This is an extract from a long, rambling memoir that Ken submitted to PULP back in the
day. Far too long to use, and requiring extensive editing, it lay forgotten in my files
until a recent clear-out unearthed it - Rob
SADO and the 1960s Brum Group - a memoir
by Ken Cheslin (1989)
Being a Roman Catholic school my place of learning drew its pupils from a larger catchment area than ordinarily would have been the case. So when I say that I had one set of mates at school, but another set at home, I was not alone. Do I have to explain that this was because of the distance from school?
As fate would have it my mates at home were Pete Davies and Mike Kilvert. The reason for this was that we three were - how shall I put it - slightly more middle class that the other kids in our area. I mean, we read books. In fact it was Mike who introduced me to 'Swallows and Amazons' around the age of eight, when I was already somehow signed up with the local library.
I had discovered some SF before I got into the RAF, but it was not until I was working for the local paper (I really wanted to be a reporter) as an under paid dogsbody that I really discovered prozines - or I should say that they were discovered to me. There was a chap there called Jack (no relation to the Jack who later became a SADO member) and he revealed to me the treasures of the market book stalls where you could buy AUTHENTICs, VARGO STATTEN mags, and others. I picked up a copy of (was it) THRILLING WONDER there which featured the Sturgeon 'Dreaming Jewels' story. I also liked the nubile and scantily clad ladies depicted on the covers. Anyway, when the RAF posted me to Worksop I lost no time in finding the local market, which was a regular treasure trove. They usually had more items for sale than I could afford, but when I went home on leaves I'd always be lugging a couple of very heavy holdalls stuffed with my latest batch of acquisitions.
I got demobbed November 1957, after which I worked for General Electric for about 18 months, installing automatic telephone exchanges. Around 1959ish I got a job, more or less by mistake, in a steel processing plant near home. In the meantime I had met up with my old mates Pete Davies and Michael Kilvert again. They read SF too, though Mike and me were the more enthusiastic.
We tried to get other members for SADO [the Stourbridge and District Circle] and even offered, not understanding the set up, to form a Stourbridge chapter of the BSFA. We secretly inserted dupered sheets in SF books at the local library, and I think advertised in NEW WORLDS. Pete was the first to be contacted, maybe we gave his address. When I arrived one day he said he'd had a visitor, a bloke on a motorbike all bundled up to the ears. This turned out to be Tony Hill, who was a sort of shorter John Cleese, and also a bloke at the end of Pete's street had been enquiring. This was Jack Raybould.
One day Mike arrived waving a NEW WORLDS in which the BRUMCON at the Imperial in Brum was advertised. We were tres excited at this, and it being so near home we decided to have a basinful. I am pretty sure that we commuted to this con - I never did again, until BECCON, cuz of what one misses by not staying at the hotel.
I still had my old RAF best blue. I sent this off to get dyed black, and sewed fake medals on it, intending to wear it to the advertised fancy dress, as some sort of space thingy. When it came to the trying on though the uniform wouldn't fit any of us except Pete, so he got to wear it. I remember the Imperial as dark, with dark wooden panelling, and potted palms lurking in the corridors. I seem to recall being told that the membership of the con was 42. I remember very little. There was a Doc Hammett I think, who bought a telescope, and other faces swim about in my mind, but my memory might be playing me false. What I do remember was how thrilled I was to find so many like minded people, it was like coming home ...and of course there were the fanzines. Immediately I wanted to do a fanzine.
At the con, perhaps because we were so immature and neoish, we thought it great to have nicknames. Mike, because he was keen on cameras at the time, became Mike "Tripod" Kilvert; Pete, on the strength of winning the tea drinking contest, became Peter "Tea" Davies; and me, being a Goon fan, added 'Spinge' to my name. Ghod only knows what a spectacle we presented. I'm pretty sure we must have gone around exclaiming "Spinge!" because it was Ella Parker who said something like, "Spinge would be a good name for your fanzine cuz you went around Spingeing at the con." This may well have been in a letter.
By the time we actually produced an issue it had become LES SPINGE. For some unfathomable neoish reason we decided that we had to have a sort of Harrison-type mentor and super hero, founder of the SADO, so we made up Leslie P Hinge - though we didn't push the idea hard or for long. The first issue - ah, also aaarrrgghh!! Mike did the cover, it was supposed to be symbolic of man reaching for the stars, an Earth, a planet or two, and stylised stars, with a line from Earth, to planet, to star. I can only say that at the time we considered Mike our best artist. Pete came up, after a lot of arm twisting, with a bloody awful piece of science fiction. After Spinge went out he confessed that he couldn't think what to write so he had cribbed it from some prozine. I didn't slay him on the spot, though I thought about it. Another item was written by Pete's mum, disguised as 'Smallholding' (her maiden name was Holding and she was small). As far as I remember it was childhood reminiscences.
