CYTRICON 1 - 1955
The Cytricon - a short report by Peter Hamilton (on Jim Linwood's NEBULA website)
Originally published in SATELLITE 6, Summer 1955 (editor DON ALLEN).
The journey to Kettering was a long and tedious one. I was far too excited to sleep and again I did not want to sleep in case I missed ny station, so the journey on the seven pm train from Newcastle began on Good Friday with me reading Chuck Harris's 'Thru Darkest Ireland' and ended at three am on the Saturday with me feeling very tired and cold.
Bleary eyed, I staggered with my suitcase from Kettering Station into the darkness of the night, luckily a taxi was in the station yard so I boarded it, mumbled out our destination to the driver and ten minutes later I was sipping life-giving-coffee in the home of Denny Cowen. I gratefully slept there that night - well, for what was left of the night, and when daylight finally came I dressed, dashed downstairs to a nice breakfast, chatted with Denny about the previous day and then at nine am we set out for the George Hotel.
It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining brightly in the clear blue sky and the birds were singing merrily in the tree-tops. The George Hotel looked peaceful and far too a respectable place for fans to gather to hold a convention, but this first impression proved to be wrong because the hotel was a real tru-fannish place - everyone, from the lowest chamber rnaid to the manager eventually joined in the fun. Denny took me into the convention hall which was already lined with tables displaying books, fanzines and paintings, he pointed out an empty table which I could use for my Satellite salesmanship. There were two other fans in the hall at the time and Denny introduced me to them. Eric Jones is a real tru-fannish character and wore over the whole weekend a most wonderful beanie, it had aerials and antennae sticking out from all over it. (I forget who the other person was but I think it was Mrs. Rattigan ? ) A few minutes later, after I had put the copies and leaflets of Satellite onto my table, the hall started to fill up and zapp guns where appearing so I decided to go around and meet people. After being introduced to Mike Wallace I noticed a pile of magazines moving down the hall. This turned out to be Ron Bennett looking for a table on which to dump his stuff, so I guided him to a one and then we introduced ourselves.
"Got the - er - you-know-what?" Ron whispered, meaning the pre-printed pages for Burp. I pointed to my suitcase and answered yes and went on to tell him that somebody else had done me out of a room and had nowhere to put my luggage. to Ron said that I could put it in his room and after further conversation as to where I was to sleep he offered me his floor. I accepted, and then we went up to his room. Once there I opened up my case and took out the pages for Burp, Ron jumped up and down with delight and prophesised a wonderful scoop.
"We'll do it tonight when the film is on, can't do it this afternoon 'cos I'm playing Rugby!" He said.
"You're what - ?" I cried in astonishment.
"I'm playing Rugby, for the local team - oh lor - what a mess -"
"How on earth did you get yourself into it then?"
"I dunno, last night a great hefty muscle man came into the bar looking for me - said I'd writen and asked to play - I didn't dare back out, he would have sloshed me........."
"Oh you poor fan," I laughed, "you poor silly twisted fan..." Ron grimaced and mumbled that he would be a silly twisted fan after the game.
"Aw c'mon," he said, "let's go down to the hall." So down we went, and we had not set more than a couple of feet into the hall when we were pounced upon by George Lye, a NezFez man.
"Wanna buy Gestalt?" he slurred.
"Gestalt - what the blinkin’ dickens is that?"
"It's our new fanzine, costs a bob. now c'mon, here buy a copy - "
"I don't know you," said Ron, "what's your name?"
"W— look, tell you what, I'll toss you for whether you buy the zine for a shilling or for sixpence."
"Hmmmrn, okay - who'll toss the coin?"
"I will," I said as I fumbled in my pocket for a penny which, after being passed around for inspection was thrown into the air. Ron called 'heads' and it came down 'heads', he took his copy and paid his sixpence while George walked away moaning, “Is it worth it, is it worth it…”
''Look!" I cried, "A lucky dip.”
''Ah, this is what I've been looking for” replied Ron. and immediately squatted on the floor and began dipping.
"You are Don Allen aren't you?" A voice from behind me asked. I turned around to see who it was who had recognized me.
“Wa – yes – and you’re Walt Willis…” I said feeling thrilled that Walt had recognised me. After handshakes and greetings Walt introduced me to his most charming and pleasant wife Madeleine. Walt is the same, easy to talk to and a wonderful person to know. We chatted for a while of fannish things and then Walt asked me if I had met everybody whom I wanted to meet? I replied that I had not.
“Vince, have you met Vince Clarke? You haven’t, well come then and I’ll introduce you.” Vince Clarke was talking to four other fans but I can only remember two of them, one Joy Goodwin and the other Chuck Harris. Chuck was arguing with this other person and I never got around to actually shaking his hand until the Sunday afternoon. I found Chuck to be a very nice person with a good sense of humour, the same goes for Vince and Joy, real nice people full of fun and friendliness. Actually, this being my first convention I was greatly impressed by the overall friendliness and good spirit amongst fen and that weekend was one of tha best I've ever had.
After I had talked to Vince and Joy for a while I want off in search of Mike Wallace but was stopped by a fan who flashed a card in my face, the card read 'The Lincoln Square'. This was Archie Mercer I thought, but I played dumb.
“The Lincoln Square - hmm, now who do I know in Lincoln…?” I mused, then Archie turned the card over revealing his name. We laughed and shook hands when suddenly the back of my neck was drenched with water. I spun around in a flash only to receive a second drenching but this time right in my eyes.
"Glug!" I gurgled wiping water from my eyes until they could focus normally "Man, dig this piece of curve!” I yelped as I saw my would-be assassin. “Who is she?”
"You dunno who that is - oh shame on you, that's Shirley Marriott ..... “ explained Archie.
“Well, well, waddaya know … now if only I had a zapp gun...." no sooner the words out of my mouth when Mike Wallace asked me if I would like to buy one of his. (he had three). I said I did, and on receiving my purchase I headed for the cloakroom to load up. Back in the hall I sorted out Marriott (a very easy job!), took aim and zzzap, perfect shot I thought, but she was with friends and they rallied forth to her rescue. Vary soon a battle was raging, Mike Wallace came lumbering down the hall in pursuit of John Hall who was directly in my line of fire so I let him have it, this resulted in both of us dodging behind folks so as we wouldn't be zapped, but everybody was zapping everybody so nobody really knew who was zapping who! Phew! When finally the battle cooled off I felt as though I couldn't have got any wetter if I'd gone for a swim fully clothed. Mike and I decided to go out for dinner as the time was nearing twelve, but before doing this we went up to Mike’s room to dry ourselves out. On our way we saw Bert Campbell arrive by car, obviously he wasn't taking any chances this year as we noticed spare tyres, and numerous other gear in the back for use in case of a breakdown!
Mike and I walked to the far end of Kettering in search of a cafe and eventually found ‘The London Grill’ and believe me I think that they actually cooked the food in London and sent it up to Kettering by mule-train! However, apart from the lousy food the conversation was good. Two tables were pushed together to make one big one and around this were Ken Slater, Mike Wallace, Dave Cohen, Pete Royle, Pat Everest, Mike Mansfield, Eddie White and myself (Dave was taking down notes for the British S-F magazine so naturally we were all on good behaviour) . The menu was a strange thing, on it were the most queerest meals you ever laid eyes on, stuff like, 'Margarine Egg' , 'Sausage Egg’, 'Rolland Sam', and scribbled in pencil, BLOG! The puns in the conversation were terrific and I wish I could remember them all, for my dinner I ordered sausage and chips, when the dirty old Italian waiter placed it down in front of me Mike looked at the horrible mess and said, "I wouldn't touch the sausage if I were you, especially when there's a public lavatory next door!” Somebody suggested that Ken Potter might be there catching up on his reading! ( — Anybody want bread? No, I'm off my wheat. --- Do you remember Space Times, well forget it. ---- If you want my name you'll find it on the wall next door. --- This dinner is killing me. --- I don't trust that Ken Slater. — )
On arriving back at the hotel at one thirty I sat in the American Bar, a lovely place real Yankee style, listening to Walt, Chuck, Mal, Denny, Eric Bentcliffe, Shamey, and Wansborough talking of nothing that I can remember. Musta bin the dinner!! It was then that I remembered that Ron Bennett was going to play Rugby and that I had better get the key to his room in case I needed something out of my case. It was a fruitless search, I couldn't find the nut, though I combed the hotel high and low, maybe I should have used a bigger comb because suddenly, just as I'd given up hope and had sat down in the con-hall, he appeared.
