At this point we hasten to mention that back in the 1950s, Walt Willis was by no means the only internationally-known non-North American fan. There were many other British fans who became equally well-known on this side of the Atlantic. One of them was Vincent Clarke, who was influential in his own right -- he helped found the British Science Fiction Association, and was the winner of the very first Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund election (only to lose his job at the last minute and not make the trip to North America, but that's another story). Vincent has always been known for his amusing, anecdotal fan writings, of which the following is a good example...
title illo by Peggy Ranson for 'Seen Any Good Stamos 
  Philately?' by Vincent Clarke (with an assist from Chuch Harris) When I was a youngster, a hundred years ago or more, I used to collect postage stamps. In some ways this taught a sense of humility because Great Britain stuck grimly to a succession of stamps showing the head of the current monarch. If you wanted the real hard stuff you had to get it from the French Colonies, who featured bright exotic tigers, or a remote Russian republic which issued a diamond-shaped stamp. Even the U.S., with various Presidential heads, had more variety than we did.

Deep thinkers, swapping duplicates in the school yard, talked bitterly of this. In a battle between stiff-necked tradition and sets of triangulars, we knew which side we'd be on. Those remote countries which issued beautiful commemorative sets merely to obtain cash from philatelists were hopelessly envied.

Came the day when I saw my first Amazing Stories. The stamp album went to the back of the drawer. Then, I had my first fanzine, and knew what I wanted to be when (and if) I grew up.

Years rolled by, as they do. World War II came and went, and I gradually realised when I cast an authoritative glance at the tiny cellophane packets in cornflake boxes that although Outer Mongolia and the Yemen had marvelous pictures of rockets on their stamps and another unlikely country (Panama?) featured Disney characters, Great Britain was getting in on the act. Special sets at Christmas, then two or three during the year, then -- the flood barriers collapsed, and we're now in a position when there's roughly one special set of commemorative stamps every month.

reproduction of stamp So when in September '91 I went to the post office and bought stamps for letters to go to Chuch Harris and Walt Willis, I didn't do more than blink when an exotic new variety was offered. It looked like a bit of map, and in fact the words ORDNANCE SURVEY indicated it was a tribute to the Government cartographic department. Later, I found out that 'Ham Street' was in fact a village in my own county of Kent. So I stuck stamps on the respective envelopes -- and then hesitated. I hazily remembered...

In the '50s, there was a busy exchange of letters between Walt Willis, Chuch Harris, and others. We all had typewriters, which was just as well, as our respective handwriting styles ranged from bad to awful. Walt, who was a Civil Servant, had a madly racing style, little distinguishable from ordinary straight lines, while Chuch was little better. And sometime, about 35 years ago, there was an anguished critical cry of...

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"Who's been sending me maps?"

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... from a recipient of fan handwriting, which made the 'Eavesdroppings' back page quotes in Hyphen. Napoleon had uttered these words (in French) to Marshal Ney, but this particular exchange was between Walt and Chuch, and afterwards Walt actually obtained some old maps and wrote hurried (well, I suppose they were hurried) letters to his friends on the blank backs.

Standing there in the Post Office, I remembered this, and in a fit of sentimental reminiscence, scrawled on the face of the envelope to Chuch "I'm sending you a map" or words to that effect, and sent it off, briefly hoping that he hadn't forgotten that episode of the `50s. I needn't have worried:

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May Ghod curse you, A. Vincent Clarke. May your stencils tear in the very worst places and your staplers jam up for all eternity. May your lettering guides warp and the dreaded Giant Wormwood eat thru everything in your collection. May your heirloom teabag grow wizened and transparent, and your frozen chicken grow wings and fly away. ((He usually gets tea and a chicken dinner when he calls.))

You foul fiend. You light-fingered kleptomaniac of words and phrases. You stand there, like an innocent virginal nun with alopecia and...Mighod! Whuffo? you dare to say, Whuffo??? I will tell you, horrible old A. Vincent Riposte-Stealer. Cast your mind back -- don't bother to open the door, it will slip easily thru the keyhole -- for 34½ years. It is 8am on March 18th, 1957. The poctsman has just delivered to Chez Chuchy.

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There is a letter from Ghod which, in my generosity, I share with you.

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And the Lord Ghod spake unto Chuchy and he sayeth jocularly, "Who has been sending me maps?" And he sayeth this to his good friend Chuchy alone, not to starveling dogs desperate for stolen crumbs from the tables of The Immortals. Indeed this is a holy comment on the calligraphy of his humble servant and esquire whose blunt pencil rightly trembles, shakes, and squiggles when writing to the Ghodhead. It is a holy message from the sanctus sanctorium, from the guru to his postulant.

And Lo! the mills of Ghod grind slowly, and for 34½ years I wait patiently on the sidelines for the perfect topper, the riposte extraordinaire, the clincher, the opening salvo on the next Eavesdroppings.

And last Tuesday all my prayers were answered. HM the Q issued map stamps. Tiny fragments snipped from the Ordnance Survey maps showing Ham Street in all its glory. (About 7 miles south of Ashford, turn right for Appledore and Rye.)

And you, unspeakable filth, were outside the Post Office waiting for the doors to open to buy two map for me, one for Himself. You stole the topper I'd been hoarding for 34½ years awaiting these map stamps. You nicked my tag line, flaunted it right back at me and -- knowing you I am quite sure of this so don't bother us with false denials. Everybody knows you are so full of it even your eyes are brown -- and then, lickety spit, scribbled out another envelope for Walter Himself.

And I hope now that you are thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

But I doubt it.

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Chuch was, of course, wrong about my eyes -- they're blue.

Title illustration by Peggy Ranson

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