Monday 14th May


On Monday, May 14th, a party of fans under the guidance of live-wire Manchester enthusiast Dave Cohen penetrated the unknown hinterland of the South Bank Exhibition.

L-to-R (back row): Colling Leybourn, Dave Cohen, Mike Rosenblum, Eric Bentcliffe, Fred Fairless (partly hidden), Ron Buckmaster, Forry Ackerman, unknown, Rick Dalton, Les Johnson, Max Leviten (part-hidden), Norman Weedall.
L-to-R (front row): Mavis Pickles, Wendayne Ackerman, Mimi Dalton, Daphne Buckmaster (photo by Derek Pickles)

Those that managed to fight their way out in time, with others to the number of 40, assembled in the Havelock pub. in Grays Inn Road that night.....not, we noticed, with mixed feelings, so much to talk about the exhilarating/exhausting goings on of the last few days, as to talk about the 1952 Convention....which is, we suppose, about the biggest compliment that they could have paid the 'Festival Convention' of '51.


Forry Ackerman was there of course, and us three, and Derek Pickles and Alan Hunter of Phantasmogoria, and Vince Clarke and Ken Bulmer and J.M.Rosenblum. All the chronic fans. I got some material from Rosenblum for my forthcoming history of British Fandom, "The Immortal Teacup", and I had a long talk with Pickles about faneds' problems.

Just before closing time we bought some bottles of Guinness and beer and soda water and took them up to the Epicentre. The soda water was for James, who made a beast of himself with the stuff in London. Glass after glass of the raw liquid he would toss down with wild abandon. I pointed out to him what dangerous stuff it was -- after all, carbon monoxide will do for you in five minutes, and it's only CO. Soda water is CO2, twice as bad.

When we got in we had a job at first to pry Bob away from a book he had found-- "Of Worlds Beyond, The science of science fiction writing." However he was forcibly restrained from dashing off a 100,000 word novel in van Vogt's recommended 800 word episodes, and we talked well into the morning. It's funny, but of all that I can only remember one piece of dialogue.

James: "Have you got your article for Phantas ready to see yet?
Bob: "Only in crude and unintelligible form".
James: "Well, they printed it that way last time."

For some reason this seemed very funny at the time partly because Bob didn't get the point at all, and partly because it was so unlike James. He is usually the straight man in the trio, a big quiet chap, though occasionally he does come off with some devastating remark. The three of us seem to have acquired somewhat of a reputation for wit at the Epicentre, though when we did say something we thought clever it never seemed to go down as well as the ordinary give and take of a Slant editorial conference. The truth is that we are not clever at all, but that this Irish accent we are supposed to have gives us a flying start. Actually Ken Bulmer and Vince Clarke are about the two most intelligent fans we have met yet, as well as the nicest. They make a wonderful combination. Ken (editor of Nirvana) is dark and impetuous of manner, with a wonderfully wacky sense of humour. I remember the time he invented the steam engine. We were all sitting in the kitchen before supper when the kettle started to boil. The lid jumped up and down at a tremendous rate. Ken looked at it for a while and then said thoughtfully, "You know, there must be a way to harness all that energy..." But probably that would only sound funny if you had been there. Vince Clarke is tall and fairly thin, with a very round head. He looks like a rather distinguished toffee apple. He talks with a slow drawl but on paper he is pungent, and brilliant. His fanzine (SF News) contains some of the cleverest writing in fandom, very subtle and elusive, rather like my own stuff at times, only better.

unknown, Vince Clarke, Ken Bulmer, unknown, at the White Horse

TED CARNELL (in Journal of Science Fiction):

In retrospect, London's International Convention was as successful as any yet staged in North America, although it did not break any attendance records. Despite intense efforts by the Committee, and considerable interest by national press agencies and publishers, no publicity either before or after the Convention materialised. This was mainly owing to the convention being held on a national holiday, and it has been generally agreed that no publicity was better than adverse publicity.