"I am off to play Rugby now, Don, would you like the key to my room in you need somethin'?" he said. Me, I was speechless, but I got the key and Ron went on his way. I wondered if we would see him again. By now the walls of the hall were covered with adverts for various fanzines, prozines and BLOG! Chairs, books, tables were all buried in quote-cards. Archie Mercer distributed the largest ammount of quote-cards, he must have had thousands, other cards came from the Liverpool boys but these were mostly adverts for their tape-recording which they wore putting on at three-thirty sponsored by BLOG an imaginary product that ‘caught on’ better than I think was expected. The barmen in the American Bar put up an advert for the stuff saying that BLOG would shortly be on sale and I did hear that tho regular customers of the hotel had actually been .enquiring about it and when it was to be on sale? The barmen and waiters were right in the groove of things and played along fine answering all enquiries saying that BLOG would be on sale soon! Yes indeed, a real tru-fannish place, the manager was delighted with everything and the barmen even went as far as getting their own zapp guns. BLOG adverts were all over the hotel and so were Archie's quote cards. I pinned up ads for Satellite on every available place I could find.
The con hall at two pm was a most fannish scene indeed, zapp gun duels were being held, pros were talking in groups, beanies bobbing up and down, fen chasing femmes, Burgess jerking around...oh yes Burgess had a lovely hat, a bit unconventional maybe, but very attractive(?) . This hat was one of those Alpine type with a fifteen inch feather stuck in it, the hat was green and the feather white, and he wore it over the whole weekend except when somebody took it from him and emptied his zapp gun in it!
Just after two the program actually started, Ted Carnell talked about manuscripts and New Worlds, after he'd had his say Bert Campbell sauntered up to the mike and said he was not going to anything but would answer questions! Alan Burns asked the first which was, 'What is the future of Space Opera?', To this Bert just shrugged and replied, “I don't think it has a future!” The hall echoed with fannish laughter and then Frances Evans asked Bert why there had been no fanzine reviews in the last Authentic? Bert said that a true unbiased opinion of a fanzine was unwelcome and caused much controversy so therefore no reviews unless a faned particularly asks for one. Ted Tubb and Ken Slater asked most of the questions that followed and while Bert was answering one of them Burgess crept up and took a photo of him. The flash caused Bert to close his eyes and stand still for a moment, he was obviously trying to teleport Burgess from Kettering. Seeing Bert in this condition somebody near me remarked, “Doesn't he look like Jesus!” After all the various questions the Liverpool boys took over with their tape recording of 'Kettering Convention 1960', I really enjoyed this and just about bust with laughing at times, but as soon as it was over I dashed from the hall and up to Ron's room to get a wash and freshen up for tea. On the way back down the Rugby Champion Himself was seen staggering - no, crawling up the stairs! He had returned from his game!
"Hi Ron'." I greeted him but all the acknowledgement I got was a low moan. "'What's up - get hurt in the game - ?” Ron moaned again, but louder this time. "Mus go lie down - mus rest - mus go.,.." he groaned turning nearly closed eyes in my direction "Okay, here's your key, I'm away now to something to eat - er can you manage the climb to your room?" Ron nodded his head causing bits of caked blood and mud fall to the floor, I dropped the key into his pocket and ran off down the stairs leaving Ron to continue his painful journey. On reaching the first floor I ran crash-bang into Ted Tubb, not realizing who it was at first, it's very difficult to focus your eyes while you are bouncing from wall to wall, but as soon as I steadied myself and realised my position my apologies immediately burst forth.
"You're Don Allen aren't you?" Ted said after looking me over, "I recognize you from your picture on the last Satellite." I was amazed, this was wonderful, Ted Tubb recognising me - oh the fame!!! Ted was going out for something to eat also so we both went out together.
Outside the hotel we caught sight of various members of the London Circle and other fans and femmes so we caught up with them and once more I was walked to the far end of Kettering in search of a cafe. The one selected was much better than the previous joint where I had 'dinner’. I sat at a table along with Shirley Marriott and Brian Burgess, while around the other tables were Vince Clarke, Joy Goodwin, Ted Tubb, Bert Campbell, The Buckmasters and three or four others whose names I can't remember. Shamey and Burgess talked about the places they had been to on the Continent and I butted in with an occasional, 'Well when I was in York', or 'I remember when I went to Blackpool', it was an interesting conversation all the same but when they switched to foreign languages everything was all Greek to me. (Wish I'd talked broad Tyneside then I wouldn't have been too ignorant - well Mercer says Tyneside sounds like a flipping foriegn language - ha, he should talk!)
After tea we all returned to the hotel, there, until seven I spent the time wandering around talking to various folk. I was not very keen on seeing 'War of the Worlds' but I did want to see the Tom & Jerry cartoon. I was sitting in the back row with Marriott - pause while you read between the lines - when Ron Bennett, a recovered fan, and Mike Wallace told me that it was time to start on BURP, I didn't want to go, Tom & Jerry were so funny so I said that I would come in a couple of minutes. That 'couple of minutes' turned out to be an hour, Shamey and I got sick of the film, as did a few others, so we left the hotel to go on a sight seeing tour of Kettering. I must say that the fresh air freshened me up a lot and on returning to the hotel I felt just in the right mood for fun. Shamey agreed to coming up to Ron's room to holp with BURP!
"Where the blinking dickens have you been?" Ron squeaked when we came into the room, I told him we had been sight-seeing-Kettering but he didn't believe me and Mike was giving me sly looks. "Well if it's not too much bother would you care to hand me these sheets as I print them, and Mike types - or would you rather type - aw hell, and stop snoggin' on the floor while I'm talking - tut, just look at them, couple of blinkin' love-birds, wouldn't think he was the chap that puts out Satellite to look at him now; would you............" While Ron had been talking Shamey had sat down on the floor pulling the blankets off the bed as she did so (she could not lie on the bed as it was covered with paper) said she felt tired, suddenly I too felt tired so likewise flopped to the floor. For the next half-hour we had to put up with remarks like, a couple of tru-fan-luv-birds - you've heard of coal barges now look at Don's shoes - is that your garter or is it your stocking - she's cradle snatching that's what - it makes you wonder how he ever prints a fanzine - wonder what his girl-friend would say - got a camera.::: After a while I did manage to drag myself to help with the printing and just as I was halfway through cutting a cartoon Mike cried, "Good Ghod, it's time we were going, the party will be on soon!" Mass exit, of all but me, I had to finish the cartoon and then change into my party-shirt which is one of those American style-beach-shirts all booby dazzly colours (Tho mine was a little on the dull side!!).
Downstairs fen were gathering in various places waiting for one of the big rooms, which the manager said we could have until seven the next morning, to be opened. The manager was also going around telling folk that if they were not a resident of the hotel then they could not stay, but of course nobody present was a non-resident so everything was alright.....but I still wonder why it was that he picked on me to ask what room I was staying in out of the couple of dozen fen that were present when he made this announcement. The party-room was opened up at ten and it was not long before it was full, so full that I couldn't find a place to sit except for the floor which was undoubtedly the best place to be - I wouldn't have far to fall! A bar had been erected at one end of the room and they were doing-a roaring trade. Shirley (Shamey) Marriott said she was going to get me drunk if it was the last thing she did and went off to the bar to get some booze. Whem she returned we sat at a table along with Paul Hammett, Meredith Chatterton,Ethel Lindsay, Ron Buckmaster and Pete Taylor.