Having no duper, we sent Spinge off to Ron Bennett. Unfortunately we had typed it on funny Emgee stencils using a typer long overdue for the museum or the scrapheap. This was not the Spinge typer of other issues, which I paid £17 for and which lasted me until a year ago when I dropped it and broke a vital part, but one that cost me £3. Ron did something to reconstruct the stencils - I think he might have stuck Gestetner headers on them. We mailed the issue out and waited to become famous. We had a letter from Bob Tucker, a "scholar and a gentleman", as we say around here, which converted me into a lifelong fan and admirer.
Pete had this little front bedroom which we took over as our clubroom. We bought artwork, anything cheap, and put our (or some of our) books there. Sometime around here the London Symposium was held. That may be where I heard Mike Moorcock's never-to-be-forgotten guitar rendering of 'We Met On The Steps Of A Moscow Latrine'. We stayed in a flop house, pardon me, a *hotel*, within spitting distance of Euston station for which we paid, two of us anyhow, eighteen shillings, the other room being sixteen shillings.
Mike had to go off to join the army for his National Service, but Pete did stay around fandom for a while. For years after that the SADO met at Tony Hill's house in Platts Road, Audenham, Stourbridge, one of a half dozen of houses in a street otherwise dominated by a glass works and smelly factories. I think at the time Tony worked as a manager in the glass factory. Later he became a sales rep and a publican and was last heard of with a post office in Shropshire.
I was the only one who became a full time active fan.
Jhim Linwood and Alan Rispin I always think of as fans of my generation, though both of them had been around some time. They both visited Stourbridge, maybe more than once. I went up to Irlam [where Rispin lived - Rob] for a get together one time by train. Couldn't see Alan waiting around the platform, and as I wandered around feeling lost Alan had me paged over the public address. Of that weekend I remember only that there were a lot of fans, all the younger sort at, Alan's place. The next morning Alan and I, stumbling over recumbent and slowly reviving bodies, cooked about half a ton of sausages.
Sometime after the 1959 BRUMCON I made contact with what grew to be the Brum Group. [The group was formed in 1961 - Rob] It must have been around then because when I had an accident working at the steel processing plant, Rog Peyton wrote hoping that it was a hoax. Hoaxes must have been at the forefront of fans minds just then I suppose. In a way I was lucky, I only lost my hand, another bloke working on the same line as me, while I was still in hospital, got knocked off his bike one foggy morning while on his way to work, and he was only a young man, with one or two children.
Of the then Brummies the names that spring to mind are Rog Peyton of course, and Pete Weston, Rod Milner, Mike Higgs, and Cliff Teague. Mike Higgs was a good artist. He did the backdrop for the '65 BRUMCON, and had a zine called SHUDDER. There were others, too. Rog was asking me not long ago if I remembered a bloke who came to the 5th November party at 18 New Farm Road, but I couldn't remember even his face.
For some time after my first contact with the Brum Group, they used to mount expeditions over to Stourbridge. I had a green mini-van and I recall one time when I drove half a dozen of the Brummies home in a blinding snowstorm, with huge lorries hurtling out of the driving snow, and cries of "we'll all be murdered in our beds" coming from the back of the van, bodies being hurled from side to side as the vehicle waltzed along the icy roads. Looking back, its a sobering thought that a paragraph or two of fannish history would have never happened if that van had come to grief.
At that time I was sort of leading a double life, on the one hand becoming more involved in fandom at large, while on the other we had these meetings of SADO every evening at Tony Hill's house. More than one fannish visitor experienced the happy chaos of our "meetings" as time rolled by. In the main though meetings at Tony's evolved into war games evenings. Oh, we did do fannish things, like when Tony was a rep for a photocopier firm he and I produced, by judicious cutting up of mundane magazines a sort of fanzine, five copies of it, called Les Bim. It sported such items as "Nappy Rash, the curse of the pharoahs", and a stick man cartoon strip by me. One time we sent a letter to Ron Bennett on some lovely red paper we'd got from somewhere written in pseudo-Chinese characters, interspersed with an occasional word in English, like SKYRACK and SUBSCRIPTION . We also enclosed some paltry sum in some foreign money. I'm sure this must have puzzled Ron. We hoped it would really croggle him, but it vanished into the mails and we never heard anything more about it.
