Fido Was A Gay Dog
Every year, the backlog of fanzine material which should be reprinted for today’s fans grows more immense. I wish someone would resume the habit which Bill Evans once had, publishing large collections of complete articles or extensive excerpts from individual fanzines of the past. I get these reprinting moods only occasionally, but I was looking through a bulging envelope the other night and realised that I could provide some welcome relief for Horizons readers from my own writings, by borrowing from the fanzines which had rested in it for three decades.
Futurian War Digest was a publication which kept British fandom together during World War Two. J. Michael Rosenblum started it as a for-the-duration replacement for his The Futurian. Doug Webster did an immense amount of work on it later on. It emphasised news notes on fandom and prodom, most of which wouldn’t interest today’s fans, and lots of book reviews, mostly too short to have lasting value. But there were longer items which I think have more than curiosity value for today’s fans. I hope I don’t get into trouble with anyone for my failure to seek permission to reprint from anyone involved. Some are dead, others have vanished completely, I’m sure I couldn’t assemble a complete set of okays, so I didn’t go out for any.
The first item is a rather long one which I’m going to quote without cuts. It’s John F. Burke’s biographical essay on Eric Charles Hopkins. Even older fans may have difficulty remembering Eric, so the piece is important not for the specific facts it narrates but as an example of how magnificently the British fans wrote when they really tried in that antiquity. It’s from the February, 1944, issue:
“In dealing with Eric, I am on more dangerous ground than that which I covered when attempting to present short studies of C. S. Youd and D. W. L. Webster. The first two subjects in this series are better known to fandom through their letters and publications than through personal contact: conventions and hasty fan gatherings are very pleasant affairs, but one has little opportunity of really getting to know one’s fellows. Sam and Doug, despite their expeditions, are still more like wise voices speaking from far distances than human beings. Eric Hopkins is well-known to all the Londoners, who will have a definite conception of him that may disagree with mine. I could have invented many things about the first two, but with Eric I must be careful.
“At the 1939 SFA Convention our chattering group was approached by a dark-complexioned, rather sinister person who was, if I remember aright, dressed in a green sports coat and flannels (and, presumably, shirt, tie, socks, and shoes). Eric denies the green sports coat, but I still feel sure that I remember it. He looked just as I imagined Sam Youd would look. Sam does not look in the least like Eric. We talked about something, but I cannot recall one word of it now. The second time we met was in London when Sam and I were staying with Maurice Healy: again I recall some very animated discussion wherein Sam and I were explaining some idea we had to Eric as we walked along by some park railings; again I have no memory of what it was. As we walked in the rain round the Albert Hall, sneered at the monument, and discussed all the fans we might visit, Sam mentioned ‘Brave New World’. Eric said “Isn’t that the one where the woman takes off her clothes and makes improper advances to the bloke?” “It is,” we confirmed. Eric said: “The improper advances are all I remember of that book.” He lost his ticket when we were travelling on the Underground, but we all looked so honest that the collector let him through without paying.
“The third meeting was in Liverpool, shortly before I was called up. Joan had had some throat trouble and lost her voice, which made things very much easier for Eric and me. We went out for a walk in the darkness and he became involved with the road blocks at the end of our road, finishing up on his knees, muttering at me from the gloom. We went back to Yorkshire, where he was at the time stationed with the RAF, leaving behind him Henry James’ ‘Ivory Tower’ and a box of Christmas cards he had promised faithfully to take back for his colleagues.
“This absent-mindedness does not quite tally with Eric’s character. He is an extremely methodical person: I am not too sure that he is not over-careful; too much deliberation can squash inspiration altogether. Eric’s judicial approach and refusal to be stampeded make him an excellent critic, but as yet I have seen no signs that he is likely to be a creative writer. He is impartial to a degree that astounds a person like myself: he chided me for saying that the writings of all the world’s great critics have been enlivened and improved by their prejudices and intolerance, and that an absolutely unbiased attitude would be rather a dull thing.
“Examine any of Eric’s few contributions to fan magazines, and you will be impressed by the care he has taken. He admits that he writes even his letters with some thought to their construction and phrasing. Though a great believer in good balance and form in literature, I think it best to write letters to a friend quite spontaneously, letting it all come out in a spurt. I realise, of course, that the effect at the other end may at times be alarming.
“Arnold Bennett said that “the fame of classical authors is entirely independent of the majority... It is by the passionate few that the renown of genius is kept alive from one generation to another. These few are always at work.” Eric has often quoted this to me when I have disparaged one or two writers of the past for whom he feels respect; he feels, with some justification, that if an author has survived some hundreds of years, there must be some reason other than affection on the part of the reader who claims to enjoy him. This is not to be denied, but there are dangers in such a belief. Eric is inclined to advance the more fact of their survival as proof of their excellence; he approaches each author whose work he has not tested before with the assurance that it must be good if “the passionate few” have been saying so for so many years; when asked his reasons for liking a particular work, he is likely as not to quote somebody else’ opinion, or justify its existence by something not unlike the “survival of the fittest.” So willing to believe that all things have their good points, he may at times lack discrimination.
“All this is not questioning Eric’s sincerity. More than any other of the circle with which I am acquainted, I think he may claim to have been in a job (pre-war, of course) to which he was entirely unsuited. In the most unfavourable circumstances he has developed a passion for art in all its forms and good taste that even his too open-minded policy cannot conceal. Entry into the Forces has made him think more deeply about post-war planning and all the difficulties attendant on the abolition of war from human relationships. Most of our acquaintances have put aside all such things, preferring to drink themselves silly or to sit contemplating their navels.
“I have been turning out my files and sorting through some of Eric’s letters. It is impossible to quote from them properly, as when he seizes upon an idea he develops it at some length — and there is an astonishing miscellany of ideas in the few pages I have had time to examine. He complains: “I have not the slightest recollection of a single instance when I had a poem explained to me in its construction, style, form, or any of the ways in which poetical expression is arrived at. Still less have I ever read a poet’s works in conjunction with his life and with a knowledge of his period, two indispensable prerequisites for a proper understanding.” You will observe that he is interested in the expression of ideas — in the machinery of art: I have not been able to find in his letters that he has paid any attention to the original inspiration. Manner rather than matter seems to have been Eric’s study so far.
