Subsequently dubbed 'Brumcon', the 1959 Eastercon, the first to be run under the auspices of the British Science Fiction Association, was held at the Imperial Hotel, Birmingham, over the weekend of Friday 27th March - Monday 30th March. During the 1970s, The Imperial Hotel would be the venue for many of the early Novacons. (Surprisingly I've been unable to locate a photo of the exterior of the hotel to include here.) If I'm interpreting the Convention Balance Sheet correctly (link below), the con had 59 paid up members, though presumably not all of those would have attended.
List of known attendees:
The following report has been edited together from those written by Ron Bennett, Brian Jordan, and Ivor Mayne, along with the composite report that appeared in VECTOR by Eric Jones, Frank Herbert (not that one), and Keith Freeman, in an effort to give as complete a picture of the convention as possible. Comments by me appear in parentheses and are italicised. Source notes and links to complete, unedited versions of those reports can be found here.
The photos presented herein come from the a variety of collections, though this doesn't mean a particular picture was taken by that person. Indeed, in this case the committee appointed Eddie Jones and Les Childs as official photographers, prints of those photos then being offered for sale at reasonable prices. The collection photos are from is noted in parentheses thus: (kf) Keith Freeman, (tj) Terry Jeeves, (ns) Norman Shorrock, (ks) Ken Slater, (fh) Frank Herbert. As always, a tip of the hat to Peter Weston for identifying many of the people in these photos and for supplying them in the first place.
Additional photos not used in the main body of this report can be seen here:
Here are links to pages devoted to the individual days and the Programme Book.
This composite report opens with London fans Ivor Mayne, Bobbie Wild, Ella Parker,
George Locke, Sandra Hall, Peter West and Pete Taylor gathering at London's
Euston railway station....
Friday morning dawned bright and clear. I needn't have worried though. It started to rain before I left home, it was a typical Good Friday, in other words.
Bobbie and I met at the station so we walked on to where we were supposed to meet Ella, who was already there, A few minutes later George turned up, he and I went to get tea while Ella and Bobbie looked for the others. We'd just paid for the four cups when Bobbie told us Sandra and Peter West had arrived, She took the tea we'd already brought and George and I went back for two more cups. We just got back with those, to be met with the news that Pete Taylor had just stumbled - half asleep - out of a taxi .... back for more tea!
On the platform we found there a relief train as well as the scheduled one. They were both full, so we climbed into a luggage compartment, expecting to be hauled out any minute. Nobody seemed to mind 'tho, except the two cyclists who were already in there, they gave us rather a peculiar look, but didn't say anything. We slung our bags down, hung our coats up and generally made ourselves to home. As soon as the train left the station we all relaxed.
Somebody suggested putting out a oneshot, but Bobbie had forgotten to bring her duplicator. It isn't a spirit duplicator, but the idea was still scotched, Then George had the bright idea of writing his conrep as he went along. He borrowed Sandra's typer, and whenever he ran short of ideas Pete Taylor or I took over for a spell. It was just plain unlucky that neither George or I was used to the typer, so we produced the most amazing collection of typos you ever saw in your life. The people in the corridor kept giving us funny looks. Maybe it was because Pete was hanging on the wire mesh telling them what it meant to be a leper and ostracised.
Even on Good Friday morning, it hadn't really sunk in that I was actually going to a con. But then, it was such a miserable wet morning it didn't seem possible that anything at all wonderful could happen.
After an uneventful journey to Manchester, I met Alan Rispin. We hurried across the city to get our connection to Birmingham. This turned out to be a diesel train, something I'd been wanting to see for quite some time. Once inside though, my interest turned to disgust, as I found that it was just like a bus on rails, with a temperature which made it like hell.
As we travelled along, there was still no sign of the expected excitement, other than a horrifying apathy towards food - and that was probably due to Alan's case falling on my head.
