Here's more about that FIAWOL-filled 1957 Worldcon, told from the perspective of one
of the attendees. The 1957 Loncon, with just 268 attendees, was the ninth-smallest
worldcon ever, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's compactness meant that
everybody there could actually meet everybody else which, with the unprecedented
international nature of the event, made that worldcon (from a world fandom
perspective) the most important science fiction convention ever held.
My first World Convention was that held in London in 1957. It was a big, BIG occasion for the British science fiction microcosm. A world convention here, in Britain, wow! At that time overseas travel was a novelty. One or two fans had actually been to continental Europe and I can think of only Walt Willis and the 1955 TAFF delegate, Ken Bulmer and his wife, Pamela, being the only U.K. fans who had previously attended a worldcon. Each of these had, naturally enough, taken place in the U.S., Walt's visit to the 1952 Chicago Chicon, while Ken and Pam had attended the Clevention in, yes, Cleveland. Like baseball's "world" series, science fiction's world conventions were always held in the U.S. The 1957 London Worldcon was even more innovative than the 1955 shifting of the annual British convention from its traditional Whitsuntide time slot to the more convenient Easter weekend which allowed convention committees to make use of the additional work free day, the Good Friday bank holiday.
In those days, the vast majority of attendees travelled to those Eastercons on the Good Friday itself and left on the Easter Monday. Many still do, of course (more recently economic factors, particularly those concerning family attendees, have forced large numbers of attendees to leave on the Sunday morning), though nowadays its by no means uncommon to have a reasonable number of attendees arrive on the Thursday, the day before the convention, and leave on the Tuesday, the day after. In 1957, fans began gathering at the King's Court Hotel, just off Bayswater Road, anything up to three days early.
There was great excitement and an air of bubbly anticipation during those pre-convention days. We'd already had the pleasure during the immediately preceding years' Easter conventions at Kettering of meeting American personalities like Leigh Brackett and Ed Hamilton, honeymooners Lee and Larry Shaw and of course Dave Kyle, who seemed to be a permanent fixture at British conventions, but hey! Get this! There was a entire planeload of American pros and fans coming over!
I walked into the hotel on the Wednesday morning and there they were, faces to tag on to names familiar to us and a host of entirely new friends. Where does one begin? Forry Ackerman was sitting in a crowded lounge, showing everyone a hand held electronic (first time I'd even heard the word) doodad comprising a host of twinkling colored lights. Bert Campbell, the former editor of Authentic, suggested that Forry take it out on to the street and give the general public an imitation of someone divining for uranium with it. TAFF delegate Bob Madle, in a trademark bow tie, was looking a little bewildered, as well he might; there was a faction of British fandom at that time who had felt that he had had no right to enter the competition as he wasn't really a fan. Bob might have been the president of his local SF society in Philadelphia and a member for untold years and he might have produced a popular fanzine in the States, but hell, someone over in the U.K. hadn't heard of him, so naturally he wasn't a fan, hey ho, hey ho. Bob always presented himself as being of good cheer, but it must have been hurtful and this rather unwelcoming attitude must have marred his enjoyment of his well-deserved trip. At least, he survived.
We'd heard of Sam Moskowitz, and of Boyd Raeburn who produced the very enjoyable fanzine A Bas. There was Ray Nelson sporting the badge, "You've heard of me?" which I felt should have included the additional word, "actually," and there was the sixty-something year old Rory Faulkner, who was an absolute charmer. And a novelty. Sixty-plus year olds just didn't travel six thousand miles to attend conventions, didn't y'know? She told me that George Bernard Shaw had said that youth was too precious to be wasted on the young. There was Bob Silverberg who was beginning to make a name for himself in the pro field. (Wonder whatever became of him?) And entirely new names to us like Steve Schultheis, Wally Weber, Shel Deretchin, the "original" Will Jenkins who wasn't Murray Leinster, George Nims Raybin (who a year later would be travelling in a Los Angeles car and singing the British National Anthem and extolling me, who happened to sitting on his lap at the time, to show a little respect and stand to attention), and Frank and Belle Dietz.
Of course, the convention wasn't only a chance to meet overseas fans, some of whom we'd been corresponding with for months if not years. It also provided the opportunity, as with every convention, to meet old friends from different parts of the country, people like Mal Ashworth, Terry Jeeves, Eric Bentcliffe, Tony Thorne, Peter West, Cyril Whitaker, George Locke, Eric Needham, Bill Harry (later to find fame as editor of Mersey Beat, the weekly Liverpool newspaper that documented the career of the Beatles), Ken Bulmer, Walter Gillings, Bob Richardson, Eric Jones, Audrey Eversfield, Dave Jenrette, Arthur Thomson, Ted Carnell (and his lovely petite secretary, Lynn Berman), Mike Moorcock, James White, Walt Willis, Vin¢ Clarke, Chuck Harris, Ted Tubb, Sid Birchby, Bobbie Wild, Joan and Paul Hammet, Laurence Sandfield, the Ratigans, the Buckmasters and the entire Liverpool Group, Norman and Ina Shorrock, John Roles, Pete Daniels, Dave Newman, Pat and Frank Milnes, Stan Nuttall and John Owen.
Aware that convention coverage in the press usually took the form of, "If you're walking down the High Street this weekend and happen to bump into a strange creature with a two green heads and bulging purple eyes," the con committee had thoughtfully gone the official serious route by rounding up every available writer and laying on an official press conference to which all the London dailies were invited so send along reporters. This little bash was well attended; every London and national paper sent along a team of reporters. All were interested only in interviewing John W. Campbell. Internationally renowned authors such Arthur C. Clarke and John Wyndham were ignored.