“His method of reading in 1940: “I work in a period, and read contemporary fictions, etc., as an anchor to my voyages into the peaceful past. As Bennett suggested, I let one author lead to another. In this way, Coleridge should be the next purchase to Lamb, but I have ordered Wordsworth instead because of the latter’s ‘Literary Criticism’, which is ‘indispensable to an appreciation of verse.’ W.W. was a great friend of Lamb anyway.” Very methodical, you will admit.
“A few other glimpses of his opinions my be enlightening: “I like music of any period if it’s good, from Bach to Wagner...” “I have no preference in painting because I am without experience, although in time I shall endeavour to penetrate that wing of Art, as I am music and literature now....” “My own opinion is that the inbred instincts of centuries and a fundamental difference in mentality besides physical life sets woman quite apart from man...” Maybe we had better leave off there, as one’s opinions on such matters change in a couple of years, though it may be noted that in a recent letter from Canada he refers to the women there as empty-headed. I have no idea whether that proves anything or not.
“As usual, I come to the end of my study with a feeling of profound dissatisfaction. Human beings touch one another at so few points. Eric will doubtless be horrified to learn that I have always regarded him kindly as having many things in common with me. Thinking it over, I realise how little I know about his thoughts and his real attitude to life. In his conversation and his letters he says what he has to say quite clearly, but with such obvious calmness that one wonders if these are his real opinions or the result of stewing several philosophies from books he has read, straining the result through his critical mind, and producing a polished article that somehow reflects nothing of his real character. If his critical mind is still functioning, he will soon be writing to me and explaining just what is wrong with that startling metaphor of which I have just delivered myself.”
It’s a bit disconcerting to encounter a contemporary enthusiasm for something which we have been congratulating ourselves on first appreciating, decades after it was new. This same Fido contains a paragraph which proves that Val Lewton was discovered by fandom long before the nostalgia people thought they’d done the same thing in the 1960’s. Wartime confusion in Great Britain caused Fido’s staff to be unable to determine the identity of the writer:
“As one example of a film in which the physical aspect of a weird story is not unduly stressed, I might mention ‘The Cat People’, a very unpretentious production that has received little publicity among the general public. Based upon a legend said to be current in a part of Serbia, that certain people are descendants of the ‘cat people’, it tells of a young woman in America who marries, despite the ancient warning that those of their type will, if occasion should arise, change into large cats of the panther variety. Although, in the film, she changes and roams in search of per prey, no actual changes are shown and the only view of the ‘cat’ is by silhouette or shadow. One of the best scenes is where, driven by instinct, she attempts to kill the woman friend of her husband, chasing her through an hotel swimming bath. The other woman frantically diving into the pool, treads water, all the while listening to the roaring of the beast in the darkened hall, lighted only by the flickering water on the ceiling. The familiar pseudo-religious touch is introduced, when her husband and the ‘other woman’ are trapped in the draughtsman’s room where they work, and the man routs the beast by the simple expedient of raising a T-square so that the silhouette forms a cross, and calling the beast by his wife’s name, telling her to go “For God’s sake”. On the whole I found it an engrossing film and hope there will be more like it.”
Fido had fleas of a sort. United States called them riders in later years, when fans got into the habit of publishing small personalised fanzines and sending them to this or that fanzine for co-distribution. Fanac was probably the most famous later example of a fanzine that reached readers with this type of riders. Futurian War Digest must have been the first fanzine that did this regularly, and there were times when the riders provided more pages of reading matter than their mount. With the May, 1943, Futurian War Digest, for instance, went a British Fantasy Society Bulletin, probably published by D. R. Smith, Dennis Tucker’s Delirium Tremens, and Ted Carnell’s Sands of Time. From the Tucker publication, here’s a narrative by Edwin MacDonald of how another hermit was hampered in his efforts to live up to his reputation:
“The Hermit of the North and the Hermit of the Highlands had long thought it was time they got together, and so they did, to plot a campaign for the Fanarchists. I arrived in Aberdeen and promptly started out in the wrong direction, but eventually found my way to the spot marked ‘X’ on Doug’s map, at the bus stop near the Union Street and Bridge Street crossing, where I was to await the arrival of Doug in bus. I had just deposited my case on the pavement and straightened up, to be confronted with a figure which bobbed up from I know not where, with hand outthrust in front of my nose. “Edwin MacDonald?” the figure exclaimed. “Good Ghu!” thought I, “this must be the Webster”... “Doug Webster?” said I, taking hold of the outstretched hand, Doug had apparently arrived early. And thus we met...
“We wandered around till lunch-time, when we met Doug’s sister and brother-in-law; very nice people. Then we hopped aboard a tram, after Doug had assured me it was quite tame, and reached Fountainhall Road and the far-famed ‘Idlewild’! On the doors, inside the bests and inside the tripewriters were large placards:- “Shut This!” — “May You Be Haunted By The Souls Of All The Tomatoes If You Do Not Water Them Now!!” — “Sinners Beware! Water The Tomatoes Now!” and such like. The majority of Doug’s family was, you see, away for a week’s holiday. Incidentally, the Web has had a pillar-box placed just outside his gate especially for his convenience...
“We explored some bookshops and in the evening we went to the theatre and saw an amusing play of Somerset Maugham’s.
“When I entered Doug’s room, I gazed in awe at the beautiful collection of books. Forthwith I began my excavations in the various bookcases and shelves; Doug was astounded at some of the things I found. He has quite a number of books on psychology, his favourite fruit, many of fantasy, weird, science, philosophy, mathematics, sadism, humour, general, and the best collection of pornography it has been the pleasure of my eyes to rest upon; also quite a few ‘Weird Tales’, ‘Unknown’s and other items, rare and other. I even discovered some science-fiction magazines, and imagine Doug reading things like ‘Terror Tales’ and ‘Horror Stories’! He also has a Flash Gordon book which he treasures. I became immersed in all this literature until the early hours of the morning.
“Next day, Sunday, we journyed to Hazlehead, wandered through the park and over the moor, where we were entertained by Home Guards slithering along the ground on their bellies, practising methods of crawling. We walked on and talked... I even got Doug to talk about science-fiction! Back in ‘Idlewild’ we frittered away the time; ping-pong, records, tea, talk. I wormed my way through his books and mags., — and correspondence when he wasn’t looking. (Anyone wishing to know who ‘Swine’ is should send me a 1/- P.O. and stamped addressed envelope!)
