LIVERPOOL FANDOM: THE LãSFãS Years
This website has a number of pages already devoted to this group, which are linked to below.
These all form part of the coverage of the Liverpool Group in its various incarnations.
PRE-LaSFaS LIVERPOOL FANDOM|
1932:: Les Johnson forms the short-lived Universal Science Circle, patterning it on the
Ilford Science Literary Circle. Beyond this, little is known of the USC.
1933:: Formation of the British Interplanetary Society. Les Johnson
and Norman Weedall are founder members.
Jan 1937: World's first science fiction convention held in Leeds, at
which Les Johnson and Eric Frank Russell represent Liverpool. Science Fiction Association (SFA) formed.
Mid-1937: Les Johnson and Ted Carnell form the Science Fiction Service,
the UK's first SF mail-order business.
Apr 1938: Second UK science fiction convention, this time in
London. Johnson attends.
Jun 1938: Inaugural meeting of Liverpool branch of the SFA. - see Science Fiction Service link above.
Oct 1938: John F. Burke and Dave McIlwain launch
THE SATELLITE the first Liverpool fanzine.
May 1939: Third UK science fiction convention, again in
London. John F. Burke, L.V. Heald, Ron Holmes, and Dave McIlwain attend. Liverpool is expected to host
the 1940 convention, which never happens. It will be another 50 years before the national convention
is held there.
1939-1945: The war years are covered in my free ebook
1947: Les Johnson relaunches his pre-war SF mail-order business as the Science Fantasy Service,
which eventually morphs into the Milcross Book Service and acquires
a shop at 205 Brownlow Hill.....
THE LIVERPOOL SCIENCE FICTION SOCIETY (LaSFaS).
In May, Frank Milnes and Les Johnson - then the proprietors of the Milcross Book Service - attended
that year's big convention, FESTIVENTION along with
Norman Weedall. It was their first postwar convention. After the con US fan Forry Ackerman and his
wife Wendayne, visited them in Liverpool, where they also made the acquaintance of Dave Gardner.
In October, the first post-war regional convention - NECON -
was held in Bradford. Norman Weedall attended.
The Liverpool fans who attended these conventions did so as individuals rather than as part of an
SF group, because Liverpool didn't have one at this point. That would change later in the year when
a fan by the name of Jeff Espley had the idea of asking Milnes and Johnson for the addresses of
other SF readers in the city who ordered stuff from them with a view to forming a local club. On
Monday 12th November the inaugural meeting was held in the rear of the Milcross shop. They did not
have a name at that point, of course, being just those fans who had come along as a result of the
postcards sent to each by Espley. Present at the meeting were John Roles, Norman Shorrock, Lewis
Conway, Trevor Dornan, Frank Milnes, Les Johnson, and probably Norman Weedall. Other early members
were Jim Mooney, Tom Owens, Stan Nuttall, and Dave Gardner. Ina Shorrock, Norman's wife, does not
appear to have been involved at the beginning but she and he were to become mainstays of the group.
The (unfortunately not very sharp) pictures below were taken in the Milcross shop - presumably the
rear and front respectively.
From the beginning, somewhat surprisingly those assembled decided that having their own
clubroom was a necessity. It took some time to find a place, however, so they temporarily
took up quarters over a cafe and in the interim got through a lot of business, including
naming themselves the Liverpool Science Fiction Society (LaSFaS). There was also deciding
- Election of Club Officers:
- Chairman: John Roles
- Secretary: Jeff Espley
- Treasurer: Norman Shorrock
- The Club Motto: "Thought, Time and Space"
- The Club Badge: (see top of page)
On Monday 7th January, LaSFaS took possession of their first clubroom. Dubbed the 'Space
Dive' this was located at 13A St. Vincent Street. According to Tom Owens:
During the following fortnight members more to be seen at all hours of the day and night,
painting, decorating, hammering and CURSING etc!! Not only did we have to
completely renovate the 'Dive' but we also had to prepare it for our recruitment
drive on the week commencing February the 10th.
Somewhere in those early weeks they also found time to visit their nearby neighbours the Manchester
group. As Eric Bentcliffe recalled in WALDO #1:
Living as I do some thirty odd miles from Liverpool, I've been able to visit the group since
its inception quite frequently, and watch its growth. I first met them when they paid a mass
visit to the Nor'west Science Fantasy Club in Manchester, of which I was Chairman at that time.
A few weeks later a return visit was made by the members of the N.S.F.C. to Liverpool, and
the Space Dive.
The Space Dive was a miniscule cellar rented for the use of club members and at the time of this
visit was decorated with s-f magazine covers and several model rockets. This was in February '52
and LaSFaS had a membership drive on tied in with the local showing of the film The Day The
Earth Stood Still. Members of the group had handed out leaflets in the cinema foyer inviting
anyone interested in s-f to come visit the 'Dive'. The stairs down into the cellar had been
greased and several new members were signed up before they had completely recovered consciousness.
