BULLCON - THE 1963 EASTERCONBULLCON the 1963 UK National Science Fiction Convention - the fifth to be run under the aupices of the B.S.F.A. - took place over the weekend of 12th April - 15th April, 1963. It was held at the Bull Hotel in Peterborough (see it today here), as it would also be the following year. Guest of Honour was Bruce Montgomery aka Edmund Crispin. In SKYRACK, Ron Bennett reported that: "this was the best attended British Convention to date, with over 130 avid fans gathering to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the British Science Fiction Association."
Officially the 1963 British Science Fiction Association Convention, it was called both 'Bullcon' and 'Petercon' in the Programme Book. 'Petercon' is the most sensible name for it in this writer's opinion, but it has come down to us as 'Bullcon'. In HYPHEN #33 (Jun '63), Brian Aldiss concludes his con report with "Yours, James, till the Repetercon", which appears to be the first use of that clever name for the 1964 Eastercon (and another reason why this one should be 'Petercon').
Report below edited together from those written by Brian Aldiss, Ron Bennett, and Brian Varley. Comments by me appear in parentheses and are italicised. Source notes and links to complete, unedited versions of those reports can be found here.
The photos presented herein come from the a variety of collections, though this doesn't mean a particular picture was taken by that person. The collection photos are from, where known, is noted in parentheses thus: (tj) Terry Jeeves, (el) Ethel Lindsay, (bb) Bruce Burn, (db) Dave Barber. As always, a tip of the hat to Peter Weston for identifying many of the people in these photos and for supplying them in the first place.
Here are links to pages devoted to the individual days and to convention literature.
On Friday, April 12th, 1963, I set out for my first convention. It was a bright, warm morning. Earlier on Gerry Webb had come round in his car to pick up my taper which I hoped to be able to use. Then I picked up my suitcase, filled with clean shirts and TENSORs, and set off. I had been fortunate enough to obtain a travel warrant from the army, which took me from Ealing Broadway to Peterborough North absolutely free. When I changed trains at King's Cross, I scoured the countryside looking for an Indian Restaurant, for I was absolutely drooling in anticipation of a Madras Meat, not having been able to afford one since Christmas. However it appeared that there were no available Indian-type nosh houses in the area. So I went back to the station and caught the 1.25, telling myself what a wonderful meal I would have at Peterborough. I spent most of the journey reading TENSOR , and trying to tell myself that it wasn't really as bad as all that.
(A 'taper' was a tape-recorder, and TENSOR was his own fanzine, the first issue of which he was distributing at the con. - Rob)
Soon the train drew up in Peterborough station, and I made my way down to the street. As I set off down the road, on the other side I saw a group of people who had just got off the same train. Now was that Jim Groves or not? (At this point I'd better say that the only fans I had ever met up until this time had been Jim Groves and Ethel Lindsay). I decided not to go over as I might have been mistaken (actually it was Jim, and one of the others was Brian Varley). I asked about a bit, trying to find an Indian Restaurant, but in each case the people concerned said that they had never heard of one in Peterborough. What, thought I, can it be that there are some places so far from the stream of civilisation that they cannot boast of even these most essential of amenities?
I had lost my copy of the East Fanglian Times containing the map, and the terrain seemed nothing like what I had remembered. However, after passing the thing about three times, I eventually found the 'Bull'. I registered for my room, and made with the unpacking. Then I ventured out and made my way down to the BSFA reception desk. The programmes had not yet arrived, so I lounged about the area. Suddenly a voice called out, “Are you Langdon Jones?” I looked, around and saw a young lady with a vaguely familiar face, I stood there in some amazement trying to think of who could possibly know me. It turned out to be Simone Walsh, who used to knock about with our little gang when I was about fourteen, I stood there amazed. Could this charming, self assured, attractive young lady be the adolescent kid I used to know? It made me realise with a shock how time can slip past when one is not looking. After a few questions on how the other members of our little group had been doing, I decided to explore the place a bit. I ended up in the fan display room. There I met Ethel Lindsay and Jim Groves, who were trying to turn out a page of forms on a little Emgee duper. I met more and more new faces and forgot more and more names, popping down now and again to see whether the programmes had arrived yet. I met Ella Parker who was sitting at the BSFA reception desk, and eventually received my programme. This was rather a funny procedure, rather like being doled out with army kit. One moved along the table and was given a programme, a souvenir pencil, a badge and a little Easter egg.
It's a strange feeling to attend a Convention again after a lapse of many years, part familiar, expected, part unexpected. A subtle change in the atmosphere has taken place, maybe roof -parties still abound, drunken pros still stagger through the corridors followed by their acolytes, Ken McIntyre still imbibes endlessly. The programme is always behind time, Norman Weedall's rosy glowing face still beams like a benevolent sun on all who come his way, yet still there is a change. Children have appeared on the scene giving the air of a family party. Husbands no longer feel the need to lock their wives in chastity belts, single girls ('nice' ones like Ethel) no longer carry hat-pins clutched firmly in trembling hand. Zap-guns belong to the "good old days" and we reminisce, half-wistfully, of the Bonnington, the Supermancon, bottles dropped down chimneys and massed assaults by porters. No bottle Parties now which, with considered cruelty, decree 'no charge' for young and lissom but 10 bob for the sad forties. The past is an echo and fandom, all considered, better for it.