Everything that happened after ten-thirty is just a vague haze, I remember necking under a table with Shamey, punning with Archie Mercer and Eric Bentcliffe, receiving quote cards from Chuck Harris which read -'I bet Ted Mason doesn't report this'- talking into the tape-recorder, my bheer after somebody had doctored it which nearly killed me and a million other things. There were fen in fancy dress, Ina Shorrock was wearing a Space Maidens rig-out and looking very very attractive indeed! My senses were brought back to normal when the law entered the room. The room was pretty near empty at this time, four am, and I was lying on the floor behind Walt's chair. When I saw those familiar uniforms through the haze I shot bolt upright, a deathly hush fell over the room, then one of the policemen explained he was just checking up to see if everybody present was a resident. Quick glances and knowing winks passed from fan to femme as the ball started to roll and those present gave their names and room numbers, came my turn - "Ron Bennett'." I said, "Room 101." The cop checked the register, said everything was in order and then left without even bothering to wake Harry Clements who was sprawled across a table sound asleep, he told me later that he slept there all night. After the cops had gone silence reigned for a while and this was not broken until a snore echoed from the sleeping beauty, every one laughed and started to talk at once, I flopped back to the floor with a sigh of relief. Shortly after this the party bust up and everyone drifted off to their rooms. Being nicely canned at this time I had a devil of a job finding Ron's room, I passed one room and heard much noise inside, it was the Liverpool boys holding a private party. Eventually I found room 101 and hammered on the door. A pyjama clad figure opened, the door and peered out.
“Good lor!” yawned Ron, “thought you'd got fixed up for the night with Marriott…”
"Noo," I said as I entered, "noooo - bin lizznin to Willis, n Vinz n ivrybudy - lovly puns n all that - -“ then the floor came looming up towards me. Even though I was on my knees it was still a long drop!
The sun shining straight onto my face through the window woke me up at eight am. After I had washed away the groggyness and woke Ron we went downstairs. Ron went off to the dining-room for breakfast but all I wanted was a nice cup of coffee so I sat in the 'Devils Kitchen’. ( I presume that this lounge got its name because it was decorated with ancient swords, muskets, armour, choppers and even man-traps - it was a great pity all this stuff was nailed to the walls.) Already other fen were in the lounge and heartily chatting away about the previous day. I sat down at a table with Archie Mercer, John Hall, Nic Osterban and John Ashcroft, later on we were joined by Peter Hamilton and Shirley Marriott. The conversation ranged from religion, to Nebula and then to ships in bottles. (I never did figure out how the latter got into the conversation? . Towards eleven fen were drifting to the con hall for the Jazz Session, I went along too but on entering the hall I found it far too cold for my liking so returned to the lounge to rejoin Peter Hamilton and company only to find Bert Campbell and Ted Tubb had replaced Mercer and Osterban. I stayed with them until twelve noon and then went out for my dinner. ;;; I'm waiting for Nebula to turn Pro., peter hamilton. - I'm dying to see those photos - I'm incapable of it this morning, Marriott - It's even worse than Don Allen's shirt - If you want to get ahead get a BLOG - I never bother with names, just read the letters..Bert.
When I returned to the hotel at one thirty I went into the con hall and wandered around talking to pro and fan alike until two twenty when Ted Carnell opened up the day’s program by talking about the 1956 World Convention, and LONDON hopes to get the vote, but if not, then it's Kettering again in '56. When it came to a show of hands everyone present wanted London to be the site for the '56 World Convention so now it only remains to be seen how the Statesiders take to it! Next on the program was the author of the year award and Ted Tubb got this. Ted said, as he fingered his beautiful rocket-designed-table-cigarette-box, "I am too choked with emotion to give a speech, but, next year I hope to be receiving another just like it." EYE won the award for the most popular fanzine and Vince Clarke took the prize in place of Stuart Mackenzie who has gone gafia. Three fifteen came and the auction started, after half a hour of rapid sales Ted Tubb had to retire because of a sore throat and Ken Slater took over. Puns and quote cards came thick and heavy here, and the auction turned into a real scream when Wansborough took over, with remarks like "And if anybody'll give me four bob for this lot I'll chuck in a copy of Nebula for nothing", he had me in fits of laughter. Unfortunately I could not see the auction out as I had to go to the Kettering railway station to check train times back to Newcastle. The only suitable train for me was was at six am Monday morning, this meant I would have to stay in the hotel overnight and not wanting to trouble Ron another night I got myself a room on returning to the hotel. After a tea with Mike Wallace, Peter Hamilton invited me up to his room to witness him making BLOG. He looked a weird figure indeed holding a frothing tumbler of water and disprin in his hand.
"Now for the bi-carb - then this - now a drop from this bottle....” he mumbled as he added ingredient after ingredient to the now black and bubbling liquid.
"Want to try it?" Peter asked. "No blinkin’fear!" I cried backing away.
"Oh well, never mind - its not quite ready yet anyhoo, needs a touch of bheer yet, c'mon downstairs and we'll get some...." Peter emptied the concoction into a pre-labelled BLOG bottle and we then left the room to go for some bheer, but, in the crowds downstairs, I lost him.
The American Bar was full of fans plus a few regular customers of the hotel (Ghod knows what they must have been thinking!) . I got myself a bheer and moved in on Dave Cohen, Ethel Lindsay, Frances and Cyril Evans, Shirley Marriott, Norman Shorrock and Brian Varley, oh yes, and a Mr. and Mrs. Heath! There I stayed until ten, having a good time. Just before ten I noticed a Yank who was looking very lonely standing beside Mike Mansfield.
"I bet you daren't ask him if he reads sf?" prompted Shirley.
"Bet I do," I replied as I got up and walked over to him. Mike, standing next to him had an out-of-this-world look on his face and was leaning against the wall.
"What'sa matter," I said, "'fraid the place will fall down?"
"If I move away from this wall I will fall down'." Mike answered. The Yank burst out laughing sticking his hand out as he did so. "I'm Dick!" he said as I pumped his hand and than introduced myself. "C'mon over and join the party," I told him, and so Dick Zaremba, by joining our little group and meeting Shirley Marriott turned fan overnight.
At ten the bar shut and everyone drifted upstairs to the residents lounge for the second all-night-party. Before I went I said solong to Dick and then madly dashed up to my room to put a soaking wet pound-note on the radiator to dry (my zapp gun had burst in my pocket) and then, once more, madly dashed into the Residents lounge. The whole hotel was here, with the exception of Walt and Madeleine Willis, Bert Campbell, Ted Carnell and Ted Tubb who had left for home at five pm. Archie Mercer was sitting by himself in the middle of the room on the floor so I sat beside him, no sooner had I got myself comfy when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. "Wha - how the heck - " I cried in astonishment seeing Dick Zaremba standing there.
"I brung him in," proudly announced Peter Reansy sticking his chest out as he did so.
"Well good for you," I yelled and thumped him on his protruding chest-line. Pete crumpled to the floor hissing as he did so, "don't ferget, I brung him in!"
It was a bit awkward sitting in the middle of the floor, people kept on walking over you, so I suggested that we move into a corner. Dick brought Shamey as we moved camp and there in the corner he settled down to a spot of love making while Archie and I looked on giving instructions and occasionally demonstrations on that particular art.
At these all-night parties the management kindly supplied us with an all-night waiter, and wow, what a waiter, he looked like something out of a horror comic. Mebbe he was a fugitive! But, for all his gruesome looks he was a very nice man! I nearly laughed myself to death when he got his own zapp gun and drenched Shamey's blouse. Towards midnight we were invaded by another Yank, this one was a photographer called Shaver, (a real mystery) who wanted some pics of the fen! He brought with him some canned bheer which made him, naturally, very welcome. Mal Ashworth and Sheila entered the room and the two love birds headed straight for one of the sofas. I hadn't seen much of Mal over the weekend, (who had?) so I decided that this was my best opportunity for a bit of talk. So we talked, but they were not present for long, soon they were wishing everyone goodnight, I said goodbye explaining that that I was leaving on the six am train. When they had gone I heard femme-type-squeals from behind me, I turned just in time to see Shamey being dragged off by Ron Buckmaster to a party which was being held in room 10. The lounge was now almost empty but for a group in a corner playing cards and an odd bod here and there. I hailed Archie and we too went off to room 10.
On opening the door we were confronted by a solid wall of fen, the 12" x 12" room was crammed tight, and cigarette smoke belched out the door like smoke from a wood fire. Archie and I bulldozered our way in, Archie was forced one way and me the other. Eventually I found an empty piece of floor in a corner between the bed and the wardrobe, (I think Burgess was in the wardrobe!) . When I had recovered my strength and adjusted my eyes to the fog like atmosphere I looked around to see where Archie had got himself to. Eric Bentcliffe was standing beside me and was furiously taking down notes on toilet paper (said he was going to decipher them at his own convenience! Suddenly I was nearly swept off my feet, I felt a terrific force pulling at me, all over the room fans were being forced in a particular direction, glasses and bottles were swept away and the fog-like-air rushed around like a hurricane! I think whoever it was that opened the window regretted it!
