Friday 27th March(Programme)
After many variations on how to reach Peterborough, the site of this year’s British Science Fiction Association Convention, we managed to squeeze the car through the narrow entrance to what had once been the stables of the Bull Hotel.
The lobby inside the hotel showed signs of a little confusion, for it seems the Con badges had not arrived and everyone was either dashing around trying to find out when they would turn up or sitting on chairs, banisters, floors etc. around where the registration desk was last year. Someone had a tape recorder and was entertaining the waiting throng with something that sounded like the Goon Show, but turned out to be one of the Liverpool Group’s tape plays: “THE MARCH OF SLIME”.
Chuck Partington, Tom Holt, Clive Fowkes and myself had checked in at the hotel desk, and leaving Aub Marks to sign the register we wandered to survey the scene I have just described.
Archie Mercer was the first person any of us recognised and the usual introductions came into force. A pause was reached when I realised that Aub was still not with us, and on returning to the desk we found our first spot of trouble. The Bull was full to the brim and Mr Marks had left his booking too late, there was only the overflow hotel left. There was nothing anyone could do apart from walking round to the Angel Hotel and getting him fixed up.
Right from the start, the hotel seemed to be overrun with Brummies, "Easter Brummies", somebody (me, I think) dubbed them, though "Peterborough Rabbits" might be as apposite description. For every ten new faces one saw, fifteen belonged to Brummies. I suppose this is the point to begin describing a few. Ken Cheslin one knows already, he being a survivor from a previous age. Pete Weston is young, serious and slightly vague. Rog Peyton, the BSFA's new Editor, is slightly older and exudes an air of quiet competence. Charlie Winstone, the new Treasurer, is small and obliging. Mike Higgs "MIK” the cartoonist swears he was drawing that way before he even heard of Arthur Thomson. Cynthia, his girl-friend, has a lovely smile. Mike Turner is just old enough to have grown his first beard, Ed James is capable of talking but seldom admits it, and I'm sure there were more than that but one tends to lose count. (Yes, come to think of it - there was Cliff, who refused to lie down on the floor so that everybody could jump over him.) And some of the best ones, so I hear, didn't turn up at all.
Mary Reed is a member of the Birmingham SF Group, but being a Geordie she actually lives in Banbury, well outside the normal sphere of influence of the Brummie metropolis. She arrived together with her friend Julia Stone, from Chipping Norton. Julia (who weighs rather more than her surname might suggest) is about sixteen, has a rabbit called Fred, and spends her mundane nights chasing pigs round the Oxfordshire countryside. Mary' s a couple of years older, and is already known in fandom as something of a letter-writing phenomenon. Both girls had got hold of the notion that the way to spend a Con is by going for three whole nights without sleep. This makes them somewhat difficult to carry on a meaningful conversation with at times. They'll learn - I hope. Both seem to be well worth talking to.
Even younger than Julia is Brian McCabe, from Slough, who admits to being only fourteen. He came with Pete Mansfield - it turns out that they're cousins or something. Brian seemed very shy, but if he develops as he matures, he'll soon be an artist of considerable repute. The stuff he's doing now, at fourteen, is nothing to be sneezed at.
Terry Pratchett, who sold a story to Carnell at that age (14) is a comparative veteran - though this was his first Convention, too. I was interested to have my suspicions confirmed that he is indeed an Oliver Anderson fan. Dave Busby, who has also sold to Carnell, is one of a trio of tall thin youngsters, the other two being Peter White and Chris Priest. Charles (don't call him "Twisher") Platt deserves a paragraph to himself, but we don't all get what we deserve in this world. I can best sum him up, I think, by comparing him to myself. He is much as I was at that age - except that he's extrovert enough to try to do something about it, whereas I wasn't.
Some of last year's newcomers have survived to this year, too, and I'm beginning to put faces to them. The Alien group from Salford are at least easily distinguishable from everybody else, if not from each other. (Particularly when in costume). Brian Allport, who last year came from Nottingham, now comes from Liverpool instead. I've dubbed him Brian Export, and can even vaguely remember what he looks like now. His friend, Mike Booth, also from Nottingham, is nowadays mainly from Bristol. It goes without saying that I never meet him except in Peterborough. This could probably be better organised.
