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CON-MUNICATIONS

I never thought I'd see the day when Conrunner was involved in controversy, but the Follycon committee have sent the following letter.

Follycon '88, 104 Pretoria Rd, Patchway, Bristol BS12 5PZ.

This is an official letter of complaint from Follycon about your remark on page 13 of Conrunner 7 that we suggested that Elydor be cancelled. We never said anything of the sort. Obviously we think it's a pity that these conventions coincide, otherwise quite a few of us would like to go to Elydor and we hope we'd have attracted some of the people who will be going to Elydor. Anyway, we officially request that you retract this statement in the next Conrunner.

Apart from this the article on Eastercons was excellent. As you may have seen in our PR3 we have decided that, unless we receive expressions of interest in response to PR3, we propose to drop the Eastercon Charter on the grounds that interest seems to have waned since BECCON.

I do admit that my choice of words was a little careless. I said that "when Follycon found out about Elydor they suggested that it be cancelled", I should have said "a member of the Follycon committee suggested that it be cancelled". The point I was making in that section was about the arrogance and narrow perception of many "straight" SF fans and used an example given to me by Donna McLaughlin, the Elydor organiser. It was probably just an individual making an off-the-cuff suggestion - so many apologies to the Follycon Committee for any offence I may have given.

Bernie Peek, 193 Vicarage Rd, Watford, WD1 8HA

CONSPIRACY:

I don't think anyone working on Conspiracy enjoyed it. Understaffing was the major factor but that wasn't the whole problem. There were definite problems with the committee; a number of people knew in advance that there would be big problems. I had very little contact with the committee before the con but I had spotted some things. The manpower shortage was part of the lack of forward planning.

BECCON '87 was planned for 700-1000 people. We asked for volunteers in advance and didn't get enough. We then went out and shanghaied more. BECCON was over-managed, about 200 of the 700 helped at some point or another. There were about 60 gophers on the roster, the rest as and when needed or in the programme items. Almost all of those were working at Conspiracy, mainly in fire-fighting. With proper planning those would have provided a minimal coverage. The Gopher collecting meeting at the con was too little, and much too late.

At BECCON we had most of the main gopher jobs assigned a couple of weeks before the con. Everyone had been contacted, some of them a year beforehand, and had accepted their jobs. We wrote to, or phoned, almost everyone in the last couple of weeks. This is why someone must be available full-time at least for the month before the con. When gophers arrived they had another reminder in their registration package. Conspiracy couldn't have done all that but could have arranged something similar in the gopher hole.

On Conrunners:

I think that your analysis of who runs conventions is right but for the wrong reasons. Fans who run conventions tend to be from areas where fans meet regularly, and those areas tend not to produce fanzine fans. Similarly, fans who meet regularly exchange ideas so of course cons are beginning to look alike. There are also factors like committee overlap, Conrunner and now Conscription.

Mexicon was a great idea for a small convention. It could even work as one stream of an Eastercon. I, and most other conrunners, feel that the Eastercon should include something for all. That of course implies that they shouldn't have a size limit.

What can we do? First, stop proselytising. No more advertisements or posters. The press are welcome, but they pay like everyone else. This will slow down the growth rate and give us some more time. Size should not be a measure of the success of the convention.

Second, look at different types of venue. The alternatives I can think of are the universities/colleges, holiday camps and conference venues. The last university based Eastercon was Mancon. I wasn't there - was it worse that Conspiracy? The Unicons have used college halls for several years. My assessment of them is that they are unsuitable. They charge nearly as much as a good convention hotel. (That may be an artifact created by the discount structures. How much would a college cost if we booked all the rooms, say 5000?) They have more rigid managements. (I have only heard this and have no direct experience.) Their facilities, except for the conference rooms themselves, are more limited. The main disadvantage is over licensing hours. Most colleges keep to normal licensing hours, of course this may not be a problem in Scotland. (I understand that one Oxford college, by a quirk of the law, is its own licensing authority. They have been known to grant retroactive extensions to the licensing hours.)

Holiday camps have never been tried, but I understand that an Eastercon bid is underway. Their disadvantage is primarily one of their image. The Hi-Di-Hi image will take a lot of beating. Licensing may also be a problem. The first holiday camp con will have to be a success, or there won't be a second. The camps have all of the facilities needed, but most are sited away from large towns. There were complaints, not very many, but very vocal, about the BECCON hotels being isolated. It's not an insurmountable problem but one that needs consideration.

