Magazine visits the 6th annual
by Harry Nadler
From Alien No. 9, June 1964
After many variations on how to reach Peterborough, the site of this years British Science Fiction Association Convention, we managed to squeeze the car through the narrow entrance to what had once been the stables of the Bull Hotel.
The lobby inside the hotel showed signs of a little confusion, for it seems the Con badges had not arrived and everyone was either dashing around trying to find out when they would turn up or sitting on chairs, banisters, floors etc. around where the registration desk was last year. Someone had a tape recorder and was entertaining the waiting throng with something that sounded like the Goon Show, but turned out to be one of the Liverpool Groups tape plays: THE MARCH OF SLIME.
Chuck Partington, Tom Holt, Clive Fowkes and myself had checked in at the hotel desk, and leaving Aub Marks to sign the register we wandered to survey the scene I have just described.
Archie Mercer was the first person any of us recognised and the usual introductions came into force. A pause was reached when I realised that Aub was still not with us, and on returning to the desk we found our first spot of trouble. The Bull was full to the brim and Mr Marks had left his booking too late, there was only the overflow hotel left. There was nothing anyone could do apart from walking round to the Angel Hotel and getting him fixed up.
The evening programme began at the 'traditional' time of 8.15pm ...15 minutes late, and the convention chairman, Tony Walsh, introduced everyone to everyone. Although there were a number of professional authors missing from last year, there were still a good number to meet. E.C. Tubb, Ken Bulmer, Mike Mooreock, James White and from America, Leigh Bracket and Edmond Hamilton to name the ones more well known to myself.
After the introductory session, Ken Slater and amiable assistants prepared to meet all-comers and answer questions on SF. A little slow in getting off the ground, but the questions soon became more interesting until it was time to break up the meeting and spread out over the hotel for numerous parties, card games and what-have-you.
For this first night the whole Alien group stayed sober!
Morning squeezed its way round the blank whitewashed wall some two feet from my window, and crawled under the curtains. I awoke to the sound of Clive knocking on the bedroom door to announce that we had 10 minutes to get down to breakfast.
We made it, and enjoyed the very excellent food served up. This I would have savoured much more if I was to know it would be the only breakfast I'd see at the Bull! The others were eaten by one or two of the group only, the remainder of us being indisposed due to previous nights merrymaking! However that's jumping ahead of my report.
I wasn't really looking forward to the film show on Saturday afternoon for the simple reason I'd seen THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE already. But when the film was over I'd enjoyed it more on this second showing than on the first.
In addition to EARTH, a documentary on HOW WE EXPLORE SPACE was fascinating for its shots on colour movie film of the various planets, the commentary however did nothing to help by frequently saying things like 'this is a telescope...' over the shot of a telescope.
I was very surprised at the poor reception of the Goon RUNNING, JUMPING AND STANDING STILL FILM which always, no matter how many times I see it, leaves me in a fit of helpless laughter. There were only a few hearty chuckles emitted by the whole audience ... must have been the weather!
Saturday evening was time for the fancy dress party, and for some reason the Alien crowd decided to get their costumes on about an hour too early. We sat around sweating under tons of make-up, papier-maché and crepe hair. Eventually the room began to fill up and things got under way ... but whoever was supposed to have checked the start time in our lot had better keep quiet about it!
Turnout for the competition was a vast improvement on last year, and it looks as though the many appeals in the Con newsletters during the year had had some effect.
Charles ran into trouble with his make-up, for he had his face built up with nose-putty to cover over his eyes and a pair of mirror-surfaced sunglasses in his guise as a 'Selenite'. This worked very well in his bedroom lighting, but in the Con hall, where the lighting had been dimmed, he couldn't see a thing ... his glasses had misted up on the inside! Oh! well, he'll know for next year.
Ian and Betty Peters of London took the prize for most authentic SF character as Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Susie Slater for the most beautiful costume as 'Princess of Zei, and Harry Nadler for the most bemmish as a B.E.M.!
