FAN-MAIL #3 (1941) - Arthur C. Clarke

Here's something I never thought I'd ever see - one of Clarke's WW2 chain-letters. Yet, amazingly, this one has survived after 80 years. And finally seeing one has, I think, enabled me to figure out the how these chains worked, an explanation of which appears after the scans. I described them in THEN as essentially operating like APAs, but the logistics involved were a bit more complicated than that.

From THEN:

One of the stranger consequences of fans trying to keep in touch under wartime conditions was the rise of a system of chain-letters. These were sent from a central source with a list of names attached, each person to whom the package was sent passing it on to the next on the list, and helped communication to be maintained with the minimum of time and expense. The first of these started as a continuation of the newsletter of The Probe, a psychic research organisation, but since this group shared a number of members in common with the SFA (including its secretary, Hal Chibbett) it naturally came to the attention of fandom and inspired imitations. The first of these was Clarke's FAN-MAIL, produced by him during his Welsh exile in an attempt to keep in touch with members of London SFA. It grew to include others until it had a circulation of some twenty-four fans and was continued by Sam Youd after Clarke's entry into the RAF. In June 1941 Eric Frank Russell decided to supplement FAN-MAIL by starting up a third chain-letter, AN AMERICAN MELANGE, containing news from the US and one or two recent fanzines.

(document scans courtesy of First Fandom Experience)

First up is Clarke's hand-written letter, a transcript of which follows.


Doug [Webster], Eric [Frank Russell] - Just written to both of you so will say no more here. I'm putting Les [Johnson] after you, Eric, as you're most likely to have his latest address.

Les: Hello, old cock! Ages since I saw you at Service H.Q. Which reminds me, Abe hasn't coughed up the 12/- I'm owed. I see you want a noiseless Portable.... You can have mine for £50. Nothin' doing? Oh, well.... All the best.

E.F.R.: You told me that Eric W[illiams] was likely to change his address, which is why I didn't use the one you quoted. However, I'll risk it now. I'd have put him after you, but I've already inserted Les in the chain. Eric must go in somewhere else.

I'm a fire watcher now! (Who isn't!?)

Dave: Where is my Gargoyle??


Of course Eddington wrote 'N.P.W', you dope. I presume "Edison" was a misprint on someone's part. [*]

Why should I learn Esperanto? Let everyone else learn Basic English - much more sense!


[* pencilled note by Webster reads:] My part, I fear. I'm not that ignorant. - Doug

Ego was Clarke's nickname in fandom, one given to him by Bill Temple.
You can find GARGOYLE here.
'Abe' was Liverpool fan Abe Bloom. Debt probably in connection with SFS (see below).
12/- (twelve shillings, or sixty new pence) would be about £30 today.
Eddington wrote 'N.P.W': This refers to physicist (Sir) Arthur Eddington and 'The Nature of the Physical World' (1935). (Footnoted by Dave Langford)


SFS = Science Fiction Service. Johnson & Carnell's pre-war mail-order business.
WFT and Bill = William F. "Bill" Temple
Ted = Edward John "Ted" Carnell
Maurice = Maurice K. Hanson
Mike = J. Michael Rosenblum
J.F.B. = John F. Burke, Johnson's fellow Liverpudlian


Johnny = John F. Burke
Reggie = Reggie Potter

From THEN:

In June 1941, Dave McIlwain received orders to report for service in the RAF on the 28th of that month. This put an end to GARGOYLE, though it's future had already been looking uncertain anyway, a bomb having destroyed printer Reggie Potter's duplicator the previous month.


HT = Harry Turner
Dickinson = H. O. Dickinson
jankers = punishment


PPU = Peace Pledge Union
Les Tart = THE GENTLEST ART (ed. Doug Webster)
Sam (CSY) = Sam Youd
Smith = D.R. Smith
Marion (MFE) = Marion F. Turner (nee Eadie)
CAS = Clark Ashton Smith


According to its entry in the British Fanzine Bibliography, FAN-MAIL was produced in an edition of five copies. So a top copy plus four carbon copies, about the maximum you could produce at one time if you wanted the bottom copy to be readable. You would have had to have struck your typewriter keys pretty hard, indentation evidence of which should be clear on the originals of the above scans.

When adding his contribution to the bundle he'd been sent and mailing it on to the next person on the chain, each individual would also mail his carbon copies to Clarke. You'll have noticed that the mailing card at the top of this page is labelled 'Copy 1'. It has five names on it, plus Clarke's. Since up to twenty-five people were on this chain we can infer there were eventually five copies going around, each copy-group containing no more than five people, plus Clarke, and each copy always ending up back with him. We can also infer that each copy went out with a different scribbled page of comments by Clarke attached - no carbon copies for him!

This was FAN-MAIL #3. When sending out copies of a new issue, each would have included carbons of letters from the previous issue except obviously for those from the people in that particular copy group. What this meant is that as well as responding to letters from those in your copy group for this issue, you would also be commenting on letters on the previous issue from those in the other copy groups. This also meant that even leaving aside Clarke's scribbled page, no two copies of a given issue were ever the same anyway, though the juggling of top copies and carbons would've resulted in everyone eventually getting to see the same letters. Mostly.

Whether who ended up in which particular copy group was random or not is obviously unknown - though I will note that most of those in this particular group are Liverpudlians. However, based on this complaint from John F. Burke those copy groups had become more rigid than originally intended:

Do we have to stay on the same circuit all the time? I thought the original idea was to keep swapping around, so that we were kept more or less in touch with different people. I'd like to be on a chain with Sam, Eric Hop[kins], and hoo....I won't play if you don't let me be with Sam, Eric and Doug. An occasional dose of Eric Williams would be more than welcome, too.

The mailing card for this copy shows that after it came back to him Clarke mailed it on to Ted Carnell. Either he did so without any carbon copies or these have been lost.