We’ve been gradually serialising Rob Hansen’s adaptation of fan history ‘Then’ for the last year. This time, we’re reaching the end of his account, but we’re also reaching a discussion that has become a central part of fandom and inclusion for years. How do we keep old and new fans happy? How do we welcome new fans and make them feel part of our family, and how do we celebrate our own rich histories? It’s all here, and Then.
7. The Generation Gap
HYPHEN 25 appeared in November 1960, the first issue in eight months. By this point – as indicated by the letter column, which contained responses from three times as many Americans as Britons – HYPHEN was increasingly aimed at US fandom where the
type of fannishness that had characterised 1950s fandom was still alive. Nevertheless, HYPHEN’s reappearance was due in no small part to the enthusiasm of Ian McAuley, its new co-editor. McAuley was a Dublin fan who had made contact with the Belfast group a year or so earlier and who regularly made the trip from the Republic to attend their meetings. Thanks to McAuley’s enthusiasm HYPHEN would see five issues in 1961, it’s best year in some time. Not that all was well with Irish Fandom. Writing about the group for an American fanzine early in 1961, Willis expressed his sadness at John Berry’s distance from the group:
“As John began to write for other fanzines and to publish his own, he stopped
coming to the regular meetings of Irish Fandom. He never said why and I often
wondered, and I wonder now, whether he had felt I was jealous of a talent that
was so much more prolific than mine and of a gift for comic invention I could
never surpass. But if it was, and if there was some way I had betrayed it, I
couldn’t find out about it. We were left to wonder if it was something we’d
Program Book Cover for 1962 Worldcon
The 1962 Worldcon was held in Chicago, as it had been ten years earlier when Walt Willis made the historic trip that provided the inspiration for TAFF. In New York a group of fans – Ted White, Greg Benford, and Peter Graham – had decided the previous year that the perfect way to celebrate the tenth anniversary of that trip was to repeat it and they had floated the idea in their fanzine, VOID. The idea was taken up by the editors of AXE, Larry and Noreen Shaw, who put together a fund (the TAWF fund) to raise the money. And so it was that on 27th August 1962 Walt and Madeleine Willis flew to the US. Over the next month or so the Willises travelled all over America, and on their return Walt wrote another monumental trip report, TWICE UPON A TIME, and Madeleine – long a contributor to the various Irish Fandom fanzines – wrote one of her own that was published serially by Los Angeles fan Bruce Pelz. So fas as I’m aware, this has never been collected.
April 1963 brought the first issue of George Charters’ THE SCARR. Charters had long been the least prolific member of Irish Fandom but with THE SCARR all that changed and he became their *most* prolific member during the 1960s. THE SCARR (the title was an anagram of ‘Charters’) was very much in the mould of other Irish Fandom fanzines and drew on the same pool of talented contributors. It saw 19 issues in all, the final one in January 1970.
At the 1964 Eastercon those active during the fifties finally had to face up to the new realities. As Walt Willis wrote in his American column shortly afterwards:
“…at the annual general meeting of the BSFA it was clear what we had done.
British fandom had been worried by the complete absence of channels of recruitment.
Deliberately and in cold blood they had started a sercon organisation, sacrificing
valuable fanning time to publish a sercon official organ, full of reviews of science
fiction; in this bait was a hook consisting of reviews and reprints from fanzines.
The policy had been spectacularly successful, because the membership of the BSFA was
now in the hundreds and scores of them were at Peterborough. The only trouble was
that while they seemed to have eaten the bait and grown fat on it, they had ignored
the hook. This situation was starkly illustrated at that BSFA meeting after one of
the founder members remarked casually and unguardedly that the purpose of the BSFA
was to recruit new members to fandom. A storm of protest made it clear that this was
not the purpose of the BSFA at all. Fandom as we knew it was to them a useless
excrescence, our fanzines incomprehensible and irrelevant. *They* were fandom.”
Following the convention Willis, realising that something needed to be done to heal
the growing generational rift in British fandom, decided to fight a final rearguard
action for the type of fandom he had known in the fifties. In April 1964 he offered
to do a fanzine review column for ZENITH, and since Willis was still the most prominent
fan of the day editor Peter Weston eagerly accepted. The column, ‘Fanorama’, was a
continuation of the one that had seen 40 instalments in the UK SF prozine NEBULA.
Unfortunately, Willis’ hopes for the column were not to be fulfulled.
Walt Willis’ revived ‘Fanorama’ column made four appearances in Peter Weston’s ZENITH
between June ’64 and March ’65. The first two had contained cautiously approving reviews
of a couple of the new fanzines. The third, however, contained a less than wholly
favourable review of another, and produced a storm of protest. The final column contained
no reviews but talked instead about the entire communications breakdown in UK fandom
and explained how ‘Fanorama’ had been revived as an attempt to help towards a
reconciliation. It was a doomed hope. Weston recalls:
“What was really happening was that some fannish newcomers were rather painfully beginning
to discover the meaning of Standards; but…the new generation had unfortunately arrived
at a time when the overall level of quality had reached an all-time low. Thus poor Walt
was acting as mentor but was heavily outnumbered by his pupils and consequently was
taking all their chafing and complaining upon his own shoulders…”
Indeed. With the departure of most of those who had been his friends, Willis found himself
confronted by a hostile UK fandom that no longer seemed to have any place for him.
HYPHEN 36 (Feb ’65) proved to be the last (though there would be a single-issue revival
in the late 1980s) and thereafter Willis confined his activity to the occasional article for
an American fanzine. As he explained to Weston in a letter a year or so later:
“As for the column, I felt less and less that I had anything to say to your readership.
Not only had I gone off contemporary English fandom, apart from yourself, but I no
longer read contemporary science fiction.”
The 1965 Worldcon, held in London later that year, would be the last convention Willis attended for more than a decade.
– Rob Hansen.
‘Then’ on the Dublin 2019 Blog:
Rob Hansen’s Then (A work always in progress) at Ansible.