Friday 6th SeptemberJAMES WHITE:
Next morning the figure did not move or breathe during the time I dressed, washed or shaved. It did, however, make a slight snurkling sound when I inadvertently spilled some of my shaving water in its head. Greatly relieved at this sign of life I went down to breakfast.
After breakfast, the Silverbergs and I went to Les Flood's shop. He hadn't got a copy of the latest Ace Double, but insisted on taking our pictures in a semi-stiff, back-to-back pose. It took him a long time to get us arranged just right, but finally we got away just before the crowd began throwing pennies. We headed for the British Museum.
I spent two hours wading through ancient pottery, mummies and postage stamps before discovering the awful fact that this was not the museum which contained a whole floor devoted to Aeronautics. But I concealed my disappointment well, I thought, being content merely to make sneering remarks about completist pebble-collectors in the Geology Section and trying to decide, in the Egyptology Room, which of the occupants most resembled George Charters. It was hard to tell with those bandages.
Bob Silverberg, in an attempt to instil in me the rudiments of archaeology and stuff like that, began giving me the history of a collection of sculpture which he was keen to examine called the Elgin Marbles. These, it seemed, had been purloined while the Greeks were away fighting some war or other. "Ah," I observed, "so the Greeks are missing some of their marbles." They did not speak to me after that except for suggesting that surely I had presents to buy for my family, and that they could recommend some good shops at the other end of London.
The hotel was undergoing structural redecoration and it was not until 5.30 on Friday night, when the painters knocked off for the day and the weekend, that the convention members were able to permeate among each other satisfactorily. Groups formed, broke up and re-formed all over the place and there was an atmosphere building up that I had never encountered at any convention before...exuding, I think, from the fact that there were now no nonfans in the hotel to scoff or raise eyebrows or otherwise apply wet blankets to the proceedings.
WILLIS (in 'Oopsla'):
By Friday evening things were looking up. There were nice new carpets everywhere downstairs and even some bits on the walls. At least they were covered with an odd, hairy wallpaper, all little patches of short, red fur. I remember asking Moskowitz if it was science fiction plush. I'm sorry to be talking so much about the hotel, but believe me it was important, It set the whole mood of the convention. The lounges were the key, There were five of them altogether, all quite small, and furnished with comfortable armchairs and coffee tables. Waiters with trays and girls with trollies patrolled them until dawn plying the fans with food and drink. The drinks actually had ice in them. Yes, ICE! (Only those of us who have been to Europe will be properly impressed by this.) It seemed to me it would take an awful lot of dirty bathrooms to outweigh all this. The most important result was that we had lounge parties instead of bedroom parties, a quite different thing , smaller, more intimate, more fluid, little congenial groups constantly forming and reforming.
Around six o'clock the laws of randomness governing such things selected four people who were hungry and arranged for them to occupy the same square yard of space at the same time. Thus I found myself in company with the fabulous Rory Faulkner, a small quiet girl named Ruth O'Rourke, and my other room-mate Mal Ashworth, in an Italian restaurant for tea. Rory is a charming 69-year old ex-bulldozer hostess who fairly radiated excitement at being able to attend the convention. Her hair is white but it is impossible to think of her as being so many years old. Ruth O'Rourke was an unobtrusive person during the convention until on the third day she created a fannish precedent by going on a pilgrimage to the Shrine at Walsingham, causing some anxiety to Rory, Bobbie Wild and others who thought she had been spirited away to Buenos Aires or Rainham and notified the police. But all these things were still in the future that Friday night, and the only clod on our horizon was Mal, who insisted on punning continuously. Despite this it was a most enjoyable meal, though in my case a bit delayed, and I had to rush to get back in time for the press conference.
WILLIS (in 'SF Parade'):
I wasn't there myself, but I heard that Rory Faulkner went over big. There had been invitations issued to the press for this press conference, but as it worked out, many of them came along during the day to try and steal a march on each other. I guided the representative of Reuters' News Agency round myself, and he talked to some dozen of the fans who happened to be present... who fortunately included Forry Ackerman. Forry made an excellent job of conveying to the reporter the function and mood of the Convention and modern sf. Excellent interviews were also given by Steven Schultheis and a 16 year old German fan called Rainer Eisfeld.
The only incidents I can remember were hearing Rory talk fan slang to a bewildered journalist and John W. Campbell under fire from four reporters at the same time who were trying to get him rattled. The way he had them on the defensive within two minutes was masterly. I was interviewed about this time by a drawling, patronising journalist who irked me somewhat. Using my 14 years experience of dealing with irate customers whose suits didn't fit I deftly switched roles until I was getting such details as the school he attended and his publication's official and unofficial circulation figures. ((Remind me to tell you about the time when James, at home with a cold, sold a suit to the vacuum cleaner salesman. - Willis)) After this I ate pretzels with a nonchalant air and sneered out at Chuck Harris through the glass door of the lounge where the press conference was being held. Harris, as a fake pro who has refused to cash the seven-and-tenpenny cheque he received for his one and only professional sale, was excluded from such august company as me and John W. Campbell.
