On the afternoon of Monday 6th May 1996 I received a phonecall from Abigail Frost, who was then the European TAFF Administrator, informing me that I had won the 1996 TAFF race 'by a landslide'. She promised she'd be in touch with further details within the next couple of weeks.
Four weeks went by with no further word from Abigail, so I started leaving messages on her answering machine asking what was happening -- but I received no reply.
On the 4th of June I wrote to Abigail expressing my concern that she hadn't been in touch. By now a number of people were complaining that there had not been a full breakdown of the voting in the race, nor a list of the European voters. In my letter I offered to produce a newsletter for Abigail if she sent me the relevant information. I received no response to the letter.
By mid-June -- I wasn't alone in my concern about the lack of communication from Abigail. The only information which had appeared concerning the 1996 race was total votes (138 for me, 9 for Simo, 2 for no preference). Nothing else had been heard from Abigail other than the fact that she'd had the 'flu. Several people, including previous Administrators Dave Langford and Pam Wells and the current North American Administrator Dan Steffan, had also tried contacting Abigail but had received no response.
By the end of June I was leaving messages on Abigail's machine on a regular basis -- to no avail. She didn't reply to me or to anybody else. On the 20th of June I wrote to her again explaining that unless I received some indication from her about how much money was available for my trip and when I was likely to get it I couldn't actually plan the trip. (People were chasing me about my itinerary at this stage -- asking where in North America Helena and I planned to visit in addition to Anaheim. The last I'd heard, in Abigail's Taff Talk, the European TAFF fund had £1,933.06, but without confirmation of how much there was to spend on my trip I was obviously loath to commit my wife and I to any definite plans -- we certainly couldn't afford two trips out of our own pockets!) I added that having made some initial enquiries with airlines I'd discovered that as our trip would be taking place during 'peak' time seats were in short supply -- if we didn't book (and pay) soon there wouldn't be a trip!
On Saturday 22nd of June my wife Helena and I were having a drink with some friends in our local the Three Tuns (where, for once, the landlord Paul Berry hadn't run out of mild) and, of course, the main topic of conversation was our forthcoming TAFF trip. As Abigail still hadn't been in touch we didn't know if there was going to be a trip, so we couldn't relax and didn't have the heart to spend the evening drinking and socialising. We left a door key with Tony Berry who was staying the night with us and went home early. When we got in I called Abigail, again, and, again, got her answering machine, then I went upstairs to the bathroom. As I came back downstairs I could hear Helena talking and by the time I was half-way down the stairs I could see she was on the telephone and realised she was talking to Abigail's machine. When Helena came off the 'phone she told me she had pressed 'last number re-dial' to call Abigail as she felt that my messages and letters had been 'too polite' and she felt that Abigail needed to know, in no uncertain terms, how serious the situation was. She told me that she had informed Abigail that unless we heard immediately what was happening regarding the fund she (Helena) would contact everyone she knew who had voted in the 1996 race, explain the situation and advise them to contact Abigail regarding the voting fees they had paid and which she (Abigail) had yet to pass over. Helena had added that if Abigail didn't get in touch immediately she (Helena) would do her best, along with other concerned parties such as Greg Pickersgill and Pam Wells, to ensure that Abigail could never show her face in fandom again.
The following day, Sunday 23rd of June, I received word from Abigail -- via a third party.
Roger Robinson called me around midday that Sunday. He told me that he'd received a phone call from John Clute earlier that day: John had received a phone call from Abigail on Sunday morning asking if he could lend her the money to replace the TAFF money -- around £2,600. The best that John could offer, based on the fact that Abigail said she was owed £1,200 for work she'd completed, was to offer to put the air ticket on his credit card. Roger felt that we should try to make the trip anyway and give Abigail time to make good the money -- I said I'd see what could be done.
My initial reaction when I came off the phone and spoke to Tony Berry and Helena, who'd heard my side of the conversation, was one of relief -- at least we now knew what the situation really was and could decide how to deal with it.
