THE WHITCON reported by John NewmanFirst published in FANTASY ADVERTISER Vol. III No. 2 (July 1948) ed. Norman 'Gus' Willmorth.
Copy of original pages supplied by Kim Huett.
THE AUTHOR (left) with PETER
HAWKINS at the WHITCON.
May 16th 1948, the first postwar British Science-Fiction Convention! Book hunting; meetings; new friends; food; the auction. Who can look back on such a gathering without nostalgia and regret?
In 1944 the Cosmos Club in Teddington. Many fans were in the Forces then. In 1946 the British Fantasy Society collapsed and Britain was without practically any form of fan society. The teen age fans were unable to get magazines, except reprints, and many of the old timers were still not demobbed. However, a group of enthusiasts met at Fred Brown's place in London and the London Circle was born. At first only a dozen or so fans turned up to the meetings, but soon the news spread, and now the regular informal Thursday evening gatherings at the White Horse in Fetter Lane are one of the bright spots in the lives of London fans. It was this group that sponsored the Whitcon.
The Whitcon was planned at fairly short notice but over fifty fans came along, many travelling from as far away as Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield, Yarmouthshire and even from the untracked depths of Ilford. Many fans who were unable to attend sent along books and magazines for the auction, as did several generous fans in the States.
On the Saturday afternoon the out of town fans were met by members of the London group end parties taken around the bookshops in the Charing Cross Road, whilst another party visited the Science Museum. They later converged on a Lyons Corner House and were reinforced by a number of new arrivals.
After a pleasant tea they traveled by underground to the White Horse in Fetter Lane, where the main meeting was held. The room itself was lavishly decorated with dozens of fabulous illustrations. Original covers from the old "Tales of Wonder" were dropped next to illustrations from "New Worlds" end "Astounding". One table was completely covered with piles of magazines and books, some overflowing onto the piano and the floor. Another table was covered with copies of the latest science - fiction and weird magazines, all of which are extremely difficult to get nowadays because of the ban on subscriptions to American magazines. The outstanding exhibit on this table wag a copy of Dr. Aiken's magazine "Beyond". One typed copy of each issue used to be circulated on a chain to all the interested fans.
The guest of honour, A. Bertram Chandler arrived a little before Walter Gillings called the meeting to order. Wally spoke about the difficulty of publishing science-fiction magazines in Britain. He told the gathering how FANTASY had folded because of the paper shortage and how unlikely it was that any existing publisher could be interested in this field. Why should not fantasy fans publish their own magazine in this country?
John Carnell then told the Convention about the collapse of Pendulum Publications and consequent indefinite hold up of "New Worlds" No. 4. In spite of the excellent reactions of the trade to "New Worlds" and "Fantasy" ("New Worlds" No. 3 was oversold by 3000) both magazines had been suspended and Ted suggested the formation of a new publishing company. Such a company could be financially backed by fans. Both he and Wally Gillings had been surprised at the enthusiasm of those who had been invited to participate in the scheme....
Ted went on to tell of the success of the London Circle, which had accomplished more than any other organisation, such as the Science Fiction Association. He reviewed the present book situation, saying that books were still coming over from the States but the new regulations made their import very difficult. After telling the fans about the latest books he went on to tell them about the Big Pond Fund, saying that it was open for another fan to go if he so wished.
Arthur C. Clarke then introduced
his most professional *I" and gave a
talk on "Science Fiction and Astronautics".
"Ego" Clarke dredged up the
past, telling of the time when the
British Interplanetary Society was
mainly composed of stfans, comparing
it with the present, when only 20 per
cent of the B.I.S. are fans, and the
first moon rocket is not so far away.
Arthur showed how science-fiction had
helped to introduce new ideas such as
astronautics by breaking down psychological
barriers. In spite of its
many poor stories much science-fiction
was read by scientists in this country
and Arthur went on to reminisce on
how he had introduced "Thrilling Wonder"
into the Cavendish Laboratories,
hitherto sacrosanct to "Astounding";
the attache' case of a wellknown
scientist, thought to contain massive
tomes, found to be full of old "Wonder
Stories"; and the Nobel prize winner
The Secretary then raised a number of points. By a large majority, the fans present voted the excess money from the auction, after expense had been met, should be donated to the Big Pond Fund. A visit to Kew Gardens the following day was announced. A vote of thanks to the organiser was proposed, seconded and carried unanimously.
Lt. Ken Slater had sent two pounds to buy all the Whitcon attendees a drink, so, before attacking the running buffet, the meeting hurriedly broke up to drink Ken's health. There was plenty of food available and in spite of the fans' efforts there was some left over, an unheard of thing at any British fan gathering. Soon groups of fans were clustered around the bar, the buffet, the auction table and one another. Everyone was talking, enjoying the convention hugely. At this point it might be worth while to mention that only one fanette, Miss Daphne Bradley, came along, although a number of the fans' wives were present.
The auction, the event for which every fan had been waiting, was held later on, just as coffee was served. We soon knew what it was going to be like. Poor Ted Tubb (may fans have mercy on his soul - wouldn't be surprised if he had knocked it dawn to someone for 6d!) assisted by Sandy and Plum was deluged by good natured sneers and cracks as the evening wore on. However, even if the atmosphere did grow a little thundery when Ted tried to sell a couple of Ziff-Davis "Amazings" and "F.A.s". The first books sold were those donated to the Big Pond Fund by American fans. A number of Arkham House books from Derleth, a signed Clare Winger Harris anthology and several others were sold very quickly. Then the magazines were brought on and the fun started. If a normal being had walked in he would have considered himself insane, for such scenes just don't happen. The bidding was keen, especially for the rarer items. Three much sought after items were the "Amazings" containing the "Skylark of Space", wartime "F.F.Y.'s" and "Weirds."
Last of all came the illustrations. An original cover from "Tales of Wonder" was put up by Wally, bid by Wally, raised by Wally (didn't recognize his own voicel) and finally knocked down to Wally for two shillings. Another illustration, this time of Eve and the Serpent, by Dennis, raised much comment but most of the wives silenced their husbands before they could bid. Apparently competition was not wanted.
The auction was over by 10 PM, raising about $70, of which nearly 50 would go to the Big Pond Fund after expenses had been deducted. The gathering adjourned to the bar down below until 10:30 when they broke up, some going to a late supper at a nearby cafe and some going straight home.
The Whitcon was undoubtedly a great success, and with this experience we should be able to have a bigger and better convention next year. You may be interested to know that we have published a Whitcon Booklet containing articles, comments, and information about the Whitcon and Anglofandom. Copies can be obtained for 1/- (25¢) from either J. Newman, 35, Balstrode Ave, Hounslow, Middlesex, Eng. or the Secretary of the London Circle Frank Fears at 6, Ferme Park Mansions, Ferme Park Road, Crouch End, London, N-8. Frank Fears will be only too glad to help anyone who wants information on Anglofandom or the London Circle. Ken Slater is publishing now a Whitconzine which mai be obtained from him at Riverside , South Brink, Wisbech, Cambs., or from J. Newman at 3d per copy (4d with postage).
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