CYTRICON, the 1955 UK national science fiction convention was held at The George Hotel in the town of Kettering, the first postwar UK con to be held outside a major city. It was also the first to be held at easter. Despite us now referring to them all collectively as Eastercons, those earlier postwar cons were actually held at Whitsun.

Total attendance at the convention was around the 115 mark. Not all who registered beforehand attended, and not all who attended registered beforehand. The list of confirmed attendees below was gleaned from conreports and photos.

Don Allen
John Ashcroft
Mal Ashworth
Ron Bennett
Eric Bentcliffe
Irene Boothroyd
Syd Bounds
John Brunner
Daphne Buckmaster
Ron Buckmaster
Pam Bulmer
Ken Bulmer
Brian Burgess
Alan Burns
Bert Campbell
Meredith Chatterton
Harry Clements
Vince Clarke
Dave Cohen
Denny Cowen
Tony Cooper
Cyril Evans
Frances Evans
Pat Everest
Joy Goodwin
John Hall
Peter Hamilton
Paul Hammett
Chuck Harris
Bill Harrison
Terry Jeeves
Eric Jones
Tony Klein
Ethel Lindsay
Mike Mansfield
Shirley Marriott
Archie Mercer
Frank Milnes
Eric Needham
Dave Newman
Stan Nuttall
Sheila O'Donnell
Nic Oosterbaan
John Owen
Dave Page
Ken Potter
Dorothy Ratigan
Jim Ratigan
Peter Reaney
John Roles
Pete Royle
Sandy Sanderson
Ina Shorrock
Norman Shorrock
Frank Simpson
Ken Slater
Pete Taylor
Arthur Thomson
Ted Tubb
Brian Varley
Mike Wallace
Norman Wansborough
Norman Weedall
Eddie White
Madeleine Willis
Walt Willis
Dave Wood
Cathie Youden
This composite report derives from those by Walt Willis and Chuck Harris published in HYPHEN #14 (June 1955, ed. Willis and Harris), and a condensed version of that by Don Allen in SATELLITE #6 (Summer 1955, ed. Allen). Full, uncut versions of these can be found on Greg Pickersgill's very useful website here.

Thursday 7th April

Walt & Madeleine Willis and Ethel Lindsay broke their journeys to the con - from Belfast and Glasgow respectively - to stay overnight with Harry & Marion Turner at their home in Romiley, a village about ten miles from Manchester. Harry reported the visit the fourth issue of NOW & THEN (which styled itself as 'further proceedings of the ROMILEY FAN VETERANS AND SCOTTISH DANCING SOCIETY') thus:

Our first Annual General Meeting was remarkably well attended; from Belfast, Glasgow and the outer wastes of Stockport, members made the pilgrimage. Ethel Lindsay has promised support for our Scottish Dancing section now that she is a fully-fledged member, Madeleine Willis has aroused interest in Irish Folk Dancing, and Fran Evans plans to introduce Clog Dancing.

Ethel Lindsay got those who were there to sign her newly-awarded membership card, but there appear to be a bunch of additional names too, suggesting a small meeting may also have taken place at Manchester's Picadilly train station the following morning:

The signatures I can make out are those of the Willises, Harry & Marion Turner, Dave & Freda Cohen, Phil A Sless, Dan Morgan, Cyril & Francis Evans, Eric Needham, Syd Bounds, Eric Bentcliffe, and Sandy Sanderson. Harry's report continues:

Tea was over. The Ceremonial Ritual of Cleansing having been performed with Ghod [Walt] doing the washing-up and the two Erics doing the drying while the Ladies noted after their labours, the first-ever Annual General Meeting of the RFVASDS opened. The subject veered round to the problem of radioactive waste products. "What's the be done with the stuff?" asked Eric. "Dump it in the sea," suggested Ethel. "Bury it in disused mines," said Frances, "....or fire it into the sun," chimed in the Bentcliffe. "There are lots of deserts doing nothing," commented Madeleine.

Silence fell. We looked expectantly at Walt. He looked expectantly at us.

