Thursday 5th September

WILLIS (in 'Oopsla'):

Imagine a quiet old part of London just outside the heart of the city. Bayswater. Stately old stone-faced terrace houses with balconies, rusty iron railings and desultory trees. Nobody can afford to live here any more and the main streets are all small shops, offices and restaurants. But in the quieter streets, like Leinster Gardens, the old houses linger on almost unchanged as hotels, Like the Kings Court.

We approached it from the tube station by a curiously circuitous route and the first thing we noticed about it were two tattered doormats wedged against the stone pillars on each side of the door, like hair growing out of nostrils. Directly inside the door was the reception desk with two pretty girls behind it talking to someone with an American accent whom I didn't recognize, an island of order in a sea of chaos. The lounge opposite them was strewn with unassembled electronic equipment, paintpots, junk, shavings, paper and rubbish. Overalled workmen were everywhere; there was a smell of turpentine and a sound of hammering. The carpets were up, of course, but it looked as if they might come down again by Christmas. No such glowing hopes could be held out for the stairs, where work had hardly yet started. Probably the decorators had had a look at the bedroom floors and decided there was no point in encouraging anyone to go up there. The corridors had a definite air of being reconciled to demolition, being neither straight nor level, so that you found yourself brushing the walls or now and again running downhill...very disturbing in the early hours of the morning. This was because the hotel had been made by knocking three or four houses together and of course they didn't quite fit. Every now and then a flight of steep stone steps led down to a dirty lavatory or bathroom, There was not much the management could have done with the antiquated plumbing at short notice but they might, in deference to the susceptibilities of our refined American friends, have segregated them into male and female.


The reception desk. In front: Lesley Minard, Dave Newman.

Downstairs again I found Bobbie Wild and Dave Newman, Convention Secretary and Programme Committee stalwart respectively, both talking at once to a dark, plump, disgruntled man of about 35. They introduced him as the manager who had, they enthusiastically affirmed, been "very cooperative." I formed the impression that they were tying to butter him up and tried to do my bit. "Ah, M. Maurigny!" I exclaimed joyfully with my best mixture of French accent and Irish charm. So this was the wonderful M. Maurigny, proud representative of the best of French cuisine and continental gaiety and blood brother of the Convention Committee. Bobbie and Dave looked slightly taken aback and hastily explained that M. Maurigny had just sold out, leaving the sinking ship to this new manager, Mr Wilson, who had had a Raw Deal but was being Very Cooperative. Very Cooperative, they repeated fervently. Apparently the villainous Maurigny had handed over the place in dilapidation and chaos, leaving the cooperative Mr. Wilson to cope with redecoration and a convention simultaneously. But convention or no convention, the redecoration must go on.

The convention hotel was without question the worst in the entire history of world science fiction conventions, a dubious distinction which it will probably retain for all time. The Kings Court was set in a complex of hotels. Its rates were reasonable enough, about $3.00 a night, but when I saw it, I paid the $3.00 to help out the convention but immediately secured rooms elsewhere. The place compared unfavourably with flop houses in the United States. What few bath tubs there were had rotted or rusted through and couldn't hold water. For all we knew they had no water running to them, because you didn't dare turn it on.

The beds in the rooms had rags for blankets with patches sewn in them where they had worn or been burned through. Of course, there was then no central heating but you could put a shilling in the gas heater, which would radiate heat for a specified amount of time - if the one in your room was working. There appeared to be no hot water in the "water closets", or in the bath rooms.

The main hall was very narrow and long with pillars spaced across, blocking the view. There were curfews; if you didn't get back to the hotel by the specified time they locked you out and kept you out, which was, in a way, a blessing.

.....Sam Moskowitz (letter of comment on THEN #2)

I also learned that several of the Americans who had come over on the chartered plane had checked out of the hotel in high dudgeon already, some without paying their bills, and one of them had felt so deeply about it he had gone to the trouble to telephone a complaint about the hotel to the British Hotel Association. I scanned the list of their names anxiously and was somewhat relieved to find I didn't recognize any of them except Gray Barker, the flying saucer man. Feeling that my intervention hadn't been too helpful I slunk away to get something to eat. It was only 15 paces from there to the dining room but in that distance three people told me the food was unspeakable so we invited the last of them (Harry Harrison) to eat outside and had a worried curry at an Indian restaurant two blocks away. No matter how you look at it, it wasn't a good start for a Worldcon.

The Willises had flown from Belfast to Liverpool in a war-surplus DC3 'Dakota' fitted out for passengers then taken the train, whereas James White was booked on a direct flight to London in a modern Viscount. Needless to say, his was the flight that was delayed by mechanical problems. Eventually, the plane did take off....

JAMES WHITE:

Four hours later I was scanning the biggest lounge of the King's Court Hotel for sensitive fannish and/or voracious pro-type faces. I spotted Ackerman at once, talking to a small group in circle of armchairs ---the armchairs were tight, not the occupants; it was only 3.30 in the afternoon - so I went over and said:

"You probably don't remember me..."

But he did; he said, "Why, Bob Shaw...!" and shook hands warmly.

