((I've edited the letters into thematic sections this time - I've heard it's the in-thing with fanzine editors. We'll start with a subject that is vital to the success of conventions - relations with hotels.))
There are very practical things that can be passed on from concom to concom, but often are not. For example, hotel contracts should be published, or at least passed on. If I were king of Worldcons, I would refuse to accept any bid that could not display a contract specifying legally enforceable penalties on any hotel whose staff hassled congoers. Parties in specific areas of the hotel should be explicitly allowed. And so on. Everything must be in writing and the concom must discuss it all with all management, especially night management.
Yes, having a formal contract in writing before the con is an excellent idea, which is why we asked for one at Novacon 14 in 1984. If anyone wants to see the kind of back-up every committee member carried that weekend, just send me a stamped envelope and a few coppers for photocopies; in brief, though, it listed the times rooms and bars were to be in use, facilities and equipment required etc, with room for give and take (for instance, some rooms booked till late Sunday were vacated early, so the hotel were able to send in their cleaning staff and save overworking them on the Monday morning -- it all helps to build up a good hotel-concom relationship).
I'd also heartily endorse the "strength in numbers" method of negotiation. Martin Tudor and I met with the Grand Hotel management straight from our respective offices, dressed in business suits and attempting to look as workmanlike as possible. Once that impression was firmly established -- that we were approaching the convention professionally -- we had few problems with the management. I understand one of my successors in the Novacon chair turned up at his chosen hotel in jeans and bicycle clips, and whilst the story might be a mite apocryphal, it does help to explain why the management there took him somewhat less seriously.
I'm thinking of trying to put together a "Fan File", a list of names and addresses, what conventions they've attended (or registered for), and for authors, artists, conrunners and the like, a note of what they do. I would appreciate your comments on this. Would it be useful, if so to whom? Would its usefulness justify the time and effort spent? How can I let interested parties know it's available? Please let me know what you think.
On Worldcons: Non-American groups should be aware that there are Americans who are likely to attend who are more than capable of running specialized areas and can be asked to do so. For example, Elayne Pelz ran the artshow at Aussiecon II and did one of the best jobs of the whole con in premises which were very poor. Jack Chalker did most of the art auction in ditto. (He would have done all of it if he had not been scheduled for a panel that clashed. Three cheers for the committee timing!) Maybe British fandom is large and capable enough to do the whole job, but I doubt it.
Rob Jackson's and Colin Fine's suggestions sound excellent, a perfect example of the things a properly organised fandom could achieve. How about this for an extra thought (courtesy of my lady wife Ann): profits from the scheme go into a central pool for the purchase of new equipment, bailing out loss-making cons (you could have a trustees in charge of the latter, so only deserving cons would get cash and it wouldn't become an excuse to make a loss).
Re Rob's suggestion of a list of experts. There already exists Contec, which is a directory of "experts" on various technical aspects of running conventions, conferences, arts events etc. So far it has not done much for SFandom or SF cons but I have been intending for sometime to try to extend it to cover the same. Contec is merely a directory. Those seeking the help of an expert or enthusiast are left to negotiate their own terms. One barrier re the current list would probably be that some of those mentioned do expect to have their expenses paid, something SFans would not consider fannish. I think there would be a need to put out a separate list for SF cons to avoid confusion and possible embarrassment. Not that I don't consider that too many SF con committees underestimate the value of good technicians or the many hours of work put in by them. Running a projector for several hours may seem easy work, it ain't I can assure you. After the shambles of the last UK Worldcon I hope that the technical side of the con is better taken care of. You might care to mention in Conrunner that I would appreciate any offers of help re compiling that SF version of Contec. Any con committee looking for help is welcome to a copy of the directory.
The second point raised in that issue concerns a "convention equipment trust". Well some Contec members had such an idea some time ago. However, when they went into the thing in more detail changed their minds. Capital outlay would be around £5000 minimum. 16mm projectors cost around £700 each, add to that sound equipment: mics, amplification, mixing (however simple), speakers, auxiliary lighting etc.
Maintenance costs can be very frightening. The abuse that non-technical speakers put equipment to, banging mics that aren't apparently working, etc. can soon put up costs. Transportation, and by whom, can also be a headache. I get the feeling that some enterprising person just might have a go perhaps with help from the government enterprise scheme for small businesses at setting up such a project. It would have to be a full time thing though to ensure a sufficient volume of work would be hired as a package thus safeguarding the equipment. As mentioned earlier, con committees just don't seem yet to have woken up to the fact that if you want a good job done then some payment should be budgetted for technical services. Unfortunately too often the poorly maintained hotel p.a. is seized upon because it's offered at no charge. Experienced con committees may have learned that unless they are totally satisfied with what the hotel offers, by trying it out for themselves first, that they will almost certainly need to hire projectors; and that they will equally be well advised to ensure good sound and recording equipment (by the same methods).
