THEN - THE LETTERS: 1950s
THEN #2, covering the 1950s was published in March 1989. The letters on that issue were in the following one, published in April 1991, and are reprinted below.
Thanks very much for the two issues of THEN, which I've been finding of very considerable intrinsic interest (especially since my knowledge of this area is less than skimpy, because I came into SF through a rather solitary non-fan route, and because I've only been in this country since 1969), and which I think has been written with exemplary clarity and ease.
I think the reason people, like myself, fail in our researching of authors to make proper use of fan material is twofold: 1) ignorance; and 2) the very obvious difficulties in actually obtaining, and then understanding the significance of, a very large number of productions, variously produced, and written sometimes in a language partially coded (wittingly or not) against outsiders. What you've done in THEN is to open paths, light beacons. More must be done.
A pleasure to read this intricate patchwork welded into a whole (am I mixing my metaphors. So I mix my metaphors.) Although I lived through it all, I'd have never have had the patience and the sheer industry and the inclination to do a history of 50s fandom. Congratulations - and here's to the sober '60s.
There are a few inconsequential errors of fact which don't affect the History - p.90, Arthur C. didn't didn't sail to Australia with Mike Wilson, and thereby hangs an anecdote etc, etc. - and one or two odd interesting avenues of research, like the influence of HYPHEN back-page quotes on mid-'50s fannish humour, have been left to Joseph Nicholas's highly theoretical Truth Researchers to investigate. But on the whole - you've got it.
I liked the humorous touches too - your description of Campbell's 'cheery insensitivity', your answer to Martyn Taylor, and the deadpan "I have read it through once, uncritically, and my initial 'reaction is positive." Oh, sorry, that was Sam Moskowitz.
The Brian Aldiss quote (p.92) is interesting. As far as my knowledge goes, he couldn't have had a flyer for a fan group during the War, especially one with a group photo. I reckon he had a FUTURIAIN WAR DIGEST, which as we know had some US fanzine pages (THEN p.24). A likely candidate is the Feb '42 issue, which had a photopage from SOUTHERN STAR (ed. Joe Gilbert/Art Sehnert) showing scenes from the Denvention. FWD itself says "the fancy dress pictures are somewhat shocking at first glance." No, not nudity, just grotesque masks worn by Ackerman, Morojo, etc. Aldiss would have been 16/17 at the time, which is consistent with the. anecdote, given a strict paterfamilias. But this, and any such supposition, leaves the query "How and where could the young, Brian have 'written for it'."? I can only suggest that he had picked up a second hand pre-war WONDER, STORIES with details of the SFL and Mike Rosenblum°s Leeds address. All perfectly trivial, of course, but interesting to me at least.
Columbo, SRI LANKA
Many thanks for THEN #2 - I'm stunned by the research that's gone into it! It was full of information which I had never known, or had completely forgotten. And I was enormously intrigued by the account of the hoax which Mike Wilson played on Bob Shaw and co., when he visited them in Ireland in 1952.
What makes this even more timely is the fact that I've just had a letter from Bob Shaw - who, at my suggestion, has been working with Stanley Kubrick, Even more remarkable, Mike Wilson, now Swami Siva Kalki, walked into the office this morning, and I have handed him the whole piece! He seems to be in pretty good shape, though none of the old White Horse gang would recognise him in his beard and monk's robes.
I've asked my brother to send you a copy of my own "science fictional autobiography"', ASTOUNDING DAYS, which has just been published - here is a sticker to put in it when it arrives!
Alas, it never did arrive, Arthur, but I appreciate the thought.JOSEPH NICHOLAS
Stamford Hill, London.
I've finally read THEN #2 - like THEN #1, all the way through in one sitting. I can hardly wait for the next instalment with its promise of a fandom very different from that which died with the fall of Inchmery.... THE FALL OF INCHMERY! It sounds almost as though it could be the first volume of a fantasy trilogy, in this case reconstructing the history of the fandom of the fifties and sixties and seventies in genre thud- and-blunder terms: The 'second volume would be called something like WILDERNESS OF THE TECHNONS, in honour of the sixties' sercon bent and the suppression of fannishness that fandom then endured. The title of the third volume almost writes itself; THE COMING OF THE RAT...although that in fact strikes the wrong note, sounding too downbeat for what is supposed to be an optimistic conclusion to the trilogy, and it should perhaps be given a name which better reflects its story of the struggle of a small band of heroes to smash the Technon yoke and re-establish the tenets of fannishness, a title like, say, SEVEN AGAINST THE DARKNESS. (Although offhand I can't recall whether there were seven people involved - it just seems the right number for this sort of thing.)