A number of publishing houses interested in fantasy fiction had representatives present. Elaborate displays by both publishers and book dealers, plus panelled walls filled with original work, made colourful splashes against the setting. Author S. Fowler Wright, who was to have spoken, went to the wrong hotel, and subsequently didn't arrive.

The general consensus of opinion was that London should stage a yearly Convention, the city being better adapted for out-of-town delegates to reach than any other in the country. While the Committee at the moment say "Never again!" they will, undoubtedly, as soon as the back aches disappear, start planning for 1952.


WILLIS (in 1962):

The British Convention of 1951 was the first I had ever been at, and the 15-page report on it I wrote for Quandry was frighteningly uninhibited. At least it frightens me now when I re-read it: if it had all happened in New York, I'd probably still be in jail. It didn't frighten me at the time partly because I didn't yet know personally any of the people on the official programme, and partly because I was under a peculiar misapprehension about them. I thought of them as pros, remote godlike figures who moved and had their being on a higher plane altogether. Nothing a scruffy little fan could say about them could ruffle their Olympian composure. So I was cheerfully caustic about everything on the programme, from the food right up to the Convention Chairman.

This was poor Ted Carnell, whom I saw as a Machiavellian figure who had manoeuvered Walter Gillings out of his central position in English science fiction. This theory was based on nothing more than doubt as to whether Carnell was really a better editor than Gillings, reading in old fanzines about their long standing rivalry, and speech which I reported.

The first warning I had that the Olympians could be ruffled was a letter from Vince Clarke to Madeleine, whom he affected to believe was my widow. George Charters told me he had had a letter from Carnell in which he asked him to pass on the message that my convention report "stank". I'm relieved to see that I didn't respond to this by a grovelling apology: in fact I was almost defiant.

George Charters was here this evening and passed on your comment on my convention report.
if you mean the report stank as a report, OK, but if you are objecting to the way you appeared in it yourself I can't agree with you so easily. This was a frankly impressionistic account and that was the impression I got...
Nevertheless I was, judging from carbons of other letters to friends at the time, quite upset about the affair and Ted's reply was a relief. It was to the effect that my report had stirred up a lot of "shall I say, discord" but it was now all water under the bridge as far as he was concerned. I found out later that immediately Bill Temple got his copy of the Quannish (he was at that time the only London pro on Lee's mailing list) he had telephoned Ted Carnell and probably the others and read out the juicier bits.

The Quannish was of course the 100-page anniversary issue of Quandry, I *think* the largest fanzine ever published up to that time.


The Walt Willis conreport that forms the spine of this composite report was originally titled "The Harp in England" and first appeared in issues #11-13 of Lee Hoffman's QUANDRY (Jun-Aug, '51). The other main source was Bill Temple's report which first appeared in HYPHEN #1 (May '52) ed. Walt Willis & Chuck Harris. The Postscript is taken from Walt Willis' column in SCOTTISHE #27 (March '62) ed. Ethel Lindsay. Excerpts from the following reports, full versions of which can be found here, were also used. Those marked with an asterisk were found and OCR/retyped by Greg Pickersgill (lots of fanhistorical interest at his website), as were the extracts from OPERATION FANTAST used in the introduction, and the NEW WORLDS #12 cover scan:

  • NEW WORLDS #11 (Aut '51) - Ted Carnell *
  • JOURNAL OF SCIENCE FICTION #1 (Fall '51) - Ted Carnell *
  • SCIENCE FICTION NEWSLETTER #21 (July '51) - Ted Carnell *
  • OPERATION FANTAST #9 (Sum '51) - George Charters *
  • A PRELIMINARY CONVENTION REPORT (one-shot, 1951) - Vince Clarke
  • SCIENCE FICTION NEWS #8 (July '51) - Vince Clarke *
  • PHANTASMAGORIA #3 (Sum '51) - Walt Willis (also Bob Shaw & Derek Pickles)
My thanks also to Peter Weston for sourcing several of the photos used herein and for the loan of his copy of Vince Clarke's single-sheet A PRELIMINARY CONVENTION REPORT. This was supposed to be the precursor to a proper Souvenir Booklet, but there's no evidence one was ever actually produced.

.....Rob Hansen