Tyneside, too, sent its cohorts. Some, like Con Turner, have emerged from the dust of the years. Others, like Phil Harbottle, are not so dusty. Phil (another New Face) looks about as like one's mental image of him as it is possible for one to look outside Salford and environs. (No, Mary. I know Salford isn't on Tyneside. Refer back to the previous paragraph and all will become clear to you - I hope.)
I seem to have dwelt at some, length on the new faces - and still haven't mentioned Dick Howett who can draw and things. As a matter of fact, I seem to have spent more time in the company of youngsters half my age or less than in fact of fans nearer my own generation. This could be due to my retarded nature, or to the onset of second childhood, but I prefer to ascribe it to the fact that over the past year I've found myself corresponding with a lot of them and this was the first time I'd met them face to face.
Plenty of the older hands were there as well, of course. Ron Bennett (who lost his voice specially for the occasion - to him, a fate indeed worse than death. He had a good name for it, though -"Vox Pop"). Ina Shorrock (I always like to mention Ina Shorrock) - likewise Norman of that ilk and several lesser representatives of the species. Madeleine Willis, who brought her husband with her. She twisted my arm - needn't have bothered, though, because I'd already voted. Still, I can think of plenty of people I wouldn't be nearly so keen to have my arm twisted by. TAFF delegate Wally Weber, an ethereal creature most unlike his on-paper image. Jhim and Marion Linwood - who had got married only a day or two earlier. Ethel and Ella, and Jill (it was her turn to come this year) and Peter Mabey (likewise) and scads of assorted Jeeveses, Slaters, and the like.
As usual, there were a number of notable absentees. Brian Aldiss had just departed for a six-months' stay in Yugoslavia, so he couldn't make it. I'm not sure where Harry Harrison had gone to, but he wasn't there either. Val Purnell also had to miss it. I asked Marion to express my condolences when she wrote, and she said she would but she intended playing down the fabulous time everybody was having so that Val wouldn't feel so sad she'd had to miss it. This, however, in the interests of accuracy I cannot do. Val - it was an excellent Con. Would have been better still if you'd been there of course. See you at the next one, I hope.
Entering the portals of The Bull was almost like coming home. Just after I got in I had the most peculiar sensation that the '63 Con hadn't really finished, and that this was really the fourth day. It was as if the intervening year had been completely wiped out. After an interminable wait for hotel registration there was a nasty and extended moment, during which it appeared that I was destined for The Angel , but all was well, and eventually I got a room. This year, instead of the monstrous, twenty-pound, foot-long, lead tag on my key, I got a small plastic one. Charlie got a monstrous, twenty-pound, foot-long, lead tag on his key however, a fact which afforded me no small amount of pleasure.
The general tone of the Con was then set at the beginning by the fact that immediately we had put our bags in the rooms, before even unpacking, Max Jakubowski, Mike Moorcock, Charlie and myself adjourned to the nearest bar. We chose a place outside the hotel because we wanted not only to drink, but to eat. Unfortunately the place was a bit inferior on the food side, so we had to settle for a few packets of biscuits and cheese. It was rather peculiar actually. We were just sitting round a table, talking quietly, not going mad or anything, and yet we were subject to the most intense, sidelong scrutiny by most of the locals sitting around. After finishing our cheese and biscuits we decided that we might as well be in the hotel bar, and crept furtively from the pub.
By now more and more fans were appearing in the bar. George Locke, Archie Mercer, the newly-wed Jhim and Marion Linwood showing great fannish dedication, and a few others. By now Charlie, and I decided to have a look around. We had hoped that registration would have started, but the table was sitting there just looking lonely. We wandered around for a while, meeting someone now and again, and generally lounging. Suddenly strange moaning noises began to fill the air. Strange subterranean rumblings, weird unearthly moaning, that seemed to pervade the very structure of the hotel itself. For a moment I thought it was trouble with the pipes then as it got louder and still more horrible I considered that it might at last be judgement day, and the noises were the screaming of the tortured souls from the very bowels of Hell itself. Then I realised it was just Mike Moorcock, upstairs in the Con hall, practising for the Bellyflops. Singing.
A tape-recorder was produced, upon which was placed a tape made by the Cheltenham Group, It was very funny, and I'm only sorry that I couldn't hear it properly; it just couldn't compete with the conversation and Moorcock.