“We finally kissed each other Au Revoir with tears in our eyes, as Doug was going back to the land early the next morning, which I spent wallowing among the books again. All this was interspersed with fights with bellicose little Berlioz, the fascinating Webster kitten. In the afternoon I set out for home again to recuperate from the shock of my first meeting with a fan...
“I may conclude by saying that though Doug did not at first seem like his letters, he did later seem to ‘fit in’...”
Webster, unfortunately, was among the many United Kingdom fans who gafiated during, or soon after, World War Two. He was erudite without being stuffy, and seemed to possess far more talent than the three or four fans of his generation who became rich through professional writing. “Back to the land” probably refers to the public service farm duties which I seem to remember him tackling as a conscientious objector. Incidentally, the three-dot outbursts are in the original, not signals that I’ve cut anything, probably a writing affection of Edwin’s. Then, in October, 1944, Fido ran an item about the adventures in Italy of a pair of Canadians. It was written by Bob Gibson:
“It was a bright and sunny morning when Sgt. Norm Lamb of Toronto and your humble scribe set out. It stayed that way, only more so, all day, for the local weatherman has been reading the inter-bellum tourist leaflets, and has turned on the sun.
“All leave, pass and ‘absent without —’ travel is by rule of thumb. There are official pick-up points to facilitate it. And by some strange ruling of destiny it is always easier to get away from camp than to get back. We reached Naples in two lifts.
“Bookshops were known to exist on and near the Via Roma, near the Naafi. We came upon them in due time, and entered the nearest. First blood was mine — La Casa del Genere Umano, by Mario Viscardini. (Neither of us is an Italian scholar. We pick fantasy by the cover illustrations, mostly. The majority of books are paper-bound>) Norm groaned at this, but it soon developed that he was a faster reader than I, and his professional training — he ran a bookshop back home — gave him the edge. He soon made up the difference and went ahead. I have yet to catch up.
“We passed from one little shop to another, beset by shoeshine boys, ring sellers, souvenir peddlers, beggars, and children touting restaurants the while. While I looked over a blank windowful Norm struck a rack containing several by Luigi Motta and Capt. C. Ciancimino. At the end of it I was very much behind, and tried to make the assistant understand I wanted copies, too. The chorus was “No kapeesh.” (Phonetic spelling). When I lifted the pile and asked “Dooay?” he went into the basement, but returned with a shake of the head.
“The next shop was the last on that street. My chief harvest there was a two-volume (paper) Italian version of Kellermann’s Tunnel — Il Tunnel Sooto l’Oceano.
“When we returned past the shop where Lamb had reaped his harvest I had an inspiration and said I was going to try an experiment. I had copied the names (of Lamb’s books) down and showed the list to the man. Then I added ‘Etcetera’. It clicked. He led me into the cellar and pointed out a couple of shelves. I wondered where Norm had got to and began to look them over. I found other copies of most that Norm had acquired outside. Shortly, he entered. And lo — I found that I was a sump of duplicity, who had left him to bake in the boiling sun, while I revelled in a nice, cool cellar full of BOOKS! Seems he didn’t think I’d be in long enough to matter until I was. (When I mentioned that I was going to write this he commanded me to confess my treachery in the matter. Orders is orders!)
“At the end of our time I had twelve books, Lamb about eighteen. (One of these was non-fantasy. Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills. Another was by Jack London, but I had it in English, so wasn’t tempted.) All in all, a satisfactory trip. We got a kilo of oranges to help us bear our burdens, oiled up our thumbs and set out for camp. Took us seven lifts to get back.
“Now if only the language wasn’t Greek to us we’d have lots of reading matter. But readable or not, this week we are going to Naples again... If the thumbs hold out.
“In all we have made three trips. Books that sold at L5 (lire, not pounds) new, are sold at an average of L25 second-hand. We’ve been asked L250, but it didn’t take. When the Lamb was asked that for a hard-shelled book I’d got for fifty I could fairly see the spikes of his moustache smoke.
“My score is 29 Italian (11 of which Norm hasn’t yet acquired), one German and two English. His must exceed 40 all told, and he has 13 I still want, including the prize of the lot, Grifone’s Dalla Terra Alle Stelle.”
Such episodes in Scotland or Italy are trivial and meaningless even as incidents in fan history, I suppose. But I feel a sort of triumph whenever I read such things in old fanzines. The events described, unimportant though they are in comparison to the might events of the mundane world in those years, have been reprieved from the oblivion that wipes out such things as soon as memories grow faint and participants die. Maybe every copy of the fanzines that originally published them and of this issue of Horizons will eventually crumble into dust or meet some more violent fate through the work of centuries or another war. Until then, a few fragments of the past have been salvaged and maybe someone else will reprint them anew some day, giving them a further parole from the common fate of man’s works. Meanwhile, an event which had more eyewitnesses was the 1944 Eastercon in London, organised by the Cosmos Club of Teddington. Billed as the first full-scale convention of the war in Great Britain, it was reported in diary form by Dr. John K. Aiken in the June 1944, Fido:
“Saturday: 2pm. Aiken and Frank Parker arrive at Waterloo without tickets and are detained by officials. In the distance they see hordes of conventioneers, who avoid their gaze. Eventually they are permitted to leave the platform.
“2.15 — 3.0pm. Gathering of the fans: by 3, Syd Bounds (Kingston), Hal Chibbett (Bowes Park, N11), George Ellis (Manchester), Bruce Guffron, Fred Goodier, Gordon Holbrow (Teddington), Ron Lane (Manchester), Arthur Hillman (Newport, Mond.), Peter Hawkins (Surbiton), Don Houston (Letchworth), John Millard (RCAF, Jackson, Mich.), Dennis Tucker (High Wycombe) and Arthur F. Williams (Camberwell) have accumulated. Attempts are made to read the Con Booklet, which Hawkins has spent the whole previous day in duplicating, but although the cover is fine the paper inside is too bad and the attempts are swiftly abandoned. (The quiz which was particularly illegible is to be reprinted.) Everyone worries because Gus does not appear (it is later learnt that all leave is cancelled in his area.) ((Ed. — No British fan gathering is complete these days without our pet Angeleno, Norman (Gus) Willmorth — in American uniform, a friendly smile and... well!))