Another time Mike Kilvert had read an article in ASF about Heironomous (sp?) machines, so we made one. One or two of us were half convinced we felt the supposed stickiness, but by and large it was not a success, at least not in that form. We did do a tape play wherein we made a bank of heironomous machines and a hole was supposed to have opened up through which someone on the other side shot an arrow. We also played hide and seek, but mainly war games. This went on until Tony moved to Shropshire years later (after 1970, I think).
Meanwhile I had widened my fannish activities and had contacts in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, but mostly in the US. During this time Dave Hale and later Darroll Pardoe appeared. LES SPINGE was going strong, I was in OMPA (eventually becoming AE a couple of times and, as far as I know the last President, in the 70's). Besides Spinge, I published a sort of letter substitute cum information sheet called NAZGUL'S BANE, to supplement the issues (of which there were four) of I-PALANTIR, the zine for a US Tolkien oriented group; and two or three issues of SALLY PORT. Sally was a zine of which I did alternately numbered issues with Dick Schultz, my best Stateside mate. He used to live in Detroit and did a lot of the artwork for my OMPAzines. WHATSIT ran to thirty and more issues and was my own personal OMPAzine, notable for my cruddy artwork, which I tried to alleviate or disguise by painstakingly colouring many of the cover illos with felt pens. I also tried what might be multicolour work one time using three different colour inks on one illo...and Spinge sported coloured paper and coloured inks, even to us trying a white ink on black paper cover once.
I remember buying the duper, named Cringebinder Publications, from a Gestetner rep, who had a hard time grasping the fact that I wanted it for a hobby and not to run a business. We had three spare ink pumps. When we changed colour we let the old ink run through, either to see what effect it would have, or to run off something like an OMPAzine where the strange result wouldn't matter so much.
A hell of a lot of the fun in running a fanzine was in playing about with things like that, trying the effect of one colour ink on several types of paper, then trying another colour ink. There were tricks to this ink changing, involving spludging inks of different colours directly onto the ink drum. You could get lines and splots of several different colours on one page that way. It was also quite useful when we got a bit more familiar with dupering techniques, because we could use differently coloured paper for different parts of Spinge. Dave Hale wasn't around for absolutely every issue of Spinge, but I always think of that time and Dave together. Dave in fact should be given most of the credit for whatever "fame" Spinge achieved. He did most of the editing and layout, gathering material, etc., while I remember myself mostly as financing Cringebinder Publications and the physical production side. This may be another argument for heredity inclinations, my dad having had a small printing business in Brum for some years after leaving the army.
Illustrative of our interest in experimenting with duplicating was a strip cartoon, probably drawn by Dick Schultz, which we had in Spinge (or one of my OmPAzines) which showed a converted mangle as the printing press. I experimented with my other zines too, of course. I did one not very successful cover with a spud cut. If I remember right this was an issue of WHATSIT I did at college, using a college machine for the rest of it.
Those were hectic times. Besides publishing zines and the locs, and rarer stories and articles, I visited around a bit, like Cheltenham, Liverpool, and The Penitentiary. All this makes the time run together for me and I have a hard time sorting out my memories of what happened when. Which is a good argument for keeping a diary. My letters and a lot of fannish stuff - fanzines, programme booklets souvenirs - got rained on one time when I had to store them in a garage, and what survived seems to have got lost over the years.
Another memory: walking along the Embankment (where there were some cannons) and some other London street with Ted Forsythe, George Locke, Pete Mabey, Don Geldart, Ella Parker and Ethel Lindsay... oh and others too. The only clear memory I have of Bruce Burn, apart from a photo taken at some place in London, is just before he left to return to New Zealand. He had come up from London to Stourbridge, probably making a last tour of the UK, on a moped. I have a picture of him wearing a bike helmet a scarf wrapped up to his nose, his legs encased in plastic bags, one hand on his heart, one foot on a bike pedal. I remember I went on ahead of him to guide him to the motorway.
I was, and am, a great fan of John "Goon" Berry, and like several other fans I wrote imitation Bleary stories. Well, sort of GDAish ones, anyway, also a couple of Sherlock Holmesish things, and a few filksongs. One of my proudest souvenirs was the CRY letterhack card, though I did think that it rather lessened the glory to get one after only one, perhaps two, letters.
I was in the BSFA too, where I invented the name TANGENT for the single issue of the fiction zine they published by then and ran the first circular off for the Doc Weir memorial award when Archie Mercer organised it. Which reminds me of what I always think of as "The Year of The Jackpot", 1965, when so many Brummies were active in OMPA, in the BSFA, and organising the 1965 BRUMCON. I never really felt I was one though, being more of an honorary Brummie. There was some doubt that year about having an Eastercon, it being the year the Worldcon was being held in London. Having two cons in one year was a great innovation then. It was felt by some that an Eastercon would be too much for fans to cope with along with the Worldcon, while others worried that they might not be able to get to, or afford. the Worldcon. The Brummies were willing to take the Eastercon on, though.
