THE 1971 EASTERCON


EASTERCON 22, the twenty-second post-war UK National Science Fiction Convention, took place over the weekend of Friday, 9th April to Sunday, 11th April 1971. It was held at the then new (built 1967) Giffard Hotel in Worcester, which was demolished in March 2016.

A total of 404 finally registered, and 284 are recorded as having been present, including fans from ten other countries, such as Jon Bing (Norway), Jannick Storm (Denmark), Michel Feron (Belgium), and a whole contingent of Germans. Brian Aldiss, James Blish, John Brunner, Bob Shaw, Ken Bulmer, Chris Priest, James White, and Don Wollheim were among the professionals present. Expected but absent were Ted Tubb and Mike Moorcock.


The Giffard Hotel (l-o).

Committee:
  • Peter Weston, Chairman
  • Vernon Brown
  • Roger Peyton
  • Bob Rickard
Guests:
  • Anne McCaffrey, GoH
  • Ethel Lindsay, FGoH (a UK first)
  • Phil Rogers, Toastmaster

Report below edited together from those by Ethel Lindsay, Graham Poole, and written by various people for CYNIC #4. Pete Weston's quotes are pulled from several places, including his book WITH STARS IN MY EYES. Comments by me appear in parentheses and are italicised. Source notes can be found here.

The photos presented herein come from a variety of collections, though this doesn't necessarily mean a particular picture was taken by that person. The collection photos are from, where known, is noted in parentheses thus: (ns) Norman Shorrock, (lo) Lars-Olov Strandberg, (mb) Merv Barrett, (mp) Mary Peek, (RH) Robert Hepworth, (PW) Peter Weston (pm) Peter Mabey, (gp) Greg Pickersgill, (mm) Mike Meara, (im) Ian Maule. 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.

The convention badge:

Here are links to pages devoted to the individual days and to convention literature. Artwork for badge, envelope, and Programme Book cover supplied by Vincent di Fate.

***

Prologue

VERNON BROWN:

It all started just after the '70 con when Peter gave me a ring to ask if I would give him a hand with the '71 con. At first things were not too bad. After Peter had run through the AA book of Midland Hotels we picked out a few promising ones - few being the operative word, as there seems to be a dearth of reasonably-sized medium-priced hotels. The ones large enough to take over 100 guests and more attendees appeared rather staid; the managers usually tended to look askance at the very mention of the term Science Fiction. After a disappointment or six we found the Giffard, which was not only new but large and with a genial manager. The toilets (gents at least) were large and clean - I have found on my various wanderings that it's not the bar or the main decor that is the yardstick of a place but the state of the humble hidden loo!

We were now on a solid foundation, with an abode and a Guest of Honour. Letterheads were printed - it's surprising what a difference a piece of headed notepaper will make when communicating with almost anyone, from private individuals to large firms - and we could shoot off official letters in all directions. Committee meetings were held every few weeks - a necessary requirement of a functional committee is that its members live fairly close to one another in order that meetings can be held frequently or as often as necessary and at short notice if the occasion arises. It's no good trying to hold a meeting by phone or letter.

Various responsibilities were thrashed out, each member being more or less solely responsible for his area with as little overlap as possible. This meant that each member worked at his best as there could be no passing the buck. Among other things I ended up with the gathering of auction material and the organisation of commemorative covers. I wrote off, hopefully to a fair number of authors for donations to the auction - mss, books, etc. A number replied, the majority of whom were most helpful and courteous even if, as happened in several cases, they could not donate anything as all their material was being filed in University archives. Some passed me on to others who might help, some didn't reply. Gods with feet of clay! The secretaries at work, noticing sheaves of multi-coloured envelopes instead of catalogues in my post, were most intrigued to discover that 'those' people who read 'those peculiar space/BEM/A-war books' were actually organised and unashamed of it.


Vernon Brown (RH)

The commemorative covers started out reasonably well. After much telephoning and letter writing all the snags were ironed out, details of when and where organised and the design for the hand-frank sent off and received by the GPO well before the appointed deadline. However, the internal-communications of the P.O. were as efficient as the external and the designs disappeared. I didn't even know about this until the Friday before Eastercon, by which time it was much too late to resubmit and/or arrange private franking/posting. Peter managed to get a small stamp made with the legend "Posted at Eastercon '22" but of course the whole point of a commemorative cover was lost.