After the judging, we got out of costume and proceeded to sample the contents of the Norman Shorrock brew. POW!! that did it! How I'm expected to write an account of the part of the Con I can't remember a thing about, I don't know, but l do recall Charles and myself finding ourselves in someone's room and having a heated argument with about 1000 of the Birmingham mob. Whatever happened to break it up I don't know but we all ended pouring each other a glass of something!
The rest of the night? No comment ... except that it led to me missing breakfast the next day.
Now the missing of breakfast wasn't too bad, I don't eat much anyway, and good old Yogi (our nickname for Aub) had his tin of emergency rations at the ready. But Chuck was nowhere to be seen. The Shorrock brew had struck again!
At 2.30 in the afternoon when the Alien Film Festival was to go on show, he was still moaning in his room. Panic! for Chuck was to introduce the programme. A quick look round and I espied Eric Bentcliffe, who saved the day and introduced the show, and 'Professor Herman Dumkopf' who gave an introduction to each of the six films. The prof did resemble Aub Marks to some extent even behind a false beard. Shaking like a leaf I reached out to push the projector switch to launch the first film, expecting it would be met with a deadly hush. It wasn't and all our qualms that the show would flop were subdued.
Modesty aside, we were shocked and delighted at the reaction. The bulk of the audience enjoyed them thoroughly and after the show we were asked to film a similar programme for the World Convention in London in 1965. Criticisms that did get through to us were on the sound synchronisation and 'ad-lib' dialogue which crept into a couple of the films. These are points we hope to remedy for the World Con.
Following the Aliens came a very entertaining slide show by Brian Varley and crew of the London SF Club. They showed many shots from last years Con which should answer the what happens to all the photos taken at Cons' type questions.
Around 3.30 that afternoon, there was a special tribute to Nova publications, the British publishing company who have produced NEW WORLDS SF, SCIENCE FANTASY, SCIENCE FICTION ADVENTURES for many years, and now, regrettably have had to close down. The tribute was recorded so that New Worlds former editor, John Carnell, could hear it for himself, not having been able to attend the Con as he usually has done in the past.
The tribute over, it was almost time for a meal before the final part of the Con. Before going out to the Chinese Restaurant we bumped into Ted Tubb and Ken Bulmer whereupon we all ended up in the lounge having tea and a long discussion on our films and on some ideas they had for a short movie. The conversation soon turned into a script conference of sorts and we became so engrossed in it, we were almost too late to dash out for that meal!
By the skin of our teeth we made it and arrived back in the Con hall just in time for the beginning of Ted Tubb's speech, which turned into an open discussion and became one of the highspots of the Con. Ted presented the diplomas for art and fancy dress awards, which were designed by Ken MacIntyre and used for the first time this year. During the handing over of these awards came a very unexpected announcement. Eddie Jones had presented his art contest winning painting to the Alien group as an appreciation of the film show. The very painting all of us had been saving our pennies in the hope of buying! It now holds pride of place on our club room wall.
Prizes and speeches extinguished, the hall was emptied in readiness for a repeat of the Alien Show ... yes some people actually wanted to see it again ... Con attendees are gluttons for punishment!
As the convention entered its closing stages the last parties got underway with a 'hum and sway' session organised by Ted Tubb and Ken Bulmer to raise funds for TAFF (the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund ... an organisation formed to bring an American fan over to a British Con one year, and vice-versa the next, this year Wally Weber came from Washington.)
There was still enough of the Shorrock brew (he must have loaded the 'Al Capone' bus from stem to stern and had Ina drive from the roof!) to go around and help get everyone into the 'throw-your-money-in-the-bucket-for-TAFF'' mood ... and it worked!
Monday mornings at conventions are always hectic and there is hardly time to say goodbye to anyone. With trains, buses and scooters to catch for home, everyone is dashing around with half-open suitcases trying to remember where they left that painting they bought at the auctions, or a member of the group who is probably looking for the others and using the opposite set of stairs.
We did manage to round up the whole party and crammed ourselves into the car. With cries of 'See you at Birmingham next Easter' we pointed the car through the steadily falling drizzle and watched the Bull Hotel and Peterborough vanish from sight through the rapidly misting up rear window.
Roll on Easter 1965 .........
Last revised: 1 October, 2006
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