After this I found myself once more outside the room and in the corridor. Pete Taylor and Ina Shorrock suddenly rushed by me looking very frantic.
"Wassamatter?" I called after them. Pete looked over his shoulder and shouted, "FIRE!"
Oh my Ghod, I thought, as I ran after them, this is a fine time to have a fire, but, then again, as I passed one of those cone shaped fire extinguishers and a secret desire came out, maybe it was not! When I caught up to Pete and Ina they were talking to 'Humpy’ the waiter and John Brunner.
"Don, sniff at the air, what do you smell apart from the bheer fumes?" cried Pete as I joined them. I sniffed.
"Burning - yeh, somethin’ burning!"
"Well it aint in da boiler room," growled Humpy, "I bin down there - but I smell da burning” and he went off sniffing at the air and looking in each room as he walked along the corridor. Others had joined the 'fire brigade' now so we decided to split up and hunt for the source. Archie Mercer followed me up the stairs to the very top floor, sniffing at the air as we went. On reaching the top we were confronted by a sign which read 'Fire Escape’ .
"Well," gasped Archie,"it's gone - its escaped - puff - let's go back and tell the others."
"Nice of it to leave a note," I said as we raced downstairs with the news. But the others were not satisfied, somebody asked where Mal and Sheila were as that is whore the fire would be! I gave up the search and went back to room 10 which was just as tightly packed as ever. This time I managed to get a seat and it was so darn comfortable that I nearly fell asleep in it! I couldn't find a suitable drink, most of it had been consumed by this time, so I had to suffer some of Burgess’ Orange Juice. He had a whole jug full of this which he had brewed himself and was diluted almost to water! The window was now permanently open and every so often a fan would poke his head out, gulp in fresh air and then return into the clime. A cry of “Please Ghod deliver us from this evil!” made all heads turn in the direction of Shirley Marriott who was playing at birds and bees with John Owen. These two had started off by sitting on the bed, then lying on it, later shifting to the floor and then lying under the bed and finally leaving the room for a destination known only to themselves. Peter Hamilton was talking to someone in the corner, apparently he had given up making BLOG and was more interested in his conversation which lasted just about all night. Here again as the night before things became a confused blur ...... to try and remember everything that happened seems impossible as far as my brain is concerned...
Ina Shorrock sat on my knee while her legs were being autographed by those in the room - surprising how everyones name took on longer length - ? Was it Dave Newman sitting in the washbasin? I can't remember, but whoever it was was periodically zapping folks, Ken Slater also helped him now and then. Everyone was really in the highest spirit, except Burgess who was in Orange Juice! I moved to sitting on the bed and gave Archie a lesson on how to talk Tyneside lingo, the lesson did not get very far however as the male section of the room were too busy watching a certain neckline fall lower and lower and lower and aaaaaaaaah!
At four thirty the party broke up, I sat for a while in the Residents lounge with Archie Mercer and John Brunner before going to my room to wash and change and make ready to leave.
Downstairs at five thirty 'Humpy' made me a nice breakfast which I ate in the deathly quiet Devils Kitchen lounge. 'Humpy’ told me that everyone on the staff were very pleased with the convention and that fans were the friendliest nicest and most generous people he's ever met. This was the egoboo I collected on behalf of fandom. Before leaving the hotel I saw Wansborough who was wandering around the hotel obviously gathering inspiration for his next poem. I bid him farewell and left, feeling depressed and sad that such a wonderful weekend had come to an end.
Ten minutes later I was back. My train had been cancelled and the next one was not due until ten am. I was glad, I could stay in the hotel for a few more hours. I collected my keys from 'Humpy’ and on my way to my room I met Marriott, she had been locked out of her room so I invited her in to mine. We stayed there until eight, talking of fannish things, and came down for breakfast, my second. Most folk were surprised to see me still around, I was surprised myself, after the morning grub I sat in the now noisy Devils Kitchen with Archie, Shirley and a few others until ten. This time I really left, this time I was not alone but accompanied by Terry Jeeves, Ron Bennett and Irene Boothroyd on the train back. However, on our way to the station there were Marriott, Osterban, Harry Clements, and one or two others dotted up and down the road. We bid our farewells, took a few photographs and then Terry and I went into the station. Just then, as most fen were leaving, a strange thing happened, the 'all-clear.' sirens echoed over the countryside! "Well of all the cheeky blighters'." gasped Terry as our train pulled out of the station, "Fancy that!"
THE PERILS OF SHIRLEY
SATELLITE 6, Summer 1955 (edited by Don Allen)
If you ever go to Kettering and visit the George Hotel don't be surprised if the waiters great you with zapp guns! We educated them, and they really enjoyed it almost as much as we did. On Thursday afternoon we started to fix up the hall and a filthier place I have yet to see, first of all I had to go around with a duster which the management kindly supplied and so managed to make a vague impression on the worst hit areas.
Friday morning they started to arrive in ones, twos and threes, it was amazing how quickly they appeared when the bar opened even though BLOG was not yet on sale. The two main drinking places of the George are of greatly contrasting styles, first there is the 'Devil's Kitchen' which dates back to the middle of the 17th century. It has old weapons hung from the walls and it even has a man-trap strung above the fireplace! The other bar is contemporary, it was only completed about two years ago. It has fancy walls, low tables and a wicker shuttered bar. The chairs are so low that it's not far for anyone to fall when they pass out.
Nothing really special happened Friday night, we all congregated in the visitors lounge and carried on drinking until about two, but at least I did get some sleep, even though I somehow banged my nose and had a very nasty nose bleed all over the sheets. Saturday was the official opening,.but nothing happened in the morning. People were still arriving and it was beginning to look more like a convention, as there were various zapp gun battles proceeding in the con hall. After lunch in a revolting little cafe, the official program began with an editors discussion. In other words, Carnell and Campbell trying to out-talk each other. The next item was a tape from the Liverpool Group which was well done, but rather overloaded with BLOG adverts. By this time every spare place in the hall and any where else which had an advantageous position was plastered vdth BLOG adverts. The one placed behind the bar caused many of the regular customers to ask for it, the barmen entered into the spirit of the thing and told them that it would be arriving later!
Most people spent Saturday evening watching ‘War of the Worlds' and 'Tom and Jerry', but some got sick with it all and held the bar in position or like me, went for a walk. If there is another town in England where one can see so many courting couples in shop-doorways I would be most surprised. Though one cannot blame them as there is nowhere else for them to go. The combined party of the London O and the Liverpool Group was a real humdinger. On the way back to my room somebody invited me into into No 10 for a good night drop and I ended up by spending the night (or what was left of it) in another bedroom with a perfect gentleman who was shut in with me by a certain young lady (I am certain she's never read a bit out of something or other that says, 'Lead us not into temptation' ?)
After breakfast Sunday morning the Jazz, session was held which actually I did not see as most of were sitting in the 'Devils Kitchen’ having a very low joke session, amongst us were Nic Osterban, Paul Hammett, (he’s a foregone conclusion when low jokes are on the menu), Kathe Youden, Harry Clements and quite a few others who do not register at the moment. By this time I do not think anyone was registering anything correctly! We emigrated en masse to another nasty little cafe for lunch, after which we had the auction. Ted Tubb started it off but like four of us had lost his voice so various people had a bash at it. Some of the books raised quite amazing prices and by the time they had finished even the crud was gone. As soon as the bar opened there was a mass exodus from the hall and the bar was soon so crowded that one lot of fans were sitting on the stairs and I was on the floor. Not quite as much drink flowed as previously because most people's funds by this time were getting a bit low. One young fan roped in an American who was looking very lonely and he told us afterwards that he had not enjoyed himself so much since he left the States, which was nearly two years ago!
One final get together was held in the Residents Lounge, once again some of us had to sit on the floor because all chairs, tables and window-sills were occupied. Room No. 10 measured about 12" x 12" and early Monday morning there were nearly thirty people crammed into it. Do not ask me how, but I do know that some of the time John Owen and I were UNDER the bed. It was the only unoccupied place. If I could only learn who it was who soaked me to the skin I would personally send him a set of Vargo Statten mags to repay him.
