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A.Vincent Clarke (1922-1998) – universally known in science fiction fandom as Vince or Vin¢ -- made his first contact with fandom in the early days of World War II, but a military posting to Iceland intervened, and he only became fully active after his demobilisation following the armistice.
At that time, following the closure of Futurian War Digest, British fandom was at a very low ebb. Vince was perhaps second only to Ken Slater in revitalising it and nurturing it back to health as the 1940s passed into the 1950s, helping create a distinctly British community of science fiction – professional SF as well as fandom – which has lasted to the current day.
His initial energy was devoted to the Science Fantasy Society, an ambitious organisation which aimed to serve as a national organisation for science fiction fandom in the UK. Despite organising the 1949 Eastercon and the 1951 ‘International’ con in London, the SFS proved to be too ambitious a project for British fandom of the time – especially given fandom’s essentially anarchic nature – and in late 1951 it was laid to rest.
Vince had begun to publish SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS for the SFS, but when the society folded, he continued the fanzine under his own steam as a semi-regular newszine for British fandom, upon which basis it continued till 1960. Once free of the energy-sink that the SFS had become, Vince was also free to create other projects; he co-authored two science fiction novels, CYBERNETIC CONTROLLER and SPACE TREASON, with Kenneth Bulmer (with whom he shared a flat for eighteen months, the famous ‘Epicentre’); contributed articles, letters and art to almost every British fanzine of the 1950s and some foreign ones; and, again with Bulmer, founded OMPA – the Off-trail Magazine Publishers’ Association, a British take on American apas such as FAPA, which ran from 1954 to the late 1970s and played a significant role in British fandom for the majority of that time. Furthermore, he served on the editorial board of EYE, the London Circle’s fanzine, the third issue of which ran to no fewer than 170 pages, and later in the decade, he was instrumental in the founding of the British Science Fiction Association at the 1958 Eastercon despite the fact that he was unable to attend it; he had published a call for action in his OMPAzine in light of dwindling numbers of new fans entering fandom, and as a result, the BSFA came about – which of course continues to this day.
Then there was his column, “Fan-Fare and Suchlike”, in the British Science Fiction Magazine (aka the Vargo Statten SF Magazine) covering fannish news and doings for the somewhat youthful readership of that publication. Given the usual standard of its fiction, it’s perhaps no exaggeration to say that Vince’s column was usually the best written thing in it! It appeared under the nom-de-plume of “Inquisitor”, but it seems that its authorship was not a secret in fannish circles.
Given all of this it is perhaps no surprise that Vince was named as the first winner of the Transatlantic Fan Fund in 1954. Sadly, the fund did not raise enough in its first year to cover the full cost of travel, and since Vince had lost his job as a crucial moment he could not attend the 1954 Worldcon. Indeed, he never did visit the USA.
As a writer, Vince was – as indeed he was in person – literate and witty, usually in an understated way, with an appreciation for the English language and wordplay. His art, too, though little remembered, is deserving of note – in particular his cartoon fans, little triangular-headed people, are amusing and endearing to this day. He never saw himself as an artist, though, and when British fandom began to sprout people such as Arthur Thomson, Bill Harry and Eddie Jones, Vince largely confined himself to the written word.
In the mid-fifties Vince became involved with Joy Goodwin, one of several women who’d become active in British fandom during the decade, and she became Joy Clarke. Their residence in Inchmery Road, Catford, London, became known as “Inchmery Fandom” and fannish visitors there were frequent. For the rest of the decade, Vince’s contributions to fanzines became less frequent, though by no means ceasing; and Vince’s involvement in the 1957 Worldcon, the first held in Britain, may also be related. The general consensus was that the London worldcon was a great success.
Following the Worldcon, in 1958, former Manchester fan Sandy Sanderson, who was now living with Joy and Vince, began APORRHETA, one of the best British fanzine of the late 50s. Frequently published, its immaculate duplication in blue ink on white paper was the work of Vince, who also contributed writing to some issues.
Then in mid-1960, Joy Clarke left Vince in favour of Sanderson. APORRHETA folded, and Sandy and Joy left the UK for America, leaving Vince alone with baby Nicola. This devastating blow left Vince completely unable to cope with fandom, and he withdrew from it completely within a few months.
But then, over twenty years later, Terry Hill, an SF reader who was compiling a bibliography of Walter Gillings, wrote to Vince at 16 Wendover Way, Welling – Vince’s parents’ house, where he had lived in the 50s when not sharing with Bulmer or Joy Clarke. Vince still lived there, and this contact with Hill bore plentiful fruit, since it had the effect of both propelling Hill into fandom proper (where he went on to edit MICROWAVE) and bringing Vince back to activity. As it happened, several other fans of the 1950s also returned to activity at the same time in a domino effect, and the ‘Born Again Fifties Fans’ were a prominent feature of British fandom for several years thereafter.
Vince himself returned to fanzine publishing with NOT SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS, in the third issue of which he wrote:
“I was active-fanning between 1947 and 1960, and during that time I did almost everything in the semi-pro and fan field that it was possible to do. I spent a hell of a lot of time and money on a hobby I loved, and I strived during that time to build up an active British fandom, along with others of a similar mind.”
