Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
FOOTNOTES TO FANDOM #16    | FOOTNOTES Page | Obituary Page |

Doug Webster, A Key Figure in Fandom

Remembered by Harry Turner in September 2004
"Doug Webster was a key figure in keeping fandom alive during those chaotic war years after the SFA folded. He helped out Mike Rosenblum with stencil-cutting and production of Futurian War Digest, as well as taking over publication of the fanzine Fantast when Sam Youd was called into the forces.
"He personally contacted many fans during occasional "hitch-hikes"—as per the item from the last Zenith I published before the RAF claimed me in 1942. [See below] On the other hand, he resisted efforts to create a new "official" fannish organisation in such disorganised times, with fans continually disappearing into the forces, and started the short-lived Fanarchist movement—it started with me, Marion Eadie and Edwin Macdonald in support, but I guess it never really had chance to get under way in the prevailing conditions.
"By the time I returned from India for demob, and resumed contact with him, he'd abandoned fandom and was in London, concentrating on his academic career ..."



Naturally, I approached Leeds rather nervously. Apart from Genus Homo, which I'd been reading industriously on the 11-hour night journey from Aberdeen, I hadn't looked at a stf story for months. Such exhibitions of unfannish behaviour can pass unnoticed in the wilds of Scotland, where men are men and have hair on their chests. But in personal contact with top fans, it's bound to lead to awkward situations. I was scared of Michael Rosenblum before I met him; and Leeds didn't do anything to help.

It's a rum place. You arrive at 4 or 5 a.m., when any civilised city would be sleeping the sleep of the just. In the station you anchor yourself to a soldier or something that knows its way about in the blackout, and sally forth. It's raining. The streets are full of (a) buses, (b) trams, end (c) people, all of which shoot back and forth purposefully in. the pitch dark, Where are they going? I don't know. In Aberdeen we work during the daytime. At night we play or sleep.

Michael met me automatically at the door. He has been meeting fans for so long that his ESP faculties are now tuned to receive those frequencies fans alone emit, and when one drifts into the district, he reaches up on his hind legs end howls eerily into the upper air. Obviously, he knew when I was coming. Later, unbeknown to him, I examined him carefully, but could find no trace of antennae hidden among his hair, he is thus neither fairy nor superman, but must have this ESP faculty built internally into his system. I noticed, however, that Michael wears the bottom button of his waistcoat fastened; but this I put down to oversight.

Michael is the Compleat Fan. He has a Collection - quite a large one, I think, although I remember little of it. Further, he has a library of fantasy books of which any fan might be proud, and if discrimination in literary quality has at times been overridden by the zeal for Compleatness, this is certainly offset by the sleekly perfect condition of his copies. More important - to my mind - is another large bookcase of catholic range, containing books well-thumbed and diverse. Acquaintance with Michael himself proves him to be well-read and capable of talking entertainingly on many subjects, a fact which his present fan activity gives him little opportunity to show in letters or articles. He also has specs, thousands of fanmags, one of his own (of which you may have heard), a slow-motion cat, a duplicator, and even a typewriter. Well, that is to say . . . no, it definitely is a typewriter.

We had fun in Leeds, but not enough of it. Michael was later heard to swear that I was drunk when I arrived. This is not so. I don't think I came near booze in England till reaching Liverpool (that den of vice), where I frankly preferred the milk to the lager.

Still, we got around. We examined bookshops, to little avail. Future pilgrims would do well to note that Leeds is as barren of books as the Gobi. We saw Fantasia: I have supplied remarks elsewhere. I was slaughtered at ping-pong, being accustomed to slash the ball down a larger-than-regulation table. But I've since played on an even smaller one, and am prepared to give all-comers a beating. Every fan I know is prepared to give all-comers a beating at ping-pong. We must be a damn clever crowd:

Sunday we frittered away the time doing nothing, and exchanging an occasional persiflage. I stencilled a letter from Doc Lowndes for Fido, fainting twice over the machine at the lack of correcting fluid. We drifted over to the Club and yarned half the night. Michael, I observed, wore his bottom waistcoat button buttoned on Sundays as well; but maybe it's a custom they have in Yorkshire. He is an agreeable time-fritter-away-er. I have known better, but I'd be as well not to disclose her name. JMR is an interesting talker, though not in any way you'd expect from his letters. That is to say, while his letters are the logical .projection of Michael's character, he in turn is only one of several projections that might be built up from his letters - and, incidentally, hardly the one I had formed. He is small and dark, his moustache looks quite natural, and the trilby almost a part of his head. He can produce a story or a joke to illustrate anything anybody says, and is in fact more the cosmopolitan than the escapist or mystic. He makes a wonderful business-man - and few indeed in fandom can boast of that!