And still registration hadn't started. Charlie and I said hello to Tony and Simone Walsh, and found that Phil Rogers hadn't yet arrived with the name-badges. After a little more wandering about on my part, Tony and Simone decided to go ahead, Phil Rogers or no Phil Rogers. I had the honour of being the first official attendee. The process of my registration took about ten minutes owing to a dispute between Tony and Simone over how much I was to pay. This price fluctuated alarmingly between five bob and a pound,. However, soon it was sorted out, the price levelled at ten shillings, and the Con had started.
In suspended animation since the early Kettering conventions, the phantom quote card distributor struck again this year. Under every beer-mat, in every toilet roll, along corridors, in sandwiches... there were quotecards. In the main, these fell into three categories: those supporting Phil Rogers in the current TAFF campaign, those featuring a saying or, er – a quote, and those which could be flashed in conversation or could be otherwise be used appropriately in certain naturally-occurring situations. The cards were contrived by the Liverpool Group, illustrated by Eddie Jones, duplicated by Norman Shorrock and complained about by Alan Rispin. There were some ten thousand cards distributed in all, of which no fewer than one hundred and ninety-four were different. How many did you collect?
At 8 o'clock we filed upstairs for the start of the programme in the con hall. This was dominated by a huge painted backdrop held up on poles, an intricate, twelve foot tableau of some sort of undersea scene, with papier mache rocks and an old sea trunk with a rounded lid. Many years later Ken Slater explained the rationale:
"We 'themed' the two Peterborough cons on books by the Guest of Honour. For Repetercon we based the backdrop on Ted Tubb's 'City of No Return'. We had lots of fun painting it on sheets of grey paper intended for carpet underlay, which came in rolls about ten foot long. We did it in the yard behind my shop in Norfolk Street, using tempera colour and bottles of wine as aids. Dave Barber was involved, as was a local semi-fan named Mark Ashby, who was a pretty fair artist."(Since photos clearly show the backdrop on a translucent mesh, it appears that what Ken is describing here is actually the construction of the backdrop for the 1963 convention. - Rob)
There were a lot of new faces at this Con - in fact, I can't remember a convention, even my first, at which I could put a name to so few faces. Previously fans had turned up from the BSFA in ones and twos, now they are coming in large groups. A sign that at least one of the BSFA's original functions was working out all right.
The programme got off to a good start on Friday night with an introductory session run by Ethel and Tony. To help out anyone who might not yet be in the mood, Tony had armed himself with a set of notices which he held up at the appropriate times. These bore slogans such as APPLAUSE and SILENCE PLEASE. Skilful use of these, enlivened a performance that could too easily have degenerated into a "Stand up so-and-so ...... Now sit down." session.
Friday was a day in which there was little organised, and what there was I found disappointing. In a way this set the tone of the rest of the Convention.
Having spent the afternoon meeting people and talking, at 8:00 pm fans congregated in the main hall to be welcomed officially to the Con. Following this welcome was a chaotic and seemingly pointless succession of introductions; one by one members of the audience were brought up front and asked rather pointless questions. The whole thing would have been like a quiz programme apart from the unruly and uninterested audience and the lack of a few well-placed "well, how about that!" interjections from the interviewer. "And here is... (looks at programme notes) ...ah ... Peter Weston, from Birmingham. You're from Birmingham, Pete?" "Yes" "And you're a new fan?" "yes, that's right"… "and you run a fanzine?" "Yes, it's called Zenith and it costs only 1/- at the moment, but the sub rates are going up next issue so subscribe to it now." "well thank you, Pete, and now let's have..." and so on, ad infinitum. So many people were brought up out of the audience I was wondering where it would stop; soon everyone would have been introduced. Unfortunately the answers could not be heard a lot of the time because the audience insisted on cutting in, talking, and shouting funny comments. It was a bemusing first taste of the Con.; surely, one felt, it can't all be like this?
The convention was opened a few minutes late on the Friday evening by Tony “I believe in tradition” Walsh who welcomed attendees and introduced his committee. Various notable fans and authors present were interviewed by Ethel Lindsay who found the tables turned when she tried to interview James White. Ken Slater followed by giving an impromptu answer session to snap questions on s-f. This was a little disappointing in that many fans deliberately went out of their merry ways to catch Ken out, though when Ken asked for questions which perhaps posed some problem to the questioners themselves, the session was far more enjoyable and definitely more worth-while. Ask the young lady who discovered for the first time the title of a memorable story which she had come across in a pocket book lacking a cover and title page, namely "The Puppet Masters”.