After disillusioning him tactfully I told him he was looking much better than last time I had seen him in 1951 when he had been somewhat under the weather due to a double-barrelled ailment comprising travel sickness and non-asiatic flu. I also noticed there was a considerable speeding-up in the well remembered Ackerman drawl; now he jabbered along almost as fast as Gary Cooper. The musical "Hmmmmmmmmm-mmm-mm?" was gone too, bit it was nice seeing even this stream-lined, healthy and vigorous Ackerman again.


Bob Silverberg, Forry Ackerman, James White.

He introduced me to a young German fan called Rainer Eisfeld, who was later to distinguish himself as an after-dinner speaker, and to Bob & Barbara Silverberg. I said excitedly, "Not the Robert Silverberg whose story was printed upside down behind mine in the latest Ace pocketbook?" just before he got in a similar question. (D-237: Master of Life & Death/The Secret Visitors) Barbara Silverberg I found to be a very nice girl with a lively sense of humour who possessed the good taste to laugh at most of my jokes. She does not look like one of the three specialists in an abstruse section of electronics. Bob Silverberg is young, intelligent, blackhaired and good looking in a vaguely neanderthal sort of way, and his face seems to fall naturally into a scowl. This, he explained carefully, is because his face muscles are constructed that way and it is painful for him to lift the corners of his mouth. He was destined to go through the Convention in constant agony. When someone - usually me - made a pun, the scowl become a sneer and the Silverberg Sneer is a devastating thing. Humbly, I asked if maybe he could teach me to sneer like that and he said he'd try.

We did not guess then at the awful consequences this simple request was to have, the mind-shattering weapon it was to unloose. We said goodbye, having still not decided who was upside down with regard to which, promising to meet about 7.30 in the Globe...it being Thursday night. I left to search Gamages for accessories for my train set.


Frank & Belle Dietz, John Wyndham, unknown, Ted Carnell, Frank Arnold, Arthur C.Clarke,
Bob & Barbara Silverberg

The Globe that night remains for me a noisy, smoky blur. I can remember Ted Carnell and I plying each other with drinks, one each. I met Bobbie Wild, the Convention Secretary, an efficient, overworked and slightly harassed girl who said she had insured herself so that she could wrap a certain person's blank guitar round his blank-blank neck with impunity. I wished her luck. Then there were Joy Clarke and Ken & Pamela Bulmer, all looking as pretty and vivacious as ever, except Ken. But Vince Clarke was a shock. Gone was the distinguished toffee-apple of yesteryear; in its place was this soft-spoken young patriarch with sane straightened-out kid written all over him.


Standing: Norman Shorrock, Fred Brown, Ron Bennett, Dave Newman, Sandy Sanderson, John Brunner,
John Newman, Vince Clarke.
Sitting: Bob & Barbara Silverberg, Joy Clarke, Ted Carnell, Pam Bulmer, Bobbie Wild, with Ken Bulmer in front.

The place became quickly smokefilled and the fans overflowed into side bars, then the billiard room, finally spilling out into the street, There I vaguely remember a gutter brawl between the Silverbergs and Boyd Rayburn on the proper method of making coffee, which Bob left to test his American-English vocabulary on me. We talked about lifts and elevators, then the Underground, the Tube and the Metro in Paris. When he suggested that the Underground in Ireland was called the Mother Maquis I used one of his own sneers on him and left for the purer air inside.


Joy Clarke, Walt Willis Rainer Eisfeld, Steve Schultheis, James White, Vince Clarke.

Suddenly it was "Time, Gentlemen, Please" time and we were driven onto the streets again. A party of predominantly London fans formed and began trekking away in a direction opposite to that in which lay the Underground station they were making for. I managed to convince them of their error and eventually we were being borne hotel-wards. An argument developed then as to which station - Lancaster Gate or Queensway - was nearest to the Kings Court. Half the fans got out at Lancaster Gate and booed derisively at those still on the train, who booed back. Then the weaker willed types on the train had second thoughts and got off hurriedly, while those of a similar disposition on the platform made a quick dash back onto the train. An interesting situation developed with the guard yelling "Mind the doors!" repeatedly and the said doors... rubber-covered, luckily...opening and closing with thunks on fannish arms, legs and torsos. Finally we all, counting halves and quarters that is, found ourselves on the Lancaster Gate platform. It turned out that the nearest station to the hotel was Bayswater.

It was about 2.30 when I went up to my room, to find a still, emaciated figure occupying one of the three beds. I went through its luggage quickly; it consisted of four snazzy suits, twenty-three ties, a camera and one hundred and fifty two- colour printed cards bearing the GDA (Goon Defective Agency) legend and stating that the holder was one Stephen F. Schultheis. After a few moments deep cogitation I decided that the figure on the bed was Steve Schultheis. It bothered me somewhat that it did not appear to breathe, but I went to bed reassuring myself with the well known fact that Arch-Goon John Berry is dead from the neck up, and it was therefore conceivable that the Cleveland Op was extinct from the cervical vertebrae on down.

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