The following articles first appeared in slightly different form in RELAPSE #16 (February 2010), edited by Peter Weston, under the titles 'The Cosmos Club & the 1944 Eastercon' and 'Hunting the Past'. Much of the information about the con was extracted from the souvenir booklet EASTERCON 1944, edited by Cosmos Club member Bruce Gaffron. That's his logo design for the booklet reproduced above.
1. THE COSMOS CLUBDespite the country being at war, British fans of the 1940s managed to organise four conventions during World War II. None involved hotels, so fans attending those that lasted more than a day needed to make what overnight arrangements they could. An informal gathering of fans in London in September 1941 is sometimes listed as a convention - Bombcon - in old convention programme books, but I've never considered this a true con (nor did those involved, judging by the report in FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST #13) so it's not included in my numbering.
The NECONs, organised in Leeds by J. Michael Rosenblum in Decembers 1943 and 1944, were basically small relaxacons. The Midvention, organised by the 16 year-old Roy Johnson and sponsored by the wartime British Fantasy Society (no relation to the present day organisation of the same name), was a little more ambitious. Held between 23rd and 26th April 1943 it attracted fourteen attendees, and Johnson ran it with the help of Rosenblum, Don Houston, Arthur Williams, Ralph E.Orme, and A.W.Gardner, and with further assistance from a Birmingham based sub-committee of Tom Hughes and Arthur Busby -- all of which seems a bit excessive for such a small convention. Which brings us to the 1944 Eastercon. But first, a little background on those who organised it.
The Teddington group known as the Paint Research Station Science Fiction Library had started life in 1940 when fan E.Frank Parker had donated his library of SF books and magazines to help members of the National Fire Service to pass the time when 'standing by', and had grown from there. Initially there had been some hostility, followed by interest, and then enthusiasm. A monthly news-sheet (called MEMO-SHEET) was issued and in 1942 the full-size, single-copy fanzine BEYOND began to appear quarterly. This featured the work of upwards of two dozen different writers during its life and that of almost as many artists. The writing was primarily amateur fiction but this sometimes meant novelettes of 30,000 words or so. BEYOND was at first edited (and typed and bound) by Parker and John Aiken but Parker had to "...retire into pseudonymity..." when certain authorities at the Paint Research Station decided that SF was good for neither science or morals. As a result of such pressure the club was at times almost an underground movement and, as a natural consequence, thrived. However, the group did not come to the attention of British fandom in general until October 1942 when Parker announced its existence in FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST #23.
On March 16th, 1943 the group decided to sever their connection with the Paint Research Station and to rename themselves the Cosmos Club (CSC). This was duly reported in FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST #27. On April 13th, the CSC held their first meeting at Shirley's Cafe on Teddington's Park Road, the permanent venue for their meetings thereafter, and welcomed new member Bruce Gaffron into the fold. With the change in name, the club also decided to discontinue MEMO-SHEET and start a new clubzine. This was COSMIC CUTS. The first issue appeared in May and was edited by Gordon Holbrow. (Dennis Tucker would take over as editor with the August 1945 issue.) As the largest active fan group in the country during this period the CSC became one of the three pillars of wartime British fandom, alongside FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST and the British Fantasy Society.
In December 1943, the Cosmos Club revealed their plans for a convention the following year, with the single-sheet CONVENTION EXTRA in both in COSMIC CUTS #5 and in Parker's LAMPOST #1, one of the 'litter' of accompanying small fanzines that rode out with FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST #32 that same month. The relevant pages in LAMPOST were also pages 9 & 10 of COSMIC CUTS #5 and so presumably a deliberate print overrun.
The rest of that first side was taken up with hyperbole, but on the reverse was the projected programme for the Eastercon, which was as follows:
The pampered fans of today complain when the con programme is split between adjacent hotels rather than all under one roof. One can only imagine how they would react at the prospect of a thirty five minute train ride between venues.
The second CONVENTION EXTRA rode out with LAMPPOST #2 in FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST #33 (Feb 1944). This reported that Arthur Williams would be producing a convention booklet and that there would be a Fantasy Museum at the convention, display items for which would be gratefully received. However, the big news concerned the 'eminent speakers':
"Mr Walter Gillings, ex-Editor of 'Tales of Wonder' and Director of Utopian Publications Ltd., has agreed to act as Convention President, and will open the Sunday morning session with a Presidential Address. And, circumstances, the Guest Speaker at the Convention dinner will be none other than the distinguished Professor A.M.Low."The third and final issue of LAMPPOST went out with FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST #34 (April 1944), its front page consisting of a map (incorporated later in this article) of how to get to the convention. This looks to have been sized for American quarto paper. Sadly, it was printed on UK quarto and so ran off the bottom of the page. Not that this appears to have deterred anyone.