Conference centres in England have a major drawback. In general they are separate from the hotels, therefore their bars keep normal licensing hours. No problem in Scotland. Any English con would have to shut their halls early. After that people would go back to their hotel. If there is one designated con hotel that's fine. With more than one main hotel the licensing laws may once again make things difficult, though the management may look the other way.

Another solution to the problems of large conventions is to abolish the idea of a single national convention. Adopt the idea of regional conventions, as in the USA. Eastercon North and Eastercon South? It doesn't sound the best solution to me, but if the growth continues it will happen sometime. I don't agree with your reasons for believing that con attendance will level off. With enough publicity a 2-3000 person Eastercon is quite possible now - if we wanted one.

Miscellany:

Let me take this opportunity to thank Marcus Rowland for the work he put in on the BECCON games room. He was one of the people we shanghaied. Without him it would have been "one empty room with tables".

I have no doubt that two year bidding is essential. Your argument that a con committee can't hold together for three years is manifestly wrong. The BECCON committee has been together now for nearly ten years. The early BECCONs were at two-year intervals because planning a small con properly takes two years. If I remember correctly Conspiracy first asked the BECCON committee to help 1986. At that time we had been working on the '87 bid for over a year. In all we spent over two and a half years working on BECCON '87, and we had most of the committee in place when we started. Anyone thinking of running an Eastercon now shouldn't plan for a date before 1992 unless they already have a committee structure and some experience of conrunning. I hope that the 1991 committee(s) have already started planning.

On the other hand the fact that British cons now pass on more experience to their successors may reduce the planning load. Since "Voice of the Lobster" from the '79 Worldcon, conrunning in the UK has started to get more organised. Conrunning fandom has arrived in the UK, a mixed blessing.

There wasn't one other con against BECCON, there were two. There was a professionally organised TV fantasy event in Birmingham at Easter. That probably took most of our potential walk-ins.

The Eastercon Charter:

Nobody thinks that the charter is binding on anyone. All we asked is that anyone bidding for an Eastercon should state any divergences from the charter. After winning the bid there is no further control.

Your charter suggestion is no good. First, I see no reason why the British National Convention should be at Easter. Any other weekend might be suitable, it's just that Easter has two bank holidays in one weekend. Does attending membership include those with day memberships? Do they have to be for the day of the voting session?

I don't think that "No Decision" should be a valid option. I don't know how that managed to creep into the current procedures, it was never discussed. If you don't like any of the current bids run your own, don't try to bollix somebody else's. Put up or shut up.

Each con committee can decide the quorum for the next year, or better, don't have a quorum at all. If 20 people turn up then 20 people make the decisions. 20 is quite enough to represent all of the current concomms. As long as all interested parties know about the meeting and can get there, the silent majority have no say. The only problem with all this, one nobody has yet mentioned, is that at conventions most of the interested parties are busy, very few people other than conrunners will be interested. Of course, if the meeting takes place somewhere else, not at the convention, it makes it impossible for everyone to get there and vote.

Ethel Lindsay, 69 Barry Rd Carnoustie DD7 7QQ

I can believe you about the understaffing at Brighton. When I went to the Registration desk I found it being manned by Joni Stopa from America. Last time I had met her was at LonCon. We were so busy chatting I forgot to ask why she a visitor, was working there. I had promised to help Andy Porter at his table in the Dealers Hall. By doing this I saw very little of the programme. Not that I minded, it is a marvellous way to meet the people. I did enjoy Brighton. I suppose you did not have time to visit the Dealers Hall - it was a marvellous sight. I was able to chat with Americans I had not seen for years and had met up with some I had only known through fanzines - such as Linda Bushyager. I must admit I did not realise just how hard up the con was for helpers. I saw notices, of course, but still did not realise the situation. It is years since I volunteered to help at cons because I assumed I was no longer needed or wanted. The first two Worldcons in this country were held when British fandom was small enough that every member of it was helping in some way. There is no doubt that then the whole of British fandom thought of themselves as hosts to the foreign guests. Should there ever be another Worldcon the first thing the committee should do is get that idea across.

