THEN - THE LETTERS: 1960s
THEN #3, covering the 1960s was published in April 1991. The letters on that issue were in the following one, published in August 1993, and are reprinted below.
If THEN 2 showed '50s fandom as a patchwork quilt, THEN 3 displayed the '60s as wire netting - together yet apart. My sympathies are naturally with the fun-loving '50s, which produced TAFF and OMPA and the BSFA against the sterile '60s, creator of -uh- PADS, - but I must say you've done them proud.
And as someone says, it's amazing how many old-timers are coming out of the woodwork and adding their bit.... Derek Pickles, Jim Linwood, Harry Turner, Archie Mercer, etc. THEN may even raise the dead, it appears.
Harry Warner's comment on the accessibility of OMPA mailings as a source made me wince. If only it were so! When I moved back here in '63 I'll swear I had with me an orange crate packed with the first five years of OMPA mailings - over a thousand pages of fannish babble. When I went to look for it in 1981...gone!
What made it worse was that during all those years I'd had the comfortable feeling that the crate was safe - in the attic, or under a pile of old furniture in a garden shed. To find it inexplicably missing was horrible-worse even than stepping on a stair that isn't there.
I fully agree with Eric Bentcliffe that there should be some fanzine illos, typical front pages, even perhaps photographs, in the final THEN compilation - to the artist's names he mentions I'd add Bob Shaw, Harry Bell, and the great Harry Turner, at least - but there isn't room enough in the present editions. A pity, as with the inevitable reduction they'll lose some detail. Never mind. I've just thought up another Project. If some enterprising/foolhardy publisher doesn't wish to bring out THEN in all its splendour, then we can issue a special final volume full of illos!
History confounds me, especially the way historians confidently assemble aspects of the lives of disparate individuals into shapes, periods and trends, beginning here and ending there. I'm dipping in and out of THEN, because it's not all congenial to me: the esotericism and self-concern of fandom - of any established social enclave - repel me. Terms like 'slan-shack' I find powerfully, almost viscerally alienating. Much of what you're documenting goes straight over my head - 19 out of 20 names mean nothing to me, but the twentieth - Rog Peyton, Ken Slater, Gerry Webb, Stan Nicholls, Terry Pratchett.... Suddenly I'm on the inside, astonished to see familiar people transformed into unrecognisable previous selves - Chris Priest in particular, who, historically, is responsible for the fact that I'm writing to you from this address.
The work I did on Moorcock's NEW WORLDS in The Entropy Exhibition was purely literary, and as such has seemed very ignorant and lop-sided to me for years now. I didn't know anything about SF, and certainly nothing about SF fans. Decontaminating SF of all trace of fans was essential to my ill-considered approach of
dignifying the literature. I'm not sure now where I got the notion that SF fans
were bad for SF, but I can see how powerfully I was under the rhetoric of the time,
and of the malformations of hindsight. It was all over well before I came to look
at it. Just leafing through THEN 3, noting the busy caperings of Moorcock and
Platt and Priest, Lang Jones and Grahams Charnock and Hall, and their ambiguous
historical relationship with Ken Bulmer and Ted Tubb and John Phillifent, reveals
a lot about fandom as the matrix for New Wave SF, as well as illuminating some of
the otherwise puzzling allegiances and antipathies between the survivors.
What a strange and fascinating experience you have given me. The events I was involved in, in British fandom, seem so obscure and trivial in retrospect, like the goings-on of a school photographic society or the rivalries in one's first job after leaving university. But you have somehow assembled every detail of what actually happened, and here it all is, supplied to me out of nowhere, as if Big Brother was watching me and had suddenly decided to send me a transcript of my file. Your research is excellent, your objectivity is impeccable. Your motivation is mysterious, but that's your affair.
One matter I wish to set straight. I was an abrasive character in British fandom; I do not deny it. I was a teenage male virgin, sublimating my sexual frustration into agressive antisocial behaviour, and many people regarded me as bad news. I took things way beyond what was reasonable. For instance, my idea of freeloading was to carry a set of key-cutting files to a convention, so that I could make my own key to someone else's room and lock myself in for the night. In my typical drunken state, I then broke windows, put my fist through someone's door, and so on and so forth. None of this I deny. But the one thing I never, ever did was step on Ella Parker's couch.