We reached Birmingham only about an hour late, and wandered off the station. We found the hotel without much trouble, but we were amazed to see it was lit by candles! I thot maybe Vince Clarke had come after all, but the porter said it was because they were having the mains changed.
No doubt from water to bheer. The register revealed that no-one had arrived before us, so after unloading our baggage, we went out to find food.
It was with no small misgivings that I attended the National Con at Birmingham held over Easter weekend. For one thing this was the first convention held under the auspices of the British Science Fiction Association, and the policy of attempting to provide interesting items for both the hard and grizzled veteran and the freshly talcumed newcomers suggested that there might be failure on both counts. To make things worse, the first news that greeted me when I walked in the hotel in the company of Terry Jeeves, Archie Mercer and Phil Rogers, all of whom I had met on the train, was that there had been a mix-up in arrangements concerning the provision of alcoholic refreshments and that the bar closed at 9.30. To complete the dismal picture, the hotel itself seemed to be disappointing for a three star AA rating. Quite apart from the frayed stair carpets and dingy decorations, the service was of the standard normally associated with a hotel in the western backwoods at the turn of the century. This point alone, combined with the hotel's high prices, decided fans to eat out.
The journey to Birmingham didn't seem to take too long. On seeing Birmingham we almost wished it had taken longer. Still, there was really nothing else to do but face up to it. We took a taxi to the Imperial Hotel, the driver cheerfully told us we could have walked it quicker, then took us round a maze of side streets to prove it, I could see I was going to love Birmingham. When we reached the hotel it was lit by candlelight! I thought the staff had arranged a specially ghoulish welcome for the fen, but the explanation was just a simple, mundane powar cut. We signed in - in the semi dark - and then went to the dining, room to eat. We eventually reached a compromise between what we wanted and what the staff were still prepared to serve, while we were waiting - and waiting - and waiting for our food, George and I decided to go out and see who else had arrived. The receptionist snatched the register away from us saying it was private. I think the receptionists were just about the worst people on the staff, the others were a Ghodawful shower too. Two suspicious looking characters approached us, I thought for a moment they were two of the Birmingham toughs you hear so much about, but they introduced themselves as Brian Jordan and Alan Rispin.
Returning stuffed with dingy chips (bought at an even dingier shop), we found the register bore the mark of Ken Slater. We could see into the lounge from our vantage point at the receptionists desk. While we were trying to decide which of the few people there was Ken (it was later that he dyed his moustache green), Ivor Mayne and George Locke came up to us and introduced themselves, then taking us to the hotel dining- room they identified for us the rest of the London contingent, they were - Bobbie Wild, Peters West and Taylor, Sandra Hall and Ella Parker. Service in the dining-room was terrible. Ella took to muttering imprecations when they wouldn't serve her with whiskey.
After helping Ella upstairs with her luggage, I wandered into the lounge with Ivor and Alan. We had just located Ken Slater, Alan Burns and Ken McIntyre, when we saw coming towards us a Tall, Ghodlike youth. One single aspect of His features dominated all else - His, EYES. They held a 'far look', of great poweer,and wisdom. this alone made Him as a Ghod. We gazed reverently at Him. He spoke.
"Er....are you all....uh..fans?"
Yes. This was Jhim Linwood, Lord of Sherwood. For some unknown reason we took him to show to Ella. We had a sub-sub-room party, drank liberally of her whiskey, and chattered about things fannish (serconfannish, that is.)
Friday's session was one of informal meetings. I met Jim Linwood and Brian Jordan for the first time and renewed acquaintances with Norman and Ina Shorrock (whom I had not seen for three whole weeks), Pete Taylor, Dave Cohen, Ken Potter, Ken Mclntyre, Ella Parker, Bobbie Wild, Bob Richardson, Eddie Jones, Sandra Hall, Ivor Mayne, John Roles, Paul and Joan Hammett and Norman Wansborough.
