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The Last Worldcon

Vince Docherty

This article has grown out of a series of fliers and discussion documents. It is a summary of the current thinking in the group setting up a bid for a British Worldcon in the Nineties.. It does not give all of our plans. (Ian I'm sure will relate how much background documentation was involved at Conspiracy!), but is intended as a 'taster' of some of the features that are likely to evolve as the bid develops.


Historically, the bid grew out of Conspiracy 87. Many con-runners who had run large conventions but were not part of the 'establishment' used that event as a springboard to test their talents and to watch and learn and judge, (much like Seacon 79). I, among others, was struck by how successful Conspiracy was in terms of Programming and.'punter' satisfaction, and how unsuccessful it was in terms of the amount of negative 'political' activity that took place prior to, during and after the con. Many of the problems encountered and reactions caused, generally of an administrative or organisational nature, but particularly in terms of 'good judgement' were predictable and should never have been allowed to happen.

But I don't want to cover well-trodden ground, better writers than I have done that. What I want to talk about is our current position, and the major problem that Conspiracy left us - how do we win another Worldcon Bid?

The questions in my mind in 87/88 were:

To me, all of these questions had to be satisfactorily answered before another bid could be contemplated, and I set myself a target of getting the answers by the end of 1988.

This article basically comprises the answers, (but not all of them - it is a competitive bid after all!), and quite a tot of polemic.

Why run another Worldcon in Britain?

Much like asking why bid to have the Olympics in Britain, and not just large athletic events.

The basic answer is - pride; the desire to do so; belief in our ability; belief that the Worldcon should be cosmopolitan, not just the USA and token others; the desire to bring many more people into fandom. There are many other reasons for running a Worldcon, as many in fact as there are people to run it.

And that is the key to it - the people to run it. There is a matter of trust when you take on a project like this - people believe that they must support it in order to 'keep the side up', some for purely personal reasons, others because they believe that a bad Worldcon will give them a bad name as well.

Whatever the reason, if we choose to bid, then we also choose to take a large part of British Fandom with us, willingly or not. (I know that this is one of Ian's criticisms of the bid, libertarian soul that he is.) So when we choose to bid we have to be sure that we have taken account of that trust.

However, I am not saying that we don't have the right to direct so much of fandom in one direction. On the contrary. it is our 'right' to bid if we want to, running conventions isn't democratic! We are doing what writers do when they write, or the people who started the BSFA did - we are trusting that what we want to do is actually what other people want to do or to see. And we are also trusting that if they don't want us to do it, that they will tell us and stop us.

Until that happens, and while we have the right people to run it, we will continue to bid actively to bring the Worldcon to Britain.

Who would be Willing and Able to Run a Worldcon Bid?

Far and away the most important question. as far as I am concerned.

And quite hard to answer. I passed round a questionnaire during much of 1988, and pressed as much flesh as I could at conventions and meetings in London and Glasgow. After all that I still only had quite a small group of interested people. The key to it in part was the success of the Eastercon that year (and the following), but mostly it was a convention called Conscription - the first 'Conrunners' con in Britain. It was remarkable how quickly the apathy and fugue of Conspiracy disappeared when we realised the number of people who were genuinely interested in running conventions. And when the Birmingham ICC gave a presentation it generated a huge amount of discussion and speculation regarding possible Worldcons.

It was very soon after that we had the first meeting of the bid group.

Since then the central group has expanded to nine people, and at this point in time we have a further 15-20 others directly or indirectly involved. Everyone on the central group has Eastercon and/or Worldcon experience. An embarrassing surplus of it in fact.

I am still amazed that this question has turned out to be the one most quickly answered.

How can a Committee run for the life of the Bid and Still be Effective?

This pre-supposes they are effective in the first place! But catty comments aside, the organisation of the bid team and the larger committee is an important question. I have worked on a number of different committees and been exposed to a variety of organisational methods, none of them perfect, many of them effective.

The simple answer is that the structure has to be flexible enough to take account of the complex and changing needs of the bid and the people running it.

It is also true that every complex problem has a simple answer that's wrong.

There are two basic objectives in committee structures

Currently, we are developing mechanisms to answer both questions. The central bid group comprises a 'Board' with people in co-ordinating and functional roles. Each board member has a deputy, with groups of staff members in each functional area.

There will be compulsory checkpoints in the life of the bid (and convention) at which committee and staff members must state their willingness to continue, and at which people can leave to pursue other activities (like sleep!), without the problems of 'guilt' feelings forcing people to over-commit themselves. This also allows some flexibility to handle other con-running problems, the recent extra work required in the site change for Eastcon being an example.