I despised Ella Parker's tastes and values, and still do, if she's still alive. I took advantage of her hospitality and probably disturbed her monthly social meetings by being a bit loud with my friends. Unfortunately, she chose to express her dislike of me by accusing me of something I did not do, and she made this her reason for closing down meetings that were dear to the hearts of some London fans at that time. I don't feel it's fair to hold me responsible for spoiling their fun. But this is trivia within trivia. Your real theme is the clash in the 1960s between old fans and new. What happened was very simple: several young people joined the BSFA and attended BSFA-sponsored conventions with the reasonable expectation that the organisation and the events were run by and for people who cared about modern science fiction. Imagine our confusion, finding a bunch of middle-aged men throwing pork pies at each other, playing cards all night, and deriding us for our 'naive' notion that we should be discussing literature.
Peter Weston and I never had much in common. He was like a trade-union leader, humorless and not very imaginative, while I was an anarchist intent on sabotage as an end in itself. But Weston and myself did feel similarly about the fans and fanzines we encountered when we entered the field. We were alternately mystified and horrified. If the establishment fans had been `nicer' to us, it would have made no difference at all. Quite simply,
they were hopelessly out of touch, and in
some ways out to lunch. We couldn't communicate with them, and didn't much want to.
Incidentally, I don't mean to sneer at Pete and his Birmingham friends. Trade- unionists are formidable organisers, they keep plugging away, they stand together as a group, and in a sense they are radical. Weston and his people organised conventions, which is more thn I ever managed to do.
None of this is relevant to anything anymore. But then neither is your fanzine, so I decided to indulge myself here, in this letter, just once.
Re that film, It Happened Here; I quote from my OMPAzine, OZ 11 (June '69):
"It was quite dreadful, and I felt distinctly uncomfortable because I found myself sitting beside Hans-Wernher Heinrichs... In front of me were sitting Waldemar Kumming and 'Fux' Reinecke. I watched what I thought were actors portraying British Fascists, mouthing their terible tenets about white superiority and the sins of the Jews. (It was around then that Diane Rosenblum and her escort walked out). I later learned tha these were not actors, but some of Moseley's perverts in different uniforms; I suppose they must have jumped at the chance of putting over their corruptive propaganda on the screen."In a letter of comment, featured in OZ 12, Chris Priest wrote: "Your reaction to (the film) sounds like an unthinking emotional one..." I told him: "You have completely missed one of the most important points about the showing of that film: the fact that it was shown to an audience of mixed nationalities - Britons, Germans, Jews, Scandinavians and other Continentals - not to mention Americans. Not only was my patriotism outraged - I was plain, downright embarrassed!"
Walt Willis' unfavourable review of LINK caused a fierce argument (as so many of Willis' writings seemed to) between myself and Pete Weston. He insisted that my disappointed reaction to 'Fanorama' proved that I was incapable of accepting criticism gracefully. As an ex-journalist, I tried to tell him that my thick (literary) hide was quite immune to brickbats; what caused my disappointment was the quality of Willis' review. I had expected brilliant writing, even if positively caustic; what I got was, in my opinion, some mediocre maunderings which I could have written better myself. But I never got Pete to accept this. As for Willis' remark that he had "gone off contemporary English fandom" - I wonder if it ever occurred to him that English fandom had gone off him?
Actually, I haven't gafiated. I am just, as Roy used to say, taking a quiet period.... But thanks for your concern. Watch this space. Coming back any decade now, boss. Even more thanks for this astonishing THEN, which induced such a frenzy of activity that I even phoned up Vince Clarke and asked him what had happened over the last ten years. Just couldn't wait for the next installments!
Meanwhile, back in 1967, I was still at school when I first knocked on the door of
Archie and Beryl Mercer's Bedminster basement flat and asked for the BaD SF Group.
It was an archetypal First Contact story. An explorer mystified by alien beings...
then gradually and insidiously being taken over by them.
I suspect that the `67 Eastercon had been the high point of BaD Group activity. The fanzine, BADINAGE, was less than memorable but, as Arnie Katz said in a LoC, British fandom was then at such a low point that it was a question of going from BaD to worse.
Group meetings alternated between the Walshes and the Mercers, and were inclined to be rather quiet....unless there were visitors from out of town, which there often were. The group packed up around September 1968, when Gray Boak left Bristol University and I left to go to Keele...not in 1973, as your checklist has it. Thereafter, the few remaining fans in Bristol (including me, during university holidays) met together occasionally, mainly when overseas visitors were around: Bruce Pelz, Elliott Shorter, Ron Clarke, Marsha (then) Brown, Waldemar Kumming, Ed Reed, are a few I recall. By 1973, the year of the Bristol OMPACON, there were no fans left in Bristol at all.
Your fascinating and secret history of Britfandom was eagerly devoured. You are doing us all a service. Many characters, long forgotten, are recalled. The pleasant Alan Rispin, for example.