All your thoughts on Eastercons make fascinating reading but I notice that while you advocate new ideas you do not advance any. For any SF programme to come up with a new idea after all these years seems to me far-fetched. Is there really anything new you can think of that has never been done before? I suppose you could resurrect some things: such as Eric Jones' idea of "This is Your Fan Life" - that was fun to watch. Or bring back the banquet which at least made a focal point. Unless, of course, this is still thought as too "establishment". I always get a fit of laughter at the idea of a fannish establishment - but never mind.

Hmmm, my last letter, you did not really answer my point that if con rooms are balloted there is no incentive to join early and that con committees need that early money.

I felt very guilty about the Masquerade Ball as I had talked my friends into going only to find that the non-payers in the balcony saw more than we did. On the other hand I got my biggest laugh of the con seeing Phil Rogers face as he surveyed the "buffet". With great satisfaction I was able to say to him: "and you used to complain about the banquet food!" He did look abashed.

Susan Francis, 17 Laing Rd, Colchester, CO4 3UT

I intended to write some anecdotes about Conspiracy for Conrunner but I'm not sure I want to think about it that much. I mainly couldn't cope with a con that size and where everything, especially accommodation, was so far from everything else. The main things that stick in my mind are falling over on Sunday night, which I definitely don't want to think about (it turned out to be a teeny weeny cut in spite of all the blood), and the "secure store business". The film ops crew were supposed to have a secure store for the film cans and videos, with one key between us to be passed on from shift to shift; when we got there it turned out that the secure store was an ex-broom cupboard with no handle on the door (a fingernail or two got broken trying to hold the door closed while locking it) and the key wasn't allowed to be taken out of the Bedford. The porter would look after the key and only hand it over to people with a security pas - we had to go away and invent a new kind of security pass for film ops only - then it took ages to find somebody authorised to get them made up - then the porter couldn't find the right key (at least twice).

Also, one of the films was the wrong one, one was the wrong kind of reel, there was no cinemascope screen, and most of the times I was there the room the film programme was in was freezing. That said, the Bedford people were very co-operative. I'm bloody glad I wasn't working in the Metropole....

Jonathan Cowie, [address redacted by request]

Conspiracy

I totally agree. I understand your being " a little defensive about criticism of our efforts" and completely go along with your next comment: "However, I think it was obvious to staff and attendees that there was serious understaffing from the word go and that those who were available for work were not able to be co-ordinated in other than a haphazard fashion." Further, I sympathise that "poor communications" was a "ubiquitous" problem.

However, Ian, you are most British Telecom (ie out of order) on page 3 saying: "I think that there should have been more people in British fandom volunteering before the convention". What I am about to say will not upset my friends who worked for Conspiracy for they know that I try to be honest and candid in my relationships. I leave it to you, Ian, to know whether to print this in case it causes undue offence to those on the committee I do not know so well.

I am afraid that it appeared to me that the committee was uncommunicative to such a degree that they were downright rude to many. I will not go into details here though I will be happy to talk to anyone on the committee about it. Other conrunners may care to heed the following advice:

  1. If anyone writes in offering help or information, to ensure that the letter is replied to in the not too distant future. Ignoring letters does not go down too well.
  2. if the committee writes to someone asking for information and that someone writes back within 48 hours then that person's reply should be dealt with and filed. Writing three months later asking for the same information does not go down well, and writing in, after a second reply, another three months later asking for the same information does not engender confidence.
  3. Alternatively, if someone is supplying a service, on the request of the committee, and that person requests information in order to fulfil the committee's wishes, then the committee should reply within a month of the request in the period greater than three months prior to the convention and reply within ten days in the run up to the convention. Just prior to the convention there is the phone. It is not difficult to use. If the committee decides to deviate from this practise, which I shall codename "good manners", sub-code "common courtesy", then they run the risk of being branded as a bunch of people who could not run a piss-up in a brewery.

If it was just me perhaps it would not matter, but it was not. Certainly, well before the convention I decided that it was best to let the committee go their own sweet way save for what I had agreed to do when approached at BECCON '85. (Indeed I was not surprised that on the day that I came to do a talk at the committee's request - for which I had got industrial sponsorship, customised slides prepared and handouts - that there were no audio-visuals and bugger-all programme explanation. That was the icing on the cake!) One fan summed it up beautifully - Conspiracy was a great convention provided you had little to do with the organisers.

