Saturday April 1stJOE PATRIZIO:
After breakfast next morning Ted and I went up to see if Ella was still alive, and found that she had discovered she could have breakfast in bed and was taking full advantage of this. The start of the programme was TYPO, a tape play by the Cheltenham Group. It wasn't bad but not as good as I had expected. This was followed by a talk from Geoff Doherty on the desirability or otherwise of plugging SF in schools. Last year Geoff had edited an SF anthology for use in schools called "An Alien in the Academy". What with the stories he told of the trouble he has had to get other teachers to read SF (we all felt for him here) and the questions from the audience, and the very interesting and competent way he handled his subject, Geoff gave us one of the best items in what was to be a really fine con programme. Next came, lunch which gave everybody the opportunity to talk about what they had just listened to, and from what I could hear they all did.
Without knowing that he wrote for the newspapers a crowd of us on Friday evening had been talking to Geoff telling him, at his own request, about fandom. He was fascinated by it and wrote a very fair report of the Convention and its members for the Saturday's Manchester Guardian. He sparked off some very interesting comments and argument and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his place on the hot-seat.
After lunch we gathered to watch the slide show which had been prepared for us and sent over by Don Ford. Don, who attended last year's Convention as TAFF Delegate had been so pleased with our reception for the show he put on for us then, that he thought we might like to see more. I have only one complaint to make about its presentation and that is that Don put his commentary on tape this year instead of coming over to give it in person. A Ford slide show is something not to be missed!
The previous year's show had got rave notices, and we were all looking forward to it very much. The slides were shown with a commentary on tape given by Don. This made things a bit difficult for Norman who was projecting, as there was no margin for error - if he goofed once, it was probable the whole show would go up the creek. It says a great deal for his nerves that only one slide went in upside down, and he still managed to keep things running smoothly. There was slight disappointment that there were no shots of last year's con. "I had been particularly looking forward to this as I was unable to attend. Nevertheless a good show.
As you all know, the Guest of Honour was Kingsley Amis, author of "New Maps of Hell". He was next on the programme to give a talk, and be available to answer questions. It was this last bit that everyone was waiting for, and you could see that at the earliest opportunity there was going to be a mad scramble to get questions in - it seemed everyone had read "New Maps of Hell". Amis came in with Brian Aldis. Brian gave an amusing introduction to Amis, who rose to really tumultuous applause, which subsided to dead silence. We weren't going to miss a word of his talk. His address gloried in the title "SF Anti-science, Anti-fiction". Right at the start Amis set about stirring up the natives, and he proved that he was a most accomplished hand at the job. He started laying about SF, letting us know just what he thought was wrong with it, but at the same time telling. us just how it could be improved. The unfortunate bit was, most of what he said was quite right. I am afraid he overdid it in places, such as. when he gave us a list of concepts that formed the basis of a good many SF stories, and said that they were impossible. These were time travel, telepathy, the universal translating machine - there may have been others, these were the main ones. He went on in much the same vein, dealing in the literary side of SF, and here Arthur C Clarke got his. Amis read from one of the stories in Clarke's new anthology, and made Clarke's handling of a love scene sound even worse than it actually was, although this was just barely possible. As he continued, people started shifting in their seats, like cats getting ready to pounce, but other than a few gurgles and' splutters, no one said a word till he had finished.
I must place on record our delight with his gift of repartee especially when answering Ted Tubb. Amis had made some remark about pornography in S-F. Relative to a comment made by Amis, Ted said he had been disgusted to find S-F being used as a vehicle for pornography. Not knowing Ted's reputation Amis retorted:- " ...I must be more sophisticated and-blasé than you, but..." This brought roars of laughter and left Ted without a retort of his own.
Once he'd stopped the questions came rolling at him and it was wonderful to watch him take them all and come out on top. Even Ted Tubb couldn't get the better of him, although Ted had some good points, which might have caught Amis had Ted followed them up instead of arguing round in circles. By now everybody was having a great time, and if they weren't arguing with Amis they were arguing among themselves; the hall wasn't quite in an uproar, but it was getting well on the way. But it had to stop sometime, and Eric Jones called a halt half an hour over the allotted time. Afterwards most people agreed that in general Amis was right, and individuals could only disagree with him in particular points, like the impossibility of telepathy, for instance.
