Spelunking in the Memory Hole

Pat McMurray bounded up to us at the Whitchurch fireworks, with a prize in hand. "Look what Greg Pickersgill sent me from Memory Hole!" We looked. It was the programme book from the 1959 National Science Fiction Convention, held in the Imperial Hotel in Birmingham. It was a little smaller than Eastercons nowadays, with 43 fans pre-registered (about as many as at the fireworks). Although it doesn't seem to say anywhere in the programme book, history (see any recent Eastercon programme book) tells us that this was "Brumcon". The same list doesn't mention Brumcon as having guests of honour, but perhaps that can now be corrected; the programme book announces

"Fan Guest Of Honour -- Kenneth F. Slater -- and about time too!"

The production was clearly taking advantage of the superfluous technology of the day. Illustrated throughout by Eddie Jones, the layout and presentation would put several 70's Eastercon programme books to shame, not to mention Speculation's.

The programme only ran on Saturday and Sunday, though the notes page includes both Friday and Monday, indicating that even in 1959 there were plenty of things to entertain people other than actual programme.

The programme itself included such highlights as "Grand International Tea-Drinking Contest... the object of the contest is to retain internally the maximum quantity of tea... any contestant failing to consume ten standard measures [each measure a breakfast cup or 1/3 imperial pint -- Ed] in the first half hour of the contest shall be disqualified..." and the mysterious "Femfans of the London Circle Present..." Can any attendee satisfy our curiosity as to what this comprised? And contrary to rumours that UK filking began at Seacon '79, there was a musical presentation from Pete Taylor and Mike Moorcock following the fancy dress party on the Saturday night.

Sunday's programme included (of course) the BSFA AGM, and, at 2:30, "Discussion on the consite for 1960 (unless decided before lunch)."

For comparison shoppers worried about affording the $140 membership in the 1999 Melbourne Worldcon, an ad announces that membership in the 1959 Worldcon, Detention, would be available to anyone living outside North America for 7/2d. (For our younger readers, that's 36p).

There is, of course, an obligatory mention of con badges:

Lapel Badges: it will be appreciated if ALL attendees will wear these throughout the Con.

We'd like to give a special mention to the three Brumcon members who've also sent locs to Plokta: Ken Cheslin, Terry Jeeves and Ken Slater.

Ken Slater, as Fan GoH, provided the keynote article for the programme book. It's too long to reproduce in full, but we thought we'd give you the flavour by reprinting the first four paragraphs here. (Thanks, Ken). It gives an insight into the sort of things that were worrying fans in 1959. The Plokta editorial cabal is refraining from commenting, with some difficulty.

Eastercon 1959 Programme Book cover

"Currently, in the BSFA, the sad state of health of British science fiction fandom is a topic of interest. There is a certain school of thought which considers that fandom is dying on its feet; there is another school which has concluded that fandom is already dead and the appearance of life is a sort of zombie-effect caused by a few die-hards.

A third school holds the opinion that there is nothing wrong in fandom -- please note that every time I write "fandom" I mean "science fiction" or "fantasy" fandom, but as I'm not being paid wordage rates (or any other rates) for this, there is no point in doubling up with those words all the time. A fourth school contends that there is something wrong with fandom, and feels that something should be done about it. I gather that it was this school of thought which brought the BSFA into existence, and from what I have read of other fan-writing on the subject it would seem that the general feeling can be boiled down to two things:

a) fandom lacks new blood, it no longer attracts new readers of sf into the "collective individualism" for which it has been renowned, and

b) it has no means of attracting new people because it has nothing to offer them.

The result is that although 'good' science fiction finds a very steady reader's market, the group of enthusiasts is slowly diminishing and will in due course fade away when the last-but-one fan sits down to write the epitaph of the last-but-two fan.

If I have that right, then I concur with the general opinion. I hope that at the Birmingham Convention we'll be able to exchange our ideas on how to counteract this lethargy on the part of the science-fantasy reading public."

Plus ça change, or something like that.

-- Alison Scott

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