One last point concerning recording. Facillities are often not made readily available for this to take place. Nor do con committees clear the possibility with their guests. The Oral History of SF Archive is becoming especially concerned that problems are arising with speakers not warned beforehand. It is not really fair to have to have to ask a speaker immediately prior to speaking "do you mind?". Few, apart from the Chris Priests of this world, are going to appear so apparently bloody minded as to refuse. Yet the speaker has every right to refuse. I would like to see a standard waiver form offered to speakers sometime prior to speaking that would make it clear that they were willing to be recorded and had been given some undertaking that the material would not be misused or their copyrights abused (or those of others, eg publishers, other writers work that they might use, say to read from, etc). The OHOSFA will not make copy recordings, broadcast material or even transcripts without the full permission being cleared with the copyright owners first. Might I get in a quick plug here for the OHSFA which is always looking for donations of recorded material from any source. The material will be treated properly you can be guaranteed.
Perhaps those currently designing guidelines for Eastercons would like to consider adding something on recording both audio and visual.
Having never been to Glasgow before we went up on Thursday, the intention being to have a look around before the Con began. As events turned out it was wise decision. We were exhausted when we arrived, if we'd waited until Friday to travel we would have been too tired to enjoy the early part of the Con.
This was my first Albacon, and I really enjoyed it. There were tree programme streams, "Main", "alternative" and "Fan". The alternative was a mixture of items, some of which would have fitted happily into the main programme and some into the fan programme. It seemed to me to be an overflow for items which were to good to leave out.
As I was with Mick I left the fan side alone much of the time, and went to more programme items than I usually do. I found myself enjoying new ideas (new to me anyway), such as Cartoons with the films, films which were part of the main programme so you could watch them without missing anything else and speakers I'd never heard before.
I went a debate about the future of Eastercons, and re-discovered FAN APATHY!! The room was packed for voting next year's Con, for which there was only one bid anyway, not counting two spoofs which were put on at short notice. When we went on to discuss more serious matters the room quickly emptied. If fans don't want two year bids, or feel they should be more "in the know", or have any other gripes then they have only themselves to blame.
Food, often a sore point, was excellent. The bar ran a cafe type food bar, with things like burgers and pizzas cooked to order in a microwave, and salad cobs with beef or ham, all hygenically wrapped until sold, at astonishingly cheap prices, mostly 50p per item! (Royal Angus - take note). The set meal in the hotel restaurant was good value at £7.50 for three courses, including a carvery. The A la Carte we left alone (couldn't read the menu!)
Only two minor complaints: nowhere in the Con literature could I find a plan of the hotel, and one of the films began about an hour early, so we missed most of it.
This was my third Eastercon, and for me personally the best, Seacon 84 having been a little too big, and last year at Leeds the split between two hotels spoilt it for me. Thank you Albacon --- and well done.
((Actually, Bernie, the menu was based on that of Novacon 15! We thought it good enough to show to the Central and they provided the same variety, but at lower prices. What more does a convention need?))
Personally I found it a bit of a curate's egg, which really was my own doing. However, I did feel that a few gaps were showing. Programme seemed to slip a bit, projectors needed attention (like overhauling) and one of your projectionists had this ghastly perversion of rewinding the spent reel before ensuring that the new reel was in focus (I don't know who it was and one doesn't like to hassle the projectionist 'cos it is a tough job but perhaps a discreet word to the wise for the next time). On the plus side, one could go out for a meal and stay out with the knowledge that there would be programme slippage so not bother to rush back. The hotel staff, I found were good. Finally, as ever, I enjoyed the film selection. In short I enjoyed myself but feel that Albacon, like BECCON, runs the risk of getting a touch blase' about conrunning; it's certainly something that we are aware of for next years Eastercon.....
((If you look at the Albacon III accounts you'll see a sum set aside for equipment maintenance. This will be spent on renovating the projectors.))
I attended the meeting where there was discussion of a Charter for the Eastercons and was very pleased to see the way public opinion was in favour of this.
I enjoyed the con more than I expected mainly because I now and then plucked up the courage to insert myself into a circle. I cannot imagine why new fans never think that older ones can be as shy about doing this as themselves. I particularly approved of the ceilidh, in fact I would have preferred it held in the main hall - no carpet there for one thing. I heard quite a few people say it was a great change from the inevitable disco. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. Of course the girl in the band was exceptionally good at quickly explaining the dances and getting everyone going. The singer had a marvellous voice but unfortunately must have chosen the gloomiest songs in her repertoir and they did not blend with the occasion. Do hope the committee keep this up, put it in the main hall and see if even more fans participate.
It seemed to me that the fan room suffered from being tucked so far away.
One thing that grates on outsiders to British fandom is the insistence on loud music(?). Do what you will, but don't force those who are not used to it to put up with it. Every single pro I have talked to about Seacon has complained about the music at the meet-the-pros gathering there. British fen can apparently converse during 120 decibel noise, but the rest of world fandom can't.