For my part, my decision to avoid conrunning activity at Conspiracy was probably a good move. The only exception, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was my stint in the BECCON run Green Room - thank God I can trust my colleagues. All my other Worldcon efforts ended up in print farming for a variety of groups and commercial SF ventures - indeed I finished my last job on the Friday two days into the convention and added up the total amount farmed to discover that it came to five figures. For the above reasons I was pleased to donate my efforts to fans doing-their-own-thing and not the Worldcon committee. Tragic, huh!

So, Ian, no whining about the lack of fan volunteers. If it was not for the fact that the committee in the main were working hard, albeit as you say "unco-ordinatedly", and that the Metropole had stitched the con up, then remarks like yours could get you and your colleagues up against the wall.

As for complaining about the Metropole - writing is all well and good, but as the manager has not replied to my letter I have ensured that my work knows about the Metropole and I understand that no further seminars are being planned with their hotels. We ran half a dozen last year with everyone paying full business rate.

To turn to more pleasant matters.

I was amused at your separating "I will never understand the incredible dedication shown by some of the volunteers and conscripts. Fandom has no adequate system of rewards for such as these" (page 2) and your discussion on the choice of fan GOHs (page 5). I suppose your being coy is that you fear you'll get the same reaction as I did at asking a third of a lifetime ago why FGOHs tended to be fanzine writers? The cry of "sacrilege" screeched down one's pinna at 5000dB, I find, tends to clear the cerebral fog I usually take great care to create when relaxing at a con. Perhaps there is something wrong with the obvious solution? Indeed so ingrained are these fan dogmas that even when I suggested conrunner FGOHs to my BECCON colleagues it was, I'm afraid, rejected for the traditional. None the less, I take your point...

Mike Gould's article on "Planning a First Convention" was pleasure to see. It would be all too easy for Conrunner to develop into a highly specialised zine for experienced runners if it were not for articles like Mike's. However, those anticipating running their first con might well have dome with a list of three stumbling blocks to watch out for and three handy tips to make life easy. Though I liked the idea of interviewing the least favoured hotel manager short-listed as a dry run for a meeting with the most desired venue manager. Nice one.

Your useful lists are very useful, but remind me how fast things are changing. My 1984 Eurocon Press Report's press list needed updating, so, though the advice in that booklet is still valid, conrunning publicists might like the more recent set of lists in "BECCON '87 - THE OTHER PRESS REPORT" from BECCON publications.

All this trying of BECCON reminds me to ask you to pass on a niggardly moan about those who may write BECCON. It is BECCON, not Beccon as it is an abbreviation for Basildon Essex Centre CONvention.

I must admit that I've just gone through this text file replacing all the Beccons I'd typed with BECCON. On the more serious points Jon makes about Conspiracy I can only say that I agree with the principles outlined by him but beg him to remember that fandom works by volunteer labour and it is very difficult to attain a consistent level of "professional" activity. I know that it doesn't help to know the reasons for some failing if you still suffer from the consequences of that failing.

Mike Gould, 10 Braybrook, Orton Goldhay, Peterborough, PE2 0SH

One observation I have got is that it seems to be a lot harder to coax new fans to get involved in con running at the moment. Most committees tend to consist of the same old faces. This does lead to a very professional attitude to running cons but also rather polarizes thoughts on what the content of the con should be. One thing which we are looking at for trying out at Congregate, but which may be more appropriate for a larger con, is a morning item called "New Fanland" which would present new fans with a chance to be made welcome in the con and encourage them to get involved from the outset. The concept was devised by a certain up and coming fan called Pete Cox (The Cardinal), who you may have seen wandering around at some cons. It sounds promising to me.

I have enclosed a copy of a piece that appeared in the September '87 issue of Personal Computing with the Amstrad which may be of interest to fans involved in producing con publications. It's about a system called Wordstream, which is a company which produces cheap typesetting from diskettes sent to them by users. Wordstream is based in St Aldhelms Rd, Bournemouth. (Phone 0202 752155). Here is a summary of the article: "You first register with the company to obtain a user number and buy a user guide (2) which gives you the codes you need to format your text. The typesetting can be done in any one of 155 fonts at any point size from 4.5 to 72pt with a column width up to 7 inches. You pay by the foot with the first 12 inches costing 3.30 the next 3.00 and each subsequent 12 inches 2.80. You have postage and packing costs of around 40p on top of that, but if you pay within 10 days you get a 10% discount. So 36 inches of typesetting can cost as little as 8.49."