Is there an ulterior purpose to the above nonsense? Well, yes there is, actually - and here I draw on something John Foyster said in Irwin Hirsh's SIKANDER two or three years ago, when reviewing my essay "Coming From Behind" in the fanthology BY BRITISH. There is, he then identified, a tendency on. the part of fan-historians (current since. at least Moskowitz's THE IMMORTAL STORM) to vastly overdramatise disagreements and personality clashes that would otherwise be commonplace and unremarkable. Thus (as in my essay) the issue of the relative emphases given to sercon or fannish tenets is transformed into a titanic ideological struggle to decide who can or cannot publish and what punishment will be visited upon those who transgress the new code; an issue obviously pushed well beyond its likeliest extremes and in the process made to sound completely daft. To your credit, your treatment of (most notably) the disputes between London and Manchester fandoms is quite restrained - a fanhistorian of the Moskowitz persuasion would probably have dwelt in exhaustive detail on the exact points of disagreement, the life-histories and personalities of the protagonists, and the entire chronology of the struggle - but there is nevertheless something in your phraseology, your very choice of words, which hints at the overdramatisation to which John Foyster referred.
One example of this is of course the line in the final paragraph of THEN #2 which
sparked off the flight of fancy in the opening paragraph of this letter. Another
example is the fanzine's opening sentence, which has the effect (like much science
fiction) of ascribing far greater importance to individual effort than single
individuals actually have. (After all, would Willis have been so important - or even
stayed in fandom at all - did there not happen to be a number of like-minded people
around at the same time?) Another example is the way in which you introduce Bob Shaw,
by leaving mention of his name to the end of the sentence so that it comes as a great
revelation and thus has Maximum Possible Impact. Yet another example is the sentences
(scattered throughout the fanzine) which end with A Row Of Significant Dots, providing
not merely a hook for people to keep reading but also a suggestion that what's to
follow is somehow even more momentous than what we've just read. (And, I might add
too, that after a time these Dots become quite wearying - simply because they're so
Were you serious when you said the writing in THEN "hints at overdramatisation"? How can you "hint at overdramatisation"? Either something is overdramatic or it isn't. Having said which, I take your point about the overdramatic writing in some earlier works of fanhistory and have striven (reasonably successfully, I think) to avoid that particular trap. Your complaint about my introduction of Bob Shaw being designed for "Maximum Possible Impact" seems entirely spurious to me. While trying not to be over- dramatic I still want the text to be pleasurable to read, and little bits of business like that help the narrative, I think. Still, while phrases like "the fall of Inchmery" (which I pinched from somewhere else, incidentally) might strike you as somewhat overblown, I think of them more as a sort of convenient shorthand and, if anything, think I've used too few of them rather than too many. I'll almost certainly be referring to "the end of the Trufan Ascendency" when I reach the 1980s, and in the very next issue I'm going to have to refer to "Silly Animal Fandom", regretfully. The regrets are because the first few years of so interesting a period for British fandom as the 1970s really deserve a better apellation - yet that's the name used at the time. You've got me on the dots, though....I was going to drone an about the post-war austerity you refer to on page 45 of. THEN #2, and to suggest that in fact in the later years of Attlee°s administration the British economy was doing quite well until it was sabotaged by Attlee's acquiescing to President Truman's demand for massive British rearmament following the outbreak of the Korean War - a "sabotage" that contributed directly to the Conservatives' victory in the 1951 General Election and a rearmament programme which Churchill, when he discovered it, realised would bankrupt the country if allowed to continue on the scale Attlee proposed - but I'm not sure it's really relevant. It certainly wouldn't invalidate your point about fans seeing fandom as a means of escape from the grimness of post-war Britain, anyway.
HARRY WARNER JR.
THEN #2 enlightens me a great deal. I didn't hlve much contact with British fandom during some of the years it covers, approximately the first half of the 1950s. So some of your narrative gives me a full account of matters I had only known from later retellings. I envy you your access to OMPA mailings, which would have been of enormous help if I'd owned them when trying to research A WEALTH OF FABLE.