Helena was convinced that we should scrap the trip and Tony was equally positive that it should go ahead -- the money could be scratched together somehow. I was torn -- I could envisage all sorts of difficulties inherent in trying to raise the cash and make arrangements, but I felt it would cause irreparable damage to TAFF if the trip didn't take place. I wanted to expose Abigail immediately, but felt at the same time she should be given the chance to repay the money if she was able and that if she could repay it this would be the least damaging avenue for TAFF.
I called Greg Pickersgill and Pam Wells (who had offered financial aid from the UFF Auction cash and the Mexicon Hat in case of such an eventuality) and Bernie Evans (who had given Roger my 'phone number, under protest) so that she could e-mail Dave Langford and bring him up to date.
Having spoken to Greg and Pam I rang Abigail -- this time she answered her 'phone. I told her that if she was willing to repay the money as soon as she was able a number of people had agreed to lend TAFF the cash to finance the trip. All she needed to do was get the voting information to me ASAP so that I could publish a newsletter; we'd sort out her repaying the money once this was done. She agreed.
Over the next week or so Pam, Greg, Dave Langford and I contacted various people and raised enough money to finance the trip through a variety of interest free loans.
I spoke to Abigail a couple of times reminding her that I needed the voting information -- she kept promising to send it but it never arrived. Then I started getting her answering machine again. On the 17th of July I gave up on getting the voting information and went to press with TAFFlon Tudor #1 (unfortunately the title of the newsletter now had a resonance that had not been intended when it was conceived).
With the arrangements for the trip sorted I tried again to elicit some kind of repayment schedule from Abigail. I called and left several messages to no avail and finally, on the 30th of July, I wrote to Abigail again -- giving her an ultimatum that if she didn't contact me immediately I would have no option but to go public with the fact that she had failed to pass over the money. The letter was sent Recorded Delivery on the 30th of July, the Post Office attempted delivery on the 1st of August, Abigail collected the letter from Bethnal Green office on the 2nd of August. I have still received no response, nor any money from Abigail.
The reasons I did not reveal this sordid business before the 1996 TAFF trip are:
- Anyone can make a mistake; through circumstances outside their control anyone might 'borrow' from such a fund with every intention of repaying and find they are unable to repay it in time.... I felt Abigail should be given every opportunity to make good on the cash. (However, given that Abigail apparently continued spending every penny of the TAFF money up to and including the voting fees for the 1996 race, and that she has yet to repay a single penny of it and has shown no inclination since early July of doing so, even my goodwill and patience has been exhausted.)
- If the 1996 TAFF trip had failed to take place because the Administrator had spent the funds, both I and everyone whose advice I sought agreed, it would've caused potentially irreparable damage to this, the oldest fan fund. (I hoped that by making the trip, publishing as much of my report as possible whilst in transit and completing my report comparatively early, and ensuring that there was a 1997 race, to prove TAFF was still strong and viable.)
- The advice I received from both the previous TAFF Administrators I spoke to (Dave Langford, Greg Pickersgill and Pam Wells) and the current North American Administrator Dan Steffan, was that if we went on the trip having revealed the situation we would spend our entire trip explaining the situation ad infinitum. (I'm sure they were right. Unfortunately the fact that we were so concerned about money and paranoid about the 'secret' leaking before we could make an announcement, detracted from our enjoyment anyway.)
However, I wish to apologise for taking as long as I have to publish these facts after the trip has been completed. Having taken advice from a couple of people whilst in the USA, I felt the best course of action was for Dan and myself to jointly release the news when myself and my wife stayed with him and his wife at the end of our trip. Dan, however, felt that working on such a release whilst on the trip was against the spirit of TAFF and that we should concentrate on the sights of Washington DC -- this seemed entirely reasonable. So it was agreed that Dan would draft a statement and send it to me after I returned home. This would still enable us to release a joint statement (TAFFboy meets TAFFlon Tudor) within a week or so of the end of the trip.
Unfortunately Dan didn't manage to do this until several weeks after my return, then the e-mail file couldn't be read, which delayed it for a further week. I felt that Dan's statement needed some work but unfortunately I didn't get back to him immediately to explain this. By this time I was recovering from a chest infection which had caused me to have nearly two weeks off work (not a good start to a new job -- I started the week I returned from the USA) and I was knee deep in hotel negotiations for Novacon 26 and 27 and desperately trying to complete the publications for the former.