“3 — 4.30. Perambulations. Nothing interesting is found in Charring Cross Road.
“4.30. Coventry St. Corner House. Pandemonium. The Oaseleys (Stoke-on-Trent), Michael F. Lord (looking magnificent enough to be his namesake of the Admiralty) and Bullett turn up, and, like the rest, are pushed through the mangle which is called the cafeteria. Manchester expresses surprise that London can keep alive on such fare and retires to recuperate in the park.
“5.30 — 7. Disney programme at news theatre taken in. Things are looking up.
“7 — 7.30. Consumption curve for Scotch Ale in the London area begins to rise.
“7.30. The Convention President (Walter H. Gillings) and Mrs. Gillings and W. A. Devereux arrive. The Shanghai Restaurant is invaded. Some participants perform prodigies of eating, despite the theory that the soup is nothing but an aquarium warmed up bodily. They become completely surrounded by piles of empty dishes. Others hang back delicately, valuing their stomachs. Scotch Ale is brought in an enormous jug, and is imbibed. Professor Low, unable to be present under military exigencies, sends the gathering his love. Names are signed in wax (stencil). Devereux, Gillings and Aiken decide that everyone must take everything much more seriously.
“9.30 — 10. Scotch Ale curve reaches peak for the year.
“10.00 onwards. Many meet their Waterloo.
“Sunday: 10 — 11 am. Prodigious fetching and carrying by one and all. Shirley’s (Teddington cafe housing Sunday’s session) disappears beneath a wave of auction items and electrical apparatus. This latter turns out to be useless, doing nothing but emit loud indelicate noises, and keeping a mobile fuse-mending squad constantly in action. Gascoigne, Gateland, Gomberg and Sandfield (wearing a tie of a totally new primary colour) are newcomers. Swing discussions rage. Hawkins appears with duplicated dinner signatures. Ellis reads Captain Future, undisturbed.
“12 noon. Museum. Original Turners, an original Morey, MS of The Smile of the Sphinx (“It’s the cat’s whiskers,” says Hawkins) and other ToW contributions, first issues, old books, and the complete files of Beyond and Cosmic Cuts are on view.
“12.30. Brains Trust. Gillings, Aiken, Hawkins and the questioners maintain high intellectual level except for typographical trouble leading to moonstruck fans and ribaldry about Millard’s socks. ((Ed. — A peculiarity of American servicemen is their rolled-down gents natty half-hose — can someone tell us the reason?)) As clank of cutlery comes from below, the last question is answered in monosyllabic unison.
“1.00. Lunch. “Proper Food” asks someone anxiously. (It is.)
“1.45 — 2.15. Presidential Address. Gillings performs the prodigious feat of keeping large numbers of fans silent and attentive for half an hour wile he discusses the possible future and functions of fandom and fanwritings, emphasising the need for an attitude at once more serious and more broadminded. He outlines the kind of professional magazine he hopes will appear in Britain after the war, and suggests the Beyonds as the training-grounds for its authors. It is up to fans, he says, to show that stf is worthwhile and can really foster achievement. (The high-spot of the Con.)
“2.30 — 3.30. Talk.
“3.30 — 5.00. Monologue by Parker: i.e. first session of the auction. Quiet opening: later terrific
bidding for FFM’s in particular. Surprising lack of enthusiasm for original drawings and manuscripts as against magazines.
“5.00– 5.30. Tea, and relaxation for the auctioneer’s throat.
“5.30 – 6.30. More auction — top price (10/-) paid for complete file of Scoops; the FFM of 10/6 fame does well again (8/6). Only a half-dozen items turned in. Ellis gets his Captain Futures. Curiously no British reprint Editions are left. A spare Beyond does well.
“6.30 — 8.00. Films. The Cosmos Club film now patched and scratched almost beyond belief, plays all its tricks: it breaks, the reel falls off, the sprockets go haywire and finally the projector lamp blows. But Millard is a match for it, there is a spare lamp and after he has whirled it through in well under the bogey the remaining films are tops, Monster of the Loch being a little cryptic and dated. Departures begin, Tucker and Lord leading.
“8.00 onwards. The King’s Arms. Relaxation. Toasts are drunk to the Cranberry Bogs of Cape Cod and the Governor of the Greater Antilles. Trains are missed. By special arrangement the full moon rises to light the walkers home.
“In conclusion, the Committee would like to thank the participants (and in particular the President, for his generous sacrifice of a placid weekend) and the donors of auction items, for all they did to make the Con a success. They announce that they propose to issue a souvenir booklet of higher quality than the illegible Programme; as to the proceeds (not so large as they would have been if that lamp hadn’t blown!) a proportion will go to a Future Convention Fund. One further announcement: the Debate (“Man is not a free-agent”) postponed for lack of time, will have been held at Shirley’s on May 13.”
I should explain that I’m using Fido’s typography in most respects, without exerting undue care in the matter. I’m omitting the all-caps which were used when mentioning prozines, partly because of the limited legibility capital letters possess on this old typewriter. I’m omitting an occasional editorial insertion in these articles. Meanwhile, I think it’s time for another brief biography by John F. Burke. This series, incidentally, had begun in Sam Youd’s The Fantast, It moved to this fanzine when Sam gafiated to become first a soldier, then John Christopher. This sketch of Donald Raymond Smith comes from the April, 1944, Futurian War Digest:
“This is going to be awkward. It is more than somewhat presumptuous of me to attempt a biographical sketch of the aloof, secretive secretary of the British Fantasy Society. I have met Don thrice, corresponded. with him, and fought with him in the columns of fan magazines, but although he has never been reticent with his opinions, he has never been communicative about himself. When it came to writing this study, I wrote and tried to coax a few details from him, but received only a refusal to divulge any “intimate secrets” of his life, with a rhyme that sheds little light on his character.
Donald Raymond Smith
Was beloved of all his kith;
But he was never very well in
With many of his kin.
“Having failed to produce any response, I tried to recall some little thing from our meetings that would help to start a train of thought. Don came to my rescue when I was stranded in a particularly awful army camp near Nuneaton. He came over to collect me with his tandem, and probably does not realise even now how close I was to turning away in fear. Perhaps he hoped I would, and had brought the infernal machine along merely to scare me. If so, he failed; we wobbled about a bit, I made apologetic noises and thought how contemptuous the back of Don’s neck looked, then we started on the long road to the Smith’ ancestral home. I was fed well, given several books of cartoons to read – these being considered about my intellectual standard – and later delighted by a recital of gramophone records that testified to an unsuspected musical taste in the retiring Mr. Smith.
