THE BIRTH OF 1970s LEEDS FANDOMDavid Pringle remembers:
I've just checked my old diary, which I kept from 1968 to 1973, to see if it contained anything much about how things started on the sf scene in Leeds. I'd arrived in Leeds at the end of September 1972, to take up lodgings in a house at 14 Hessle Terrace with two physics postgrads I knew from Brighton, Paul Marchant and Dave Sang (neither of whom was into sf, particularly). In fact, it wasn't until a few months later, in 1973, after I'd started working at Leeds City Libraries, that things started rolling. Here are two entries I wrote:
Wednesday, 17 January 1973:
I went to a discotheque with Paul [Marchant] and Nicky [Hayes] last night. ... I have been discussing with Nicky the possibility of forming an SF society at Leeds University.
Thursday, 17 May 1973:
This evening we had the inaugural meeting of the University Science Fiction Society. Nicky [Hayes] booked a room for us last week, after the Union Council had given us the go-ahead for the meeting. Evelyn [Simmons] and I put up a few posters around the university on Monday. I didn't honestly think it would be a success, but it was -- if a modest one. About 25 people turned up and Nicky, Evelyn and I harangued them with our ideas for a while. They responded fairly intelligently, and we have arranged another meeting for next Wednesday. Most important, we got a volunteer for the post of Chairman (Evelyn is Secretary and Nicky is going to be Treasurer for the time being). This fellow Tom Burke is just the sort of person I was hoping to find. he seems to know a lot about SF and fandom, he is a reader of SPECULATION, he has quite a forceful personality, and he seems to be willing to help run the society. He has arranged to meet the three of us in the bar on Sunday night to discuss matters....
[I couldn't be an officer in the society myself, you see, as I wasn't a registered Leeds University student. So that's when it began -- 17th May 1973.]
Tuesday, 12 June 1973:
I wrote to Peter Nicholls yesterday, inviting him to come and speak to the Leeds University SF Society next term. This evening, I'm going round to Evelyn's and we're going to write some more letters together -- to Brian Aldiss, James Blish and others. We should be having another meeting of the society in a fortnight's time, and it would be nice to be able to report to the meeting that we have done something towards getting some interesting speakers. I also asked Peter Nicholls if he could send me the addresses of such writers as Brunner, Ballard and Moorcock. If some of these distinguished gents respond to our invitations it will be very gratifying. After all these years, I may actually meet the literary lions!
Friday, 15 June 1973:
Peter Nicholls has replied to me, saying that he will be pleased to address our SF society, but that he will charge a £5 fee 'in self-protection.' He also says that he will send me a copy of Crash! to review. I sent a letter off to Brian Aldiss yesterday.
Wednesday, 20 June 1973:
... I have received a letter from Brian Aldiss this morning, which is exciting. He is not going to come and speak to us (I had hardly expected it) but he includes information on an SF festival which is to be held in Sunderland this autumn and at which he should be appearing. We must arrange for a party from the SF society to attend.
Tuesday, 24 July 1973:
The next piece of work I want to do is my review of Crash!. I got a letter from Chris Priest a few days ago, in which he says he has taken over from Ken Bulmer as reviews editor of Foundation. ... The SF society has gone into hibernation for the summer, of course. I haven't seen Tom or Nicky in a month; they're both away. Evelyn is still around, however. I'm getting some posters and membership cards printed at a small shop near the library. The cost will be £10, which will come out of our £80 Union grant.
Tuesday, 31 July 1973:
Chris Priest has written to me saying that he is willing to come and address the SF society for no fee. So we now have our first confirmed speaker!
Sunday, 23 September 1973:
... I found a letter awaiting me from Pete Weston. He has accepted my review of the Harry Harrison novel, and says that he will be pleased to come and speak to the Leeds SF society some time. Now that I know that I will not be going back to university, it will be difficult for me to participate in the SF Soc. as much as I had hoped to do. But if Tom Burke and the others are still keen it should get off the ground. We now have two speakers promised, and I have had some posters and membership cards printed in a little printing shop near the library. I have also brought up all my remaining SF books from Sutton, including all my back copies of F&SF. I'm going to donate most of them to the society.