A long queue formed before Amis, most with shining new copies of "New Maps of Hell" to be autographed. He had quite a job writing, while still answering questions. I got my programme signed, and managed to .get an indignant "Why don't you like Sturgeon?" in, I got an answer that boiled down to " 'Cos he makes me sick". I went away shattered at this confession.
Eric Jones was in charge of the next item, an auction in aid of the BSFA. I need say no more than he managed to keep dividing people from their money at regular intervals. Ted bought 5 F&SF covers. Everyone now disappeared to get ready for the Transgalactic Tourist's Party. Some of the London mob were going in armour made by Ted Tubb and Ken Bulmer. This was a little away from the central theme, but we thought it would be OK if we said we were from something like The High Crusade.
All were donning costumes in Bruce's room. When I entered I was greeted by a great deal of frenzied. activity, interspersed with grunts, groans, and the occasional full blooded scream as a pin didn't go where it should. Ken and Ted were in charge of proceedings. Bruce and Jimmie were dressed, while Don was putting the finishing touches to his. It had been originally mine, but he was doing a better job of wearing it than I ever could. Pat Kearney was being bound up in authentic type mediaeval leggings. Ted was trying to put Brian Burgess in a suit of armour. Ken was going around with a hefty wooden sword cutting and slashing at people and asking them if they could feel anything. This was funny, as he was hitting so hard, had they not been properly protected, the blow could have killed far less hurt! This was no place for a person of my sensitivity, so I rapidly faded from the scene.
In order to combat the ever present lack of females at fan gatherings, the committee had the bright idea to invite some nurses. They were gratified when all tickets were taken and more asked for. The sad news that confronted me in the hall, was that they had used the tickets to bring their boyfriends also! Thus there was a distinct impression given of two separate dances being held .. a mundane one where people were dancing ... and a fannish one where people were talking and drinking. It's very difficult to get across the atmosphere that pervaded. All through everybody was giving the impression, without actually saying anything, that there was nowhere else they would rather be, and this was the only way to enjoy yourself.
Costumes ranged from the grotesque to the attractive with many in-betweens. Outstanding were the mask worn by Dave Kyle, the bird costume worn by Ina Shorrock (which won first prize in the parade) and that horrible eye worn the middle of her forehead worn by Ruth Kyle. Worth a very special mention in my opinion, was the witches outfit, complete with besom worn by Diane (Alan Rispin's friend), both for its simplicity and impressiveness; she really looked the part...if that isn’t being rude. Ted Tubb, Bruce Burn, Bob Hawkins, Brian Burgess, Bob Richardson, Pat Kearney and Don Geldart had brought out once more the armour, swords etc. that had been worn and used with such good effect when the London crowd visited Cheltenham at Whitsun two years ago.
Dancing - or what I saw of it - was patchy, many of them preferring to stand at the bar drinking and forming discussion groups. I was off in a corner of the hall with Ken Slater, Dave Barber, Ian McAulay, Jim Groves and a couple of others talking about S-F. That was one thing about this Convention which caused much comment. No matter where you went or at what time of day or night you would come across a small group tucked away somewhere discussing S-F. Whether, as has been argued, this was due to the influence of the BSFA members present, or not, I wouldn’t like to say. I have noticed that even at our SFCL club meetings it is talked about a lot more than it was in the past. Maybe it's coming back into fashion or favour?
The highlight of the party was the fight staged by the London group. From the onset this had been Ken Bulmer's idea. He had been talking for weeks before in a way that suggested the whole purpose of the con was so that London could stage a carnival of blood - the more blood the better. Ken would organise it all, but no thanks he was too old for that sort of thing. Those wearing the armour were none too keen on the idea, but Ken, with masterly verbiage, convinced them all that this was the only gentlemanly thing to do: they got up and fought. Ted Tubb try as he might to hold back, got stuck in too. It was quite funny beforehand to listen to Ted trying to talk himself out of taking part, while everyone knew, including Ted, that where it was thickest was where we would find Mr Tubb.
