the crash of audience eyes slamming shut.

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Still, some people must have had a good time, as suggested by D. West's helpful fanzine comment that – here I quote from memory – "John Harvey and Dave Langford seemed perfectly happy, and perfectly drunk, for the entire convention."

Afterwards, the consensus of fandom was clear and unanimous: "There will never be another Eastercon at Heathrow." This tells you all you need to know about the awesome predictive powers of science fiction. All the same, in a perverse and masochistic way, organizing Skycon was fun.

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Later: when I got to Heathrow at Easter 2008, I discovered for the first time that "my" overflow hotel – the Renaissance – was in fact the 1978 Skycon hotel renamed. It is well known that evil-doers are irresistibly drawn back to the scene of their crime.