Communication never works perfectly, but it can be made less painful. Regular internal and external news reports are a useful method of maintaining official information.

I won't dwell on this too much. A raving bureaucrat like me could go on forever. The basic answer to the question is yes, it can be done!

Where. When. How Much and How to Convince Americans?

This is where the trouble starts - I could say a great deal about this, but I would prefer not to at this stage. By mid 1990 we will have decided on Where and When. and consequently How Much. All I can say is that main choices for site are -

The date will be 1995 or 1997.

The reasons for the uncertainty are complex. In simple terms, the date is determined by the likely American Opposition, and the site by financial and logistical concerns. In 1995 we are possibly facing Atlanta, in 1997 a Texas bid is likely, but we still await details. The delay in determining site is caused by the need to obtain financial assistance from the local authorities at each site, 'subvention' as it is called. In the US, the conference centres are generally owned by hotel groups, hence the 'all-in' package of programme space with hotel beds is relatively cheap. In the UK these sites are expensive - hence our need to defray the costs.

The delay is frustrating for several reasons. One in that we will have problems in obtaining sponsorship from an airline to help with flying people to overseas cons without having chosen a site, as the airlines are strongly influenced by the local authority/tourist boards. However, we are very likely to be in a position early next year to decide on site and date.

Convincing the Americans is a mixture of politics and parties. But let's just say that we already have a few plans on that score.

How will you make the programme central to the Convention?

(OK I know it's not in my 'hit list' above, but if Wogan can push people's books in the name of an interview, I can damn well push the bid in this otherwise sombre 'organ' of Ian's).

This is usually the make-or-break question at bid sessions in Britain, for all the wrong reasons. It comes after an hour of discussion on the hotel, (an Important subject to be sure), and seems to revolve around the 'Will the media fans be properly represented?' sort of question.

Let's be quite clear about something, the programme (in whatever form) is 90% or more of the reason why the members turn up having paid out lots of cash. Now many fans argue that they don't attend programme items, but prefer to spend their con in the bar. Programme items at large conventions are stale they say, and the conversation in the bar is more interesting.

We prefer to think of it in another way - much of the programme of a con is the people who attend. It would be foolish to try to get everyone who has had their 15 minutes of fame onto a panel/debate or whatever. Quality is more important than quantity, and the formal programme should be chosen as such. If many interesting or famous people can only be met in the bar, then all the better. Members should be able to choose from good items on the programme streams or good company and conversation away from them. BOTH must be catered for, and a good Worldcon MUST have both.

How will we do it? Planning. The bid committee (who currently constitute a 'board'0 are in the process of creating a programme sub-committee. This will have the remit of researching and developing the programme themes, some of the details, guests and other events. They will have little interference from the board, who have been chosen with management ability rather than creativity in mind, (though they might not wish to admit it!). the main criterion for the programme group is that their research and decisions MUST be available for publication whether the bid wins or loses. Even If we lose, (and we do have stiff opposition), the work that has been done should be useful to other groups in fandom.

Good ideas shouldn't be lost.

What can I do to help?

There are lots of things you can do -

You could help to run the bid, plan the convention or run it on the day. If you have experience of Conspiracy 87 or other large cons, but don't wish to get involved directly, you can act in an advisory capacity. It's essential that experience isn't lost.

You can PAY for a pre-supporting membership. These are 5 at the moment - which will be deducted from membership if we win the bid, and will go to charity if we lose or cancel.

To get in touch just drop a line to John Stewart. 5 St.Andrew's Rd. Carshalton. Surrey. SM5 2DY, or come to our desk at most conventions in the UK.

The Last Worldcon.

You may wonder why I called this whole article The Last Worldcon. I'll be quite frank - I think it is very likely that a British Worldcon in the Nineties will be the last of its kind.

For a group of people involved in the literature of ideas, embracing the concept of constant change and evolution, we are a strangely conservative bunch. We run HUGE conventions on an Amateur basis, and treat the idea of Professionally run cons with much disdain.

The main feature of SF in the 1980's has been breadth and diversity, and a move away from traditional concepts. Similarly. SF fans are and have been involved in an expanding range of activities, not just 'fannish' conventions. (The Worldcon (and Eastercon) is basically a room-party grown large.) That diversity is likely to continue, and coupled with the increasing expense and competition in running Conventions, I think it likely that by the end of the century, the Worldcon as we see it now will either fold or will change its nature completely.

I for one will be very happy to see that. Life would be boring if nothing changed.

Vince Docherty, Co-chair and Co-ordinator, UK Worldcon Bid


This page updated on 09 July 1999