All this time someone was asleep in my bed so once again I had to share someone elses but I am afraid he was not such a gentleman this time. He found out I was not as bad as most people seem to think, so I was sitting in the lounge without a place to sleep until six, when Don came back as his train had been cancelled. We went to his room and there we talked solidly for nearly two and a half hours, and to think that he once said that he never knows what to say to people!
The drifting home had already started and about ten five of us walked down to the station. Merry arrived with his car and gave Nic, Tony and I a lift back to London. It was a truly fannish journey with the usual cracks about all and sundry, so even though we kept on taking the wrong turnings it did not take very long. Back in London I went to some friends and then to a dance which rounded the week-end off nicely. On the train back to Bournemouth the next day a dear old lady asked me if I was not too old for comics, I was reading a fanzine! So I immediately took out a copy of MAD which had on the cover a horrible warty old hag under which I wrote YOU , and I feel sure I heard her say something detrimental to my spotless character, I wonder why. Don't you???
A BLOGGY BLOGGY DO
From HYPHEN 14, June 1955 (edited by Walt willis and Chuck Harris)
After an interesting journey through, round, along and under some mountains which concealed themselves so haughtily in clouds that I assume they must have been the Pique District, the special early train from Manchester carrying Frances and Cyril Evans, Ethel Lindsay, Frank Simpson, Madeleine and a few hundred less interesting people, including me, arrived at the base camp from which the ascent into Kettering may be attempted. Scorning the assistance of native porters the expedition eventually mounted to the George Hotel, a mere 20 minutes after Dave Cohen, who had foolishly waited for the ordinary late train. We watched as he masterfully unsettled the booking arrangements for his party and at length I was provided with a key like that for a baronial castle, attached to a length of drawbridge. I dragged it and our two suitcases up to our room. Pausing only to make sure it had an unoccupied bed we went downstairs again to be greeted by Chuck Harris, Joy Goodwin & Vince Clarke, It was now clear what had happened to the Clarke follicles, who had not been heard from for some time. Desperate after years of wandering through vast echoing caverns, the few survivors had made a misguided sortie out onto his upper lip, where he now bore a sort of crew-cut moustache. I entered Chuck's book title contest with "The Weird Shadow Over Vincemouth" and we all went and sat in the corner.
Among the large but select company were Mal Ashworth and a young lady with the fine old North C ountry name of Sheila O'Donnell and a nice line in humour. (As a married man I do not of course notice such things but I am assured by the President of the Union of Fully Certified Sex Maniacs, a Mr Harris, that her other lines are commendable too.) There were also Ron Bennett, who seemed much nicer than last year and who was to become the first fan to play Rugby at a Convention out of doors, Brian Varley (who is not married), Denny Cowen, Convention Secretary, and lots of other very agreeable people. Dave Cohen engaged Denny Cowen in conversation and Chuck called to the latter across the room "Dave giving you some tips on how to run a Convention?", adding in a reflective aside audible only on the ground floor, "Fans have short memories, haven't they? Look at people talking to Cohen!" He then went on to speculate on the fact that Ted Tubb was engaged in earnest conversation with Frances Evans. I told him Frances was married. "That's all right," said Chuck, "Ted isn't superstitious.”
The scene here in the bar lounge was picturesque in the extreme. Everyone seemed to be wearing helicopter beanies, all home-made and each more picturesque than the next, Sheila wore hers, a double-prop job, through the streets of Kettering without attracting more than cursory attention, .which is a commentary on women's hats. Eric Jones’ was by far the most imposing, incorpoating as it did a radar antenna, several Van Der Graaf generators and a spaceship complete with launching bowl. He didn't so much wear it as shelter beneath it. During the official program Terry Jeeves lit a small fire under the spaceship. It presented a most imposing sight but Eric Jones remained oblivious, even when Burgess came up from the back of the hall and extinguished the conflagration with his zapgun.
The presence of all these helicopter beanies...far more than can be seen at a dozen American Conventions…was fascinating to the fan historian, The helicopter beanie was first introduced to fandom by Ray Nelson and (I think) George Young many years ago, but they've never been conventional headgear in America as they now are in British fandom, and they owe their currency, it seems to me, solely because of their convenience as a recognisable symbol for fan artists - mainly Lee Hoffman. As with Conventions themselves, British fandom is acting out what US fandom only dreams.
After a while the strain of carrying on seventeen different conversations at once began to get too much for me and I thought I'd take a quiet stroll over to the Convention Hall. I've never yet been able to have a good look at Convention exhibits so I was making my way past groups of people at a speed of about two knots an hour when Pete Taylor ran up to me with an "Is-There-A-Doctor-In-The-House?" expression and told me that three local people in the bar were perplexed about the beanies and wanted enlightenment. He dragged me in front of three well-dressed matrons and promptly scampered off the sinking ship. I gave the three good ladies a brief synopsis of the history of Defiant Goshwowboyohboyism, of which I take the beanie to be a facet, from 1939 to date. They seemed reassured, which was more than could be said for me. My nerves finally shattered by this experience, I gathered a little party consisting of Madeleine, Chuck, Sheila and Mal and fled upstairs in search of peace and quiet. We found it in the dark and deserted Residents' Lounge. We lit one of the table lamps and talked contentedly in the little tent of light until gradually other people began to arrive.
The size of the party increased according to the well known exponential law governing Convention functions, until the hideously inevitable Burgess manifested itself. Chuck, resourcefully, immediately sent him away for some tea. He came back with some story about it not being available until half ten. Recklessly, Chuck told him to go and find Wansborough and Reaney and bring them up too. He was more successful in this quest and presently ushered in Wansborough.; just after Ken Slater had rung for tea again,, Aghast, Ken exclaimed "That wasn't what I rang for!"
Shortly afterwards I thought we might as well go to bed. As I was escorting Madeleine out we passed by Norman Wansborough. He leaned forward confidentially and said, "Walt, I wish I was in your shoes." I told him I wouldn't be wearing any, and went on out. Though now I come to think of it, this was a mean and selfish attitude. Why shouldn't we share these things with those of our friends who are less fortunately situated? I shall send Norman a pair of my old shoes by the very next post.
When we got to bed I found that my body didn't agree with my mind that this had been a sensible thing to do. After lying awake for an hour I got up again, put on my jacket, trousers aid shoes over my pyjamas, and went out in search of fannish good cheer. I was nearly knocked down by a fan swaying from side to side and looking for the lavatory, I directed him to the door marked "Bath", figuring he couldn't miss it and continued on to the Residents' Lounge. There was a small party there, consisting of Ken Slater, Dave Cohen; Brian Varley (who is not married), Archie Mercer, Mike Wallace and John Brunner. Ken Slater was anxious to talk about TAFF but the atmosphere wasn't suitable for sober discussion. I had locked our bedroom door after me lest Madeleine should be awakened by drunks looking for their room or Wansborough wanting to try on my shoes, and after a while I went back to make sure all was well. To my remorse I found a note lying in the corridor,, It read "SOS. Walter has locked me in and I'm dying of thirst. Would someone please tell him to bring me a drink." I went in and was told that the hotel taps provided only hot & cold running chlorine, and went out again for a glass of cider.
Having stayed her with flagons and comforted her with apples, like it says in The Bible, I went back to the Lounge, where I had the privilege to be present at the most historic intervention of a Night Porter in Convention annals. He shambled onto the scene at 2.45am. We had been making a fair amount of noise and were prepared for the usual retribution to overtake us. Everyone had practically thrown themselves out before he opened his mouth, When he did we could scarcely bring ourselves to believe what he was saying, but eventually it seeped into our numbed brains that the unthinkable was happening. There was no reproving reference to "complaints” from that mysterious horde of antifans who furtively follow us from Convention hotel to Convention hotel spoiling our innocent fun by selfishly trying to sleep. There was no Message From The Manager, No tactless reference to the lateness of the hour. No sinister suggestions about non-residents. Instead the man was talking about science fiction! He was a fan, at least of the BBC program Journey Into Space. Actually he looked more like a Weird Tales fan - in fact he looked like a weird tale - but Boris, as he came to be called, was a very fine fellow. There was a proposal that he be appointed Official Night Porter to British Conventions and be provided vdth his own travelling coffin.