Actually, Harry, I had very little access to OMPA mailings. What I did have access to was Joy Clarke's 1959 overview and assessment of the first five years worth of mailings in her zine, APATHY, and to a small number of crucial individual OMPAzines. Some of this was as much by luck as by design. A weird synehronicity seems to be at work here, one that dates right back to when I started research on THEN #1, where for the most part whenever I need a particular item or bit of information it surfaces, apparently of its own accord much of the time. I'm at a loss to explain this phenomenon, but long may it continue.I hope enough fans in England and elsewhere read all the way through these pages for the lesson they teach about the basic eternal verities of fans and fandom: the need to realise that this, too, will probably pass, whether it's a local club or a fanzine or a brilliant idea, the tendency of fans to fuss and fume over more or less the same fandom to pursue any steady course toward some distant apotheosis, not even when it looks as if a trend lasting a number of years will continue indefinitely.
I think you've caught very well the general spirit of United Kingdom fans during most of this decade, by using so many extended quotes from the period's best fan writers. I could have wished for fuller treatment of a few matters, like APORRHETA which is the most unjustly forgotten fanzine of that decade, or the miracles that the best fan artists achieved with mimeograph or Gestetner stencils, but I know from my own sad experience that there's never enough room in even the longest fanhistory manuscript to give everything the wordage it deserves.
It was encouraging to find I'd been right about something, the number of CYTRICONs, and to find that my two major manuscripts helped you. Moreover, the fact that you and I both chose a number of the same fanzine extracts to quote encourages me to think I made wise decisions years ago.
Ahem. Not having access to FAPA mailings of the period I copied the quotes you used in A WEALTH OF FABLE when it came to the GMCarr affair. Since they caught the affair perfectly (so far as I, as someone who wasn't around then, can judge) I'd have to agree that you did make the right choices. I'd also have to recommend anyone reading this who doesn't yet have copies of your ALL OUR YESTERDAYS and A WEALTH OF FABLE to seek them out wherever they can. They're indispensible, and a joy to read.We must differ on one point. I still insist that your fans were more literate and more intelligent than those in North America, on the whole. In the 1930s and 1940s, the period when the difference was greatest, there were only a handful of American fans whom I could imagine holding their own with many Britishers (arrgh! Britons, Harry, Britons - we dont call you Americanishers...): Milt Rothman, Norma Stanley, for instance, as possessors of both thinking and writing ability. Many American fans were very prolific writers and some of them wrote entertainingly. But there just wasn't any fanzine in the United States in that period that had the intellectual appeal of THE FANTAST and of a number of other British fanzines.
The letter section was otherwise notable for the improbable way in which long-silent extinct fans are heard from once again. I believe this must be the first time in a quarter-century that Sam Youd's prose has appeared in a fanzine other than by way of quotation from other sources. Ron Holmes, Eric Williams, and others are names as
unexpected as would be the appearance of a new issue of PLANET STORIES, Incidentally,
the last edition of the Fanzine index confirms the title of Ted Carnell's Postcard
fanzine as POSTAL PREVIEW.
I don't share your optimism about the chances for a general history of fandom being extended forward from where Sam and I left it, in a thoroughness approximating ours. What I think will happen is a number of good, comprehensive histories of certain aspects of the overall fannish past, just like your endeavours for British fandom. These partial histories are within the boundaries of accomplishment by just one or at the most two fans, and publication of them doesn't involve expenditures of tens of thousands of pounds or dollars: Moreover, they can be much more detailed than even a general history of the 1960s running to twice the size of THE IMMORTAL STORM or ALL OUR YESTERDAYS would be. Several proposals have been made for creation of committees to create a new general history but I am skeptical about the ability of fans to work together well enough; the third edition of THE FANCYCLOPEDIA is almost four years late and it's being done by committee, two facts that are probably not unrelated. If one fan could do a big history of the Worldcon, another could write the history of FAPA, a third and a fourth could tell all about fandom in New York City and Los Angeles, and other such specialised publications could be created (a history of Canadian fandom is already in the works) gradually we'd acquire most of the history we need, without driving just one overworked historian into premature imbecility.