“This brief respite from captivity was not my first meeting with the Sage of Nuneaton. We had chatted for a few hours in Birmingham several months previously. We met for a third time and indulged in much the same routine. And from these three meetings I gathered – well, not much. Don was fair, somewhat windblown, wore spectacles and looked more good-humoured than I had expected. He will, in my memory, be clad in sports coat and flannels forever, unless we come together at some future convention and he wears the flowing gown and peaked hat that suits his office.
“But that is unlikely. He says that he will not attend conventions. He discourages people from visiting him, and in his letters and articles has always sneered – yes, I say sneered — at fans. Unsociable? One of those unfortunates who cannot escape from the inexorable grip of fantasy, but endeavours to salvage his pride by making derogatory remarks about his fellow slaves?
“Nothing ready-made will fit the case. If I look back to the days when I first read the Smith articles in Novae Terrae, I can remember the feeling I then had of his being conceited, affected in style, and shallow. Time has altered that opinion, though not to such a degree that I number myself among the “Cosmic Case” admirers. Sam Youd and I quarrelled over some of the prose poems by Smith in Fantast, particularly the purple “Oceana”, which was acclaimed by the devotees of gush as a minor masterpiece. I thought it bad then, and I think it bad now, but certain features of Don’s style appeal to me more now than they did then.
“The name of Donald Raymond Smith will not, I feel confident, ever be known as that of one of the great creative writers of the world. He himself has no such ambitions, as far as I can judge. He would like to make as much money as P. G. Wodehouse, but that’s not much help. I think he would make a good critic of the caustic, destructive kind – a minor James Agate. His phrasing is terse, and at his best he can produce delightful flashes of critical sensibility but in anything long his style would suffer. Perhaps he was destined to be a journalist, but he is not interested in the ephemerae which must of necessity be the journalist’s main concern. And perhaps he was destined to be no more than what he is, a jig-tool mechanic, dabbling in literature and music, admiring blood-and-beery writers like Hemingway, making a name for himself as a sardonic sage in a small group of adolescent fanatics. There is something for the psychologist: is Don a would-be mighty figure who can find no outlet for his desires in the larger world, and endeavours to build up a reputation among a few gullible readers of science-fiction? It fits – he sees as few of these fans as possible because personal contact always destroys such illusions as the Sage of Nuneaton’s reputation for wit and caustic criticism. Could be.
“It could be a lot of other things as well. What makes Don what he is? Was he dropped on his head when young? The shape of his head and features does not suggest it – at any rate, no more than those of any other fan.
“Work it out for yourself. He writes satires and vague fantasies, confesses to having written a science-fiction novel (kept well out of sight), likes the idea of strong men, shows no sign of liking women, beer, or cigarettes; would not like to pluck and clean a chicken, dislikes intellectuals, likes Wagner, James Thurber, David Langdon, climbing mountains....
“He has annoyed more people than I would care to annoy. John Russell Fearn threatened a libel action. Sam Youd, after being one of Smith’s most ardent disciples for many years, fell out with him because he showed no signs of sharing Sam’s political views: Sam is like that. Doug Webster, I think, found the views of Smith too much to endure, probably because Don exhibited no social consciousness. We were all shocked at the name of D. R. Smith being entered in the B.F.S. rolls as secretary: the individualistic, unsociable D.R.S., notorious as the dead-end of letter chains, magazine chains; the lazy, annoying Smith! But there he is. It serves him right.
“So far Don and I have not had hard words. We quarrelled in fanmags before we began writing to one another, so perhaps that phase is over. Doubtless if I were a budding politician or a sociologist I would find him intolerable. As it is, I find him tolerable. No more than tolerable? Well, now....”
Occasionally, Fido published material not by Britishers or by New Worlders on duty in Europe. Such was an article “Down with Fan Humour,” which Francis T. Laney wrote in the August, 1943, issue:
“The literature of fandom teems with allegedly comic articles and stories – some entire fanzines are devoted exclusively to the silly side of things. Even crudely drawn cartoons have been allowed space in some issues – as though we were all juvenile followers of the Buck Rogers funny books. An outsider looking through a representative stack of fanzines could not fail to be unfavourably impressed – and could scarcely be expected to be attracted by so apparently frothy a hobby. Fans generally speaking are fairly intelligent, reasonably serious people (judging from my own contacts) and it is a source of never-failing amazement to me that so large a proportion of so many fanzines is devoted to laboured attempts to make us laugh.
“In late years, the cult of silliness and asininity has been growing by leaps and bounds among the general population, and it is not surprising to see a reflection in fan circles. The “kidder” and the “wise-cracker” have become national heroes; every night, millions of Americans sit spellbound, listening to some inane radio comedian. Jokes and humour obviously have their place in a well-balanced life, but it is pathological when nothing can be taken seriously, when everything must be twisted and distorted into something to laugh at — this condition is, I suspect, merely one facet of the widespread inanity that grips mankind. The walls of a madhouse ring with pointless laughter.
“I freely admit that humorous fantasy has a legitimate place in literature (cf. Thorne Smith), but it so happens that of all types of writing, humour is one of the hardest to compose adequately. Serious writing can vary greatly in quality without completely repulsing the reader, but humour must be well-nigh perfect. It is too easy for the would-be humorist to be obscure, in poor taste, silly – or to commit any one of a hundred other faults – and in any of these cases, the product is definitely unfunny. Amateurs, being proportionally less skilled, are all the more likely to lay an egg. In fact, I can offhand think of but one intentionally comic piece of fan writing that struck me as being definitely funny: Art Widner’s “Saved by a Pill” in a recent issue of Canada’s Light — though of course there are belly-laughs to be found in some purportedly serious items!
“Our hobby of reading, collecting, and writing about stf and fantasy is not furthered by pseudo-humorous accounts of fanventions, fantrips, and the like, entertaining though they may be. A good fanzine should not be entirely ephemeral — fiction, verse, serious articles dealing with various phases of bibliography, biography, criticism, discussion forums, arguments — and of course, moderately sane accounts of fan doings. Please don’t get the idea that I am a humourless and solemn old sour-puss, with no appreciation of the lighter side of life. I enjoy a good joke just as much as the next fellow, and my laugh is loud and frequent. I merely assert that fan humour is NOT good humour, and even if it were, that there is no legitimate place for it in fanzines.