I forget what the numbers were for the BRUMCON, less than a hundred, perhaps seventy or as many as ninety. [Over a hundred registered, but according to SKYRACK final attendance was around seventy - Rob] We put out a progress report in the form of four issues of BRUMBLE, artwork by Mike Higgs almost exclusively. The actual programme booklet was one of Eddie Jones's, and the con badge, which I still think was a better design than most I've seen before or since, was also Eddie's. The Brummies being so active that year, led to someone, probably Charles Platt, making the comment that the Brummies thought they were the centre of the universe. There was little love lost between Charlie (as he hated to be called) and several Brummies, and we adopted his line as our slogan, BRUM IS THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE featured on a lot of our home-made badges. Harry Harrison was GoH at the BRUMCON and gave a talk on potty training, illustrated with a flip chart of illos. That was the con where Ted Tubb led a string of fans around the corridors, clinking beer bottles together and the whole conga line chanting "Go back to your wives" the significance of which still puzzles me.
Mike Higgs, who did BRUMBLE, published his own zine for a while called THE SHUDDER, he being an admirer of The Shadow. He also did a backdrop about fifteen foot square of Olaf fighting off a lot of little BEMs for the con. [Olaf was a cartoon viking of Ken's creation similar to 'Hagar the Horrible' but predating that character by a decade.] We produced the 62 page A CHILD'S GARDEN OF OLAF to coincide with that con. Dick Schultz did one illo but the rest were drawn by Mike, mostly from my ideas. Mike got into comics and was drawing a strip the last time I heard of him. But I went into college in '66 and lost a lot of contacts.
Of course '65 was Worldcon year, and I managed to get there. In fact sneaky old Dave Kyle paid me such attention that I was most flattered - then the St.Fantony ceremony took place and I found that Dave had been deputised to make sure I got there to undergo the ritual. Apart from that I remember only a little, and much the same can be said of the other cons I went to. I bashed in the front of the car I was driving going to one con, an early Peterborough one, or maybe Kettering. The Kettering one I remember for Ron Bennett's brag school, and buying a wooden wall plaque - an ancient Chinese gentleman - for my mum. I went to another at the Imperial, Brum. To the Bristol one, which was held in the hotel built in the form of two towers with a connecting bridge. The Giffard and the toast marathon where the idea of the OMPAcon was born. Darroll Pardoe was one of the breakfasters, I'm pretty sure, but I don't remember who else. That con, the OMPAcon I felt really proud about. I'd never heard of an APA running a con before. But somehow after the con OMPA began to fall apart and eventually, quite soon really, became defunct.
Further Notes - Darroll Pardoe|
SADO was pretty much in decline by the time the BSFG contacted us in 1961, although it had a 'ghost' existence for many years after because Ken Cheslin used to get together with Tony Hill in his pub (he became a publican) now and then and mull over old times.
The arrangement for publishing LES SPINGE was that Dave did the editing and typed the stencils and Ken was the publisher. Dave Hale was a student at Manchester University and as LES SPINGE grew bigger and bigger found its cost beyond him, so Ken stepped in and in effect subsidised it in return for being 'publisher' on the masthead.
The Black Spinge was certainly the cause of Dave Hale's gafia. However it wasn't so much the power-drill collation that made him lose interest as the extremely poor response he and Ken got to the issue. There were very few LOCs - it seemed as though fandom had been stunned into inertia. Also, Dave's fiancee had always taken a dim view of fandom and as their marriage approached I think she put the pressure on him. The 1965 Eastercon programme book had an RIP advert for LS in it.
I think perhaps the importance of Dave Hale in the fandom of the earlier half of the decade gets underestimated . Dave was an old school friend of mine: we discovered SF together around 1955/56 and came into fandom together via Ken Cheslin and SADO. While until 1964 my own fannish activities were constrained by working for my first degree at Cambridge, Dave (who went to university a year later than I did) was at Manchester and popped down to Stourbridge almost every weekend so kept in touch with Ken. I stand by my 1966 comment that given another year or two Dave would have taken LES SPINGE to a Hugo. He had a talent for detecting the pulse of fandom and putting it into print. I never claimed that my own fanzines were in any way a continuation of Dave's LES SPINGE. I bought the Cringebinder Gestetner off Ken in 1966 and both he and I thought that it would be nice to preserve the famous name, if nothing else, so by mutual agreement the rights in the title passed with the duplicator.
- letter to THEN, 11 May 1991