David Bell, Church Farm, North Kelsey, Lincoln, LN7 6EQ

Now that Novacon is finished I suppose that there will be post-mortem on the sometimes controversial membership limit. So far as I could se nothing went wrong that could be blamed on that, though several people on the list I can't recall seeing though they usually very visible. But I've been looking up Novacon membership figures they so usefully record in the programme book. On that basis, the number of names listed in te programme book, there are a couple of points which might be significant. But first the list: Novacon 1 was 1971.

Novacon 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Members 144 144 146 211 272 317 278 309 290 495 362 373 339 333 340 257 315

The first point is that the 1979 Novacon did not experience a surge in membership according to these figures. The jump came a year later. This could be caused by several factors but the two most like ly are, I think, both the result of the short time between Seacon '79 and the Novacon: either the newcomers did not register until after the programme book was printed or two months wasn't long enough to arrange the cash, time off etc. they needed to go to Novacon.

Secondly, mean membership has risen. The mean for 1980-87 is 352, so the 350 limit isn't really low. The mean for the 1970's is only 235.

Now I shall put myself out on a limb and make a couple of predictions (put away that chainsaw!) The first is that conventions in 1988 will see an increase of membership of around 60% compared to similar conventions before Conspiracy. The second prediction is that over half the newcomers will ot be going to conventions by 1990.

It would help if I had more data. It should not be too difficult to get programme book memberships for conventions over the same period as Novacon has been running. The Glasgow cons could be misleading since the first Glasgow Eastercon was in 1980. I'd like to hear from anyone who can tell me the following details about conventions since 1970:- Programme book membership total, Final total if known, Date, Location of convention, Guests, Special factors such as Bank Holidays, rail strikes or site limitations. And do Star Trek cons show the same pattern?

Figures for Glasgow cons are complicated by the Eastercons in 80, 83 and 86 which were each followed by a small September con:-

Year 78 79 80a 80b 81 82 83a 83b 84 85 86a 86b 87
Members 100 164 660 140 234 251 543 136 309 426 645 210 236
Actual (guesstimates) 150 200 800 300 400 420 814 300 600 730 990 450 550

The first 1980 con was held in the Albany hotel. After 81 the others were moved from the small Ingram hotel to the Central.

Guests: James White (78), Bob Shaw (79), Colin Kapp (80a), Douglas Adams (80b), John Brunner (81), Harry Harrison (82), James White, Marion Zimmer Bradley (83a), Chris Boyce (83b), Norman Spinrad, Allan Moore (84), Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey (85), Joe Haldeman, Clive Barker (86a), Harry Harrison, David Brin (86b), Brian Stableford, Josephine Saxton (87).

Peter Smith, 16 Tresta Walk, Woking, Surrey, GU21 4XF

So far as I know Glenbuck films have not folded - they were still answering their phone last week - and have just sent me a list of cartoons they do. On the same lines I want to put in a plug for "Films on Offer" which is a listing of all the films available on 16mm from any distributor. "Films on Offer" is available from the BFI, 21 Stephen St, London W1P 1PL (01 255 1444) and costs 6 + 1.25 p & p. I've only found a handful of errors so far, and it is very up to date, including stuff yet to be released this year. The BFI needs the money.

The story in Conrunner 7 about Glenbuck going out of business came, I discovered from the Noreascon "Mad Three Party" newsletter which announced the demise of Glenbuck film distributors - in the USA! Peter also sent me a copy of his list of films shown at conventions which appears elsewhere in this issue.

Irwin Hirsh, 2/416 Dandenong Rd, Caulfield North, Victoria 3161, Australia

Conrunner 7 was interesting reading, though I think this wouldn't be so if I hadn't attended Conspiracy or spent quite a few weeks experiencing British fandom first-hand. At least that is the situation I felt as as i read the bits on the future of your Eastercons. As a committee member of Aussiecon Two I knew, exactly, the feelings you describe in the first few lines of your Conspiracy overview. You have my sympathies, and I hope that in the months since the con the fannish equilibrium has come back to all the people who worked the con. (From what I saw, I'd say it has.)


So, another Conrunner comes to an end. The next issue, devoted to programming, will be out in SEPTEMBER for Conscription and Conrunner 10 will be out for Novacon, hopefully containing the results of the ruminations at Conscription. Please send articles for both now so that I can get ahead in the work for once!

Conrunner 8 from Ian Sorensen, 304a Main St, High Blantyre, Glasgow G72 0DH, UK


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This page updated on 09 July 1999