Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

Not even my worst enemy would call me a worshipper of Lonnie Donnegan—I like my jazz hot or cool, not half-baked —but the other day I read about something he did which put him right up in my estimation. Apparently at one of his recitals a gentleman in the front row of the stalls squirted him with a water-pistol. Mr. Donnegan, I was delighted to read, did not fall for that silly The Show Must Go On stuff and carry on as if nothing had happened, with evidence to the contrary dripping down his lapels. No, he retired briefly into the wings and returned with a soda syphon with which he drenched his opponent. It seems to me this shows a fine originality of mind, and if something similar could be guaranteed to happen at each of his performances I believe I would attend one, if I could afford the cost of admission after buying a stirrup pump.

The reason this trivial incident finds its way into this thoughtful and cultured column is that it reminds me vividly of the Manchester Science Fiction Convention of 1954, when an unscheduled incident exactly like this was scheduled to happen during an ostensibly serious lecture. But perhaps I had better explain here that this Convention was the only public function I ever heard of that was better planned by the audience than by the organisers. How this odd state of affairs came about was that the organisers happened to be largely a group of serious-minded northern fans who had been very critical of the previous year's Convention in London and who had decided to try to do better themselves. The London fans were only too familiar from bitter experience with the things that could go wrong at Conventions, and it released some deep well of frustration in their souls to plan things to go wrong deliberately. I've come upon a scrap of paper on which some of the earlier simpler ideas were noted down, and most of even these were so fiendish I hesitate to quote them here in case they're taken up by the League of Empire Loyalists and public life in this country is brought to a standstill. The simplest one was to spread a little sugar in the aisles, down which "late-comers" would tiptoe at intervals, pausing in their crunching progress only to ask in stage whispers, "Have I missed anything", and to be answered "No". It was felt that the effect of this would increase as the programme wore on. Meanwhile other saboteurs would sit in the front row with a blown-up balloon in one hand and a pin in the other. They wouldn't actually do anything, but it was thought that the psychological effect on the more timid speakers would be considerable. There were dozens of these playful suggestions, summarised in top-secret circulars under the code name Operation Armageddon, but I must admit, even if it means this is the last of these columns you'll see in NEBULA, that my favourite was the one involving one of those sets of little metal plates which, when dropped, sound more like breaking glass than an elephant sitting on a conservatory. At intervals during the programme, this terrible glass-breaking noise would be heard from the bar, accompanied by a drunken voice singing "I belong to Glasgow". I should perhaps explain that Peter Hamilton, that year's Convention chairman, was well known to be a strict abstainer.

But of course it all turned out to be what in science fiction fan circles is known as a Daugherty Project, after one Walter J. Daugherty, of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. ("Why, it will be just like a Daugherty Project, except that it will actually happen!") In any case I doubt if the Londoners would have been one-tenth as fiendish as their imaginations, but what actually happened was that the Convention Committee ran into so much trouble of their own that they were anaesthetised; the London people rallied round and helped and after all it turned into one of the happiest Conventions of all time, and certainly the most disorganised. The single exception was the start. The last year's committee had been criticised for programme delays, whereas everyone knows these are a Law of Nature at Conventions, and the Operation Armageddon schedule for this point involved a chanted count of "Sixty . . . fifty-nine . . . fifty-eight . . ." and so on, ending at the advertised time of commencement, when a starter's pistol would be fired. By an amazing coincidence the official programme organisers had had the same idea and the programme did start off with a take-off count, and on time. That was the only thing in that extraordinary weekend that went according to anyone's schedule. You should have been there.


PERIHELION No. 2. Bryan Welham, 179 Old Road, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. 1/- per copy. A new fanzine produced by a new fan group with headquarters over a fish shop. There may be no hum like plaice, but the only smell off this magazine is of hard work. It's beautifully produced and the material varies from excellent to only as far as mediocre, which is surprising for such a young magazine.

CAMBER No. 9. Alan Dodd, 77 Stanstead Road, Hoddesdon, Herts. /- per copy. A not so sophisticated newcomer to the science fiction list. The content is varied and of interest to the newcomer. Reviews, stories, news and gossip, about science fiction on films and television.

from Nebula No. 30, May 1958

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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