The Origins of TAFF [1959]

Bob Madle

Those of you who have been reading Walter Willis’s excellent department in this magazine are well-acquainted with the science fiction fan movement. Walt has told you a great deal about this group of loyal, vociferous, and extremely enthusiastic readers of science fiction. He has indicated how this group writes letters to the various discussion columns of Nebula and its contemporaries; he has talked of science fiction collections; and he has described other facets of the fan field, such as the intensive correspondence within the group, the publication of innumerable amateur publications (“fanzines”), and the length to which many fans will go to attain personal contact – through conferences and conventions, which are held all over the world. Yes, the science fiction fan is an enthusiast. And he is a philanthropist also. Which brings me to the subject of “The Transatlantic Fan Fund”, our lesson for today.

Like many other things in the s-f world, it all started with Forrest J. Ackerman. Forry, who is known in America as “Mr. Science Fiction”, has been reading s-f since 1926 and has been a science fiction fan since the inception of the term. He was projected into fandom through being a demon letter writer, and he started at a very early age. I can still recall his first letter-to-the-editor. It appeared in the Fall, 1929 issue of Science Wonder Quarterly and started off thusly “Although I am only twelve years old....” Through this, and subsequent letters, Forry obtained many, many correspondents, a large number of whom were residents in Great Britain .

During World War II, when it appeared that the British fan world was doomed to extinction, Forry kept it alive by contributions of books, magazines, paper, money – even mimeo stencils. As legend will have it, his British s-f friends wanted to repay Forry by paying his way to the U.K. Forry, philanthropist that he is, wanted it the other way. He wanted American fans to bring a British fan to America for a World Convention. As a matter of fact, Forry wanted to bring two British s-f fans to America simultaneously, if possible.

Thus was created “The Big Pond Fund”, which was one of the projects of the 1947 World Science Fiction Convention, held in Philadelphia. The basic idea behind the Big Pond Fund was that fandom, through voluntary contributions, would pay the passage of the first fan ambassador. Unfortunately, fandom was comparatively young (and small) and it wasn’t until 1949 that Forry’s dream materialised when Ted Carnell made it to the “Cinvention ”, held in Cincinnati, Ohio. And even at that Ted paid a good portion of his expenses out of his own pocket. But the die was cast.

Some time in 1949 a young fan appeared on the scene with an unpretentious publication called Slant. This fan resided in Ireland and, as he was unaware of other fans in Ireland, communicated with American fans by sending them his magazine. The result of this was a large number of correspondents and an excellent staff of writers. This, coupled with meticulous typesetting and excellent format, catapulted Slant to the top group of fanzines. And up the ladder with Slant went its meticulous editor, Walter A. Willis.

In 1951, Shelby Vick started a campaign to bring Willis, the fan world’s brightest new star, to the “Nolacon” (New Orleans). However, the campaign didn’t bear fruit until 1952 when Walt made it to the “Chicon” (Chicago, Illinois). When Walt returned to Ireland he wrote up a lengthy report of his trip, The Harp Stateside. This interesting document appeared in many instalments in various fanzines and has now been published complete in pamphlet form. (Obtainable from Willis for 2/- or 35 cents at 170 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, Ireland.) And with the publication of The Harp Stateside another fannish tradition was born, for it is expected that the recipient of the TAFF trip will write up his adventures so general fandom (or those who contributed for the trip) will be able to read it.

Immediately following the 1952 “Chicon” Donald E. Ford, of Ohio, started a campaign to bring an English friend of his to the 1953 World Convention in Philadelphia. However, the friend, one Norman Ashfield of London, proved unable to come. Ford wrote to Willis offering the money to any British fan who might be able to make the trip. Ford’s letter arrived just about the time of the British Coroncon (1953) and it resulted in Willis, Carnell, Ken Slater, and several other fans organising The Transatlantic Fan Fund.

“Southgate in ’58!” has been a legendary fannish war-cry for many years. And Southgate in ’58 it was, for Los Angeles, which is a suburb of Southgate, was awarded this past year’s convention. Ron Bennett, editor of the fan magazine Ploy, was the choice of both Britain and America, and has just recently completed a three-week stay in the colonies.

This brief report has attempted to cover TAFF history and display how solid and worthy a fan effort it is.