The Life of TAFF [1957]

Walt Willis

Like so many things in fandom, it all started with Forry Ackerman. He was not, as some people think, the first person to conceive the idea of bringing a fan across the Atlantic, but it started with him all the same. As far as I know, it was like this.

British fandom, once strong and highly organized, was in a bad way during the war. Fans, in service or bombed out, had lost touch with one another; there was virtually no native stf being published and supplies from America were cut off; duplicating paper, ink and stencils were scarce; collections were being handed over as scrap paper or burned, by landladies or the Luftwaffe. British fandom might have been obliterated altogether if it hadn't been for two fans – Mike Rosenblum of Leeds and Forry Ackerman of Los Angeles. Through the worst days of the war Mike kept publishing his Futurian War Digest and Forry helped him, and other fans, with unsolicited gifts of prozines, fanzines, stencils and even paper. And his own fanzine, VOM, was a vital link between British fans in the forces and their friends.

Forry's services to British fans were so remarkable that it became a tradition in British fandom, one that has only recently been forgotten, that his name should be included in all lists of British fans, and that he should be an honorary subscriber to all British fanzines and a charter member of all British fan organizations. Toward the end of the war, some British fans suggested that their gratitude should be shown in some more concrete way – to wit, by bringing Forry over to England after the war.

Whether from diffidence or from knowledge of the comparative poverty of most British fans, Forry declined the offer before it came to anything, and when he did make his visit in 1951, it was at his own expense. But the idea must have taken root with him, because shortly after the end of the war, Forry himself started a movement, which he called the Big Pond Fund, to bring an English fan to the States. He devoted an immense amount of time and trouble to this project, but despite all his efforts, all the Fund amounted to after three years was a mere $127, much of it contributed by Forry himself under assumed names. Basically, the trouble was that American fandom in general was not really interested in British fans. None of them had made any real impact on US fandom, and the two fandoms were more or less self contained. Ted Carnell did attend the Convention in 1950, but he had to pay most of the cost himself.

And this, I suppose, is where I come in. At the time I entered fandom, at the end of 1946, British fandom was practically dead – there were only two active fans in the whole country – and it was very hard to arouse any response from the scattered survivors of wartime and pre-war fandom. I found myself increasingly drawn to American fandom and in a year or so the zine I was publishing at the time, Slant, had a much bigger circulation in America than in Britain. I was in effect more of an American fan than an English one.

The position had its problems. From where I sat I could see two separate fandoms, both full of things the other would enjoy; both with defects that the other could remedy and virtues that could compliment each other. Looking at the situation like this, it seemed to me that it would be better for everyone if the two fandoms were brought more together, so that each could reinforce the other and everyone have twice as much fun. If there's been one constant aim in my fan life ever since, that's been it.

I tried to further it in several ways... pushing the circulation of US fanzines in Britain, etc.... but as it turned out the most momentous step I took was offering to write a monthly column for the new US fanzine, Quandry. I started an odd practice of writing up British conventions and fan doings in this column ("The Harp That Once Or Twice") with the double idea of interesting Americans in British fandom and encouraging British fans to subscribe to Quandry, if only to see their own names. The column was a big success, so much so that by the publication of Quandry #13, Shelby Vick had started an abortive movement to bring me over for the Nolacon, in 1951. The con was only a few weeks away by that time, and of course the scheme had no chance. I wrote it off as a bit of fannish nonsense, a generous but impractical gesture. I thought the same when Shelby revived his scheme after the Nolacon, this time to bring me to the Chicon in 1952. But after a few months it seemed that money was actually being contributed and that most of the active fans of the day were helping, by publishing special issues in aid of the Fund, etc. As I suppose most of you know, Shelby's fund actually succeeded; enough money was raised to pay my fare both ways, the Chicon Committee offered me free accommodation during the convention, and I actually did go to America. The full story of that wonderful trip is told in The Harp Stateside, just published.

When I got back I was of course silently resolved to try and pay back fandom's generosity by helping other fans to have the same wonderful experience. It seemed to me that if this opportunity was known to be available as a sort of Ultimate Award, it would be a terrific incentive to good fanactivity, an inspiration to every neofan. And unlike an ordinary Award, it would give pleasure not only to the recipient, but to the people who made it possible, for they could share his experience by reading his accounts of it. And, of course, since anyone who wanted to go would have to make himself known on both sides of the Atlantic, it would encourage the integration of British and American fandom, which I wanted to see.

The opportunity came at the next British convention, in May 1953. A letter had been received from Don Ford and the Cincinnati Group saying that they had raised some money to help bring over a British fan, Norman Ashfield, who was a friend of theirs. Norman hadn't been able to come, so Ford's group had sportingly offered the money to any other British fan we cared to name. During the next interval, I convened an informal meeting of about a dozen leading English fans. Having sounded a few possibles, we agreed it wasn't practicable to send anyone over that year. I then proposed that, subject to the approval of the Cincinnati Group, the money be made the nucleus of a Two-Way Transatlantic Fan Fund which would be used not only to send British fans to America, but to bring American fans over to Britain. This proposal was unanimously agreed upon, and I was delegated the job of arranging the administrative details, elections, etc., as far as the British end was concerned.

The fund was introduced to fandom at large in Hyphen #4, and in that and the following issues I put my proposals before fandom for approval, so that the election procedure would be agreed upon before the voting started. The proposals were principally that minimum qualifications should be laid down for voters, including that they should have made a certain minimum contribution to the Fund, that fans on both sides of the Atlantic should be entitled to vote, and that each voter should be allowed to give alternate preferences, to prevent split votes and confusion should candidates withdraw in the course of the election, but only one vote per person, etc., etc.