Eventually I went to bed again, about 3.30am, Next day someone asked me how I'd enjoyed the previous night and I said, "Fine; I went to bed twice," "Yes," said Madeleine, "and with the same woman!”
The Official Program began next day at 2.18pm with a 50 cycle hum on the PA system and speeches by Ted Camell and Bert Campbell. I hear that Denny Cowen had attempted to start it at the advertised time of 11am, but no one was there to appreciate this whimsical gesture. It came to an end some 90 minutes later, but no blame can be attached to Ted or Bert. Ted maundered on for a while, first about short stories not selling, and then about increasing people's reading speeds, as if he was resolved to convert all stories into short stories and put an end to the whole sorry busines…but he soon became again the engaging soul of indiscretion we enjoy every year. Bert was characteristically subdued under heavy fire directed at his fmz reviews ..a sitting target … and was also most unbertlike in his defence of the Authentic Book Of Space. He allowed his old enemies to retire in triumph from the field after the following brisk bombardment…
Eric Jones "At what age was the Authentic Book Of Space aimed?"
Bert "We are always very hopeful, optimistic-—"
Eric Jones "So was I when I sent for it."
Eric Bentcliffe "I sent a copy of it to White Sands, and now I hear that all tests have been cancelled."
But after this just retribution by two of the famous Misfits, Bert brightened up a bit and became more like his usual outrageous but likeable self.
After this came the Liverpool Group's famous tapera, which was so good that the sensitive fannish audience subconsciously realised that anything else, even Ken Slater lecturing with laryngitis, would be an anticlimax, They voted for an interval with their feet, leaving a publisher who had begged a five minute spot in the Program for a plug with the task of selling his spring list to 120 chairs. (My brain received a message from the rear that they could do with them.)
We arrived back from tea in time for the tea interval, as usual, to welcome the Convention Chairman, Bill Panter, to the empty hall, Then I contacted the custodian of the Liverpool tape recorder, a nice bloke whose name I have stupidly forgotten, to see if I could play on his machine two tapes made at San Francisco and sent to me by my Literary Executor, Peter Graham. I had been fighting a losing battle with these tapes for months. The first machine I borrowed played both tracks simultaneously, one forwards and one backwards, so that the fans’ voices were drowned out by what sounded like a heated conference of Russian agents. The second played them separately, both backwards. This one played them separately, and in the right direction, but at half speed. I give up. Will any US fans who send me tapes in future please enclose the tape recorder they were made on… or at least a Russian dictionary.
At lunch time that day the hotel manager had laid on lunch for fifty at 8/6 per head (or at least per person,) At one o'clock the vast organisation had completed its preparations and stood ready to swing into action. Six waiters stood poised for zero hour, sworn to deal with the mad rush of starving fans or go down beneath their feet. By two o'clock six fans had appeared, the rest of than by this time finishing their fish and chips in cheap cafes. Denny Cowen didn't seem at all worried. He said the Manager had asked him for advice on how "many he should provide for at lunch. 75? 100?” "Well," said Denny thoughtfully, "I think you could safely allow for about six. Maybe seven. Or, if you want to take a chance, perhaps even eight," The Manager was incredulous, There were over a hundred people there; surely most of them would want lunch. "Not," said Denny firmly, “at 8/6 a throw.” And so it turned out. I didn't have lunch there myself, but I hear the service was pretty good.
Next day the hotel put on what was evidently a "Fans' Special" at 6/-, but it was too late, the pattern had been set. The imperturbable Cowen. took the view that the manager had had fair warning and had only himself to blame, which was quite true. In any case the hotel cleared enough on the bar to win on the swigs what they lost on the roustabouts. They say Norman Wansborough took a bath in cherry brandy every night.
My nerves were still shot to pieces; I was, as the old gag has it, shaking like an aspirin. Ever since the Chicon I seem to have been living Conventions backwards. I start off with the hangover and finish on top of the world. The turning point this time came when Arthur Thomson; Roscoe reward him, recommended Alka Seltzer and went out with me to buy some. We came back, ordered two glasses of water from the astounded bartender and drank the mystic potion. Having carefully read the booklet of instructions I began to feel better at once and, hearing that Mal Ashworth was ill with flu I went up to his room with Chuck Harris, the bottle of Alka Seltzer and an unsolicited testimonial. Poor Sheila was speculating mournfully as to how much it would cost to ship a body back to Bradford, but after we'd been; talking to him for a while Mal brightened up in sheer self-defence and began to fight back. Sheila, still morbidly minded, had pointed out that there were tiny skulls in the wallpaper pattern. "It must have been meant for a scullery not a bedroom," said Mal. Satisfied that he was going to live… though whether or not he deserved to was another question… we went back downstairs.
Some time during the afternoon word had been spread by runners through the various liounges that War Of The Worlds was going to be shown that evening. My Ghod, we thought, the Official Program walks again. I dropped in about half an hour after it had started to make sure that the Martians hadn't found out about Alka Seltzer, and discovered the makings of an even worse catastrophe. Someone had decided to help defend Terra against the alien hordes with his little zapgun. Apparently these high class silvered screens are allergic to water and the maddened operator had called in the Manager, complaining that his screen had been ruined and his projector was in imminent danger. He said he would cancel the show if he wasn't afraid the audience would riot. I assured him he needn't worry about that and if he'd explained the position to them there'd be no more trouble. Then after discussing it with Vince I told him we'd lift a collection to pay for the damage to the screen. I got Bill Panter to make the announcement and the film show went on without further incident. During the interval Vince and I went round with beanies and collected £2-12-3d. The operator settled happily for £1-10 and of the remainder 10/- went to TAFF and the balance in gratuities to the hotel staff.
Some people said afterwards that the people who did the damage should have paid for it, but I don't see how it could have been done in practice. I took the collection from the main culprit, a professional man with a University degree, and he only gave me 2/6 and was far more concerned about his confiscated zapgun than anything else. Besides until recently zapguns have been quite comme il faut at British Conventions and in a convivial atmosphere anyone can be forgiven for failing to take into account the possibility that a film screen may be something other than an ordinary white sheet.
All the same this incident could have ruined the Convention, and it seems to be the general opinion among the leaders of fannish thought that the zapgun should be outlawed. It had its uses in the dry-as-dust British Convention of a few years back, but we all.know how to enjoy ourselves now without mechanical aids to informality. Many of the actifans left them behind in 1954 and hardly any BNFs toted them at Kettering. The trend will probably continue. There was some speculation next morning as to what would take its place. Ken Slater was demonstrating a potato gun, but one hates to think of what fannish ingenuity might develop from this. Bombs loaded with cold mashed potatoes, bazookas firing half a stone at a time, french fried shrapnel, long range rocket missiles...maybe even guided potatoes, with electronic eyes. A horrible thought. Mal Ashworth and Ken Bulmer came up with the best idea - a double-barreled shotgun with one barrel loaded with tar and the other with feathers. It could be used for running people out of fandom…such as thoughtless zappers.
After the film show a number of us had a very pleasant party in the Residents' Lounge… or at least I enjoyed i. Not too many people, only one talking at once, and everyone participating. Arthur was drawing cartoons, as usual - his graphic commuentaries were one of the best features of the Convention, and became a sort of illustrated quote card - and Pamela stole a particularly brilliant one for UGH, hiding it down the neck of her dress. ("She's wearing a strapless evening cartoon.") But after a while the word began to go around that we should mingle. For some reason everyone went to Bert Campbell's room,which was already crowded. It was about the size of two telephone kiosks and at one time contained 35 people, not counting the ones under the carpet. When there was a knock at the door I reflected that if it was the house detective asking if Bert had a woman in there he could have called out "Only about 17." I asked myself what sort of creature would go to this place when there was a perfectly good lounge. The answer was a lemming.
Eventually everyone else had the same idea .and we went down to the 'Basket Lounge’ where the Liverpool Group, those masters of conventioneering, were throwing another classic party. It had quietened down by now, and you could almost see the other end of the room. This was more than could be said for the floor, where a wellknown femfan was holding court. Under the impression that one of her satellites was a certain Northern faned Chuck said "I'll bet Ted Mason doesn't report this" but when the police arrived at 4.20am it fortunately turned out to be someone else who was registered at the hotel. Chuck said "I'd rather go to jail myself than be Ron Bennett.”