Sunday, Eric Moss turned up too. An agreeable lad, Eric, chunky and cheerful. He has fun being a. dispatch-rider, and more fun spreading communist propaganda both per pamphlet and by the immemorial chalk-and-wall method. This latter he has evolved to a fine art: He concentrates on lavatories, and finds that if you chalk on the rhodomontade at a predetermined level, the poor downtrodden capitalist dupe can't help imbibing it whenever he happens to be there. The editor of this magazine having communist sympathies, I take this opportunity to pass on the tip to any in a position to use it.

Monday, Leeds and me parted company. I went west; Leeds stayed with Michael. I bade him au revoir and hightailed for Manchester.

Manchester exists in a different world from Leeds. You know it immediately you steam into the station, and find the dome overhead all shattered and jagged, with the dark buildings behind showing through. Leeds has had, I believe, one air-raid since the war began; Manchester has had many. In Leeds I found my way quite easily to Chapeltown, the trams marked "Roundhay" bringing back memories of four or five years ago - for to me, Roundhay had ceased to exist when the Mayer gang left the fold. In Manchester I was lost. But I'm safe now! I have the most beautiful map of the centre of the city, plus the approaches to Victoria Park, drawn by Harry himself. This is a document I treasure; it's sketched on a page taken from the centre of a graph-book, and sprawling over the remaining three sides is a map of the cultural centre of Liverpool, by John Burke. Manchester is shown clearly and delicately, with all the stations, theatres and Public Library clearly indicated; Liverpool is rather a collection of crude blocks with numerous asterisks showing the bookshops, and abounding in such legends as "The Tryst", "Ruins", "Parry's", "Restaurant", or "Lewis's ruins". All odd corners are filled with the times of trains.

No 41 Longford Place shivers eternally with a drumming rhythm. This is due partly to the three typewriters housed therein, but more especially to the duplicator ceaselessly winding round and round as the presses throw out copy after copy of Zenith for the slavering public. Convicts from the local jail are sent up in batches to stand for hours at a time and keep the handle turning: murderers usually, or men who boat their wives. They also conscript passing fans. I bounded up the steps, threw my bag into the window, trilled the bell, and turned to admire the view. Two seconds later I swooned into Marion Eadie's arms.

Blimps!Don't get me wrong, my brethren. This was through no fault of Marion's. For the purposes of description I will grant that Marion is rather easy on the eyes, a possible meiosis which will, I hope, set Ego yammering. But only Americans and any distant provincials will appreciate my reasons for swooning.

For the Manchester sky was filled with dozens - hundreds - thousands of silvery, roughly cylindrical forms, rearing away overhead and far off to either hand, Now I'm not the type of fan who walks around with a mind filled with Martian invasions or B.E.Ms but I'm durned if the sight didn't look precisely like a fleet of space- ships hovering over the city. Fans in the English cities will of course laff at my naivete. For while I've seen an occasional barrage-balloon out to sea, guarding the convoys that steam past the NE coast, I'd never till then seen them strung out in a webwork over a city. Leeds didn't have them. But all the way from Manchester to Liverpool - in Birkenhead and Chester - they hang like fat drops of silver overhead, an eery and impressive sight. In the next few days I kept seeing them out of the corner of my eye and wondering why the moon was shining in broad daylight. But I daresay you get used to it. It was related later how Sam Youd said the Southampton balloons were always drawn down under the cloud layers; when they were left above, the German airmen came over and potted them. Sportive lads.

Well, I picked myself out of Marion's feet and tried to look intelligent. She regarded me with a total lack of interest, and said, "You'll - be the Webster?"

"Yes. You're Marion," I responded, as if she wouldn't know.

I recognised her in a vague sort of way. I've had as many as 64 snaps of Marion in my possession at one time, taken from all sorts of angles in all parts of the country. The geography was uniformly good, but no two of the 64 looked alike. I had long suspected Harry of running a hareem and not letting me in on it, and my mind's not yet at rest. This Dorothy Morton, for instance. But I found Marion a tall, rather slow-moving girl with blonde hair; a deep thinker, no doubt. Her voice is slow also, and very lovely. There are two-types of Glasgow voice. The first is that apalling distortion of Scots which I associate automatically with the name Josh McNab; let's forget it. The second is the gentle, flowing type, .which comes out slowly, like syrup from a jar. It probably snares the flies just as easily too. Marion's is this type, which is just as well. You'd expect Harry Turner to snap up - or be snapped up:by a girl like Marion. But I'll bet she's devilish lazy.

"C'mon in and stop writing articles," Marion told me, and I c'monned in and made myself at home. This is very easy in the Turner mansion, which is occupied by very friendly people, but not so many of them that you feel overpowered. Harry has chosen his parents well - very well indeed. The cat was stand-offish.