I am interested in the concept of a steward. Is that the same as what we, following the Americans, call a gopher? If I were running a Worldcon, I would have emergency backups to everyone lined up well in advance. (I was chairman of a bidding committee once and I did a good deal of thinking.) In particular I would allocate one (or more if you have them) strong, take-charge type character from the central committee to have no duty but to step in if disaster threatens in a major area. (The Masquerade director comes down with plague, the Hugo awards MC is shot as a spy or...) Statistically, you can expect at least one major problem in any event as large as a worldcon.
I heartily disagree with Mat Irvine's dislike for name badges. I must be nearly the world's worst at identifying people and nametags are like a drop of rain in the desert. I have many times failed to identify photographs of dear friends currently present in the same room.
Something that was said at the Albacon III business meeting: "We don't want what happened to MANCON'S accounts to happen again.." What happened to MANCON's accounts? Yes there were faults with the con but I am not aware, nor is the MANCON committee of any major problem with the accounts other than some of the committee did not get reimbursed their expenses. I have this suspicion that few fans around then are still around today and that the majority of today's cohort (nice ecological term) have embellished gossip. The Manchester crowd (and they all voted for you against Beccon - so did I in a desperate bid to salvage my weekends for next year) still make a small but significant contribution to fandom - if you are into explorative writing (ton ma'I dna) then get your foveas onto SOMETHING ELSE, £1.50 from the Print Centre, 11-15 Fennel St, Manchester, M4 3DU....
Conrunner 4: again very useful, informative, praiseworthy etc etc as the only zine, central resource, to offer advice, views, etc for us Marquis de Sade types wot do it time and time again. (You don't really go wrong without competition). Seriously, I'm sure others have told you of RUNNERS value. After a while I think you ought to edit some of the articles together into a de-luxe edition. (if you're stuck for resources have a word with Roger Robinson). I'm glad David Bell liked my instant article on film progs and appreciate his point about films outside of London. The problem with Dave's point, that due regard should be made to screen films that don't make general release outside of London, is that those of us who live in London (in Beccon's case that's all of us) are ignorant of what hits the provinces. The answer obviously is to have non-capitol area film buffs advising the committee but here there are also ample obvious problems not least communication and finding willing reps. (BECCON 85 asked its attendees to let us know what films they wanted - number of replies = 0). By the way, I am preparing a new, improved, enlarged Press Guide for SF Cons after BECCON '87 if anyone is interested.....
Piece on Data Protection, well I know one other bod will be doing you a piece and maybe I will too. I spent a couple of hours with someone from the Data Protection Office the other day and have a pile of bumph to show for it. Let's face it lads, there's no problem for the next year or two. The act is a mess. The registrar's office is under-staffed and they are not going to pick on a non-profit making convention that basically uses computers to honestly manage a glorified mailing list which by commercial standards is small. Test cases are going to be publicity getters. However, point taken, we should get our act together soon and it's something that Eastercon 88 ought to really think about.
I am not sure whether to congratulate or commiserate with you for joining the Worldcon Committee; on the whole I think I should applaud your spirit!
I sympathise with the security problem and feel that fans should be supportive to the people having to handle it. It must be very hard for amateurs to keep the security rules and yet not antagonise the fans. A polite attitude can go a long way to disarming criticism but after all professionals get paid for being able to do this. Frankly I do not envy the person in charge of security at Brighton. Perhaps a lot of publicity about the problem in the progress Reports might help.
As a smoker I was naturally interested in Judith Hanna's article. I found in Glasgow the hall being divided into smoking and non-smoking halves very helpful. I don't want to annoy people and am always happy to see this division. I would only suggest the signs be made even clearer but having ashtrays on only one side of the hall was a good idea.
Lately I have noticed reports from a new fan starting at cons seem to lay great stress on meeting at the bars. I don't know what fandom will do if the fashion of being anti-smoking leads to being anti-beer....
((And on that worrying note we leave the letters for this issue. Thanks to all of you who responded either with articles or letters. I look forward to an avalanche of mail concerning the points raised in this issue. If you want to comment on Eastercon charters etc then you should write to Tim Illingworth in the first instance (though I'd appreciate a copy) and he should pass on more information to me for Conrunner 6.))
Addresses of Contributors
Jonathan Cowie, [address redacted by request]
Steve Davies, 18 Pell St, Reading, Berks, RG1 2NZ
Bernie Evans, 7 Grove Ave, Acocks Green, Birmingham, B27 7UY
Steve Green, 11 Fox Green Cres, Acocks Green, Birmingham, B27 7SD
Tim Illingworth, 63 Drake Rd, Chessington, Surrey, KT9 1LQ
Ethel Lindsay, 69 Barry Rd, Carnoustie, DD7 7QQ
Ken Ozanne, 42 Meeks Crescent, Faulconbridge, NSW 2776, Australia
Keith Walker, 6 Vine St, Greaves, Lancaster, LA1 4UF