It's relatively easy to separate the stories of individual fandoms, such. as those of the US and the UK, since they actually are separate stories, albeit with occasional paints of overlap. Nevertheless, they do overlap, and it's impossible to properly tell the story of one without some reference to the other. This being so, I'm afraid I have my doubts about how well each of the histories of parts of American fandom that you posit could actually be done: These really aren't seperate stories but rather individual - and intertwined - elements of a single story. I'd have to see one of them done before I'd be convinced otherwise. I share your misgivings about fanhistory (or fancyclopedia) by committee. The team on THEN is basically me on writing and research and Vince on additional research (he always does at least as much as me in this regard). That seems to me about right. Research is really tedious and is best tackled by more than one person if possible, but the writing should be a one person show. Anyone over there with the interest and, more importantly, the drive to do a history of 1960s US fandom, d'you think?SAM MOSKOWITZ
Newark, NJ, USA.
You are doing an admirable job, preserving the history of British fandom before the materials and individuals connected with it disperse so sparsely that attempts to reconstruct it become fragmentary. Another problem faced by any historian dealing with materials that have not previously become codified is that there is no way to predetermine what will become important, When I was serialising THE IMMORTAL STORM in FANTASY COMMENTATOR in the forties, I was on several occasions critisized because I was devoting too much space to individuals of no consequence. Decades later, some of those individuals became significantly important authors, editors and artists, and the information I had published concerning them added to the pool of material available about them.
For my own part I'm not really interested in whether or not the individuals I mention went on to be significant figures in the SF field. This history is being written from a straight-down-the-line fannish perspective and, for the most part, those appearing herein do so roughly in proportion to their importance in the ongoing story of British fandom. To take an example: Terry Pratchett is undoubtedly a more popular & widely-known author than, say, Ken Bulmer, but is a very much more minor figure when their accomplishments as fans are compared. I could probably have increased Pratchett's role in the text in this issue, but it would have been dishonest to have done so.I know that you have to limit the amount of space given any special subject, but I think the 1957 World Science Fiction Convention in London was so pivotally important that it should have been an exception to the rule. Here was the first Worldcon to be held in Europe. The problems were somewhat different than those in the United States, and there was the unusual aspect that the president of the convention committee, John Wyndham, and the chairman of the committee, John Carnell, were full-time professional writers and editors, something, rare even to the present in the United States when it comes to a world convention. Other professionals Ken Bulmer, John Brunner, and Arthur Sellings were also on the convention committee. The guest of honour imported from the United States was also a major figure as editor and author: John W. Campbell. The Americans had chartered an entire KLM plane, filling it pre-dominantly with US fans and pros just attending the convention.
The convention hotel was without question the worst in the entire history of world science fiction conventions, a dubious distinction which it will probably retain for all time. The Kings Court was set in a complex of hotels. Its rates were reasonable enough, about $3.00 a night, but when I saw it, I paid the $3.00 to help out the convention but immediately secured rooms elsewhere. The place compared unfavourably with flop houses in the United States. What few bath tubs there were had rotted or rusted through and couldn't hold water. For all we knew they had no water running to them, because you didn't dare turn it on.
The beds in the rooms had rags for blankets with patches sewn in them where they had worn or been burned through. Of course, there was then no central heating but you could put a shilling in the gas heater, which would radiate heat for a specified amount of time - if the one in your room was working. There appeared to be no hot water in the "water closets", or in the bath rooms.
The main hall was very narrow and long with pillars spaced accross, blocking the view, There were curfews; if you didn't get back to the hotel by the specified time they locked you out and kept you out, which was, in a way, a blessing.
The foregoing are merely sidelights. The programme was quite good, and you could mingle with Arthur C.Clarke, Eric Frank Russell, John Christopher, H.Beam Piper, James White, Bob Silverberg, E.C.Tubb, Cylvia Margulies, Forrest J Ackerman, Harry Harrison, etc.