The crowd of us went back downstairs and settled round a small table. Jhim and I wanted to talk about things generally since our last meeting had been some time ago. This was the first time we'd met Brian Jordan, so we all had a lot to talk about. In a way, it was just like the Globe, with the younger fen sitting on their own around a table and all the other fen talking round another. Later our little group broke up and Jhim and I spoke to Norman Shorrock and Ron Bennett. Ron, of course, was selling subscriptions to PLOY and The FanDirectory. No old mags this time, but he's got a new racket in TAFF. I hope nobody was stupid enough not to give money to a nogood character like Bennett.
When the bar opened all the fen gathered round it - natch! Norman Shorrock was distributing copies of the programme, a very well produced book of 40 odd pages, and I do mean odd!
We got quite a shock, when we found that a rumour which had been going round, proved to be true - the bar was to close early, in spite of previous promises that drink would be available most of the night.
Someone rashly mentioned to Pete Taylor that nothing much seemed to be happening so he decided to hold a party. He dragged me out with him to help him get the bottles back to the hotel. Getting them back was okay, it was getting them IN that was the trouble. The staff weren't particularly friendly - you've gathered? - and we hated to think what they'd do if we walked in with £9's worth of booze. While Pete stayed outside to look after the other stuff, I stuck one bottle into my pocket and two others under my coat. I walked straight through the lobby and upstairs to Pete's room, I'm sure that both the hotel staff and fen gave me some peculiar looks, but I didn't dare look round to see. After leaving the stuff in Pete's room, I found Ina and told her the mess we were in. Ina came out and helped carry some more in and then Joan and Paul Hammett drove up and agreed to smuggle the rest through for us in their cases.
The Hammett's would turn up sporadically throughout the con, and then disappear about five minutes later, muttering something about having to join the Aldermaston march.
(They did indeed leave the con at some point to join the annual Easter march from the Aldermaston atomic weapons research establishment to Trafalgar Square in London. Nuclear disarmament was a hotly debated topic in fanzines of the period. For more on the marches see here.)
After all that I never got to the party in Pete's room anyhow. I found myself in Bob Richardson's room, along with Norman and Ina, Peter West and Sandra Hall. Quite a lot of the time Pete was there too. We sat around and talked, then listened to a tape Bob had made for Norman.
We had all been told the number of Pete's room and that there was to be a party there. Eventually we reached it, way up at the top of the hotel, surrounded (roomwise) by mundane types. The hotel was large and rambling, so the manager had naively spread us all through it. Slowly a party began to take shape as people filed in. Some of the folk around were Pete (of course), Ron Bennett, Dave Cohen, Arthur(Doc) Weir, (who saved the evening by producing a corkscrew in a moment of great need), and more, but more.
Eventually, we decided, it was time to look in on Pete's party, but there was nobody in his room, It wasn't long after twelve, so obviously the party hadn't finished yet. Ina did one of her celebrated reccies and located the party in Ella's room. Apparently the manager had come round to Pete's room complaining of the noise, so they had all moved down to more fannish territory. It was quite a Party too. Norman Shorrock and I managed to wedge Ron in between the washstand and the wall and started explaining to him why he was Penelope Fandergaste. Then Ron got freer and started explaining to us why he wasn't Penelope Fandergaste. Then the three of us and Archie Mercer went downstairs to get coffee. The talk now was of fannish matters generally, and pretty soon everybody from the party had come down to join us. I think it was about 4-30 when that session broke up and people moved on to start playing brag etc.
There was a good deal of chatter and wild laughter which was not unduly rowdy, and it was therefore surprising to find the manager coming along to complain about the noise. I think we made a tactical error in not inviting him in for a drink, but Ella Parker rescued the situation by suggesting that we moved along to her room which was in a 'fan' block. We did so and it must have been well after four that the party broke up for early morning coffee. We returned to the lounge until we were all ready for bed. We did not play brag. Instead we indulged in a session of what was to become the predominant cardgame of the weekend, pontoon (blackjack).