We all looked at Eric to see that farfaraway look in his eye which hinted that the question had been purely rhetorical. In the patient tones of a window-cleaner who has seen many, many things, he complained:

"No thought of employing the stuff as a *profitable* sideline ever occurs to the Ministry of Supply, since this concern is never expected to show a profit and can bleed the taxpayers to death without worry. Yet it is in this respect that the M.O.S. can show its respect for the taxpayer. Television and the cinema have made you all familiar with the curious method of preserving food by exposing it to hard radiation from radio-cobalt. After exposure, all decomposition is arrested because the decay-causing fungi and bacteria have slain outright, often to the accompaniment of suitable sound effects.

"Obviously, a radio-active coffin would preserve in all its dignity and splendour the corpse of any taxpayer for whom the Government had any regard. And it is well known that Bob Bloch is a fine, upstanding, virtuous citizen and, in addition, the world's only Stakhanovite Taxpayer."

"Only think how it will simplify morticianship, and how Robert Bloch could be preserved for posterity with all his internal economy intact. An even more appealing thought is the use of a radio-active casing for him, enabling Bloch himself to be placed on a plinth in public, instead of a stupid statue, in the certain knowledge that radio-activity would obviate the pigeon problem."

"So Be It," intoned the congregation.

The last members had caught their trains and buses, and residing guests had gone to bed....

Friday 8th April


Kettering, like Kew in lilac time, is not so far from London. It's a sleepy sort of place, and prior to this Easter its only real claim to fame was that the Baptist Missionary Society was founded there in 1792. It's just the sort of place that you would expect the Baptist Missionary Society to be formed in too, - a rural market town full of sober-minded people all happily minding their own business and living their quiet, uneventful lives. Nothing like the Convention has ever happened to it before - and the local Watch Committee are probably making plans to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again....

Denny Cowen and Norman Wansborough. (ns)

By the time I'd gotten around to writing for room reservations the George Hotel had been completely booked out, but Denny Cowen had found me a room in the Royal - a rather genteel place a few yards further along the road - the most remarkable hotel I've ever been in. (I have been in six hotels in my life and am speaking from vast experience.). There was a sort of vaguely Victorian air about it, and I was fascinated to find bells in the foyer for summoning the Boots and the Ostler.....and I would have offered even money that a Sam Weller character would have answered the latter if it had been rung. However, I got a very fine double room with a good view of the Corn Exchange and the Market Place, as well as a free tin of liver salts and a copy of "The Testaments and Psalms" (courtesy of the Commercial Travellers' Christian Association.)

I didn't stick around the Royal to read The Book though - I prefer sf to fantasy, and anyway I had a date. Mal Ashworth was bringing his girl-friend to the Convention. Mal's Gal, Sheila O'Donnell, (guess where she comes from, hooley?) had arranged to meet me in The George as soon as she checked in. I had never seen her before, but I was to recognise her by an Irish sixpence that she would wear on a chain around her neck. Well, naturally, I wasn't going to waste time in The Royal when I could be out looking for sixpences - I have my fannish reputation to think of. I dropped my case onto the bed, polished my new glasses, and sprinted down to The George.

Sheila arrived just after the thirty-second crucifix and about ten seconds ahead of the tar and feather brigade. She is a dish - just twenty years old and as pretty as paint. She has a twenty inch waist and the dammedest grey/blue/green eyes you ever did see. This was real genuine HYPHEN material, - the sort of talent us active faneds are always on the lookout for, but, for some reason or other, Ashworth doesn't seem to trust me. Before I could get really close to those purty green-speckle eyeballs he'd caught each of us by one elbow and was piloting us out of the hotel in search of food. "You look starving," he said as he wiped the drool from my mouth.