Dan decided he had to go to press with his newsletter and I told him I'd be getting mine out as soon as I could. That was a week ago as I type this. By now you may have read other, briefer, statements in the fan press, or even on the Net, but here you have the full story. There has been no 'conspiracy of silence' -- just a number of people handling a difficult situation: doing their best to rescue a forty-year old fan fund from the potentially disastrous consequences of the actions of one misguided individual.
More importantly what happens now? Well, I along with Dave Langford, Greg Pickersgill and Pam Wells, will be meeting with solicitor Tim Stannard at Novacon 26 to discuss whether or not it will be worthwhile to take legal action against Abigail. I will report the result of that meeting and subsequent consequences (if any) in the next issue of this newsletter.
Dan assures me that the North American fund can afford to send a representative to Intervention, the 1997 British Eastercon, in Liverpool. As this is scheduled to take place over the weekend of the 28th to 31st of March this doesn't allow a great deal of time.
So please get your nominations (three from North America and two from Europe), 100 word platform and bond to Dan Steffan at the address below as soon as possible. Nominations close on 2nd December 1996, voting closes on the 8th February 1997.
The European fund is desperate for money to repay all of the kind people who lent money to finance the 1996 trip. There will be a TAFF Auction on Sunday night at Novacon 26 and early next year I will be running a postal fanzine auction.
I have a supply of the glorious, bright red, TAFF t-shirts, illustrated by Dan Steffan. US sizes: M, L, XL and XXL, £10.00 per shirt at Novacon or £12.00 by post.
The first four instalments of my 1996 trip report Have Bag, Will Travel are also available for only £2.00 per set. (This is available on the World Wide Web, courtesy of Dave Langford, on http://taff.org.uk/reports/TAFFrep.html. The completed report (with lots of splendid illustrations) will be available early in 1997 for a mere (minimum) four pounds donation to TAFF (or the equivalent of six pounds outside the UK), inclusive of postage and packing. There are still a few copies of Bernie Evans' The Tudor Dynasty, featuring some of my fanzine articles and illustrations by Dave Mooring and Dave Hicks -- just £2.00. Sterling cheques/money orders payable to 'Martin Tudor', US dollar cheques/money orders payable to 'Dan Steffan'.
If any fan artists reading these early instalments feel inspired to portray scenes described please do so, all contributions for the final report will be gratefully received! Corrections to already published instalments will be gratefully accepted by Martin Tudor at the address below or via Bernie Evans on email@example.com
Last but by no means least I would like to thank the following people for their assistance, both financial and otherwise: Michael Abbott, Tony Berry, John Clute, Bernie Evans, Dave Holmes, Andy Hooper, Dave Langford, Catherine Mcaulay, Greg Pickersgill, Roger Robinson, Tim Stannard, Pam Wells and the Mexicon Hat, Anne & Alan Woodford.
TAFFlon Tudor #2 is the second newsletter from the European Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund administrator, Martin Tudor, who can be contacted at the address below. Distributed 3rd November 1996. Copies of TAFFlon Tudor are being distributed as widely as possible. Feel free to copy and distribute as you wish -- but please copy verbatim. Copies are available for donations of material and/or cash to TAFF, stamped self-addressed envelopes and editorial whim.
The Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund was created in 1953 for the purpose of providing funds to bring well-known and popular fans familiar to those on both sides of the ocean across the Atlantic. Since that time TAFF has regularly brought North American fans to European conventions and European fans to North American conventions. TAFF exists solely through the support of fandom. The candidates are voted on by interested fans all over the world, and each vote is accompanied by a donation of not less than $2 or £1. These votes, and the continued generosity of fandom, are what make TAFF possible.
TAFF gratefully accepts your freely-given money and material for auction; such generosity has sustained the Fund for over 40 years. TAFF is fandom's oldest travel fund, and one of its worthiest causes -- give early and often! Please contact your nearest administrator for details.
The European Administrator is: Martin Tudor, 24 Ravensbourne Grove, (off Clarkes Lane), Willenhall, West Midlands, WV13 1HX. The North American Administrator is: Dan Steffan, 3804 S. 9th Street, Arlington, VA 22204, USA.