Can I mention LONCON II in 1965 (p.149)? While I was making my GoH speech, rear doors opened and a figure entered waving a cable. It was Cy Endfield, celebrated director of Zulu and other movies. The cable was from Joseph E.Levine in Hollywood, guaranteeing Cy $30m if he - and I as scriptwriter - made an SF film called Only Tomorrow before Clarke and Kubrick got their act together an 2001. An exciting moment. We haven't made the film yet.
Tom Boardman became my business manager. He was present at our reception when Margaret and I got married. The scene was the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, later setting for a con in 1969. Also present: Harry and Joan Harrison, Kingsley and Jane Amis, J.G.Ballard, Mike Moorcock, and other celebrities. Champagne gushed like something in Yellowstone.
Ah, those good old sixties! Why, at YARCON, 1966, (p.154) did Margaret and I get the Dickens Suite at the Royal? Because the under-manager of the Randolph the previous year had become the manager of the Royal that year! Also, I remember teaming up with the pleasant Mary Reed to defeat a loathsome under-manager, letting in younger fans (including Terry Pratchett?) who were dossing elsewhere.
I look forward to THEN 4, which will cover the days I remember personally. I entered fandom almost immediately after getting the job at the Science Fiction Foundation, my first convention being the Novacon in
1971. I suppose I've been to
around fifty since. I'd had previous, brief contacts with Australian fandom back
in the 1950s, but the small musty rooms in which they met, and the general lack of
wit and sparkle, had put me off it.
I was fortunate to be living in London at the precise period of the rise of Ratfandom. I was never a proper Rat, as you know, partly because by 1971 I was already 32, a good decade older than most of the Ratfans, though after a few years I suppose I was an honorary, marginal Rat, with greying fur, not unlike Splinter in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My social life in the 1970s began more and more to revolve around London fandom, with Edwards, Holdstock, Kettle, Brosnan. Priest, Pickersgill, Charnock et al. In retrospect, I thought at the time that fandom must be like this, but with hindsight I can see that Ratfandom was wholly atypical in its scabrousness and level of intelligence. I know of no time before or since, except perhaps briefly in Northern Ireland in the fifties, when fanzines were so compulsively readable.
Because of the age difference, and because I entered fandom laterally rather than vertically up through the ranks, I was never centrally a fan, though I wrote occasional fanzine pieces, once winning a Peter Roberts CHECKPOINT poll as Best Fan Writer, the zenith of my fannish career. I was more of a convention fan than a fanzine fan, on the whole, which climaxed in the grisly horror of taking on with Mike Christie the Worldcon programming in 1987. I believe I was also responsible, slightly indirectly, in persuading Bob Shaw to do his first Serious Scientific Talk. (It was all to do with choosing him as part of an Arts Council SF tour of the North-East, along with Mark Adlard, and Aldiss, and if I remember correctly, Jim Blish,) And as a teacher of the SF classes at the City Lit, along with (at different times) Philip Strick, Chris Priest, and John Clute, I was intimately involved in the forcing ground of much of 1980s fandom, and earlier, too, Chris Evans was one of my students there, for example.
Fandom in Australia is deeply disappointing. I still have old friends here, like Bruce Gillespie and John Foyster, but generally fandom here seems grey, sober, unwitty, clannish, small-minded, and far too media-oriented. I find the feeling of Australian fandom deeply antipathetic on the whole, though there are exceptions. Terry Dowling is a bright exception, and so are the editorial board of the now dying AUSTRALIAN SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW. Roger Weddall is pleasant. Many famous Australian fans of the past, notably Bangsund and Lee Harding, are gafiated.
WAHF: James White, Bob Shaw, Bill Gibson ("THEN was great. God only knows why I enjoy reading fan history, but I do. Did as a teenager, even, with FANCYCLOPEDIA IT. Like, Roots, man, I dunno."), Archie Mercer, Simone Restall (formerly Walsh), Sydney J. Bounds, Eric Williams, Derek Pickles, Terry Jeeves, Glen Warminger, Steve Green, Ian Covell, Jonathan Waite, Mary Reed, Ethel Lindsay, Alan Sullivan, Steve Jeffery, Dennis Tucker, Ken Bulmer, Mike Glicksohn, John Dallman, Richard Brandt, Steve Sneyd, Hans Persson, Thomas Recktenwald, Stan Nicholls, Peter Weston, Darroll Pardoe, Ken Cheslin, and Mike Ashley, Thank you one and all. Due to the already ludicrous size of this issue, this lettercolumn had to be severely curtailed, but all LoCs were appreciated.