SCIENCE FANTASY SERVICE/ MILCROSS BOOK SERVICE

Founded by Les Johnson and Ted Carnell in 1937, the Science-Fiction Service was the first SF book-selling business in Britain, though the name they used for business purposes was that of Johnson's brother. Its pre-war existence is covered here.

I've recently taken possession of a bunch of post-war catalogues, courtesy of Steve Holland. The earliest of these - front page below - is dated February 1947. It may in fact be the first post-war catalogue:

'H. M. Crossen' is listed as proprietor in place of Carnell or Johnson, and the name of the business is now 'Science-Fantasy Publications (Incorporating "Outlands Publications")', all of which requires some explanation, beginning with the following flyer, kindly supplied by Phil Harbottle

When he returned from the war Les Johnson tried his hand at editing a new SF magazine. Called 'Outlands', the first issue was delivered to him and his partners in the venture (one of whom was pre-war fan Les Heald) by the printers in October 1946. There wasn't a second issue:

The crunch came when the main newsstand distributors returned the 'unsolds' to us. They were all still in the original wrappers, and it was obvious that they had never got outside their warehouse, much less than on to the railway bookstalls! It is all very well talking about "newsstand distribution", but try and get it...

By this time it was clear that we were going to have difficulty in producing a Second Issue; accordingly we circulated our subscribers offering "A Great New Service" - the supply of New and Secondhand Science-Fiction Books and Magazines, including subscriptions to the Current Issues of both the British and American Magazines. It was blithely included in the circular that any credit for future issues of Outlands could, of course, be used for the supply of any of these items.

That was the end of 'Outlands'.

Despite the promise I had made to both Ted Carnell and myself that I would not be starting up again in the Science Fiction book and magazine business, that's just where I was ----virtually back in the old pre-war Science-Fiction Service. I had returned from the War determined to get down to writing significant contributions to society, but here I was again, on the treadmill. And I was treading that particular mill for a good many years to come.

As pre-war, Johnson didn't use his own name on the business. This time he used his wife's maiden name: Hilda Margaret Crossen.

By May 1947 all mention of 'Outlands' has vanished from the now-printed header:

Here's the typed header for the May 1949 catalogue, giving a new address and a new name:

Between that catalogue and the first of 1950, 'A.L. Milnes' joins as a co-proprietor. This was Frank Milnes, using the initials of his mother, Annie Louisa Milnes:

Eventually, the pair decide to rename the business, which they announced in the third catalogue of 1951. Where previous catalogues had been quarto-sized and produced on a duplicator, this one (like several that followed it) was 4 ⅞" x 6 ⅜" and printed:

Nice shout out to NWSFC there. From this point on the business was known as 'Milcross Book Service' (from Milnes and Crossen), with a shop at 205 Brownlow Hill. This change was formalised in the next catalogue:

Just as he had with the pre-war Liverpool SFA, Johnson let the newly formed Liverpool SF Society (LaSFaS) hold it's early meetings in his shop. As member Tom Owens later recorded:

On Monday the 12th November 1951, we, the Liverpool Science-Fiction Society held our first meeting at the rear of the Milcross Book Shop. At that time we were not grouped under any name, but were just a number of fans who had met as a result of a Post Card sent to, each of us by Jeff Espley, the founder of the Society.

Right from the beginning we all agreed upon the necessity of having our own clubroom. That was easier said than done however and it was fully two months before we were able to move to our present address.

The final Milcross catalogue I have is dated 1954, by which point both the Brownlow Hill shop and Frank Milnes are gone (they were still there in 1953) and Johnson has returned to trading from 68 Victoria Street:

At some point during that decade the business reverted to being mostly postal and operated from a small downstairs room at the 16 Rockville Road address seen in early catalogues. This was the Johnson family home (now opposite the start of the M62 motorway) and Ramsey Campbell recalls visiting the house and buying books from Johnson as late as 1961, so it continued for a while in that form.

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