“I have noticed that you British fans have developed quite a tendency to ape the alleged “humour” of American fanzines – even in some cases reprinting humorous items verbatim. Generally speaking, the British fanzines I’ve seen so far display a decidedly sane and level-headed approach, and it is my sincere hope that you Britons will keep your magazines serious. If you must imitate or reprint from America, refrain from the giddy items disgracing so many of our publications. Some things should be allowed to moulder into oblivion.”
The moral, I suppose, is that Laney drew generously on his own past fanac when he helped Burbee invent a fictitious personality for Al Ashley after Al had dropped safely out of fandom. And here’s another example of an uncharacteristic style for a famous fan of the past. Arthur Clarke wrote an article for the January, 1943, Fido in reply to a discussion on space ships which had been appearing in earlier issues:
“Here are a few comments on some of the suggestions on space ship design. Firstly it is painfully obvious that most of the writers have not the slightest idea of the technicalities involved, and most of their ideas are culled from the s.f. mags. Nuff said!
Silburn . Oh, so you can’t have a ship that, is 90% fuel can you not? That is true but it gives a very false idea. It is still possible to make a ship with an overall fuel ratio of nearly a thousand to one by using the principles of cellular construction, as in the BIS design which has been extensively publicised.
“When it is possible to refuel ships on other worlds much more advantageous ratios can be employed: in fact the improvement is about ten to one. However I agree that chemical rockets do not seem likely to be economical though improvements in design and fuels may make them so.
“Why should we leave at seven miles m.s.? Because although a rocket could travel as slowly as it liked, in theory, it would very quickly burn up its fuel just “sitting still” fighting gravity. The most economical use of the fuel is a rapid combustion to impart the full velocity to the ship at the earliest possible moment so that it can coast the rest of the way out of the Earth’s gravitational field. The rate of combustion is limit-ad by the acceleration the crew can stand and so the ship would not reach its full speed for nearly two thousand miles. By that time it would be travelling very nearly 7 mps. So the 7 mph figure does relate to the practical rocket ship.
“Streamlining . Who the hell discussed the use of streamlining at 7 mps? By the time the ship reaches that speed it is a couple of thousand miles up in high class vacuum. But for many miles the ship has to plough through air and then streamlining may become vitally important. It would make a difference of literally millions of H.P.! Above 600 mph true streamlining fails but it is important to have a correct profile. Why does R.J.S. think that shells are pointed???
“Windows . Why on earth shouldn’t the control cabin be in the obvious place, the nose of the ship? The body of the ship would be useless to protect it against any possible accident – in space at least.
“Nothing much to see”. My God, does the fellow know what he’s talking about???
“As for the idea of using television to look at the stars – does Silburn realise the weight and complexity of television equipment? We want the ship’s circuits to be as simple as possible and as light as can be made.
“And what may the “Two inch layer of ozone” be? I presume the reference is to the very thick – many miles at least – layer round the earth which would be two inches thick at ground level pressure. And in any case this layer only stops ultraviolet and has no effect on the inconceivably more penetrating cosmic rays.
“I assume that R.J.S. is really capable of working out what 7 mps comes to in mph and that the figure in para. 3 is a typist’s error.
“The idea of a ship deliberately emptying itself of precious air is the funniest thing of all. I suggest that S. work out just how much the air in a ship would weigh.”
I hope I caught most of the typing mistakes that plagued Ego’s reply, although my stupidity left me afraid to change at the start of the fourth paragraph the initials to what I suspect he meant, p.s. Much more characteristic in style and content is Ted Carnell’s recounting of recent adventures. It appeared in the December, 1943, Sands of Time, which came along with the Futurian War Digest of the same date:
“Over 30,000 miles in eight months of travel ia the latest achievement of your Sandsman; we knelt in homage to the first rain and fog we have seen in almost that length of time. The last rainstorm we had the pleasure of shower-bathing in was the clash of three mighty electrical storms somewhere in the Indian Ocean near the Equator. Since then it has been very stormy for the Nazis and Italians, to our lasting satisfaction.
“Reading the issues of Fido that have appeared during our absence we observe that a few airgraph letters of ours have reached home; that there has been much going and coming amongst fans; arrivals from the States; and that it seems to have been Baby Time in Britain too. What are we – a man or a mouse?
“To our regret we never quite caught up with Sphinxy Temple – we arrived in Cairo only to find that he had moved on to the Tunis area a month before; we moved from Sicily to Italy to find that he had followed us into Sicily; and now we have left Italy we hear that he has arrived in our footprints there and is probably chasing the Tedeschi still further back. Of other fans in the Middle East we saw and heard little, although we had some amazing meetings with non-stf people we knew from the old home town, and many were the carousels on looted Italian wine.
“The past eight full moons have borne great significance to us in our travels. Each one has brought new scenes and strange places, and stranger adventures – until our travels have read even stranger than fiction. So that these glimpses of life in the raw are not lost upon posterity we have been writing a book about them — “Foo-ey, a Travelog of the Little Foxes” which will never see print owing to its rawness, but may make interesting reading to a private audience after the war.
“March full moon found us sweltering in the heat of the tropics somewhere off Freetown, Sierra Leone. The long weeks of idleness with nothing to read produced from three of us a naval game taking six hours to play. The game became the craze or the ship, and seems to have spread throughout Fleet circles, for when we reached a North African port a few months ago we found that it was being played by officers and men there complete to the final details of rules. (Patent applied for.)
“At this time, too, we undertook to edit and produce a four-page ship’s newspaper every other day, “Tropical Times” became quite a success during our eight-week voyage, and we wrote several controversial articles: ancient astronautics, ghosts and telepathy, which raised local storms. Astronautics was hotly debated in the Officer’s Lounge and we finally had to give a lecture to some 200 of them, explaining simpler more fundamental principles – our brain couldn’t go deeper than that, not having the depth that Pilot Officer Clarke has. Needless to say that the old bogey of whether a rocket could work in space or not cropped up, and many bets have been placed upon our proof or disproof of the fact.