The trouble with a fanzine as worthy and meaty as THEN is that it's so difficult to do it justice in a letter. Instead if sort of hangs around by my bedside, and I continue to enjoy it with a guilty sense that I ought to Pay My Dues for
stuff likethis. Other fanzines have forced this sort of feeling and lingered with me in
the same way, notably the last IZZARD and a particularly bumper issue of METAPHYSICAL
REVIEW .... I hope you like that company.|
As to actual content, I do think you're getting better. Perhaps because you're obviously able to take a longer view, the coverage of old TAFF wars reads as substantially more balanced and fair than that of the 1984 Horror in THE STORY SO FAR. There is a curiously comforting feeling, too, in knowing that stuff is at last being pinned down... that fragile primary sources are being well summarised by you and saved in imperishable disk files for the Future. Obviously I approve of the introduction of source notes this time around. Even better is the feeling of continuity resulting from old (and remarkably untired) fans who were there. As in physics, one sees the first rough approximation of History being corrected by a series of small perturbations from later input, asymptotically approaching the Real Truth. (Well, it's a nice thought. Pity that it never works that way: information is lost, people edit their memories in unconciously different ways, some small contradictions may never be resolved. Resign yourself to the inevitable.)
Got that right. In the earliest days of our research, back in 1987, Vince and I realised that the answers to queries we had sent some people were seriously at variance with each other, and often directly contradicted contemporary sources. It soon became apparent that the best way to handle things was to rely on contemporary references when.it came to names, dates, and places - particularly when there was corroboration from a second contemporary source - and only to approach individuals for memories where there were obvious gaps in the record or when we lacked the background to make sense of a contemporary reference. People's memories are fine for anecdotes, but pretty risky for dates. Fortunately, though, some people produced such a body of writing that it's possible to write all you need about them without needing to approach them at all. Walt Willis is a case in point, every quote and reference about him in THEN #2 coming from contemporary sources.Another possible typo: the third quotation on p.98 looks as though it ought to read "to put as much distance as possible between myself and..."`. Or something like that. (Do you mind this sort of stuff? I keep imagining all corrections being lovingly entered for the book version we all hope for one day. Time permitting, I'll gladly help with a final prose overhaul for any such purpose. You've improved hugely as regards writing clean prose, since the last time I assumed the mantle of rotten nitpicker...there are just a few places where the blue pencil itch begins to seize me)
I don't mind your nit--picking - I welcome it. And you are, of course, totally correct about that quote on p.98. That was just sloppy copying of the original on my part.ERIC BENTCLIFFE
Holmes Chapel, Cheshire.
THEN reminded me of things and events I'd completely forgotten about, and I'm sure your research is more accurate than my memory these days! However, there are a couple of minor (very) innaccuracies I think I can correct:
p.84, para 2: refers to Eddie Jones beina an early member of the Cheltenham Group. In
actual fact, he first joined the Liverpool Group who. from the mid-fifties, had
regular parties-here-and-parties-there with Eric Jones and the Cheltenham crowd, and many
personal friendships were formed between members of the groups. Following from this,
Norman Shorrock and gang honoured the Chaltenham Group by inducting them (almost all)
as Honourary ex-Chairman of LaSFaS (ECLSFS) it being deemed to be a very high honour
to become ex-chairman without having to first suffer the trauma of being Chairman!
In return, Cheltenham (and, in particular, Eric Jones and Bob Richardson) 'invented'
the Knights of St.Fantony to return the compliment. Both honours spread a bit!
p.89, para 8: Eric Jones wouldn't have collaborated on a fnz with Bill Parry. Eddie Jones might, but I'm more inclined to think it was John Ashcroft of Southport, a contemporary of Bill's and one who joined LiG around the same time. Last time I saw Bill (on a business trip to London) he was living on Queensway, handling PR for Suzi Ouatro and such, and still very interested in what was happening in fandom. He came to the first Brighton Worldcon, too, as I recall.
The reason why I dropped out of the NSFC mid-50's was that I'd had a taste of fan pubbing with SPACE TIMES, wasn't too happy with the club after the McFrenzy episode (he had this wild and quite wonderful idea of turning ST into a prozine under the Vargo Statten banner,..possibly he would have retitled it the VOLSTED GRIDBAN MAGAZINE, even), and that I found the Liverpool Group and the Romiley Fan Veterans & Scottish Dancing members much more fun - I don't think I was ever very sercon but many were and the NSFC at that time had two brothers who turned every meeting into an endless wrangle. Can't even recall their names now, but they were the very epitome of militant shop stewards. Don't think I was ever anti-London fans either....there were some I got on with (Vince, Ken, Tubb, etc.) some I didn't, but occasionally opinions stated put you in one camp or another-and that-becomes history!
