Thursday 10th MayVINCE CLARKE:
The final week before the Con. was a very busy period as last minute arrangements took place, but eventually Thursday, May 10th saw a large crowd of visitors at the "White Horse', Estimates vary, but there is little doubt that at least 60 were present, and probably about 90 passed through during the evening. Every now and then the Secretary, who had secured half-a-table in one corner, wormed his way through the crowd to pass out admission tickets to those who hadn't received them through the post, and the voice of Charlie Duncombe, our Treasurer, rose above the general high noise level as he extolled the merits of paying in advance.
Amongst the many overseas visitors present were the Ackermans and Lyell Crane, the Northern Irish fans, and Ben Abas, editor of Holland's now-defunct one and-only s- f 'zine 'FANTASIE EN WETENSCHAP' and his wife and brother from Holland. Professor A.M.Low, pre-war President of the 'Science Fiction Association' looked in for a short time during the evening but said he was unable to attend during the weekend. Another well known figure from SFA times, Doctor W.A. Gibson of Scotland was also there, and at the main sessions.
Authors Clarke, Temple, Beynon Harris, Phillips, Bounds, Hay, Tubb, and Dave Griffiths were also present, if slightly crushed, giving some point to a pessimistic (optimistic?) fan's declaration that if Lew the Manager had doped the drinks English science fiction would have finished abruptly that night.
The Convention Committee retired to the Private Bar for their deliberations, eventually to leave the Secretary and Treasurer to official business and to rehearse the plays to be given during the weekend. These had been presented at U.S. Conventions, and had been sent over to Ted Carnell who had translated the more esoteric references into modern English S.F.ism. As it happened, various changes in the cast on that day caused a complete change over of parts, but at least the voices raised in a mystic chant conributed to the volume of fantastic sound that shook Fetter Lane.
Only (!) about 40 were present on Friday evening, leaving room for the entrance of Northern enthusiasts Mike Rosenblum, Max Leviten and Rick Dalton, 'PHANTASMAGORIA' editor Derek Pickles and his sister Mavis (who have said some hard...and disrgarded.. .things about London fandom, and entered with a slightly hunted and wary look), old time fans D.W.F. Mayer and Sid Birchby, and Swedish fan Sigvard Ostlund and his wife....and many, many others.
Artist Alan Hunter, who was there with his wife, was one of an interested group who discussed with Ted Carnell the cover of the next 'New Worlds', the original of which he had and which represented a startling departure from previous policy.
On both evenings,and especially on Thursday, the 'London Circle' was present in force to meet visitors.
On the day before the Convention we went to the Festival Exhibition on the South Bank of the Thames. About this I'll just say that of all the works of man on this planet, this is probably the most worth seeing. Incidently I saw the egoboo machine I mentioned a few months ago in Q. It was working, too. They had it slung on the back of a big statue of the White Knight from Alice and there it was, patting and praising at a tremendous rate.
In the evening we made our way to the White Horse, a tavern where the informal pre-convention meeting was to be held. As we walking toward it from Fleet Street, I thought to myself that this was the first London building I had seen with concave walls. The walls returned to normal when I opened the door, but 17 fans flew out and lay gasping on the sidewalk. Trampling them underfoot -- they were only letterhacks -- I plunged into the throng. It absorbed me greedily, like an amoeba, but since my feet left the ground almost immediately, I could make no independent progress. I carried on a series of short conversations with everyone whose ear I happened to find in my mouth -- Ted Carnell, Peter Ridley, Arthur C. Clarke, Derek Pickles -- and eventually a sort of Brownian movement swept me to the far side of the room. There I was ejected into a little backwater inhabited by a suntanned young American soldier. Remembering that there was only one GI fan at the Convention I made a masterly deduction. "Lee Jacobs?" I gasped, "Fan Mathematics, Spacewarp?" He was very pleased, and when I told him his article had been immortalized in Fanspeak -- it's amazing the amount of egoboo that lies around uncollected -- he was so delighted that he swore he had heard of Slant. I promised to lend him my copy of Fanspeak -- he hadn't received one himself so he must have been a member of N3F -- and we sat on the stairs leading to the `Gents' and talked about FAPA. It was an interesting discussion, though interrupted by the necessity of remembering whether to stand up to let people pass or not. There was only one lavatory in the place and because of our strategic position we got the job of preventing it being a 'Ladies' and a 'Gents' simultaneously.
WILLIS (in Phantasmagoria):
Other striking personalities included Alan Hunter and his beard. It suits him too, if not quite down to the ground. And Derek Pickles.with his surprising size. I had expected a lot of Pickles, but not just in that way. I got quite a jar: I suppose it must have been the large economy size. (I know you never thought I would sink so low as to make puns about Derek's name. How little you know me.) But the biggest surprise was H.J.Campbell, editor of SCIENCE FICTION FORTNIGHTLY. His beard made Alan Hunter's look almost like 5 o'clock shadow, and the rest of his hair looked as if it was his ambition to become a Big Mane Fan. As far as I can see this magazine has more hair-raising possibilities than we ever imagined. Seriously, he seemed a very likeable and intelligent chap, and I felt a great deal of sympathy for him at times. Especially during one conversation he had at the White Horse, with a well-known author. Campbell asked him baldly (it must have been a difficult thing to do!) if he would write something for him. The author asked him who he was, though of course he already knew. Campbell explained that he edited SFF. "Must you?" said the author rudely. Down in the forest something stirred, but Campbell with an obvious effort smothered the crushing retort he was well capable of making, and listened patiently while the author, of whom Ihad hitherto held the highest personal opinion, explained exactly how many cents a word he could get for his stuff in America. He was nearly getting two black eyes per word in England.
Personally I thought Campbell should have been invited to speak at the Convention. It may be of course that he was, but refused, and certainly Ted Carnell was generous enough to pay him a well deserved tribute in his own speech.
After a while the place began to get really crowded, and from where we sat we had a fine view of 'the top layer of fans. Through breaks in the clouds of smoke, we could see as far as Alan Hunter of New Worlds and Phantasmagoria. On the outer fringes of his beard was Ben Abas from Holland. Both were strenuously praising each other's artwork, and though Ben was at somewhat of a disadvantage because Alan had only one sketch with him against his own 20, he did such a good job on that one sketch that it blushed visibly. Just beneath us Bob Shaw and James White were carrying on an extraordinary conversation with Sigvard Ostlund from Sweden. James was doing a magnificent job of interpreting, considering the fact that he didn't know a single word of Swedish. It was pathetic to see poor Sigvard. All his life he had been learning standard English to be able to talk with the people he was going to meet in England, and the first one he comes up against is Bob Shaw. However, every time Bob said something in that armour-plated brogue of his, James would repeat it very loudly and clearly and some vestige of the meaning would seep across. In the middle distance, Derek Pickles was telling people what he thought of the London Circle. Not far away the London Circle was saying what it thought of Derek Pickles. Weird electrical discharges leapt between the two clouds of blue haze.
It was a wonderful evening, at least for the ones on top. Finally, however, all were shovelled out into the street. I wondered for a moment what the funny smell was. It was fresh air.