After an interesting journey through, round, along and under some mountains which concealed themselves so haughtily in clouds that I assume they must have been the Pique District, the special early train from Manchester carrying Frances & Cyril Evans, Ethel Lindsay, Frank Simpson, Madeleine and a few hundred less interesting people, including me, arrived at the base camp from which the ascent into Kettering may be attempted. Scorning the assistance of native porters the expedition eventually mounted to the George Hotel....a mere 20 minutes after Dave Cohen, who had foolishly waited for the ordinary late train. We watched as he masterfully unsettled the booking arrangements for his party and at length I was provided with a key like that for a baronial castle, attached to a length of a drawbridge. I dragged it and our two suitcases up to our room. Pausing only to make sure it had an unoccupied bed we went downstairs again to be greeted by Chuck Harris, Joy Goodwin, and Vince Clarke. It was now clear what had happened to the Clarke follicles, who had not been heard from for some time. Desperate after years of wandering through vast echoing caverns, the few survivors had made a misguided sortie out onto his upper lip, where he new bore a sort of crew-cut moustache. I entered Chuck's book title contest with "The Weird Shadow Over Vincemouth" and we all went and sat in the corner.


We got back from our meal just in time to catch Walt and Madeleine checking in, along with the Manchester and Scottish contigents. Everybody seemed to have arrived although the convention wasn't due to start until the next day, and the bar was just one big reunion scene with everybody holding six conversations simultaneously. We all went in for a drink, but the place was packed tight and it was impossible to sit down and talk.

The packed bar. (avc)


Among the large but select company were Mal Ashworth and a young lady with the fine old North Country name of Sheila O'Donnell and a nice line in humour. (As a married man I do not of course notice such things but I am assured by the President of the Union of Fully Certified Sex Maniacs, a Mr. Harris, that her other lines are commendable too.) There were also Ron Bennett, who seemed much nicer than last year and who was to become the first fan to play Rugby at a Convention out of doors, Brian Varley (who is not married), Denny Cowen, Convention Secretary, and lots of other very agreeable people. Dave Cohen engaged Denny Cowen in conversation and Chuck called to the latter across the room "Dave giving you some tips on how to run a Convention?", adding in a reflective aside audible only on the ground floor, "Fans have short memories, haven't they? Look at people talking to Cohen." He then went on to speculate on the fact that Ted Tubb was engaged in earnest conversation with Frances Evans. I told him Frances was married. "That's all right", said Chuck. "Ted isn't superstitious."

Note the helicopter beanies being worn. (avc)

The scene here in the bar lounge was picturesque in the extreme. Everyone seemed to be wearing helicopter beanies, all home made and each more picturesque than the next. Sheila wore hers, a double prop job, through the streets of Kettering without attracting more than cursory attention....which is a commentary on women's hats. Eric Jones's was by far the most imposing, incorporating as it did a radar antenna, several Van Der Graaf generators and a spaceship complete with launching bowl.' He didn't so much wear it as shelter beneath it. During the official programme Terry Jeeves lit a small fire under the spaceship. It presented a most imposing sight but Eric Jones remained oblivious, even when Burgess came up from the back of the hall and extinguished the conflagration with his zapgun.

The presence of all these helicopter beanies.... far more than can be seen at a dozen American Conventions....was fascinating to the fan historian. The helicopter beanie was first introduced to fandom by Ray Nelson and (I think) George Young many years ago, but they've never been conventional headgear in America as they now are in British fandom, and they owe their currency, it seems to me, solely because of their convenience as a recognisable symbol for fan artists - mainly Lee Hoffman. As with Conventions themselves, British fandom is acting out what US fandom only dreams.

Norman Wansborough, Ina Shorrock. (ns)

After a while the strain of carrying on seventeen different conversations at once began to get too much for me and I thought I'd take a quiet stroll over to the Convention Hall. I've never yet been able to have a good look at Convention exhibits. I was making my way past groups of people at a speed of about two knots an hour when Pete Taylor ran up to me with an "Is-There-A-Doctor-In-The-House?" expression and told me that three local people in the bar were perplexed about the beanies and wanted enlightenment. He dragged me in front of three well-dressed matrons and promptly scampered off the sinking ship. I gave the three good ladies a brief synopsis of the history of Defiant Goshwowboyohboyism (of which I take the beanie to be a facet) from 1939 to date. They seemed reassured, which was more than could be said for me. My nerves finally shattered by this experience, I gathered a little party consisting of Madeleine, Chuck, Sheila & Mal and fled upstairs in search of peace and quiet. We found it in the dark and deserted Residents' Lounge. We lit one of the table lamps and talked contentedly in the little tent of light until gradually other people began to arrive.