Bobbie Grey announced the bout. She told us that one faction from some star cluster had suffered a slight at the hands of another and had challenged them to back down or prove themselves with cold wood. The supposed slighters had no hesitation, they agreed unanimously to back down, but unfortunately for them the audience realised that there was a good chance that somebody might get hurt, and so wouldn't let them out of it. The two groups consisted of Ted Tubb, Brian Burgess, Bob Richardson and Bob Hawkins on one side The other side was made up of Bruce Burn, Don Geldart, Jim Groves and Pat Kearney. How they fixed the sides I just don't know, because Bruce, Don, Jim and Pat were outweighed considerably, and it must have taken real nerve to stay in the same hall as the others.
Arthur Thomson called them to order and got them started, a most fearsome sight that struck awe into the bystanders. Tubb, not having a shield made do with two swords. Had I not known he was quite friendly with his opponents, I would have sworn that he had his heart set on killing the lot of them. He would beat about one of them, whilst making frantic back handed swipes at any other opponent who passed within reach. Amis, who had managed to get a seat at the front, was cowering against the back of it. Bob Richardson, dressed in a sort of Mongol outfit, and Don made frenzied efforts to decapitate each other, right in front of Amis, and they didn't seem particularly worried about the possible loss of one of our leading writers.
Brian Burgess just stood there. With the amour on he looked impossibly tall and most impressive. Bruce kept on coming at him, but made no impression whatsoever, and every now and again Brian would take a tremendous swing before which Bruce respectfully retreated. Pat, the SFCoL's youngest member, only 17 and looking more like 15, was achieving one of his ambitions, the undivided. attention of a professional author. Yet he was not very happy about this, nor could you blame him. Mr Tubb was acting as if Pat had said he was only Britain's second best author, and poor Pat looked set for the hospital at any minute. He was pretty lucky to get away with skinned knuckles, and quite badly bruised ribs. He got consolation later from Ted in a long talk and permission to reprint one of Ted's stories in 'Goudy', Pat's zine. The battle went on for some time, but gradually subsided as people admitted they had had enough, or they ran out of swords, broken ones now littered the floor. Arthur called a halt, and declared a draw, they were all too tired to hear him.
The climax came with the Fancy Dress judging. Judges were Ruth and. Dave Kyle with Ted Carnell. Eddie Jones got first prize with his intricate Spaceman costume. Ina Shorrock second with a Firebird costume, which had also been designed by Eddie.
Arriving at a convention, a s-f fan convention, with Masquerade Ball in full swing, is rather like stepping into a surrealist picture. One moment you are travelling through dark, wet-shiny streets; at an hour when the streets are dead - the next you are surounded by Green-faced Ghouls, Spacemen of varying hue, and Fine Feathered Females. One moment you are registering at the desk of a discreetly lit hotel lobby, the next you are in a gay hall hung with esoteric slogans and embellished with alien phrases - and filled with a fine welcoming crowd of people. Someone pushes a glass into your hand....another convention has started.
I regretted, as usual, that I hadn't been able to get to the convention on its first day, but as you've probably gathered from the opening paragraph, arriving at a convention in full swing has an impact all its own. Memories of the rather tedious journey soon faded once I got my bags parked in a room, and found out where the parties were being held that night.
I'd met Ron Bennett in the con-hall end he came up with me to my room to hand over some cash he'd collected for TAFF, and to aquaint me with some of the happenings so far. He brought me a glass of Brown Ale, too, which helped nicely to start my re-orientation.
I didn't waste any time on unpacking, the only items to be dug out of my bag were Camera and Pyjamas (in case I went to bed that night, you know !) My room was way out - so far out that it was probably the only room in the hotel in the Borough of Cheltenham! - but it didn't take me long to find a party. I'm not quite sure who's room it was in, but it was quite a Kettering-style affair with every inch of space, on, besides, and under the bed fully occupied. Using my flash as a weapon, and the camera as a ruse - " just move over to the left a little " - I managed to make my way from one side of it to the other. It was a single room and it took me about ten minutes to get across it, that will give you a good idea how many fans were in there.