We couldn't get to the newsagents quickly enough the next morning. Only one paper even mentioned our little event, The Daily Express, I think it was. Their short item began -- and continued -- along the lines, "If you're walking along The Strand this morning and happen to bump into..."
It was traditional in those days for science fiction people to meet at the Globe, the pub round the corner from Hatton Garden on a Thursday evening.
I volunteered to show Forry and a few of the other visiting fans the way, virtually a straight run by tube, London's underground rail system. There are some underground stations where several routes cross and different underground passages lead to the different lines, but the nearest station to the King's Court was Queensway on the Central Line. This is simply a one line station; trains travel east into central London past Marble Arch, trains travel west way out to the back of nowhere. I led the assembled group down the stairs, on to the platform and eventually on to the train. We were all in high spirits, chattering away.
The train stopped at the next station, Lancaster Gate. So, why, I asked myself were there signs reading, 'Notting Hill Gate'?
We were travelling in the wrong direction!
At the next stop I told these overseas greenhorns that we changed trains. They followed me like trusting or well indoctrinated sheep. We crossed the tracks by the overhead bridge and took our places on the next train travelling back towards Queensway. All was well. I'd got away with my gaffe.
Until we arrived at Queensway and one of the group who, dammit, could actually read, found me out. The red on my face is only now beginning to fade.
And, so, on that Convention Eve, the Globe burst at the seams, with dozens of fans spilling out on to the sidewalk. I remember standing at the bar surrounded by John Wyndham, Bill Temple and Sam Youd (John Christopher). Drop names, what, me?
The convention officially got under way on the Friday afternoon in the hotel's long and narrow convention hall with Ted Carnell introducing various per-sonalities in the audience. I was sitting close to the back of the hall and watching various people stand up as Ted called out their names and remember thinking, "So that's what the back of John Russell Fearn's head looks like."
I don't recall there being any other programme item scheduled or taking place after that opening ceremony and so I went up bed for what was intended to be a short nap, waking in the early hours of Saturday morning and finding a small group of fans downstairs in the lounge, still chatting away and Forry, for some reason, having his own musical soirée. We eventually retired with Forry lading the way upstairs singing "California, Here I Come."
In these days of multi-track programmes, when three different items you definitely must go to are always scheduled simultaneously, that not only was the programme at the LonCon only a single thread affair, but that there were lengthy gaps between items. This was fine. I don't think that it was matter of attendees simply accepting this fact because it was the status quo of the day. I'm pretty sure that it was preferred. After all, there were only a couple of hundred attendees and in those days every attendee liked to have the chance to meet every other attendee. I have the faintest feeling at the back of my mind that at one of today's worldcons, with attendances around the five and a half thousand mark, meeting every other attendee would be, well, if not impossible, a mammoth task that allowed about three quarters of a minute per meeting. Yeh, that's not impossible. As long as everyone stands in line for you and you don't sleep. Heavens, haven't we all attended worldcons where we haven't even met people we've known were also there and whom we'd wished to meet?
The weekend's entire formal program ran as follows:
Saturday Morning: Free
Saturday Afternoon 1.15: The Official Luncheon followed by speeches from the Guest of Honour (Astounding editor, John W. Campbell) and other luminaries. There was a little delay in seating everyone because of a bottleneck in the corridor outside the hall. I remember Sam Moskowitz telling of an early convention when a plane carrying an entire three fans had arrived from Los Angeles. I think that it was at this speechfest that Gerfan Rainer Eisfeld brought a gasp of astonishment from his audience when he spoke of The Science Fiction Club Deutschland having a thousand members.
Saturday evening 8.15: A talk on the new London Planetarium, followed by an auction and the Fancy Dress Party and a dance, with live music provided by the Merseysippi Jazz Band. It was here that Chuck Harris, who was profoundly deaf, danced the evening away, taking the beat from the vibrating wooden floor.
Sunday afternoon: The St. Fantony Ceremony during which the Cheltenham Group 'honored' various worthy folk by initiating them into the Grand and Noble order. Bob Madle, Boyd Raeburn, Rory Faulkner and Bob Silverberg were some of those poor souls who were expected to drink the water from the well of St. Fantony, actually some 140 proof paint stripper.
Some amateur films, such as the coverage of a previous St Fantony ceremony came next, followed by a demonstration of hypnotism by Harry Powers.
Sunday evening 8.15: The Achievement Awards Ceremony, followed by Liverpool's taped play, The March of Slime.
Monday 2.30pm: The Battle of Wits Quiz, reminiscences by Sam Moskowitz, Bob Madle and Forry. This was followed by more fan films. At a final auction I was lucky enough to pick up the manuscript of Ray Bradbury's Icarus Montgolfier Wright for a knockdown price, the assembled fans not bidding against me out of sheer niceness. Where else but in fandom...?
And so, memories fade... was it at The King's Court that Ted Tubb berated John Campbell about his statement that slavery was a thing of the past? ("What about the conscript soldier?")...no, I think that was eight years later at the 1965 London Convention. Ah, what does it matter? 1957 was a benchmark convention. We little band of Brits were being recognised by our seniors over there on the other side of The Pond. It was an adventure for them and a darn great weekend for us.
The final worldcon? Well, yes, the final worldcon to be reminisced about in an issue of Mimosa.
All illustrations by Craig Smith