We went up to the Lounge and had our first encounter with Boris. He was the Night Porter. We probably never found out his real name. He had a spinal deformity and a heart as big as his hump. He delivered tea, coffee, and drinks at all hours of the night, and although he must have made more in tips during the weekend than he usually makes in a couple of months, he was worth every penny of it. He had a flair for conventions and there was none of the nonsense that we had with the day staff who delivered were tea and coffee in small and fancy electroplated pots. Boris brought it up a gallon at a time and usually had a dirty joke to go with it. He's a far bigger asset to the George Hotel than the hot and cold water in all bedrooms, and should be certain of a job with Tucker if Bob ever gets around to building his joint [a reference to the long-proposed Tucker Hotel of legend].


The size of the party increased according to the well known exponential law governing Convention functions, until the hideously inevitable Burgess manifested itself. Chuck, resourcefully, immediately sent him away for some tea. He came back with some story about it not being available until half ten. Recklessly, Chuck told him to go and find Wansborough and Reaney and bring them up too. He was more successful in this quest and presently ushered in Wansborough, just after Ken Slater had rung for tea again. Aghast, Ken exclaimed "That wasn't what I rang for!"

Shortly afterwards I thought we might as well go to bed. As I was escorting Madeleine out we passed by Norman Wansborough. He leaned forward confidentially and said, "Walt, I wish I was in your shoes." I told him I wouldn't be wearing any, and went on out. Though now I come to think of it, this was a mean and selfish attitude. Why shouldn't we share these things with those of our friends who are less fortunately situated? I shall send Norman a pair of my old shoes by the very next post.


Along with the tea that we ordered came the rest of the refugees from the bar. It was better and quieter up here, and fans forgot their zap guns and sat around to talk before trickling off to bed. Soon after midnight Madeleine and Walt went to bed for the first time and I went back to The Royal.


When we got to bed I found that my body didn't agree with my mind that this had been a sensible thing to do. After lying awake for an hour I got up again, put on my jacket, trousers and shoes over my pyjamas, and went out in search of fannish good cheer. I was nearly knocked down by a fan swaying from side to side and looking for the lavatory. I directed him to the door marked "Bath", figuring he couldn't miss it, and continued on to the Residents' Lounge. There was a small party there, consisting of Ken Slater, Dave Cohen, Brian Varley (who is not married), Archie Mercer, Mike Wallace, and John Brunner. Ken Slater was anxious to talk about TAFF but the atmosphere wasn't suitable for sober discussion. I had locked our bedroom door after me lest Madeleine should be awakened by drunks looking for their room or Wansborough wanting to try on my shoes, and after a while I went back to make sure all was well. To my remorse I found a note lying in the corridor. It read "SOS. Walter has locked me in and I'm dying of thirst. Would someone please tell him to bring me a drink." I went in and was told that the hotel taps provided only hot & cold running chlorine, and went out again for a glass of cider.

Having stayed her with flagons and comforted her with apples, like it says in The Bible, I went back to the Lounge, where I had the privilege to be present at the most historic intervention of a Night Porter in Convention annals. He shambled onto the scene at 2.45am. We had been making a fair amount of noise and were prepared for the usual retribution to overtake us. Everyone had practically thrown themselves out before he opened his mouth. When he did we could scarcely bring ourselves to believe what he was saying, but eventually it seeped into our numbed brains that the unthinkable was happening. There was no reproving reference to "complaints" from that mysterious horde of antifans who furtively follow us from Convention hotel to Convention hotel spoiling our innocent fun by selfishly trying to sleep. There was no Message From The Manager. No tactless reference to the lateness of the hour. No sinister suggestions about non-residents. Instead the man was talking about science fiction. He was a fan... .at least of the BBC program Journey Into Space. Actually he looked more like a Weird Tales fan-in fact he looked like a weird tale but Boris, as he came to be called, was a very fine fellow. There was a proposal that he be appointed Official Night Porter to British Conventions and be provided with his own travelling coffin.

Eventually I went to bed again, about 3.30am. Next day someone asked me how I'd enjoyed the previous night and I said, "Fine: I went to bed twice." "Yes", said Madeleine, "and with the same woman."