It can be seen that even in the early days, LaSFaS were a resourceful lot!
Tom Owens again:
We were suprisingly successful and as a result of our increased membership it
was found necessary to re-elect our committee. We thought this desirable so as
to allow the new members a say in the constitution of the Society. The resulting
committee is therefore as follows:
With recruiting week behind us, and the committee elected for the next twelve
months, it seemed as if we could now enjoy a period of comparative quiet.
Examination of the Society's accounts, however, told a sad story. The outlay
for the paint and distemper to decorate 13A had made serious inroads into our
funds and in order to avoid insolvency something had to be done - and quick!
- Chairman: Frank Milnes
- Treasurer: Norman Shorrock (assisted by Tom Owens)
- Secretary: Lewis Conway
- Librarian: Trevor Dornan
- Vice Chairman: John Roles
All praise then to the now-forgotten genius who thought up the idea of an
Auction. Everybody was asked to bring whatever they thought was saleable and
the goods would be put up for auction, with one third of the proceeds going to
the funds. The response was little short of amazing. There were, for instance;
sports coats, garden shears, gramophone records, electric fires, tea, sugar
and milk. Jeff brought a crumb tray. There was also butter, jewellry and electric
fittings. Jeff's crumb tray I have already mentioned. The Society benefitted to
the extent of £3:8:5d and everybody got something they wanted, e.g. Lewis
got a crumb tray.
The last day of March marked our coming of age. Twenty-one weeks a Society. We
celebrated this in the approved manner at the Lisbon Grill, Victoria Street, and
owing to our Secretary's final state, there is no entry in the minutes book for
It was about that time that we decided we should take more interest in fandom than
we had been doing to date. Accordingly John agreed to communicate with the various
fanzines. Among others John chose SLANT but up to now he has had only one issue
of that excellent mag and has had to return that one. Owing to the demand that
exists for SLANT, it was the Editor's last copy. Dave, on the other hand, chose the
promags and assailed the READERS COLUMNS with letters inviting American fans stationed
at the USAAF base at Burton Wood to come up and see us sometime. This as a token
repayment for American gonorosity in supplying British fandom with promags when they
were hard to obtain over this side of the Atlantic.
After our 21st celebration came a lull. We now had time to enjoy and appreciate life
as a group and indulge in group activities. Among those were:
- A vote on the contents of each new issue of Science Fantasy and
New Worlds. The results are correlated by Dave and sent to Editor
Carnell. As can be seen from the letter section of the current NW, our ratings do not
always agree with other fans.
- Record playing of various sound tracks of futuristic films.
("Things To Come" and "The Day The Earth Stood" etc.)
- Occasionally allowing Dave to read us one of his stories. Included among those he
has already read to us is an article entitled 'The Shaver Saga', which I hope to
persuade him to offer for publication sometime in the near future.
A number of members travelled down to London in May to attend LONCON, that year's national SF convention
which as was usual at this point was held over the Whitsun weekend. It was the beginning of a decades-long
association between the national convention and the reborn Liverpool group. One programme item featured a
representative from each organised fan giving a report to the assemblage on fandom in their city. Les
Johnson performed this service for Liverpool:
In June the club took the decision to publish a group fanzine. Two weeks later SPACE DIVERSIONS #1
(July 1952) duly appeared, edited by John Roles and Tom Owens:
On 7th July another auction was held in aid of general funds. It raised £7, of which 33 1/3 % went to
swell club coffers. In SPACE DIVERSIONS #3 to 5, Tom Owens provided the minutes:
On Tuesday, September 16th, a party of eleven members paid a visit to the Futurist cinema to see the revival
of that old favourite King Kong, still remarkably good after sixteen years.
Eight of the intellectuals (!) of the Society made up a party to attend a British Interplanetary Society
lecture in Manchester, entitled "The Martian Probe". This varied, it was thought, from slightly
abstruse to casually vague. But we considered it well worth having been to. We were glad to see *one*
member of the N.S.F.C. there.
Another auction was held in the Space Dive on September 29th, this time in aid of Space Diversions, in which
over £10 was cleared.
When the film 'The Thing' finally came to us in our Northern fastnesses, the Society organised
a visit to the "Scala" where it was being shown (for a fortnight). We found, on counting up,
over thirty errors and omissions, not counting deviations from the original story. Further comment - superflous!
On 5th October Liverpool Society members visited MANCON - see
[weirdly, this continues after the FINIS].
Seven of the Society attended and became members of the Liverpool Astronomical Society at its
first post-war meeting on 10th October. Matters regarding future activities and polocies were
discussed. Two lectures were tentatively arranged for November and December, first one is probably
We now hold regular meetings at the Space Dive twice weekly, each and every Monday and Thursday, Monday
remaining the 'official' evening.
