Worldcons more than any other convention seem to stick in everyone's memories, but
sometimes it's the place where a convention is held that helps make it memorable.
Bucconeer would seem to be such a convention; it was held in Baltimore's spectacular
inner harbor area, with its many sights to see, things to do, and good restaurants
to eat at. Ron Bennett now returns to our pages with a story about a convention
that was perhaps more memorable for it's hotel, but for a different kind of
Last week I was down in London. I normally stay at an hotel a couple of hundred yards from Russell Square and handy for my favorite port of call, the wonderful, the fantastic, the overwhelming British Museum. I was returning to the hotel from the Tottenham Court Road tube station. By foot. One does walk in London. By chance, I took a slightly different route from that which I'd normally have taken.
And there it was! Heavens, I'd forgotten that the place existed. The Kingsley Hotel, the large gray cube of a building on Bloomsbury Way, the site of the 1960 British SF Convention...
The first British convention of the decade began its life in rather dramatic circumstances. There had been a welter of complaints (comploynts, yes, yes, I know) about the high prices being charged at the committee's first choice hotel, the Dominion at Lancaster Gate (not too far from the King's Court which had hosted the 1957 WorldCon), and accordingly the convention had been switched to the more reasonably priced Sandringham also on Lancaster Gate.
But three days before the EasterCon was due to burst into life on the Good Friday of that year, plans were thrown into chaos by the management at the Sandringham suddenly raising its hands in horror. These people, who were going to use their beautiful hotel, were going to drink! And alcohol at that!
Fans the world over will immediately sympathize and appreciate that the Sandringham management had no alternative but to cancel the convention booking. Immediately and fifthwith.
Actually, the Sandringham was not licensed to sell alcohol and yes, I too am surprised that there actually was such an animal as an unlicensed hotel. Initially, the management had kindly agreed that we could drink on the premises, provided that this was alcohol we brought in ourselves. Definitely a switch on the usual state of affairs. Perhaps we should have charged corkage.
But with only three days before this horde of crate-toting fans was due to descend upon the hotel, the management changed its mind, stating that we were considered a bunch of rowdies. Heavens! It wasn't as if we'd tried to hide it!
I travelled to London a couple of days before the convention's opening. For one thing, I wanted to see Don Ford, the Cincinnati Big Name Fan and collector who was due to attend the convention as the year's TAFF delegate. Don had been one of the Fund's founding fathers and also one of the many kind people who had hosted me during my own TAFF trip a couple of years earlier.
I met up with him at Ted Carnell's office at Nova Publications in Southwark. I was at that time one of TAFF's Administrators and had some monies for Don, who was being reimbursed for having laid out the required cash for his plane ticket. I'd already sent some cash to him care of Ted.
"Hi, Don, Ted," I said upon arrival.
"The cheque bounced," Ted told me.
It had, too. I couldn't understand why, as the account was solid enough. Not until I'd been shown the cheque. This bright TAFF Administrator had forgotten to sign it!
Don took a couple of photos with his camera and new flash gun. He was a keen photographer and a member of the Cincinnati Photographic Society. He specialized in some wonderful artistic shots of moving traffic at night. Ted told me that he'd been driving Don around London and that Don had been aiming his new electronic flash at girls on street corners waiting to cross the street when the lights were against them, startling the poor dears out of their wits. Ah, we were young and innocent in those days.
Meanwhile, local convention committee members Ella Parker, Bobbie Gray, and Sandra Hall had been heroically, or if you like heroine-ically, trying to find another hotel which would be willing to host the convention. And at such short notice.
And they were successful, too, with the Kingsley the new venue. All those convention members who could be contacted by phone were told the joyous tidings; others had to wait until they actually arrived in Lancaster Gate to be informed that the shindig had moved across town.
It's interesting to note that as this convention was under the auspices of the recently formed British Science Fiction Association, the convention membership fee offered BSFA members a one-third reduction. A great idea long gone, I'm afraid.
The convention program consisted of a fine balance between science fiction and fandom. Don Ford spoke about the deplored practice of pigeon-holing fans into categories such as 'convention fans', 'fanzine fans' and the like. He also showed color slides of American fans as well as several of his prize winning shots of Cincinnati by night.
Doc Weir gave a talk on his theory of the whereabouts of Atlantis and Ted Carnell spoke of plans for Nova Publications. He also stated that he was disappointed with Astounding's recent name change to Analog which he felt would not be successful, the original name having served the magazine well for almost thirty years.
Dave Kyle made an unexpected appearance, being introduced by Ted Carnell. Dave declined to make a speech, declaring that he'd already made one, adding after sufficient a pause to have his audience look completely blank, "at the Sandringham."
On the Saturday evening there was a fancy dress party with Ina Shorrock and Ethel Lindsay winning prizes for their costumes. Norman Shorrock presented Don Ford with a Liverpool orange box. It was well known that Don's extensive collection in his basement was housed on shelving made from orange boxes, quite the norm in those days.
Amateur movies made by Ted Carnell and Dave Kyle were shown, as well as one professional movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. And there was a joky This is Your Life session organized by Eric Bentcliffe at which Norman Shorrock found himself the surprised victim.