Omissions? Difficult to know where to draw the line, I know, but some mention of the tape-respondence indulged in by many fans around the late-50's would be relevant, I think. Quite a lot of it was transatlantic in nature (I was in regular contact with Boyd Raeburn, Terry Carr, Ran Ellik, and Bill Rotsler, for example, as well as involved in several "round-robin" tapes) but also, I had regular tape-exchange with Walt Willis, Eric Jones, Bob Richardsan, and sundry others. It was an interesting additional fannish activity.
When you finally publish your definitive 1000 page History of Fandom (I'm joking... I think!), I do think some illustrations culled from the period's fanartists should be included. Neither a WEALTH OF FABLE (to any great extent) or THEN include much, and people like ATom, Eddie Jones, and Jim Cawthorn played such an important part in creating the fannish ambiance of the period that I consider this something that should be corrected. Not easy to do, I know, and not inexpensive either, but important yes.
My name gets quite a number of mentions - which is doubtless why THEN #2 was sent to me in the first place. Sometimes the mention rings a bell - oh yes, I remember that, a terrific weekend, and so on. Sometimes the mention rings no bell at all - it's probably quite correct, but I've simply forgotten it. (I destroyed most of my correspondence files yonks ago - they took up simply too much bulk - and most of my remaining fanzines went to Peter Roberts.)
SKYHACK, though, I remember as coming to
me rather than from me. I have a vague idea that Ella Parker had something to do with
it, though it may be three other people altogether. Or something.
So far as I am concerned, the 1960s were the fannish Golden Age. (I think they would have been even had Beryl not happened to me then.) And during the second half of ' that decade, Beryl and I found ourselves constituting something of a focal point in British fandom. We were part of, or in close touch with, an assortment of sub-groups (some geographical, some - one might say - cultural) each distinct though mostly overlapping in a somewhat complex pattern with us somewhere in the middle.
Probably the oddest sub-group was what became vaguely known as Kinkay (sic) Fandom. This consisted of youngsters of both sexes - late teens and early twenties - whose principal literary interest was weird/horror fiction. Some of them tended to lead rather weird/horror-type lifestyles, too. But they all admired Mary Reed (now Long, and long-domiciled Stateside) who was something of a focal point herself. And since she was a close friend of Beryl's this made us, improbably, persona gratae with Kinkay Fandom. We still keep in touch with Mary, incidentally.
We stopped being a fannish focal Point with our move to Cornwall in 1970.
How did fans react to "Quatermass", I know the Goons had a go at "Quatermass and the Pit". Was there no mention of any of this in fanzines? I'd be surprised if there were none.
Damn! The italic golf ball just broke on me - hence this shift to scriptt. Qucatermass was mentioned, but that was all. There were no articles, so far as I could discover, despite the popularity of the show with the genenal public. Since the fans of the day were all print-oriented, I suppose their casual attitude to it makes sense. Media fans as we know them didn't really arrive on the scene until the start of the 1970s.Finally, fannish fandom seems to me to be on the verge of a crisis reminiscent of the mid-fifties. The number of school-leavers is going to fail dramatically over the next few years. I don't really see the BSFA as an answer to the problem of attracting fans when so many other aspects of fandom are more immediately attractive than fannish fandom. Any ideas? The last time I suggested something, I was told that if I were a fannish fan rather than a media fan I would know why it was ridiculous. So where else are the new fannish fans going to come from?
Beats me. The question is being asked here and there, but nobody has any answers.WAHF: Beryl Mercer, Jonathan Waite, Terry Jeeves, Dennis Tucker, Abi Frost, Ted Tubb, John Dallman, Glen Warminger, Dick Lynch, Sid Birchby, Ken Cheslin, Peter Roberts who wrote: "Triffic. I should write a vast LoC - but I'll trade you some fanzines instead. They're a bit old, I'm afraid". Those old zines were half a dozen copies of FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST that have now been combed for info and passed on to Vince, Steve Holland, Ethel Lindsay, Ian Williams, Eric Williams, Michael Bernardi, Mike Ashley, Ian Covell, Sydney J.Bounds, Irwin Hirsh, and John D.Rickett who wrote: "This might sound daft, but one doubtless unexpected result of your work is that 'The Ilford Recorder', hitherto unregarded, now fairly leaps to my attention as it sits on the local newsagents' counters." Thank you one and all for writing.