Another thing that we didn't realise was that there is a tax on printed matter and the cost of the covers went up by about 20% in tax. However the final cost was such that, had things been OK with the GPO, we could have covered the complete cost of the covers by charging 15p per cover including postage. As we ended by charging 5p we made a bit of a loss.

Other aspects went off fairly well; adverts came in by various means the postal strike didn't help much but even the foreign post managed to reach us - or I should say Peter, as he had the devious connections necessary - the Banquet menu was decided upon, even a new GoH was found at short notice to take Brian Aldiss' place when he had to resign due to personal reasons.

THE BRIAN ALDISS GoH SAGA - Peter Weston

At SCI-CON 70:

Brian confided that this was the second time he had been asked to be Guest of Honour but had then been required to step down. We were suitably shocked, as he went on to explain how he had been invited as GoH for 1969 in Oxford, but when a new committee had taken over, headed by John Brunner, they had wanted to have Judith Merril instead. George Hay had heard about this, thought it was a bit poor, and so he had asked Brian to be GoH in 1970, which he had accepted. Then George heard that James Blish was moving to England and he did exactly the same thing, pushing out Brian once again in favour of a supposed bigger "name." Rog and I were suitably disgusted, and promptly offered to make amends. We would bid for the 1971 Eastercon and would do it properly. We promised to find a decent hotel and make Brian our Guest of Honour. (p.191)

***

Suddenly, however, we hit double trouble. Brian Aldiss resigned as Guest of Honour, and this was immediately followed by the start of a postal strike. Brian's letter was a bombshell! The only reason Rog and I had taken on the convention was to do justice to him, and now he was dropping out for no very good reason, saying vaguely that he "might be living in Hong Kong for a while." No Eastercon had ever lost their GoH before, and the postal strike made it impossible to find anyone else, and we couldn't receive hotel bookings or advertising copy for our programme book. We were in a deep hole. Somehow, it all worked out. Anne McCaffrey had just moved to Eire from the United States and graciously stepped in as last-minute GoH. (p.197)

***

Brian Aldiss came after all, his Hong Kong adventure having proved something of a mirage, and he checked in at the neighbouring Talbot and seemed to enjoy himself. However, he later said,

"At the time I was suffering from an undiagnosed illness which turned out to be hepatitis A, B, and probably C as well. A couple of sips of a good red wine and my body seemed to turn into a slagheap. I remember two burly fans carrying me out to the Volvo and Margaret driving me home to die. On that fateful drive, I coined a perfectly splendid few Famous Last Words and was pretty pissed off later to find myself recovering. I have long since forgotten what those Last Words were, but I know John Brunner's name came into it." (p.198)

- excerpted from WITH STARS IN MY EYES (2004, NESFA Press)

Films were ordered several months in advance after poring over various catalogues and a riverboat trip arranged. One hectic evening was spent putting together the Programme Booklet. Piles of artwork, adverts, articles and programme information littered the table while a huge sheet of paper, divided into numbered page sections, was slowly filled in, erased, and refilled with details of the layout of the Booklet.

Finally most of the material required was stored in Peter's house and arrangements made for travelling down on the Thursday evening to get everything set up for the 'off' on Friday.

I arrived at Peter's late after a last minute hitch - I realised that my 'genuine-type' helmet looked nothing like those depicted on S&S covers ... why-in-hell don't the artists realise that a helmet fitting the head like a glove (?) would cause the chap inside to die of a homogenized brain and multiple skull fractures if a hailstone hit it? I got a 'suitable' one from R-x-charms and sprayed it silver.

The taxi-driver who drove me across town must have had a tiring day or something because he gave me peculiar looks as I climbed in with a huge suitcase, a large newspaper-covered box (for posting) and a 3ft-odd broadsword. Perhaps it's as well that someone else was taking down my 2ft. diameter shield and seven one-gallon containers of wine.

After several false starts Peter, Eileen, Rick and I were on our way to Worcester. Arriving rather late in the evening there was little time to do much convention setting-up so after a drink or three I got my last night of reasonable sleep.

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