“The full moon in April was under idyllic conditions – it shone across the outline of Table Mountain, Cape Town, while we where delving in a variety of secondhand bookshops loaded down with pro mags – on loan only, as the supply had been stopped from USA. May saw us watching a movie show in an open-air cinema, at Suez – it happened to be Disney’s “Fantasia” again, while June moon leered down at us from across the mountains in the heart of Syria. July illuminated the Sphinx and Pyramids under a mysterious light, and for fleeting moments of magic woven by the sonorous voice of an Egyptian guide we were transplanted back to the days of the Pharaohs.
“July saw a different scene — the battle of Catania Plain in Sicily, with huge fires burning from the aerodrome; of cones of red flak floating skywards in the protection of our ports and beaches; the roar of artillery barrages, and the chatter of machine-guns.
“August brought almost a total eclipse of the moon, a calculated fact as we stealthily crept in on a commando raid on Messina, allowing us to get ashore under darkness only to be pinned down on a mile stretch of road for a whole day by German and Italian guns from the mainland. September saw us again viewing a movie, this time only a few miles behind 8th Army front-line in Southern Italy, with General Montgomery as guest of honour. So rapid has our movement been that October full moon shone on us once again at a movie show, this time back in N. Africa while the November’s one peered fitfully down upon us in the setting of our Editorial address.”
It makes running around to a lot of cons seem less adventure-some, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, Ted had had a lot to say about a still current topic in the October, 1942, Fido. Writing in the Sands of Time dated September of the same year, he launched forth from comments in another fanzine by Art Widner. Widner had suggested that fandom no longer needed science fiction. Carnell wrote:
“That’s a nice meaty statement, and one that we are in total agreement with. We feel that the reason fandom has swung away from stf as the mainspring of interest, in this country, is because we have had to. With the trickle of supply that has been our misfortune since the war began, fans have had to find an out for their writings in other fields. We praise the older fans who refused to get out when there didn’t seem to be much left in fandom to write about. We praise the newcomers who managed to sow some seeds amongst the most barren and stony ground that could possibly be found. That British fandom kept going is still a miracle to us – but we feel that it is infinitely stronger and more sensible now than it ever was before, or could possibly have been if there hadn’t been a war.
“However, Art misses one singular thing. It wasn’t us Britishers who started this trend away from the centre-pin, fantasy, as a means of expression of thought. It originated in his own country, America, and he is one of the pioneers of the new style, although he seems to have overlooked the fact. For many years now there has been quite a number of American fans who have endeavoured in many ways to break the traditions that have kept fans and fandom in the groove worn by predecessors. Their efforts have often been ridiculed – many of them have been ostracised, called Radicals, Reds, Fascists; embroiled in senseless arguments, until such a host of minor red herrings have been across the trail that it has been almost impossible to discern the true spirit of these pioneers.
“Now, this isn’t a plug for the New York Futurians (the above build-up might be misconstrued by some people as being such), but mention of the NY Futurians makes us realise that some of their members are amongst the foremost of the fans who have been endeavouring to lift fandom out of the rut. Many years ago Wollheim, Lowndes and Michel were expanding their fan writings into a broader field. Along with them went a score or more American fans who wanted to write better and more interesting stuff; who no doubt also felt the urge to cash in on their abilities and make their hobby pay for itself.
“From this nucleus of fans came the FAPA (Fantasy Amateur Press Association). Yes, you can take this as a plug if you want to, although it won’t help any for you probably won’t be able to become a member of FAPA these days. Art must have forgotten all about the FAPA when he wrote that we were pioneering this new trend in fandom. He’s one of the leading members himself, which is probably why he says “It is the kind of fandom I like.” Obviously. The FAPA was formed in 1937. Its principal object in view was to assist would-be fanzine publishers who just wanted to publish “for the hell of it,” by criticism from other members and primarily as a central mailing office, whereby each quarterly mailing would be gathered and sent out under one wrapper.
“This doesn’t sound a particularly worthy ambition, on the face of things. Especially as membership was limited to 50 members. Yet it was the seed from which much has grown in five years. That first mailing is still a pain in the neck to me. It was representative of the awful junk that American fanzine. editors were flooding the mails with. Bad duplication, uninteresting articles, childish artwork. It was a great disappointment to me, for I foresaw that the FAPA could be one of the finest and strongest amateur organisations for would-be authors and artists both in America and Britain.
“With subsequent mailings, however, the standard began to creep up. Each editor-publisher began to strive hard to beat his 49 competitors. Realising that they had practically three months to turn out good results they really got down to it, and by the end of the first year, FAPA had reached the stage where classy, pleasing to the eye fanzines were rolling off the duplicators and mimeographs.
“This had a tremendous influence on contemporary fanzines – those who were publishing monthly fanzines, and belonged to the FAPA, forced the pace of those who didn’t belong. The latter either had to turn out good stuff or fall out of line in the circulation race. (Not that this has ever been very high, but it makes the difference in loss considerable). Then gradually throughout FAPA fanzines I noticed this vast swing away from fantasy as the backbone of amateur publishing. It was a welcome trend, for it brought forth many healthy ideas along with the increased perfection of production.
“Jack Speer and Milt Rothman were pioneers of the new trend. The former’s “Sustaining Program” and the latter’s “Milty’s Mag” are both running commentaries on almost everything from politics to pills. Far different from them is H.C. Koenig’s “Reader and Collector” which has always been our favourite. HC debunks everything debunkable in humorous style, as well as providing reviews of many old stf books from his vast collection.
“There are many others – and there are still some that need alteration to bring them up to standard – but all of them have helped to break fandom away from that narrow-minded groove whereby all fans bowed down and worshipped the Good God Science-Fiction – as presented by Gernsback. That age is dead. Therefore, we feel that the healthiest sign here was that trend away from fantasy, and the swing to normal writings on many subjects.
“It is interesting to note that many of the original FAPA members are now established as authors or editors. Some have become professional artists. Many of the present members are writing and selling stories to numerous markets as well as their own stf magazines.”
But Fido published material about science fiction quite often. Jack W. Banks demonstrated in the October, 1943, issue how long ago critics were using Heinlein’s fiction as a springboard for dives into sociological waters, long before Heinlein’s own ideas were being inlaid into his novels as conspicuously as candles on a birthday cake.