The press conference turned out to be wasted effort because no publicity whatever came of it, Probably the reporters had been plied with so many drinks that they could not remember the answers to the questions they had asked----or even the questions.
Round about nine o' clock---the programme already showed signs of running late though we couldn't prove it because it hadn't been issued yet - we were shooed by members of the committee into the hall. Here the ceremonial gavel and clonker thing were handed over by Dave Kyle to Ted Carnell....
WILLIS (in 'SF Parade'):
The 15th World Science Fiction Convention opened at the Kings Court Hotel this evening at 9:07, P.M., seven minutes late, Chairman Ted Carnell explained that they could have opened on time, but feared to flout providence by defying what appeared to be a law of nature as regards science fiction conventions. He also said that when making the bid for London at the New York Convention last year he had promised only one thing: that whatever it would be like, it would be different from N.Y. Even from the little the audience had already seen, they would realise that this promise was going to be fulfilled.
There was a murmur of agreement at this, because few World Conventions can have been held in such a hotel. In the first place, London is not a Convention city. All conventions in England are held at seaside resorts, and none of the first rate hotels were prepared to allow the necessary facilities - e.g., separation of fans from mundane guests so that conventioneers could enjoy themselves without being annoyed by complaints. So it was a choice between going out of the city altogether (and the feeling was that Americans expected the convention to be in London itself, so that they could take their hangovers to the Tower of London, etc,) and falling back on a lesser hotel. The deciding consideration was that the less pretentious hotels were more likely to be tolerant of the idiosyncrasies. The Kings Court Hotel seemed to be a prime example of this ...an informal and unpretentious hotel with a friendly and understanding staff. But when the time of the convention came nearer there were added complications.
The hotel was sold, The new owners and manager immediately decided to rebuild it. The unusual result is that the convention is being held in a hotel which is being slowly rebuilt, rather than one which is being rapidly destroyed... Ellis Mills commented that since the hotel was being extended it should be renamed the Builtmore; I suggested that since a new wall was being created across one of the public rooms it should be called the Walledoff.
But to get back to the official programme, what there was of it (this session was purely introductory), Ted Carnell introduced John Wyndham Harris, who introduced John W. Campbell, the Guest of Honour, who received a prolonged and enthusiastic welcome. He made a short speech about the work of an sf editor ("What ever was good yesterday, we don't want tomorrow ...We have to live in the future, now... The editor has to be a prophet; if he's no prophet, there's no profit.") With this desperate attempt to wrest George Charters' laurels as the Convention's most depraved punster, JWC introduced Dave Kyle with some sympathetic remarks about the troubles of Convention Committees. Dave introduced the TAFF delegate Bob Madle, who was warmly welcomed despite widespread disagreement which had been expressed earlier in British fandom with the method of voting - the objections were solely towards the possible future abuses of the system itself, not to the present representative.
The new Chairman told us there would be no further official sessions until tomorrow and we were free to mix and talk and make friends. Feeling a little guilty because we had jumped the gun and been doing just that for the last day and a half, we slunk out and began permeating again, Mal and I having decided that we had been having social intercourse in sin and that these extra-legal and unofficial friendships would have to be ratified as quickly as possible. We are essentially ethical types and, speaking as a man with a married wife and child, I don't hold with that sort of thing.
Before I draw a veil over the events of Friday (those few I recall), I must make mention of Art Thomson and his Bengalese Folk Music Skiffle Group. Patent pending. This group gave a short concert in the main lounge around 1am, and was composed of Lars Helander, Mike Moorcock, and Bill Harry, all in trad-style Bengalese costume. Peter Reaney vocalised with the group, and also did an original (very!) dance. During Peter's second number I developed a shocking headache and decided to retire.
Suddenly it was one o'clock, in the morning and people were actually going to bed! I rushed to find Walter to have this terrible thing explained to me. I found Walter & Madeleine thinking about going to bed, and Ken and Pamela and Chuck and Arthur and practically everybody. Apparently it was customary to go to bed on the first night of a convention to have strength for the succeeding nights. Mal and I hung around to see if anyone else subscribed to this heresy and found that they did. Sorrowfully we retired to our room where we found Steve Schultheis already asleep... I use the word loosely. I took Mal on a conducted tour of the sleeping Schultheis, pointing out the cavernous cheeks, the sunken eyes and the yellow, shrunken skin. Mal was impressed. We discussed the advisability of driving a varnished chair leg through its heart but decided against it because of the likelihood of our being billed for the chair. We waited until 2.30, watching to see if Steve would breathe - either in or out, we weren't hard to please - then went to bed, breathless.