In 1995 he was declared Fan Guest of Honour at the Worldcon in Glasgow. Always modest, Vince found this role something of a strain, but he was also tremendously flattered and honoured to be selected. Neither was this choice a mere belated honouring of Vince’s 1950s record; as well as NOT SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS, he was part of the editorial collective of PULP, published many issues of his small, charming personal zine K, and – having disinterred them from the attic that they were put away in back in 1960 – his fanzine collection, augmented by the additions of others, was one of the biggest and best organised in the land. This being so, he took it on himself to catalogue it and make items from it available for loan, thus enabling modern fans to read some of the classic fanzines of older days which would otherwise be hard to come by. As a result of this, Vince also went on to compile a bibliography of British fanzines of the 1970s, supplementing the work of Peter Roberts who produced one that had ended in 1970.
I must step out from behind the curtain at this point and confess that I am scarcely neutral in writing this piece. Vince was one of the first science fiction fans I knew, and where some other more mature fans were dismissive of my initial teenage excesses and hyperenthusiasm, Vince was never anything but endlessly patient and encouraging with me, talking science fiction old and new, introducing me to the highways and byways of fandom past and present, encouraging me in my early fanzine productions (some of which he printed), and – in short – being a friend and a good man. To this day I can write nothing for publication in a fanzine, my own or someone else’s, without wondering what Vince would have thought of it.
What Vince would have made of this piece, I cannot imagine. But it is fitting that British fandom should remember Vince Clarke, because it is not hyperbole to say that without him, there would be no British fandom to do the remembering.
SANDRA BOND - October 2009
A fannish cv of Vince Clarke compiled
in the middle-1990s,
CLARKE, A(ubrey) Vincent (1922-1998)
UK fanwriter/editor active since 1948 (though glancing first contact made 1938). Member of London Circle (1947-60), Kent TruFandom (KTF) (1982-90), and publications editor of the SFS (Science Fantasy Society) (1948-51). First winner of TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund) (1954), but never took trip. Co-founder in 1954; w/Ken Bulmer & Chuck Harris of OMPA, first UK apa. In 1958, provided inspiration for formation of British Science Fiction Association (BSFA). Quit fandom (1960- 81). FGoH at CONCEPTION (1987, Leeds) and INTERSECTION (1995 Worldcon, Glasgow). Ran fanzine library (over 7000 fanzines) supplying photocopies of old zines to interested parties in 1990s.
First Contact: Fanzines from Science Fiction Service (dealer) 1938.
First Con: WHITCON (1948 UK national convention)
Concoms: 1951, 52, 53, national conventions, LONCON (1957 Worldcon).
Fanzines: SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS (18 issues, 1948-60. 1-8 for SFS), SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS MINOR (4 issues, 1949, for SFS), INITIATIVE INCORPORATED (2 issues, 1952 no.3 ed. Norman Shorrock & John Roles) EYE (6 issues, 1954/5 ed.w/Joy Goodwin, Stuart MacKenzie, Jim Rattigan, Ted Tubb), OPERATION ARMAGEDDON (2 issues, 1954 - limited circulation), NOT SCIENCE FANTASY NEWS (3 issues, 1982/3), KTF XMAS CARD (3 issues, 1982-84 ed.w/Terry & Margaret Hill, ATom, Elda Wheeler), PULP (19 issues, 1986-91) gen. Occasional co-editor. (Others Rob Hansen, Pam Wells, John Harvey, Avedon Carol)
One-offs: SCIENCE FICTION FESTIVAL CONVENTION PROGRAMME (ed.w/Ken Bulmer for 1951 national convention, assorted con leaflets 1951-3), 'OUR 'ZINE (1952 ed.w/Jim Rattigan, Fred Robinson, Bob Shaw, Mike Wilson), ANGLO SCIENCE FICTION FANDOM (1953, directory of UK fans), PLONGE (1954 ed.w/Stuart MacKenzie & Ted Tubb), OPERATION SPLASH (1954 ed.w/Dave Newman), MOVE (1958), FANS & ETHICS (1960), THEME (1983), ATOM: A TRIBUTE (1990),
Apazines: TUCKER HOTEL (1 issue, 1952 ed.w/Chuck Harris, Bob Shaw, Ken Slater, James White, & Walt Willis), FAPA (US), OFF-TRAILS (first four issues, 1954/5 - Official Organ of OMPA), LAUNCHING SITE (7 issues, 1954-58), OMPA (UK), DYSTELEOLOGY (2 issues, 1954/S ed.w/Ken Bulmer), OMPA (UK), ZYMIC (8 issues, 1954-58), OMPA (UK), DUPLICATING WITHOUT TEARS (1 issue, 1956), OMPA (UK), GOONTACT (1 issue, 1957 ed.w/H.P.Sanderson, Joy Goodwin, Chuck Harris), OMPA (UK), K (1990-97), PIECES OF EIGHT (UK), VINCENTIAN (1995-97 ) NAMELESS APA (UK)