“Robert Heinlein’s “If This Goes On” is a dramatic portrayal of the ultimate development of totalitarian dictatorship, based on the false omnipotence of a pseudo-religious creed, upheld by scientifically determined mental conditioning of the population. The inspiration for this story might well be found in “The Rape of the Masses” by Serge Chakotin, published here at the beginning of the war. Chakotin’s work, subtitled “The Psychology of Totalitarian Political Propaganda”, first deals with the concept of the conditioned reflex, and the pioneer work of Pavlov especially, leading to a survey of that principle as applied to propaganda directed to the masses of the population for political purposes. Chakotin says: “The possibility of influencing men existed, of course, in all ages, since man lives and talks and has relations with his fellow-men; but it was a possibility availed of blindly, and one which demanded great experience or special aptitudes: it was a sort of art. Now this art has become a science, which can calculate, foresee, and act under rules which can be tested. An immense step forward is being made in the sociological domain.” This science of applied psychology can be used for good or evil; Heinlein shows it a weapon in the hands of a minority, to impose a dictatorial rule on a nation. Consciously used, in this case, whereas it is the view of the author of Rape of the Masses that Hitler, the present-day example, has not consciously applied these principles. Rather, that purely by intuition, he, an unsophisticated man, has used in the political arena, the laws of conditioned reflexes defined by Pavlov. And he has been successful: no one can deny that, and Chakotin’s complaint is that no one has recognised why he won. (And it might be worthwhile to note here that his success was not necessarily because of any particular gullibility of the German people, compared to others. In 1933, Nazis and Nationalists polled 52 of every 100 votes. The other parties rolled 48 of every 100. So that 48 of every 100 Germans, despite the propaganda of the Nazis, did not vote for them. In Britain, in the panic General Election of 1931, the people were bluffed into believing that if the Labour Government continued in office, they would lose their savings. Only 33 in every 100 Britons voted against the National Government.) Chakotin believes that the broad mass of the population is passive, and at the mercy politically of the successful propaganda of a minority: a minority in the proportion of one tenth. The militant one tenth who can shape the future of the remaining nine tenths. The author states his belief in the power for good of an enlightened minority, and here one notes his views resemblance to those of H. G. Wells, to whom the book is dedicated in these words: “To H.G. Wells. Thinker of the Future.” Those who have read Wells’ works of the last few years and especially since the war, are aware of the theme on which he has continually played. “Become a conscious devoted Revolutionary,” he says in his Common Sense of War and Peace, after having returned the compliments paid by Chakotin, and whether one chooses to interpret “Revolutionary” in the usual sense or not, the challenge remains.”
You’ll note that Jack was a fan after my own heart. If he’d remained active as long as I did, maybe he would have had the guts to carry out my secret dream: write an entire article in one pages-long paragraph. And to conclude, I’m not sure if a slim publication without a proper title came with a Fido or separately; it was alone in a wrapper when I was rummaging, but it might have gotten separated from its host at some time or other. It seems to have had elements of a one-shot, written during or just after the Norcon in Manchester around the end of 1943 or start of 1944. I’ll tidy up the obvious typos, won’t attempt to create a consecutive conreport out of it, but strive to fulfil my real purpose: to demonstrate the miraculous morale achieved by British fans in a world that was crumbling physically and morally. (It’s not entirely clear who wrote what paragraphs, so don’t worry about that.)
“Scorning Manchester’s unique transport system (the best thing to do if you want to get any place), we walked the ten miles to the hotel (Ron insists it’s only one and a half), and then, in Mike’s room, we talked. We saw the New Year in without alcohol — too busy talking to drink. We decided to go to bed. In the privacy of my room I ate – one apple and one orange.
“Kitten on the keys this time is Ron Holmes, arrived this morning, Saturday, with little gal after much hardship and trial. Train three quarters of an hour late, and then half witted conductress managed to sabotage the works and delay us from arriving at Ron’s house until after 11 o’clock.
“This is RRJ typing. Ron Holmes and Rita bringing up the rear, we tried to reach the hotel — Gus, Mike and I singing lustily in French, German, and Yorkshire; Mike recited “Albert and the Lion” much to Gus’s amusement.
“And now ‘tis JMR. Roy has apparently omitted to mention the interesting spectacle of a Manchester tram, on being left forlorn by the sudden omission of five fans, gritting its metaphorical teeth with rage and refusing to budge. The driver, in between abortive attempts to persuade his behemoth to perform its particular species of locomotion, glancing after us with evident affection in his honest careworn visage — apparently he considered we had something to do with the rebellion of his should-be moving mass of machinery.
“To return to the place where Ron left off, we had tea on Sunday night, and then we proceeded with the Brains Trust. Such a waste of mental energy was never seen before, and I doubt will never be seen again — they all expired. The Lane homestead became a shambles, Ron proceeded to play the piano until his foul yellow tie — highly ornamented with fox-heads and surmounting a dark blue shirt — got got mixed up with the works and was saved from an untimely death by Ron Lane who neatly amputated the horrible growth in the nick of time.
“Ron Bradbury vanished a little before tea, and was discovered several hours later sitting on the stairs, dead drunk, with his arms wrapped lovingly around Rusty, the Lane dog. Crying into its lap and wishing he had never learned to play Solo.
“And so, minus Millard, the Convention proceeds. Probably dinner is the next item. During which occurs some further stencilling — s’right. Then a visit to Belle Vue — for the ultimate, a zoo. One of those zoos. Being fans, normal zoo animals did not impress us, though rude comments were inspired by noted resemblances. And there were remarks about typers and monkeys and fanmags.”
It should be obvious that I built up the foregoing out of snippets taken here and there, in contrast to the way I didn’t abridge anything else. And for the benefit of the handful of FAPA members who can remember receiving Fido, let me finish by quoting extracts from the wrappers in which it was mailed in those years of paper scarcity: “Guaranteed Pure Split Peas. Reliable. Packed by Wood (Leeds) Ltd., Meadow Road, Leeds, 11. 6 oz. net. Have you tried our ground rice and finest marrowfat peas?” Some variants contained the recipe for ground rice sponge cake. Michael Rosenblum got the can labels somewhere, noticed that they were printed on only one side, and decided not to waste precious envelopes or blank paper for wrapping his fanzine. The wrappers had approximately the tensile strength of Kleenex, and it is testimony to the postal efficiency of the era that they never suffered more than the most trivial crimping or tears in transit.