Lang and I sat through the questions, directed at Ken Slater, on various SF stories, until a rather vociferous lady got up and described the plot of Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters" (interjected with snippets of information on how she found the book etc.) when she got to the point of the creatures from outer space settling on the shoulders of the Earth people I could feel her directly behind me settling further and further onto my shoulder, and decided that discretion was the better part of whatever it is, and cut out, dragging Lang with me. I'm no chicken but.... I guess I must be over sensitive or something I heard that the lady went on describing the story of her life after the question had been answered in loud stage whispers to all those in her immediate presence, until George Scithers seized one of the placards that were held up at intervals during the meeting (calling for ‘Applause' or something) This one read; "Silence please" and he marched with this to the back and held it before her. To which she is supposed to have uttered those immortal words; "The story of my life”.
While this was going on Lang and I were down in the lounge. Anyway, we went back to the Great Wall amid long discussions on Lang’s next issue of Tensor, which was described very well and succinctly as a half-yearly quarterly. Simone and I decided on a snack of egg and chips (snack! - it cost five bob) while the others went off into the realms of exotica by ordering things whose names I couldn't spell, let alone pronounce. The discussion now turned to free-range as opposed to battery eggs, and all the other inhumanities that are practised by our glorious food producers in the name of higher productivity. Here we agreed but soon got off again onto the subject, again, of cancer. I now found myself under attack from Tony Walsh as well. Apparently he had just given up smoking and felt the need to spread the gospel to others; (in other words, he wanted someone else to suffer).
We returned to find strange sounds issuing from the Con-hall; Mike Moorcock was there with the ‘Bellyflops' (as far as I could make out Dick Ellingsworth was on the bongos, Norman Sherlock on second guitar, and Alan Rispin was making strange sounds with a harmonica). Every now and then the particular number they were playing (such good old ones as "Jungle Man" and "Oh didn't he ramble" - they don't write songs like that any more) would collapse into chaos. Mike would turn round and say "Norman!" or "wouldn't it be better if we all played the same tune?". He did try to extend his repertoire to some of the new hit-tunes of the sixties, but he was much happier with tunes from the old skiffle days - so was I, come to that; I was wallowing in nostalgia and would have loved to have been able to get up and jive, as in the good old days.
Somehow or other the concert (!!!) degenerated into a wrestling match between Max (the French Fiend) Jakubowski and Pat (Mauler) Kearney. the bout went on with the accompaniment of Norman still playing the guitar, Ava Naguela...I don't think he'd realised they'd finished all that. Anyway, there was a superb improvised commentary on the bout by Mike. Repetitive it might have been, influenced by drink too, but it was the most hilarious thing I've heard in years, and he kept it up for about half an hour non-stop. Fantastic! Its not funny on paper, but if you can get hold of the tape, listen to it. It started as a mildly satirical thing, micky-taking the glorious British public who are able to indulge their own little sadistic and homosexual neuroses by taking in a wrestling match. "If you folks have got the same kind of bent that I have I think you're going to enjoy this. There's going to be blood tonight folks, so you should really enjoy this, and this mass of sweating male flesh...." No, it's not funny on paper, and I can't remember enough of it to do it justice. The whole piece ended up as a moralistic, screaming diatribe against the hypocrisy of our society, which bans ‘Fanny Hill’ because it says its ‘evil' and yet finds outlets for its own sick mentalities by watching wrestling, reading James Bond books and Micky Spillane, and watching "The Avengers". As I said, it was fantastic.