The rest of Sunday passed in a happy blur and then there was the usual mad rush round saying goodbye to people. Not as many as usual this tine, because it seemed that all our friends were coming to see us off, 'There were the Bulmers, Vince and Joy, Mal and Sheila, and Eric Bentcliffe. Even Eric Needham, who had just arrived on his motorbike. (The one with the wide handlebars, of which he had been heard to say "It's a good bike, but rather susceptible .to forked lightning.") I heard him asking Chuck for a light for his cigarette., Chuck obliged, saying "A light from Chuck Harris! Light an eternal flame from it or something." Eventually Madeleine, Chuck, Arthur and me, accompanied by our entourage, arrived at the platform and the train came in. We said our last goodbyes and started to clamber on. Suddenly the air was filled, with confetti,, Every one of them had been clutching a handful of it all the way from the hotel.
Madeleine and I leaned out of the carriage window dripping confetti - technicolour dandruff, as Bob Shaw, calls it - laughing and waving goodbye. As the train moved off Ken Bulmer shouted, "Give our love to your children you get home!"
RANDOM AT KETTERING
From HYPHEN 14, June 1955 (ediited by Walt Willis and Chuck Harris)
Kettering, like Kew in lilac time, is not so far from London. It's a sleepy sort of place, and prior to this Easter its only real claim to fame was that the Baptist Missionary Society was founded there in 1792. It's just the sort of place that you would expect the.Baptist Missionary Society to be formed in too, — a rural market town full of sober-minded people all happily minding their own business and living their quiet, uneventful lives. Nothing like the Convention has ever happened to it before — and the local Watch Committee are probably making plans to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again....
By the time I 'd gotten around to writing for room reservations the George Hotel had been completely booked out, but Denny Cowen had found me a room in the Royal — a rather genteel place a few yards further along the road — the most remarkable hotel I've ever been in. (I have been in six hotels in my life and am speaking from vast experience.). There was a sort of vaguely Victorian air about it, and I was fascinated to find bells in the foyer for summoning the Boots and the Ostler.....and I would have offered even money that a Sam Weller character would have answered the latter if it had been rung. However, I got a very fine double room with a good view of the Corn Exchange and the Market Place, as well as a free tin of liver salts and a copy of "The Testaments and Psalms" (courtesy of the Commercial Travellers' Christian Association.)
I didn 't stick around the Royal to read The Book though — I prefer sf to fantasy, and anyway I had a date. Mal Ashworth was bringing his girl-friend to the Convention. Mal's Gal, Sheila O'Donnell, (guess where she comes from, hooley?) had arranged to meet me in The George as soon as she checked in. I had never seen her before, but I was to recognise her by an Irish sixpence that she would wear on a chain around her neck. Well, naturally, I wasn’t going to waste time in The Royal when I could be out looking for sixpences — I have my fannish reputation to think of. I dropped my case onto the bed, polished my new glasses, and sprinted down to The George.
Sheila arrived just after the thirty-second crucifix and about ten seconds ahead of the tar and feather brigade. She is a dish — just twenty years old and as pretty as paint. She has a twenty inch waist and the dammedest grey/blue/green eyes you ever did see. This was real genuine HYPHEN material, — the sort of talent us active faneds are always on the lookout for, but, for some reason or other, Ashworth doesn’t seem to trust me. Before I could get really close to those purty green-speckle eyeballs he 'd caught each of us by one elbow and was piloting us out of the hotel in search of food. "You look starving," he said as he wiped the drool from my mouth.
We got back from our meal just in time to catch Walt and Madeleine checking in, along with the Manchester and Scottish contigents. Everybody seemed to have arrived although the convention wasn't due to start until the next day, and the bar was just one big reunion scene with everybody holding six conversations simultaneously. We all went in for a drink, but the place was packed tight and it was impossible to sit down and talk. It was almost closing time too so we went up to the Lounge and had our first encounter with Boris. He was the Night Porter. We probably never found out his real name. He had a spinal deformity and a heart as big as his hump. He delivered tea, coffee, and drinks at all hours of the night, and and although he must have made more in tips during the weekend than he usually makes in a couple of months, he was worth every penny of it. He had a flair for conventions and there was none of the nonsense that we had with the day staff who delivered were tea and coffee in small and fancy electroplated pots. Boris brought it up a gallon at a time and usually had a dirty joke to go with it. He's a far bigger asset to the George Hotel than the hot and cold water in all bedrooms, and should be certain of a job with Tucker if Bob ever gets around to building his joint.
Along with the tea that we ordered came the rest of the refugees from the bar. It was better and quieter up here, and fans forgot their zapguns and sat around to talk before trickling off to bed. Soon after midnight Madeleine and Walt went to bed for the first time and I went back to The Royal.
I was up bright and early on the Saturday and back to The George as soon as I'd had breakfast. Walt and Madeleine, my Sheila and Mai, were just coming down for their meal, so I trotted into the dining-room with them. The waiter seemed quite eager to provide me with another breakfast, but I just didn't have the heart tolet him serve me, — I told him that I'd already eaten and didn't bother to mention that it was in another hotel just along the road. I was very pleased with the service in The George; after one glance at my transparently honest face and my name button, they accepted me as Archie Mercer (who was booked in there), and didn't hound me as a non-resident.
Arthur Thomson arrived soon after breakfast — he'd got up at 4 a.m. and caught the first train out of London. The Official Programme was due to start at 11 o’ clock, but after reassuring Sheila that it was just wishful thinking by the Committee, we all went down to the Royal to book Arthur in (we shared a room), talk, and send poctsarcds...."Having wonderful time, wish you were."
The Convention officially began just after two o 'clock when Ted Carnell and Bert Campbell started the balls rolling. Anglofandom owes a great deal to these two and to Ted Tubb. I don't think there would be any sort of programme without them, and if they can't make it one year there will be the biggest godawful fiasco we've yet seen. I'm not kidding, these three carry the convention programmes on that their backs; without them, the rest of us seem to do nothing except trek back and forwards to the bar.
Walt suggested last year that Tubb should be hired by the Concommittee along with the hall, — and I don't think he was kidding either. Whilst Carnell and Campbell handle the 'official business ' (and indeed this has to be handled if there's going to be a convention the next year), Tubb keeps things moving and provides many of the bright intervals.
Later in the programme Cowen made a presentation to Ted — a lighter and cigarette gimmick for "The Year 's Most Popular Author" — and the gesture got the biggest applause of the day. For the first, and probably the only time in his life, Ted was almost at a loss for words. He managed one crack about how he had refused to enter for the International Fantasy Award and then had gotten off the stage long before the applause had died down.
There were several of these presentations and I think it would be a Good Thing if they were made annual affairs. Ken Slater, (he's out of the Army and was wearing a very fine bowler hat fitted with a little propellor), was obviously touched when he received the Fan Of The Year Award that Forry sent over for him, and so was Vince when he collected the NEW WORLDS cover painting that was the Fanzine of the Year award for himself and the other editors of EYE. I think most of the audience finished this session with blisters on both palms.
Soon afterwards Sheila made a private presentation to me. I was elected "Fan Of The Year (1866)" by "The Bradford Society For The Care And Feeding Of Elderly Sex-Fiends" and was given a mint copy of "Dimension of Illion" — the very latest ninepennyworth in the Tit-Bits Science-Fiction Library. I was hoping that Mal would be carried away by the occasion and present me with Sheila herself, but he seemed unenthusiastic about the idea even though I offered him three part-worn paramours and a free sub to "-" in exchange.
The next bit of the official programme was the tape-recorded play of the Liverpool Group, — THE MARCH OF SLIME!.....a commercial broadcast sponsored by the makers of BLOG. Dave Newman and Norm and Ina Shorrock lent me the only copy of the script afterwards. It's wonderful, superbly fannish stuff and I would have loved to have been able to publish it myself, — but Eric Bentcliffe got there before I did and it will be coming up in TRIODE shortly. For me, the highspot of the play was the "entry of Willis into the Convention Hall "....”a fanfare heralds the Maestro... .he waves a hand in greeting as the people bow and curtsey.. .and Bert Campbell steps on his own beard and topples over." I told Walt afterwards that it wasn't a genuineflection, — it was just a false salaam,... .but somehow he didn't really appreciate me.
