The 1954 British National SF Convention was held at the Grosvenor Hotel in Manchester, over the Whitsun weekend, Saturday 5th - Sunday 6th June (after this, the national convention would be held over Easter weekends). The hotel is now long gone and no one saw fit to take an exterior photo of it, but there's a history page on it with photos here:
The following report has been edited together from those written by Walt Willis, Vince Clarke, Dave Newman, and Eric Bentcliffe, with a couple of minor bits from other places, in an effort to give as complete a picture of the convention as possible. My own comments and bridging pieces are in italics. Source notes and acknowledgements can be found here
Most of the photos are from the A Vincent Clarke collection, with additional photos as sourced by Peter Weston who put enormous efforts into scouring the country and assembling an indispensable archive of UK fan photos. He was also been responsible for identifying many of those in said photos, faces to whom we might not otherwise have been able to put names. In many instances, we do not know who the photographers were since fans at the time would share photographs around and the same pictures show up in several collections. Other collections these are from: (ns) Norman Shorrock, (eb) Eric Bentcliffe, (tj), Terry Jeeves, (jl) Jim Linwood.
Here are links to pages devoted to the individual days and also to a few 'sidebars'.
The shop door swung to behind me and I walked casually across to the counter. It was a big toy-shop and there were four assistants. I selected my victim, a gullible looking female and flashed her a smile. I knew I'd have to turn my charm on 100% to get away with this.....
"I'm looking for a present for my kid-brother," I lied glibly. "It's
his birthday next week and he's rather keen on a water-pistol. I wonder...?" I left it at that;
surely the girl would guess the implication? Her negative stare convinced me. "A water-pistol,"
I repeated heavily.
"Here's one at 1/6..." I rejected it instantly with a shudder.... imagine facing the Northern
hordes with that feeble looking effort. UGH!
It wasn't a special occasion - there was no birthday and I have no kid brother, brother or sister. Thank Lewis the Elder.
"Well, we've got this one - but it's rather expensive..." My eyes glazed over with admiration, as
I drank in the wondrous beauty of the object she held before me.....
I took it from her and handled it gently, running my eyes lovingly over the smmoooth lines.... (anyone caught making cracks about this will get IT at the Supermancon) .... It looked perfect. I paid up and left the shop. I hurried home and with beating heart filled it - and tested it.
Yes, it does fire one thousand rounds with one filling. Yes, it does drive half the shot into spray and the rest into a white foam! At least, that is when it's used at two feet range.
It is undoubtedly THE weapon, and I couldn't feel more secure at the thought of going to Manchester.
-- Brian 'Gunner Cade' Lewis:
We are, my friends, about to witness a fannish holocaust of dimensions undreamed of in the history of fandom. In a few days from now I shall set sail for the scene of the drama. In case I do not return I am casting this manuscript adrift in a sealed envelope so that you will know what happened and that I died a martyr to the great traditions of fan conreporting.
It all started with the rise of Northern English fandom a couple of years ago, when the serious and constructive Manchester Group became the strongest fan organisations in the country. Like all organisms it carried within itself the seeds of its own destruction - it began to think of holding Conventions. It did in fact hold a small one in 1953 the "Mancon." In spite of appeals for help at the National London Convention earlier in the year, not a single Londoner turned up. The Northerners' feelings were hurt. They accused the Londoners of being apathetic and selfish. The Londoners retorted by criticising the Mancon publicity, claiming they'd never heard of the thing. Some even hinted that no convention run by dull-witted Northerners could be worth attending.
Consequently the Northern fans came to last year's London Convention with chips on their shoulders. Some of these were immediately splintered to matchwood by Bert Campbell, editor of the promag Authentic. Observing Bea Mahaffey in conversation with a group of Northerners, he was heard to utter the historic words: "For Ghod's sake somebody rescue Bea from those bloody provincials!"
This seems to have been accepted as a declaration of war. The Northern fans sat sullenly through the proceedings, noting every hitch and mishap in the official programme with a sort of grim satisfaction, and then went home to write bitter scathing convention reports with titles like "A Bloody Provincial At The Fiascon." These were some of the politer phrases that were used. Others were "shambles... chaos...flop...disgrace." All would be different, they implied, when they ran the National Convention. They had a name all ready for it. 'The Supermancon.'
Seeing that they actually were eager to take over this responsibility, the Londoners gladly surrendered it. They were only too pleased to get rid of the White Horse's burden. For years they'd been running the National Convention, and they'd got neither profit nor thanks for it. They were delighted to have the opportunity to sit back for a change and see what sort of hash their critics would make of the job.
Meanwhile the Northern fanzines kept on publishing their convention reports. All of them hammered away at the inefficiency and muddle of the organizers, and none of them gave the Londoners any credit for the months of work they'd put in nor to the fact that in reality the '53 London Convention had had more bright and original ideas than any convention in the history of fandom. Their smugness began to annoy people; some of them began to think it might be fun to pull the Northerner's serious and constructive legs.
In September '53 the Belfast group invited London fan Vince Clarke to the Oblique House, The affair was treated as a Convention (Robert Bloch, Shelby Vick and others also having been invited but unfortunately unable to attend) and there was an official programme. Item #6 was "In Secret Session: Proposals for brightening up the Supermancon." We found that the idea had already occurred to some of the London Circle. We kicked around a lot of wild and hilarious ideas, but when Vince Clarke went home we thought that would be the end of it, It is an axiom in Irish fandom that the London Circle never get anything done unless they have to.
So we were quite surprised when some weeks later we got a London Circle oneshot. With circulation restricted to the London Circle, and Irish fandom as 'neutral observers", it was headed 'Operation Armageddon. Bulletin One. A Plan To Brighten Up The Supermancon Without The Co-operation Of The Manchester Group.' There were two pages of suggestions for doing this, most of them thought up in Belfast, and they included:
Well of course most of these ideas are just fanciful creations of a mischievous imagination, not to be taken seriously and highly unlikely to be put into practice. We thought the whole scheme was like that, laughed at it for a bit, and forgot about it. For the first time in our fannish existence, we had underestimated the London Circle. Just the other day we got Operation Armageddon pt2 and found out that the London Circle are still on the ball. There are two more pages of suggestions, like:
In addition to this, a determined effort is going to be made to get the Convention Committee drunk. Special drinks reinforced with absolute alcohol and with names like "Martian Dew," "Venusian Swampwater" and "Old Spacedog" are being compounded for this purpose by Ted Tubb, who must now be know as Bathtub Ted. There are 25 Londoners travelling overnight by road. They've booked a suite at the hotel and plan an all-night party, for which they are issuing exclusive passports. The Northerners don't know anything of the London Circle plans, but one group of them, the Liverpool fans, have pulled off quite a coup. They've booked the lounge of the hotel and got the management's permission to hold their all-night party there, I wonder what the chances are that the Londoners will have their party closed down at an early hour and will force their way into the lounge. When you reflect that the last British regional convention, the 1953 Medcon, was by all accounts just one running zapgun fight [zapgun = water pistol], you realize that literally anything can happen. In addition Peter Hamilton, the Convention Chairman, is already at daggers drawn with the London pro editors, the Northern fans have split into two warring factions, and the new editor of their official zine has resigned and thrown in his lot with the Londoners.
I doubt if Northern English fandom will survive this Convention - I only hope that British fandom will. Irish Fandom will do its best. As soon as the Con starts I intend to put on a badge labelled "Innocent Bystander," On the second day I may change this to "Non-fan." If there *is* a second day.
And to think I used to complain that British Conventions were dull!