Many of them were still in fancy dress, and there were some very fine and exotic costumes in evidence. I'd arrived a little too late to see all the ones displayed at the convention, but I've since seen colour shots of most, and it seems that everyone excelled themselves this year. Ina Shorrock in a Bird-woman costume designed by Eddie Jones (Thank You, Eddie!) was rather stunning; Moulto Bono as the Italians would say (a literal translation means 'Moult Soon'). Ethel Lindsay, looked devilishly dour in a sequined sporran. And some of the men had costumes, too. Eddie Jones had a fine spaceman garb, and Bob Richardson looked eminently alien. I'd liked to have been at the con in time for the grand-parade.
Much later on Saturday night Ethel and I went upstairs to get ready for the company we were expecting to visit our little suite we had to ourselves tucked away in a nice little corner of the hotel. We even had a door which could be shut closing us off entirely from the rest of the hotel any time we felt downright unsociable. Need I say it was never used? The party was held in high good spirits and was an interesting mixture of the faanish and sercon. Here too S-F came in for its share of attention during the jollity. Ethel remarked to me next day of two intriguing conversations, snippets of which she had over heard. To one side they were talking about S-F and on the other there was Phil Rogers and I talking about the fascinating way in which Dave Barber wiggled his ears. This must prove summat, but I don’t know what. We were keeping pretty well open house between the two rooms and as there wasn't room for all of them in Ethel's place the overflow was passing through into mine. This makes it difficult to know who was at ours and who had gone off looking for another party elsewhere. I do remember seeing Phil Rogers, Dave Barber, Don Geldart, Ted Carnell (who had turned up unexpectedly and most welcome he was too), Jimmy Rattigan, Ted Tubb, Ted Forsyth, Joe Patrizio, Alan Rispin and Diane (that name again!), Brian Aldiss, Brian Jordan, Jhim Linwood, Jeff Doherty, Ian McAulay (you could have guessed he’d be there!), two Shorrocks', Kingsley Amis, Ken Slater, Bobbie and Bill Gray, Ron Bennett, Bruce Burn, Daphne Buckmaster, Keith Freeman, Margaret and Eric Jones, and last but not least Arthur Thomson, who had come down for one day and was acting barman very capably. It was a good party.
I had a fine time at the parties on the Saturday night to Sunday morning shift; Dave & Ruth Kyle had made it and we reminisced a little about Potsdam and Pittsburgh, and said 'My God, is it that long since!' I met Ian McCauley for the first time, and thought this latest ambassador from IF to be an excellent one - he said he'd recognised me immediately, and I wondered if it was from the punched-out silbuette in the Willis attic-wall, the time I played Ghoodminton with John Berry.... From the photos I took I seem to have been to several room-parties that night, and I recall snatches of many amusing conversations. And I wonder what Kingsley Amis was saying in the shot I have of Harry Harrison brandishing a bottle over he and Ted Tubb...
And then thore was the Mini-Bathcon. It wasn't called that at the time, but it seems to be as suitable a soubriquet as I can think of for it. The mini-bathcon had already started when I arrived on the scene with flash-bulbs flaring, it was a small select affair with a membership of three. Norman Shorrock, Bruce Burn, and Keith Freeman. I gather that it all started when Norman (or Bruce, or Keith) got a little tired of the crowded atmosphere of one room-party, end decided to seek solitude in a nearby bathroom. He was shortly joined (in the typical lemming-flow of fan movement at conventions) by the other two. Since there was nowhere else to sit, they sat in the bath. Since all three of the gentlemen concerned have a distinct aversion to 'dry' parties, the taps were turned on. At the time I arrived the bath was about a quarter full and Bruce, Norman, and Keith (fully dressed to shoes and socks!), with a contented look on their faces, were happily watching the tide come in....
Convention Guest of Honour, Kingsley Amis, looked in just after I arrived, but declined the cordial invitation to step into the bath and have a chat.
I'd a pretty full day ahead of me on the Sunday, so I decided to have a reasonably early night and went to bed about 4 a.m., after attending some highly enjoyable parties.