Somehow a spontaneous wrestling match sprung up between Max Jakubowski and Pat Kearney, and one of the high points of the convention began. Mike Moorcock grabbed the microphone and began a commentary. It began quietly enough, but gradually Mike worked himself up to a frenzy. This spontaneous outburst began as a normal wrestling commentary, describing the combat between Maxim 'The French Fiend' Jakubowski, and Patrick 'Dirty' Kearney. However it gradually began to be a little satirical, then a little more, and ended up as a screamed condemnation of hypocrisy. The main inspiration of this commentary was that wrestling contained elements of sadism, masochism and homosexuality, all of which are condemned publicly, but indulged in in this socially acceptable way by the very people who would most loudly condemn such things. Mike may have been a little drunk, but even if it was a little repetitious, this spontaneous commentary was really brilliant. Down in black and white, I don't suppose it would look so good, for it was the delivery of the thing that made it so. But a couple of quotes that I particularly liked were, "If any of you guys in the audience have the same peculiar bent as mine, I think you're gonna love this fight!", and this, shouted out in a spluttering frenzy, "It's going to be a throw; it's going to be a bloody, sexual throw!" I had to leave halfway through this, because I felt that Mike might spoil it. He didn't though; a tape was made, which I heard later. Charlie wanted to know why I wanted us to leave, but at the time, in the general atmosphere, I couldn't explain it.
Lang was so overcome that we had to go. He said afterwards that he was afraid the taping might spoil it, but it didn't. We heard the whole thing through again on the Sunday. After ten minutes or so I decided to follow Lang into the pro-room, where I found him talking with Wally Weber and Pete White. I'm glad I came in because this was one of the few opportunities that I had to talk to Wally throughout the con. He came across as a highly amusing, mildly spoken American, and endeared himself to everyone who came into contact with him. We talked for some time about future and past cons. I asked him about the worldcon, if the Americans weren't afraid we'd keep it once it got into our hands.
Why, Lang and I were even thinking of putting on a world-con in Ealing, at the Kent Hotel. Then someone suggested we could hold a con on the tube, suggesting the slogan "The Circle Line - In Sixtynine!". A number of slogans seemed to be flashing around the con. I remember Archie Mercer suggesting, at one point, "The Parker Pen in Sixty-ten". From there the conversation turned to universities, as Peter White, from what I could gather, is thinking of going to one. We compared notes on American and English education in general. Once more my conviction that the American system was the better of the two was enforced.
When this broke up I decided to pack it in for the first night.
At about one o'clock the conversation broke up. Charlie decided to go to bed, the yellow-bellied fake-fan, and after bidding him good-night, and solicitously offering to help him up the stairs, I went down to the lounge.
There I found Mike Moorcock and Ivor Mayne, who were talking to another new face, a young girl called Julia Stone. They were doing a superb double-act, telling her how once they were saved from certain death by the skin of their Lappish Alpenstock. Gradually people filtered out of the lounge, until Mike, Ivor and myself decided to go and look for some life.
I was leading the way, and I passed Ron Bennett going upstairs.
"Party in room 31!" he whispered to me as I passed him, I started gaily off down the corridor with a few others in my wake, in the direction of room 31. I suddenly heard a horror-filled, choked cry from behind me. It was the night porter, stumbling down the corridor with a look of absolute terror on his face.
"What are you doing?", he hissed, "that's the manager's room!"
I hate Ron Bennett.
After a hasty retreat from the vicinity of room 31, we eventually arrived in Mike Moorcock's room, adding a couple to our numbers on the way.
By now, the first hint of light had begun to filter into the room, and an atmosphere of lethargy had begun to permeate the place, Alan Rispin was lying longitudinally on the bed, and Mary Reed, Don Geldart and myself were lying across it, resting our heads on various parts of Alan. Julia Stone was sitting on a chair on the other side of the room, and Mike Moorcock was on a chair by the bed. There ensued a tired and rather mad conversation, Then Mike got hold of the Bible.
I hate to say this, but I think that Mike's new job has gone to his head. (Moorcock had just taken over as editor of 'New Worlds', his first issue being cover dated May/June 1964. - Rob) In every room there was a Bible, put there for some strange and perverted reason. Well, Mike picked up his copy and started leafing through it, going, "Umm...Aha…Ummm". Then he picked up a pen. "Hmm - sloppy writing," he said, making crossings-out and alterations. "Poor construction... Hmm – 'verily I say unto you'. That's no good; better make it 'listen here you guys'. Hmm...padding."
The frightening spectacle of Mike Moorcock editing the Bible was too much for us, and it just about put paid to us for the rest of the night. The conversation began to get more sporadic, Mike moved onto the bed, and this meant drastic rearrangements and even more drastic cramming. I remember us all lying there, packed together uncomfortably, and all laughing at the fact that we'd paid 30/- for a bed that was only a matter of yards away.