Last week, I discovered that the WEA is running a night-class in SF, taught by one S.P. Meyer, M.A., so I have paid £1.50 in fees to go along. It is a 12-week course starting next Thursday. I don't expect Mr Meyer to teach me much, but I'm very interested to see how he handles the class and what kind of response he gets. ...
Sunday, 7 October 1973:
The SF Society is thriving. Evelyn and Tom signed up 85 members at the societies' bazaar! Nicky has resigned as treasurer, but luckily a fellow called John Harvey is willing to take her place. He is very keen, and worked hard on the stall at the bazaar. I had a drink with the three of them on Friday evening. Both Tom and John have brought hundreds of books and magazines with them, and the library must now be approaching a thousand volumes. The first meeting of the term is to be held next Wednesday. My brain-child is taking on its own life!
Friday, 26 October 1973:
Wonder of wonders -- FOUNDATION #4 has actually appeared, with my article [on Ballard] beautifully printed, almost no misprints and only very slightly abridged. The issue is dated July but it actually came out in mid-October. Well, at least it *is* out. ...
The WEA SF classes are going quite well; they're very informal, but pleasant. I have volunteered to lead discussion on Heinlein's juveniles next week.
Thursday, 1 November 1973:
I have just come back from the WEA science-fiction class, at which I led the discussion on Heinlein's juveniles. Nobody in the class had read Have Space-Suit--Will Travel before I recommended it, but they all seemed to enjoy it. Stephen Meyer, our teacher, has agreed to speak to the SF Society next Wednesday. The debate will be about SF and the death of God.
[Alas, I didn't mention her name in the diary, but I should have said that it was at this Workers' Educational Assoc. sf class that I first met Lee Montgomerie -- so that's how she became involved in the evolving "Leeds group."]
Tuesday, 20 November 1973:
It is time to sing the praises of Bob Shaw... [Followed by a description of the three novels of his I'd recently read.]
Shaw is one person I'm hoping to see in the flesh this coming weekend. John Harvey has hired a car, and five of us are driving up to Sunderland on Friday to attend the climax of the Wearmouth Festival of Science Fiction. Aldiss and Blish will be there, along with Brunner, Shaw, Priest, Delany, Peter Nicholls, Philip Strick and Pete Weston. It should be a great do. The festival has already been running for three weeks. Quite an event! [Peter Weston was the only one of the above-mentioned people I'd met at this point in time.]
Wednesday, 28 November 1973:
I had a fantastic weekend in Sunderland. The Ceolfrith Arts Centre turned out to be a small place with an intimate atmosphere, and we not only saw all the writers we expected to, we *met* them. Brian Aldiss is large and extravert, and an extraordinarily nice bloke. During the interval in the first discussion, I introduced myself to Peter Nicholls (who was the chairman for the weekend) and when I subsequently spoke from the audience he told everyone my name. Afterwards, Brian Aldiss actually shook my hand and said he had *heard* of me. (!) I didn't feel nervous in the presence of the Great at all -- the whole thing was like a dream. These men, whom I had read for years, actually there in the flesh and seeming utterly normal... it was a strange experience. The great Chip Delany was there, and very approachable and pleasant he was too. I had expected some long-haired freak hot from Harlem, but in fact he had a more modest persona, very intelligent and likeable. He has promised to come and speak to us in Leeds, as have James Blish and Bob Shaw.
Jim Blish is a quiet-spoken and frail-looking man, but nevertheless impressive. He is only 52 but looks older. Peter Nicholls told me he had undergone a cancer operation a couple of years ago. Together with a girl from Leeds called Geraldine, I spoke to him for about an hour and a half on Saturday night. He was telling us all about the difficulties he is having writing his latest story. Afterwards we walked him back to the hotel. he was dressed in a large overcoat, a Cossack fur hat, and gloves. It was a cold and windy night, and he was clutching a half-empty bottle of beer. It was rather sad. Next morning at breakfast I learned that he eats hardly any solid food. If he goes on like that, he won't live much longer. I feel a considerable affection for him. And this is the man who wrote A Case of Conscience and Common Time!