Just before the bar closed in the evening Arthur joined the ranks of the Vile Pros by selling some artwork to Peter Hamilton for NEBULA. We all gave him our congratulations and our empty glasses. I don't know how much change he'll have left from his first cheque, but I doubt if it will be enough to pay for a pair of corduroy trousers to go with his new status.
The parties began just as soon as the bar was shut. It was a very fine night indeed with the emphasis more on fun than on drink. I can't think of anybody who was really high at all. I remember stepping over Paul Hammett early in the evening, but whilst prostrate he was by no means paralytic — he was still able to clutch a glass. I think that the con-atmosphere is far more intoxicating than any booze and is responsible for the largest part of the high spirits.
Our first stop was in Room 101 — a single bedroom with more than thirty people packed into it.... fifteen of them sitting on the tiny bed and the rest squeezed in around the walls. Bert Campbell, crammed alongside the washbasin at the far end, was pouring out drinks for anyone who came within range, and everybody was doing their best to keep him fully occupied. Even now, it's still mercifully hazy, but I can remember finding Eric Jones with a tumbler full of hock in one hand and an "Introduction to Elementary Psychology" in the other, and then squeezing past him to find Ina Shorrock sitting on the bed. Last year, dressing sensibly for the Mancunian weather, Ina wore a bathing suit to the Liverpool party, but this year she was much more cautious, and was dressed as a Viking in a winged helmet and a shiny metal corselet. I found a tin opener attachment on the corkscrew and moved in. It was blunt though.... and anyway, Bert wanted it back to open another bottle.
Ghod only knows what happened after that, — and His notebook isn't available. I can remember kissing somebody in the corridor, but I'm not really certain if it was Ina Shorrock or Brian Burgess. (Altho it was probably Ina — my critical judgement is the last thing to go.) I know that we stooped to decorate Varley's door with a "JUST MARRIED" sign, and then gilded the lily with two more notices that we found in the Conference Room---"QUIET PLEASE" and "PRIVATE MEETING" - but although I'd only had three or four drinks it's all very kaleidoscopic, ... something like living in a 3D world without the red and green spectacles.
Next stop was the saturnalia in the Basket Lounge where the Kettering Anatomical Society was convened upon the floor and everybody was clutching a glass or a girl or both. Me, I had both. Pamela Buibner was on my lap and I was trying earnestly to convince her that the reputation I have collected through "-" is strictly fictitious and that actually I am just a shy, clean-living, decent, unassuming, honourable, chaste and modest boy. Ken Bulmer was sitting right next to us, gazing thoughtfully into the brown depths of his Guinness bottle and nodding emphatically at every adjective. The others were either busy on their own account or, like Madeleine and Joy Goodwin, doing their best not to look sceptical.
Unfortunately, I had to drop everything, including Pamela, when Pete Taylor came up to warn us that we had to be back in The Royal by 4 a.m. if we intended to go back at all. It was ten minutes to the hour and most of the other Royalists had already left. I grabbed hold of Arthur and we ran off down the road like a couple of Cinderellas — and found that The Royal was already locked and barred. We couldn't possibly get back into The George, and, believe me, there's nothing funny about being out on the streets of a strange town at 4 o'clock in the morning. We saw a light burning way up on the third floor and guessed it was Pete Taylor's. We tried a couple of muted shouts (one of us shouting and the other making shushing noises alternately), but he never heard us. We walked around to try to find a tradesmen's entrance or something, but we couldn't even find an open window to crawl through. Eventually we found a bell-pull and hung onto that until somebody came down to open the door — it was probably the Ostler. I burbled something about a party and slipped him half a crown. For another sixpence he would have carried us upstairs. We didn't need his help though — we were able to manage on our own hands and knees.
I slept like a newborn babe for every minute of four hours. Arthur didn't sleep at all -- there were chimes on the church clock across the road and every 15 minutes they played a couple of chords to him. We got up, thought out this issue's cover and a couple more cartoons whilst we washed and shaved (never a minute wasted on this fanzine), and then went to breakfast and onto the George for the Sunday session.
There was an impromptu jazz session scheduled for the morning, but I was in no shape for anything above the pianissimo ranges. I left the others to it and.went back to The Royal for another helping of aspirin. Pete Taylor was there and had just had the bar opened so that he could drink his breakfast. He asked me what I wanted, but the bar-tender never seemed to have heard of Alka-Seltzer or Sheila O'Donnell and I wasn't very interested in anything else.
The only part of the programme that I attended on the Sunday was the Auction. Most of the people in the hall didn't have any money left to bid for anything, but were there for the same reason as myself — to see Ted Tubb in action. It's all strictly ad lib stuff — he doesn't have the slightest idea what he's going to say before he climbs onto the stage, — but once he gets going he keeps the audience roaring with laughter until he has to pause for breath or beer. He has an infallible sense of timing, but it is impossible to quote him fully because he talks almost as fast as Danny Kaye, but our Joy Goodwin did manage to get most of it down in shorthand for us.. ...altho the audience drowned a lot of it. Ted is selling artwork.... "A LOVELY ILLUSTRATION FOR YOUR BACKROOM PARLOUR - OR OUTHOUSE---COME ON PEOPLE - HURT YOURSELVES, HURT YOURSELVES---WOULD SOME LADY CCME UP ON THE STAGE AND TAKE HER SKIRT OFF - NOBODY'S PAYING ME ANY ATTENTION. .. YOU TIE IT TO YOUR STOMACH LIKE A CHASTITY BELT.. .WHEN A WIFE BELITTLES HER HUSBAND SHE BELITTLES HERSELF. WHEN YOU BELITTLE SCIENCE FICTION IT BECOMES LESS THAN THE DUST BENEATH YOUR FEET... DOUBLE ENTENDRE - THAT 'S A SUBTLE WORD---I MAKE A PUBLIC STATEMENT. IF EVER SHIRLEY NEEDS BOARD AND LODGING SHE CAN COME TO MY HOUSE. WE'VE GOT A SHED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE GARDEN---A LOVELY QUINN ORIGINAL DONE IN ICE-CREAM---I ONLY WISH YOU CRAWL HOME ON YOUR HANDS AND KNEES.
Ken Slater took over for a while so that Ted could get a drink and then he was back again and helping Norman George Wansborough onto the stage. Ted had primed him with a couple of drinks beforehand and when he asked "Shall we castrate him and sell him?" we all thought our Poet Laureate was the next item for the auction block. I told Sheila that I'd buy him for her, but she wasn't very enthusiastic — she had nowhere, to keep him and she doesn't greatly care for poetry. However, Norman George wasn't for sale — his price is beyond rubies. (I'll tell you about Ruby some other time.) Ted had promoted him to assistant auctioneer and was busy teaching him the tricks of the trade. It was fun to see the stolid, earnest Wansborough. with his broad Wiltshire accent trying to imitate Ted's quicksilver patter, but he did vindicate himself towards the end. He held up six battered AMAZING BRE's, laboriously fanned them out like he'd been shown, and then picked up the one that he dropped. "Ah'11 tell ‘ee what Ah'll do," he said, "Anybody offer me thirty bob for this lot and Ah'11 throw in Shirley Marriott." The Bournemouth Belle nearly fell out of her seat at this, but she was laughing along with the rest of us. Too bad I'd read those six BRE's though.......
After the auction we just had time for some tea before Walt and Madeleine, and Arthur and I, had to leave. The others still had one more night to go and a whole crowd of them came down to see us off. During the long walk to the station I tried to persuade Sheila that any real Trufan girl would just jump at the chance of coming back to Rainham with me and founding a dynasty or something. I thought I'd managed to convince her too. We climbed into the train, the others threw their confetti, (I still don't know what the other passengers must have thought about Madeleine being with three men all covered in confetti), and I leaned out of the door to say goodbye. I didn't want any more trouble with Ashworth so I waited until the train was just going to move out before opening the door again and beckoning to Sheila to climb aboard. But Mal was there before she could move. "Come back little Sheila, " he said........and back she went.