Anon Harry arrived. I met him in the half-darkness, on the blackout-shaded landing. "Well - Doug!" said-a deep, deep voice, and a hand like a clamp crushed mine to a pulp. I muttered incoherently, as usual. Le Turner is fairly tall, and thin, and made of muscles. Dark, specs. Some of the time he looks like Don Wollheim, some of the rest he looks like Raymond Massey, and otherwise he looks like Harry Turner, which means he's a handsome devil anyway. He laughs at the world pretty continuously, and has never been known to experience depression.

The air-raid wardenWe talked. We took tea. We adjourned, read books, dissected fanmags, and talked, waiting for the nightly alert. Harry is a part-time air-raid warden, and so wanders about the streets of Manchester every night so long as the blitz is on. Officially, I mean - I don't know what he does on his nights off. Pretty soon the sirens went, so Harry and I hefted on our coats and Marion hauled out the machine to write some letters. Having got rather behind-times through skedaddling round the countryside, I asked her if she'd answer some of mine for me. Nay, replied the wench, coyly; she'd love to help, but she couldn't kick up so insulting a style as I did. Preening myself visibly, I trailed after Harry, and we sauntered up and down Longford Place.

This warden business is a racket. I don't know what a warden does apart from hailing other wardens in semi-official terms, giving the secret sign, and exchanging a hoarse and rapid "Manchuniensisl" They also have meetings, lectures and exams some nights, under cover, and I've no doubt they attend these in communal pink shirts, giving the password of the day, joining in the chants, and perhaps being stuffed with the catch-phrases which are the sine qua non these days. Be that as it may, the raid seemed to differ little from those we have in Aberdeen. Maybe it was louder. ..The noise was impressive, and once or twice we sheltered in a doorway from the shrapnel which (as I recall) didn't arrive.

Down below, we patrolled next to the boss of the district wardens, whose name I forget - Pop something, I think - and the Twins. The Twins are Morojo-like in size, exuberant, and mentally Siamese. Harry is torn between marrying them or Marion. Both choices have their obvious advantages.

After a while we went back to the house and stood in the doorway talking to Marion, watching the flickers of flack reflected in the windows opposite, and the flashes of bombs and trams shooting up behind the houses, guessing from the thud and the shake of the bombs how far away they were falling. We, talked desultorily about astronomy and the BIS, and some type of literature - Thomas Mann, I think - and hiking, and sex, Or maybe I'm thinking of two other guys. At any rate, the All-clear sounded eventually, and we went in and drank cocoa, and Marion went to bed, adjuring Harry to tell her all the best dirty stories next morning.

Hat-fanHarry and I weren't very sleepy, so we gabbed. The cat - a thin grey one, probably a Viton in disguise - took its shawl into the oven and settled down for the night. American fans were put in the test-tube, boiled and filtered. We agreed about American fans. Next, US fan art, always a subject of great amusement in GB; we agreed about US fan art. We agreed about about Harry's art. We agreed about art. Going further afield - you've no idea how daring we were - we agreed about fans, fanmags, stf, politics in a general sort of way, and the superiority of Scots wenchery. That's the devil of it: I found I just couldn't argue anything with Ernie Turner, because we always agreed about everything. So we thought we'd make it a day and go to bed. Harry's bed is like his politics - built on communist lines. It is well able to hold more than two - indeed, should a post-war Convention ever be held in Manchester, it's probable that all the delegates, provided they're not too mixed, could bed down with Harry; but more of this anon. In bed we spent an hour or two - it seemed quite a while - finding out that on the whole we agreed about communism. We might have saved ourselves the trouble. After that I suppose we went to sleep.

The next day was Tuesday and on Tuesday I explored what was left of Manchester. But wandering about strange cities in war-time without companions is little fun, and after buying a few books and having some visiting cards printed at Lewis's (deuced cheap, too) and making friends with the chap at the station enquiries office I went home and talked with Mrs Turner. This is a more profitable line, since Harry's mother is very like him and no less agreeable. We had dinner and washed up, the cat maintained a determined poise on the back of a chair, I wrote RGM to say that sex in Fido was getting a little too hot to handle and he'd better lay off; and finally I caught an afternoon train to Liverpool. At last to visit my old pal Joan Burke!

I took a taxi from Central to the new Burke Mansion in Thingwall Hall Drive. JE Rennison, who paid all my expenses ( I sent him some magazines) paid for my taxi as well, and the driver, looking over my shoulder, told me my friend was waiting. Home at last ! The garden path was overgrown with grass, but I bounded up it with all the usual abandon.

And here we stop, just before a series of climaxes which build up to the saga's end.

Read next issue about Joan, the Ghoul, Abe, the Manchester Congregation, the Liverpool Meet, the Empire in ruins . . .

1. Recollections after the death of Doug Webster in August, 2004,
2. Doug Webster's article appeared in Zenith No. 5 (April 1942).

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