Bob Shaw is a big, rumpled Irishman with a beer-gut, and a fund of wit mixed with shyness and self-effacement. He read a very funny story to the audience on Saturday afternoon. When I told him what a good writer I thought he was he just squirmed and said 'thank you.' I bought his latest book, Tomorrow Lies in Ambush, while I was there and he signed it for me, writing 'God bless David, and all bacteria who sail in him...' I look forward to meeting him again when he comes to see us in Leeds.
I also met Jim Goddard for the first time -- a large bloke who apparently works as an optician in the time he takes off from editing his fanzine [CYPHER]. He floored me by an account of his visiting J. G. Ballard. He has asked me to help him produce a second edition of his Ballard bibliography -- and he wants to reprint my article along with it. Perhaps he'll take me along next time he goes to visit his friend J.G.! [He did, but not until January 1975.]
There is much more I could say about the weekend. It was fantastic, and I think John, Evelyn, Tom and the others enjoyed it too, including the girl called Lee Montgomerie whom Brian Aldiss asked if she was 'Mrs Pringle'! (That's one to make Ann jealous...) [The Ann referred to there was Ann Johnstone, my girlfriend of over a year's standing at the time -- not the Ann I subsequently married in June 1975.]
Monday, 10 December 1973:
John Harvey and I visited Michael Rosenblum, the local superfan, last Monday evening. He has the most amazing collection of SF books, magazines and manuscripts, that one could wish to see -- a forty-years' hoard that must be worth a fortune. He was very friendly to us, and his wife Betty gave us cakes and coffee. Rosenblum used to edit an SF mag called THE FUTURIAN in Leeds before the war. Arthur Clarke and many other greats have been to his house! I'll probably be visiting him again next week, with Stephen Meyer, I hope.
I've also met David Masson, in the Brotherton Library.
[Unfortunately, I gave rather short shrift to the rare-books librarian and New Worlds sf writer David I. Masson there, in my diary; but I enjoyed meeting him and he did subsequently attend a couple of LUSF Soc. meetings and joined in the discussions. So did Michael Rosenblum.]
[And below is the first, and only, reference to Mike Dickinson...]
Tuesday, 29 January 1974:
Ann came up from Sheffield and met me in the library at 5 o'clock on Friday. We went straight to the Physics Department at the university to attend a meeting of the Physics Society (Dave Sang is secretary). Paul and Dave were there... I also saw Steve and Ken there, two active members of the SF Society (Steve Sexton has in fact recently been elected chairman of the society to replace Tom Burke who resigned). The guest speaker was Duncan Lunan, who had driven down from Troon to tell us about his research into contact with extra-terrestrial beings...
I had Saturday off work, so I was able to sleep in... I left Ann working in my bedroom and went into town at 1 o'clock. I was carrying copies of SPECULATION, CYPHER, and FOUNDATION to show to Mike Dickinson in Books -- Mike came to our SF Society committee meeting last Wednesday. He is a teacher, who works in Books on Saturdays and a couple of evenings a week. Bob Godfrey employs him to look after the SF section, and he is very keen. John Harvey had already been in to see him before me on Saturday morning, and he had left a pile of leaflets advertising our meeting this coming Wednesday. Professor Oakley and Michael Rosenblum are to lead a discussion entitled 'A Look Back Into the Future' (Ken's invention). I left the magazines with Mike -- he may be ordering them for the shop. ...
That's all, I'm afraid. I didn't keep a diary after that. But note, that last entry tells us Tom Burke had resigned as LUSFS chairman by January 1974 -- so he was only in the post for something like seven or eight months, from May '73 to January '74. His replacement was one Steve Sexton, of whom I remember nothing except his name. As for the other guy mentioned, "Ken," I'm stumped when I try to recall anything of him at all. The first mention of Mike Dickinson at the end of January 1974 suggests to me that our Friday-night meetings at the Victoria pub probably started soon afterwards, maybe sometime in the spring of '74.