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GREAT YARMOUTH 1966



by Rob Hansen


First appeared in THEN



The 1966 Eastercon, YARCON, was held at the Royal Hotel (where Charles Dickens apparently wrote part of 'David Copperfield'), on the sea front at the resort town of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, over the weekend of 8-11th April 1966.

Guest of Honour was publisher Ron Whiting, a former director of Dobson's who had started the publishing firm of 'Whiting and Wheaton Ltd' the previous year.

The committee were Dave Barber, Ken Slater, Steve Oakey, Phil Rogers, and Archie & Beryl Mercer.

The programme book listed 133 members, about 100 of whom actually attended. One of these, attending her first ever convention, was Chris Atkinson. It would be a decade before she attended her next. Programme items included three auctions (!), the GoH Address, the Fancy Dress, and a 'new' authors panel featuring Dave Busby, Ramsey Campbell, James Colvin, Hank Dempsey, Langdon Jones, Paddy O'Halloran, Terry Pratchett, and Keith Woodcott. The more astute among you will have realised that some authors came as their pseudonyms. The first British Fantasy Award, one sponsored by the BSFA, was made at YARCON. According to the programme book, it was:

"...to be made to the person or organisation which, in the voted opinion of the Association, has made the best contribution to speculative fiction in the preceeding calender year."

The award went to John Brunner. Another award, the Doc Weir, went to Ken Slater. This award was made directly after the second ceremony of the revived Knights of St.Fantony had been held. Brian Aldiss, Harry Harrison, Mike Rosenblum, and con chairman Dave Barber were all initiated.

Those at YARCON had a ringside view of a fight on the beach between members of the mods and rockers, 1960s youth groups that made a habit of having these rumbles at various seaside resorts on Bank Holiday weekends. The atrocious weather kept the fight small.

At the BSFA AGM, Ken Slater beat Pete Weston for the post of Vice-Chairman by 30 votes to 11, and Weston was then roped in to fill the newly-created non-committee post of BSFA Public Relations Officer. American Dave Kyle, a regular at British conventions, was charged with overseeing the future administration and organisation of the British Fantasy Award. In other business, the BSFA membership threw out the annual financial accounts when they were presented, with consequences we shall see later. A decision was also taken to investigate the possibility of the Association publishing an original SF anthology in order to "consolidate the BSFA's position as the central authority for SF in this country". Chris Priest and Rog Peyton initially took charge of the project, though it eventually ended up with Beryl Mercer, who did a considerable amount of work on it. Unfortunately, despite shows of interest from a literary agent and two publishing houses, it ultimately came to nothing. However, the most important change resulting from the AGM was decision to officially divorce the BSFA from the Eastercon. This was no small step as Eastercons since 1959 had officially been 'the annual BSFA Convention', and referred to as such in the literature of all the conventions since then. It was further decided that henceforth Dave Barber and Jill Bridges would serve as trustees to preserve convention continuity from year to year. Not everyone was happy with these decisions, not least Ron Bennett. Though he hadn't been able to attend YARCON, Bennett rushed out an issue of SKYRACK, number 88, soon after in which he had this to say:

"...it does appear, to me, that to break away from the umbrella of the BSFA is to jeopordise the chances of entire success of future conventions... Anyone who has actually organised a convention will, I am sure, agree with me that the main concern is the financial resposibility... Having myself organised a convention which summarily suffered a loss, I can but emphasise the relief felt at the taking over of the debt incurred by the BSFA. Can future conventions afford to be without this 'umbrella'? Furthermore, is this rather drastic 'divorce' at all fair to Tony Walsh and the other members of his 1967 Committee, Tony having contracted into convention organising at the Birmingham Convention last year at a time when this BSFA backing was still in existence?"

Others apparently agreed with Bennett, since in the event the 1967 Eastercon was run under the auspices of the BSFA - after a fashion. Nevertheless, the link between the BSFA and the Eastercon had been weakened and it would eventually break, with unfortunate consequences for the BSFA.

YARCON was Harry Bell's first convention. Shortly before the convention he received a call from Jim Marshall, who would have got his name from the BSFA membership list, offering him a lift to Yarmouth. Bell accepted, and travelled to YARCON in the company of Marshall and Con Turner. As a result of this he was drawn into the Monday night sessions at the Lambton Arms, but he was unable to impart his new-found enthusiasm for fandom to the old NESFSans there. He later met Alan and Linda Rispin, who had moved to the area, and occasionally saw local fan Rich Gordon (later to become SF author Stuart Gordon), but such contacts never developed into anything more substantial and Newcastle was to remain without an organised SF group until the 1970s.



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