November 10th. We were honoured by the presence of a visitor from New York,
Lee D.Quinn, and his friend Miss Royle, from Manchester. Lee was so eager to
see the inside of the Dive that he didn't bother with the
steps between the top and the bottom one. However, we soon had him on his feet
again, and nothing was broken except the bottom step.
We were rather surprised to hear that in N.Y. fandom is split into two camps
(politics-fan type) and that rivalry is intense. So much so, that when Lee's
friends threw a 'going away' party for him, someone of the rival faction
reported it to the police, with talk of 'white slaves' and drugs (!). The
result was a raid with drawn guns. It quite a job to convince them that
things were not as reported.
As Lee had to catch the 10.10 to Manchester, the meeting left the Dive and was
continued in the 'New' cafe, near the station. Even so they only just made it.
November 17th. Our first Annual General Meeting. The 1951-52 Committee stood
down, and new officers were elected by paper vote. They are as follows:
Frank Milnes was also elected to act for any of the above if absent from any
- Hon. Chairman:- N.L.Shorrock
- Hon. Secretary:- J.D.Roles
- Hon. Treasurer:- H. S. Nuttall
- Librarian: - T. Owens
The retiring Treasurer presented a balance sheet (see later) and received a
vote of thanks for the able way in which he has conducted the Society finances.
The hope we had entertained, of moving to new and bigger premises, seems,
with the passing of time, to recede into the 'might have been'. Although
the premises for which we were negotiating are still vacant, the corporation
remains noncommital, and we find it difficult to extract a plain Yes or No
from them. So, for the present, our address is as before.
With the election of a new committee, a tentative programme was put forward
for Society activities in the coming year. It was decided that an auction
(in aid of club funds) would be held every three months. Also a short story
selected by the Committee would be read out, perhaps once a month. It is
hoped that we shall be able to obtain a record player for the purpose of
listening to recordings of science-fictional nature.
We held the first scheduled auction on 22nd December and the Society received
£1-2-11 from the proceeds, being 10 per cent of the gross amount cleared.
Our 60th meeting was held at the Lisbon Bar. Although many queer concoctions
were consumed, nobody succeeded in finding anything more potent that the
Vodka which Norman had served at his Christmas party.
In December, with its fourth issue, SPACE DIVERSIONS acquired an art editor in
the form of Don MacKay, a newcomer to the club but a friend since childhood of
Stan Nuttall. Soon his wife Renee and sister Lil would also join.
January 19th, The Society attend, en masse, a lecture given by Sir H. Spencer
Jones, The Astronomer Royal. The venue was the Philharmonic Hall, and the
attendance was extraordinarily good. The subject of the talk was THE BOUNDS
OF SPACE.. After a lengthy preamble touching on the work of Plato and Aristotle,
Copernicus and Herschel, the Astronomer Royal explained that the range of
observation of the universe will be confined at two thousand million light
years, owing to the fact that as the universe is ever expending, and the
galaxies at that distance are receding at a speed greater than that of the
light which is travelling in our direction, their light will never reach us.
The lecture was well put over and well illustrated by over thirty slides, but
to us, it seemed rather elementary. However, judging by the comments from the
general public who also attended, those not au fait with the various concepts
involved in cosmology found it difficult in places to follow.
By the time this issue of Space Diversions appears, I shall be in Canada -
where I am emigrating to. I am leaving Liverpool on the 25th February and
will eventually arrive in Toronto. There is no truth, however, in the rumour
that Space Diversions will be putting out a Canadian reprint. This column
will be taken over with effect from that date by Stan Nuttall. Stan needs
no intro from me as Don MacKay covers this subject admirably in these pages
[see above]. Meanwhile I hope that I may be able to contribute a column from
Canada, giving Canadian and American fanews.
On February 23rd, LaSFaS held a Going Away Party in Owens's honour at the Lisbon.
In May the annual national SF convention
was held in London over the Whitsun weekend. Norman Shorrock, John Roles, Frank
Milnes, Jim Mooney, and Norman Weedall attended. The London
Circle presented a play, partly on tape and written by Walter Willis. Hearing this
would alter the trajectory of LaSFaS, but not just yet.
Towards the end of 1953,
Norman Shorrock saw an ad in the local paper for a tape-recorder for
sale at the very low price of £25 and proposed that the group should
purchase it for LaSFaS use. This was done, and the LaSFaS began to
change from what was a fairly normal S-F Society into the Gestalt of
Madmen we know today.
LaSFaS the incentive to produce for the SUPERMANCON in 1954, a play wholly on tape
The Alien Arrives!,
which was again written by Walt with additional dialogue by Don MacKay.
