Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
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Fandom: Looking Back vs Being There

20 April 1977

Dear Charnocks both:

After all my rash promises of lengthy locs I fled on holiday and was content to collapse in a sunshine and siesta routine by way of escaping from the work problems of the pre-holiday period. And here I am, back again, still in a lazy mood and bitterly resenting that I still have to work for a living... Ho hum.

But I must get that letter off my conscience. The trouble with these big, readable fanzines is that they overwhelm me when it comes to making a response—there's so much to write about that I finish up not knowing where to start. And consequently there's a danger that the letter is postponed until I find time.., and then by the time I do find time, I decide that's taken so long that any comments I make are just so much ancient history and not worth sending. This thoroughly messes up the communications. So, I'd better get down to it now, while I've got some paper in the machine, and stop making excuses...

I suppose the main item that triggered off my responses was this fanzine review by D. West, which in a masterly way, ranges over quite a range of fannish preoccupations. There are so many points that demand comment that a proper response would no doubt produce an article as long, if not longer, than the original. I guess I'll just amble through a few of the things that interested/irked me...

First, there's the problem of the fannish generation-gap. To me, the article has a between-the-lines assumption that all the burning fannish issues arose in the 50s or thereafter. This I find as irksome as the bland assumption in too many articles on pop music by the younger generation that history began with the Beatles. Obviously, D. West's outlook is conditioned by his fannish experience: he has a "period outlook" that cannot appreciate the atmosphere of earlier fandom—and British fandom has been going since the 1930s.

I admit to something of the same difficulty in reverse: I came into fandom in the late 30s, was forcibly gafiated towards the end of the war by being sent out to India, resumed semi-active contacts in the immediate post-war years, and returned to fanzine publishing (and OMPA) during the fifties—after which I faded from the scene, to return a few years ago.

Despite its patchiness, my fannish career at least enables me to make comparisons—to see both the changes and the lack of change in tandem—in a way that D. West cannot. He is obviously blinkered when he looks baok, tends to project the views of a later fannish generation on to an earlier generation where they do not apply. (Or didn't apply). This imperfect appreciation of the ideas and ideals current in earlier fandoms seems to be the crux of the Platt-Millis brouhaha that is currently getting an airing.

There's always been a divided attitude towards organisation in fandom. In the thirties, with the demise of the Science Fiction League, it seemed "a good thing" to form the Science Fiction Association in Britain as a focal point, both to hold fans together and attract new recruits. At the time the number of fans was so small that it was the only sensible thing to do. But fannish politics intruded, and when there was a shift of control from the provinces to London there was quite a lot of resentment generated.

The demise of the SFA about the time war broke out was a source of satisfaction to many fans who felt little need to be "organised"—mainly those involved with fanzines—and when plans were voiced a year or so later that a British Fantasy Society be formed to organise wartime fandom, there was a brief explosion of fanarchistic activity to sabotage the project.

In these early days, fandom had a very conservative core—mainly the sercon, pros and would-be pro element—that favoured an organisation because it supported an sf "Establishment". This lent authority to the view (which even the freer elements accepted) that there was a natural progression in fandom, from neofan to acceptance as a full-blooded fan, and from then to the hierarchy, either as a pro, or through fannish good works to acceptance as a BNF. And that accepted order of things was very much prevalent in the 50s, when Walt was, deservedly, elevated to BNFship (even Ghodship in some fannish circles).

I don't see how any new fan of the 60s could quite appreciate the reason for Walt's veneration among the Trufen. Even assuming it was possible to read a goodly part of the material he, and Irish Fandom, produced, it would be difficult for anyone looking back to be able to recreate the spirit of the times, the atmosphere and excitements that sustained and inspired us all. And if that statement seems faintly obscurantist, I can only say that much that happened in fandom was not documented, that in view of the limited circulation of fanzines and their ephemeral nature, much of what was documented would not generally be available to later generations of fans.

Platt's reaction to Walt as being an Old & Tired BNF, part of an earlier fannish Establishment, is perhaps understandable. There are earlier examples of fans who were as disruptive as Charles seems to have been—Stu McKenzie is a name that pops up in my memory—and the reaction against the Establishment has echoes (or pre-echoes) in the early 50s. Around that time there seemed to be a propaganda campaign largely inspired by Frank Arnold to elevate Ted Carnell and other relics of British First Fandom into a state of fannish sainthood.