Several fans were, at the time, keen on making their own cine films. One of them was Dave Kyle who had come over to these shores, perhaps to act as minder to Don Ford. Or perhaps, vice versa.
Dave was intending to produce a fannish documentary (ha!) of the weekend. He hired a taxi and filmed it driving up to the hotel. The taxi doors opened and fans poured out, eager to savor the convention's delights. Of course, Dave had in focus only one side of the cab; fans were climbing in the out-of-shot far doors and emerging into the area Dave was filming. There were perhaps twenty, possibly more, of us, purportedly all having been crammed inside the confines of the cab. Of course, there had to be some clown with his own notion of Marx Brothers' type farce and who had to circle behind the cab and go through the rigmarole again, emerging for the second time from the "crowded" taxi interior. And even a third, fourth, fifth and sixth time. I was quite exhausted by the time Dave called it a day.
Those who attend the conventions of today will have difficulty understanding the submissive behavior of those attendees of yesteryear. Today's conventions bustle with dynamic life throughout the twenty-four hours of any day. If there are no late-night or early-morning official program items, then attendees will still gather in the lounges, along the corridors or up and down the stairwells, deep in animated conversation or conducting their own science fiction charades and quiz games.
Not in those far-off days. I can recall what was intended as an all-night three card Brag game being broken up by the police at a fifties Kettering convention, though happily on another occasion the investigating copper took off his tunic, sat down and joined in. Er, no, Meyer, we didn't let him win. The hand of fannish friendship might reach out to mundane officialdom, but when there's money in the pot...
There were no late night Brag sessions at the Kingsley. There was very little late-night anything. Once the public bar had closed and its clients had been turned out into the Easter chill, the hotel put up its shutters in its individual interpretation of room and board. All good little boys and girls were supposed to retire quietly and make sure of a good night's sleep ready for the ordeals of the day ahead.
But we were fans. Fans, real fans, Trufans don't attend conventions for bread alone. Nor the program. Great Ghu! Hadn't the Kingsley's manager heard of all-night room parties?
Evidently he had. And was adamant about their not being allowed on his hallowed patch.
This totally unreasonable attitude... well, yes, I admit to being a little biased... led to fans creeping about the hotel's dimly illuminated corridors searching for a room party, any room party, like the Flying Dutchman searching for a safe harbor. One would creep along a quiet corridor, listening for the muffled sounds of merriment exuding from a closed door, any closed door, when one would suddenly be confronted by...
The hotel manager dressed in quilted dressing gown and, of all things, a hair net.
He suggested in no uncertain terms that one returned to one's bedroom and good night. I don't remember the word 'sir' being uttered. Perhaps he expected the title to be addressed to him.
Now, in those days very few hotel rooms boasted their own en-suite facilities. Bathrooms were located along various corridors. Which, of course, provided enterprising fans with the ready-made excuse to be corridor-wandering. One merely threw a towel over one's shoulder, stuck a tooth brush in one's mouth and marched forth. A smart, "Good night," to the snoodclad manager... yes, he seemed to be everywhere; only now do I wonder whether he was an early experiment in cloning... and one was on his merry way, listening intently at the next series of closed bedroom doors.
A following confrontation with our friendly manager found him clutching a clipboard. "You are in room 231," he would announce. "That's on the far side of the hotel. You must be lost. I'll show you the way." One would be shown back to one's bedroom, would wait for five minutes and would open the door ready to resume the search for the all-elusive party, and would be confronted by the manager who had been waiting outside in the corridor for exactly that eventuality.
One night I heard that Ethel Lindsay was hosting a party and called her room on the house phone to see whether there was any truth in the rumor. "No, I'm sorry," a sleepy Ethel told me. She apologized the following morning. When the phone had rung in her room the couple of merry-making fans fell silent while Ethel took the call. She had suspected that the call might be monitored by the manager.
Don Ford did manage to host a party one night, until a call from the management put paid to that merry gathering. Don suggested that the party move, en bloc, to Dave Kyle's room, so a solid wedge of fans went tippy-toeing, yes tipsy-towing if you like, along the quiet corridors.
When we reached Dave's room, the door was open and the room vacant. We entered, closed the door behind us and made ourselves comfortable. Liquid refreshment appeared from somewhere and in no time at all a decent room party had come to the aid of fen and was in full atmospheric swing. When Dave returned he took it all in good grace and the party continued for a short time. Until we suddenly realized that Don wasn't with us. He'd foisted us on Dave and then had gone off to bed.
"I know!" Dave suggested, "we'll get our own back. We'll go down to his room and continue the party there." As with every suggestion Dave makes, this was a fine idea. We all trooped out into the corridor.
Click! The door behind us was suddenly closed. And locked. A wonderful ploy for ridding one's room of any unwanted party attendees. Any attendees? For the entire party.
I called it a night and left the others to wander the corridors without me. I still have dreams of some fannish hell in which convention attendees wander forever the unhallowed corridors of the Kingsley, being confronted on a random schedule by a snood-adorned devil figure.
All illustrations by Joe Mayhew