LaSFaS went from, strength to strength and introduced a new word into the fannish vocabulary,
TAPERAS (Tape-Operas). At the first Kettering Convention in 1955 they presented a half-hour long
tape-play The March of Slime which, apart from creating quite
a sensation by the high standard it set, introduced BLOG - the all purpose preventitive, purgative,
and detergent (guaranteed to contain no Pterodactyls or other noxious ingredients) to fandom. BLOG
was with us for quite a time.
In March, LaSFaS became the first SF fan group on the UK to appear on live TV - along with Ted Carnell.
Things did not get off to a good start. The whole long, fascinating story, can be found at the link
Alas, there's no chance of a clip of this ever showing up, as Bill Burns explains:
There would have been no video of this live broadcast. The Ampex Videotape Recorder (VTR) was introduced in the
USA in 1956, and its first network use was by CBS network in November that year. This was a very expensive
machine, $45,000 then, equivalent to over $400,000 today. The BBC bought its first Ampex VTR in July 1958 and
the second one in 1959.
Prior to that, and for a good few years afterwards because of the very high cost of both machines and tape, the
only way to make a permanent recording of a live TV show was to use a 35mm camera to film the picture on a
high-quality monitor during the transmission. The result was a "kinescope", and this process is the only reason
we have any surviving UK TV from the 1950s.
In 1956 LaSFaS topped The March of Slime with the hour long
Last and First Fen. Eighteen months in the making, and the final
word on Taperas until LaSFaS come back to that medium.
About this time... .Norman bought a Cinecamera.
The resulting effects of this purchase on LaSFaS (which gave
birth at this time to MaD Productions - Mersey and Deeside Productions)
can perhaps best be illustrated by an excerpt from John Owen's DRUMS
ALONG THE MERSEY in SD N0.9. .
"CAN OUR AUDIENCES TAKE THESE FACIAL CLOSE-UPS ? The news that Mersey and Deeside's publicity film for
(May We Have The Pleasure)
was succesfully premiered at the Midwestcon recalled a recent visit to
the MaD Lot at Sound City, Bebington,
'FANZAPOPPIN' was of course completed in time for the London
Worldcon, and shown there together with 'MAY WE HAVE THE PLEASURE'.
Although films had been made previously by fans in the States
none had so far managed to capture the whacky fannish sense of humour
in the way which these two epics did.
Now in production.....on Sound Stage Two (the Shorrock Garage)
'THE FAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM'.
One other fannish innovation which can be placed on the LaSFaS
doorstep is that of the 'Fannish Ceremony' now being carried on by the
Cheltenham Circle with their Knights of St, Fantony award for Good
Fansmanship. A couple of years ago Eric Jones and myself wore honoured
at a most impressive ceremony, and dubbed E.C.L.S.F.S, - Ex-Chairman of
LaSFaS. Reason for the title was that it was deemed a high honour to
become an ex-Chairman without first having had to indulge the trials
and tribulations of the office. Reason (given) why EJ and I were '
honoured, was that we were a couple of 'Drunken Bums' - no higher
compliment can be paid to a vistor to LaSFaS.
And by no means the least of the LaSFaS accomplishments, is
their supreme skill at organizing parties - debaucheries - shindigs,
call them what you will, they are terrific. As fans from as far apart
as Toronto, Savannah, Indiana, Now York, and Sheffield can testify.
The Liverpool Group are a bunch of fans who have become better
known for their joint efforts, than for any individual member's
contribution to fanac. Which is rather a pity. Shorrock and Roles are
'household names' - what of the others.....
The first installment of 'The Harrison Saga' appeared in 1957, the whole
thing having now been collected and made available as a free to download ebook:
appreciation of LaSFaS appeared in the first issue of his fanzine WALDO, recounting
the group's history and providing a 'where are they now' for members who had
fallen by the wayside. It has been judiciously cribbed from above. It was accompanied
a series of character sketches of members (accompanied by actual sketches by Eddie Jones):
In his 'Drums Along the Mersey' column in BASTION #1 (August 1960, ed. Bentcliffe),
John Owen announced the demise
of LaSFaS as a formal SF fan club and its rebadging as the Liverpool Group, or LiG, explaining:
Fandom will remain the basis for many of the
Group's activities, both social and otherwise. We still hope to attend
fan conventions - if they will let us in - and will continue to see our
feeble outpourings promulgated to fandom with tho help of our Stockport
Branch. On an individual basis, of course, such sterling fen as Roles
and Shorrock (OMPA, and like that), and Ina Shorrock (BSFA Chairman), are
maintaining contact with fanac at its more serious levels, and you've
most probably heard that we are sending a missionary to the New World this
year [TAFF winner Eric Bentcliffe], but one can say that as far as our ordinary,
average, hemp-chewing member is concerned, LiG is now officially a 'fringefan'
Those who know us will hardly need reminding that we've always been a
social rather than a fannish group in effect, therefore, it might be
said that we're merely bowing, gracefully, to the inevitable.