It was when Walt started to quote large chunks of this eulogistic uncritical gush in his own fannish columns that I wrote a BLAST! item in Zenith (the pre-Weston one, that is), denouncing this distorted fancestor-worship. (I seem to recall sending copies of this item to Greg ages ago—maybe you've seen it).

I feel West's attempt to analyse Walt's feelings towards Platt's attacks is way off the beam. It seems reasonable to assume that Walt's involvement with fandom at that time, after all the busy years, was on the wane: the outpourings of a belligerent unappreciative newcomer could well have hastened his retirement. But since Walt is hovering on the fringes again, the obvious thing seems to seek his views rather than indulge in speculation...

In some respects we were a tighter-knit fannish community back in the thirties and forties: we were certainly smaller in number, and though the outlooks of what were dubbed First and Second Fandom were basically irreconcilable, we jogged along together. There were fanzine fans, con fans, and sercon fans, and a few congenial types who contrived to live with all three groups. The rivalry of the zeros and amateurs was there; and many aspirants to pro-dom made it.

Many of the issues that roused strong feelings still persist in present-day fandom, and continue to rouse strong feelings—but the ambience of that earlier period has gone, and each fannish generation grows up in a different atmosphere, has a subtly changed outlook. It is the intangibles that govern each generation that are so difficult to pin down, to recapture or recreate. A fact which makes me hang back from the extravagant nostalgia for the fifties that has swept fandom recently. For me there is no best period: each fannish generation creates its own heroes and ideals. And I guess the present is always the best time to be living in.

I go along with West's semantic exercise at the start of his article where he tries to persuade us that fanzines are art—though I wish he'd not slipped into using that cap A, especially as on page 33 he equates Art with a capital A with the reverential, awe-struck culture bit. And I applaud when he tries to make semantic sense of the words "amateur" and "professional".

Maybe he tries too hard and runs his subject deep into the ground but I guess he knows his audience: I suppose my own urge is towards being a professional amateur, using the professional there as referring to mastering technique and working to a high standard—the thing to avoid, I suppose, is being relegated to the status of amateurish professional ?

That seems to be the goal of the Graham Poole school, I go along with West when he derides the belief that you can learn to write (or achieve anything in any of the arts) by studying the "successful" and doing it their way, that conformity and emulation is all. I've noticed a preoccupation with techniques and markets among some of the fannish art fraternity—having ideas worth expressing seems a long way down on their list of priorities. Which is probably why we continue to suffer the same old decorative embellishments in fanzines no doubt. (Though Wrinkled Shrew pages are mercifully free of this corn, I am glad to see).

3 MAY/77

The arrival of Vibrator reminds me that this is quietly rotting in the typewriter. I'd better send it off though it's a bit incoherent in parts: if I hang on to rewrite it, it'll never reach you for sure. I wonder if you find the response drops off after a mammoth issue, because of the inertia of correspondents when faced with a heavy comment job? Maybe it's just me that's not so young & enthusiastic as I used to be...

Anyway, the only thought that occurs to me at this moment is that after rightly demouncing the Pooleish System of Successful Writing, West has a dig at Zimri as dragging ten years behind the avant-garde. Surely Lisa does not deny any literary merit to sf: she is, obviously, aware of sf as a part of the literary scene but looks for an audience both inside and beyond fandom. That may not be an aim that appeals to the fannish fanzine purist, but it is an aim in which she has met with a certain amount of success in reaching an interested audience.

Obviously it's a valid aim, and the matter of the avant-garde aspirations exists largely in the minds of half-baked critics... or would-be critics. Me, I hope Lisa continues in the way she has, because one of my contributions produced an enquiry from a New York publisher which materialised as a contract for a book. So I'm not complaining... Maybe Graham Poole should have a rethink.

But I'd better get this in the post or else you'll cross me off the mailing list. Come to think of it... but enough. To the post box. ■

Harry Turner, letter to Pat & Graham Charnock, April 1977

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