Friday, a busy bustle of arrivals, the swirling stream occasionally clotting as fans meet to rejoice or enter solemn conclave, delightful to see so many well-remembered faces. Terry Jeeves, suffering badly from asthma, but still the same cheerful, matey Terry. Ron Bennett, in a blue double-breasted suit, bighod! The Shorrocks loaded down with cameras, programmes, and children and, of course, Ken McIntyre with his plastic portable bar, patiently awaiting opening time.
Frances and I escaped a while to view Peterboro' and, perhaps, obtain a cup of tea. A stroll down to the River Nene with a distant view of Bertram Hills Circus and the inevitable swans floating in the foreground. A cup of tea was taken, but virtually untouched, in the Granville Cafe. Stewed tea, battered cups, disgusting tablecloths and the electronic roar of a juke-box demolishing the ear-drums hurried us out.
What a change awaited us as we wandered under the arch into the Cathedral grounds. Impressive at first sight, set away from the traffic and surrounded by lawns and flowerbeds it does not disappoint on closer inspection. When some relief is needed from the smoke-laden air and alcohol fumes, then the whirling mind may well be soothed by the peace of the Close on the Cathedral's south side. This is indeed cloistered calm.
It was a great moment when our car rolled into Peterborough. Margaret and I were tired, for the roads were crowded right from Oxford, and it had been a constant battle to get through the Easter traffic. In fact, we travelled dual carriageway all the way.
The battle was over when we reached the Bull. At once we were shaking hands with old friends. Margaret and I arrived before twelve noon on the Friday, but already plenty of sf types had appeared. The first person we saw was Chris Miller, now going about disguised as himself without a beard. We got busy unpacking at once, helping Ken Slater and his noble gang to arrange the art display, and also bringing out my collection of wind-up dolls. I had a Bentcliffe doll - you wind it up and it appears late on Saturday; and a Dave Barber doll - you wind it up and it does a barber; and a Burgess doll - you wind it up and it sells you its key; and a Ron Bennett doll - you wind it up and it reports the event in SKYRACK next day; (lucky I have an Aldiss doll that winds me up and then I write this stuff without knowing).
The Bull's a good hotel, the best a convention has ever been housed in. The rooms in the new wings might have been built for con-goers. Towards evening, people were pouring in, including the Liverpool group, and soon Norman Shorrock was pouring in - his usual brew into tooth glasses. He brought over the stylishly produced Con programme in the 22-seater bus the group had hired for the occasion.
Margaret and I collected Edmund Crispin, Guest of Honour, from the station. His real name is Bruce Montgomery, and so I will call him throughout. We just had time to get him a drink before the first event.
Unlike most Guests of Honour, he has been a member of the Association for several years - I was the Treasurer to whom he paid his first subscription, in fact. All the more Honour to him.
The programme took place in a crowded upstairs hall of the hotel. There were two other Convention rooms. One of them (lockable) contained the professional displays and the artwork display, the other was a comfortable lounge which also contained displays in support of the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund.
Ken Slater bid us welcome, said a few appropriate words and handed over to Brian *W* Aldiss who interviewed many notable personalities and initiated the well-known act of Aldiss and Harrison, that lovable, knockabout comedy duo. Each interview was concluded with an attempt by the interviewees to identify a "famous last line" and many a heart was touched as Ted Tubb, with a tear in his eye, identified the last line of "Alien Dust". A poignant moment this. I might add here that Brian W Aldiss has been engaged to provide a Con report for HYPHEN. I understand that no effort is being spared to bring this out before the "London in '65" Con, which will, fortunately, occur in September of that year rather than the April.
The programme was opened at eight by Ken, who declared the bazaar open and warned us of some of the things we were to expect. Then I had my brief hour of glory before a backdrop splendidly painted and arranged by Mark Ashby of Wisbech, SKYRACK please note. (Which editor Ron Bennett did, claiming it depicted a scene from Aldiss's own 'Hothouse' - Rob.) I did a sort of "In Town Tonight" stunt, luring up to the microphone some of the notables from the audience. These included Ethel Lindsay, who besought us all to support TAFF by buying The Lindsay Report; Eddie Jones, who now has a lot of pro art brewing; Jim Groves who is going to dig himself a hole now that he has crawled from under VECTOR; Ella Parker, who was in most pleasantly jovial form throughout the Con; Ron Bennett, who told us that two hotels in Harrogate were having to be rebuilt; and a whole whack of pros, some of whom, even at this early stage, were experimenting with the effects of alcohol in the bloodstream.
Never were pros so thick on the ground, or do I mean floor, at an English Con. Here's the roll of horror: Ted Carnell, Tom Boardman. Geoff Doherty, Mike Moorcock, John Brunner, Mack Reynolds, Ted Tubb, Ken Bulmer, the French writer Max Jakubowski, Bruce of course, and the Danish ex-fan I have already been forced to mention, Harry Harrison. They all came up to the mike in turns. I forget what they all said; mainly it was propaganda, of course, but John Brunner's was certainly the most calculated to dismay other pros: he claimed he had written four books since Christmas.
At that, the meeting broke up in confusion, and Slater rushed in with the first auction session. Faintly, I allowed myself to be guided to the nearest bar. Let us, as they say, draw an ale over what followed. That was when the Con really began.
There was an auction conducted by Ken Slater, who, incidentally looked nothing like I had imagined him, I had visualised a tall, stooped, old ex-army type. It was interesting to meet these people I had read about, and to see how much they differed from what I had imagined. Ken Cheslin I had imagined as a very tall thin anaemic type, Archie Mercer as a young, freckle-faced schoolboy (no reflection on your writing, Archie, I think it was the name in most cases that gave me a picture of the people concerned). The only person who turned out remotely as I had imagined was Jim Linwood.
After the programme was over I had a look round the pro room, winning a very fine lavatory brush on a number machine, a sort of emasculated ERNIE, but, alas, no lavatory to go with it. There was a wonderful selection of artwork, and I would have hated the job of judging it. There was an interesting exhibit, stuffed miserably away in one corner, called "The Artwork of Aldiss", This contained many examples of - well – 'interesting' work. Like an old sandal mounted on a piece of wood, and called 'Progress'. And a piece of dyed tissue paper, Izal, I'm sure, called 'Epidermis'. A rather new angle on Leda and the Swan was given by the title of another picture called 'A Problem in Genetics'.
It was good to talk to Bruce again; I had not seen him for some years. He is a quiet, erudite man who has done a great deal to silence if not win over a lot of the pseudo-intellectual opposition that sf was meeting a few years ago, Margaret agreed with him that he was unbelievably handsome. It was good, too, to meet Mack Reynolds in the flesh with which he is so well provided. Mack's not at all the rugged, square-jawed type I had conjured up from those unique stories; nor did I hear a political reference from him throughout the Con, aside from a comment on the difficulty of getting a good Jugoslav Reisling in Madrid.
There were a lot of new faces. Far too many for me to remember, for the most part. Lang Jones who seems to have sprung from Ella's head as a full-grown trufan, is more memorable than most for that reason. To any of the rest of you who may be reading this, my apologies. From the first night onward I managed to have just enough to drink, and just enough sleep, to become an almost perfect case of walking euphoria. I wouldn't know, but I felt akin to the mescalin takers one reads about. In some ways my senses were perceptibly sharpened, in others they were dulled. This matter of names and faces unfortunately falls into the latter class. But whoever you were, I enjoyed meeting you.
A specific sub-category of new face is the newly-acquired wife. Here I single out Wendy Freeman. She's not very big - she admits to four-eleven-and-a-half, and is the only person of either sex I ever remember hearing admit to under five foot - but what there is of her is simply bubbling over with fun. Keith says his recent gafiation was not entirely on her behalf - the exigencies of service life (he's in the Air Force and they keep moving him about) are also to blame. But if it had been, it would have been entirely understandable. As it is, I'm glad Keith's back - and Wendy with him.
After the auction closed we paid a flying visit to the Liverpool party, a free-for-all, everyone welcome, party where the products of the Merseyside Wine Club flowed generously. Soon, however, we gave way to our gambling instincts and joined the Bennett brag-session on a convenient landing. Here I lost steadily, but was cheered to see Frances just as steadily, and more speedily, profiting. The game broke up around 2.30 causing me no little surprise as I had fully expected to re-join the game after breakfast.
For many years I've had a 'thing' about Mack Reynold's stories. It wasn't just that I didn't enjoy reading them. It would be more true to say that I enjoyed not reading them. And as I'm only in fandom for enjoyment after all, I sooner or later did the obvious thing and stopped reading them altogether, and was far happier for it.
Thus, when I heard that Mack was to be present at the Con, I wasn't precisely enthusiastic. I took the news stoically. I'll leave him alone, I thought, and he'll leave me alone. I'd still go to the Con, even if Randall Garrett was scheduled to appear. And that seemed to be that.
Except that that wasn't. Somehow I found myself on the Friday (I think) night as one of a small bunch in Mack's room, drinking his spirits sitting in on the edge of a conversation which he very much dominated. Dominated not through big-headedness, but simply because what he had to say about things in general was eminently worth listening to.
Damn it - Mack's not only a Good Man, he's a nice man. There should be more like him. Next time I come across a story of his, I'll read it. And I'll even be prepared to like it.