All these proposals were agreed to more or less unanimously, and the first election was held for a British fan to go to San Francisco in 1955. Privately I didn't think that enough money could be contributed in the time, but I figured the election would bring publicity and do no harm. As it turned out, quite a large sum was collected, but the winner of the election, Vin¢ Clarke, couldn't go for private reasons and the runner-up, James White, decided to forego the opportunity and let the Fund be carried over until next year. I had added a questionnaire to the ballot form to find out the wishes of the contributors in event of a situation like this, and they voted as follows:

Vote again for a British fan to attend the next US con 244
Bring a US fan to the next British Convention 243
Offer the money to Candidate #3 90

(Incidentally, the overwhelming majority of the voters in this election were British fans.)

As you can see, this was virtually a tie between the first two alternatives, so I made the next election an open one; that is, fans on either side of the Atlantic could be nominated. As it happened, however, only British candidates were put forward, the Americans evidently feeling that the Britishers shouldn't be done out of their turn. This election was won easily by Ken Bulmer; there was now enough money in the Fund for the two-way boat fare; and we started to try and arrange a passage.

We ran into tremendous difficulties, and in the end all Ken could get was a berth on a cargo boat with an uncertain sailing schedule. So uncertain, in fact, that in July Ken got a telegram that the sailing date had been advanced to the 25th of that month. The Bulmers rose to the occasion and travelled overnight to Dublin. Madeleine and I and Chuck Harris, who was staying with us at the time, took the train down to Dublin to see them off and took photographs of the historic occasion. Then we went back to Belfast and airmailed a hastily mimeographed appeal to a dozen or so prominent East Coast fans. It was headed URGENT, and read:

"On Monday evening, the 25th July, the dream of the Transatlantic Fan Fund became a reality. The successful candidate, Ken Bulmer, along with his wife Pamela, sailed for America on a tramp steamer, the M.V. Inishowen Head... belonging to the "Head Line" of Belfast. The ship sailed from Dublin and Madeleine and ourselves went down there for the day to see them off. We all lolled about St. Stephen's Green for awhile after lunch and then went down to the docks, a confusion of cranes, trucks, shouting seamen and seagulls. We holed up in the Bulmers' cabin talking for a couple of hours... probably the largest number of fans ever in the same boat... while they changed hawsers in mid-scream, and then we had to get off. ("Ask that man in the peaked cap if he knows a good place to stow away." -crh) Later, in the warm calm of a summer evening in Dublin, the ship sailed out on its long journey round the Irish coast and across the Atlantic.

"It's just an ordinary tramp steamer with accommodation for perhaps half a dozen passengers – half a dozen small passengers – but the Bulmers' cabin seemed nice and the ship looked as if it might last out the voyage. The Bulmers were happy and excited, but naturally a bit tired and worried. They'd had to leave London on a few hours' notice and travel overnight, and had spent the last few days in a hectic rush to get ready. This was because the sailing date of the ship was suddenly brought forward by more than two weeks on account of a large scale dock strike They knew that if they missed this sailing, there'd be little prospect of another one, and that it would be a bad blow to the Transfanfund if everything fell through at this stage. But the result of this bolt from the blue from the shipping company is that through no fault of their own Ken and Pamela will be arriving in the States three weeks early, with very little money, no arrangements made for their accommodation until the Convention, and possibly even no one to meet them when they arrive in Baltimore.

"That's why we're writing this. We're airmailing it to representative fans in Baltimore and the surrounding area in the hope that we might find somebody who will be able to help – perhaps by meeting the boat, or offering accommodation for a night or two, or helping with transport or something. It's pretty rough landing in a strange country where you know nobody, and we are hoping that fans will rally round and help them both to Cleveland. The Bulmers have done all they can... they're probably the only tourists who ever brought tinned food to America... but they're not rich (both of them gave up their jobs to make this trip) and the Transfanfund only covers the trip to the States."

As it turned out, the only problem the Bulmers had was which invitation to accept. Their visit was an immense success, and a fine advertisement for TAFF.

Seeing Ken and Pamela in that little boat in Dublin ready to sail for America had been a great moment for me, but my real ultimate ambition was to see an American fan brought over to a British convention. There was no doubt that this must be the next item on the TAFF program. I made the preliminary arrangements for the election, and then handed over to Don Ford. The election for 1956 was won by Lee Hoffman, but she got married to Larry Shaw before the polling closed and the newly married couple made the trip at their own expense. The runner-up, Forry Ackerman, also waived his right to the money and it was carried over to 1957. This election is now in progress.

I myself resigned from the TAFF administration early this year, and handed over to Ken Bulmer. Among other reasons, it seemed to me a good idea to set the precedent that each successful TAFF candidate should prepare the way for his successor. TAFF is now as firmly established as any fan organization is likely to be, and while there have recently been disagreements on points of method and procedure, there is no reason why they shouldn't be discussed and settled in a friendly manner as they have in the past. None of those concerned have anything but the best interests of fandom at heart, and all they differ about is the best way TAFF can serve them.

(Note: I'm adding here a note of just what these disagreements are, in case Bob feels the readers in general would like to know.) /Bob does feel they would. RSC/

The first concerns the qualifications of voters and candidates. One school of thought believes that there must be a verifiable definition of a fan for TAFF purposes, to prevent frauds and abuses, and that this definition must be based on evidence of some participation, however slight, in fanzines. The argument is that TAFF's purpose is to encourage more and better fanactivity, and fanzines are the only link between fans separated geographically: a person who has not sufficient interest in fandom as a whole to have ever written a letter of comment to a fan zine cannot have the knowledge of fans outside his own group to vote properly nor the qualifications to represent them. The other school of thought, however, says that this attitude is too legalistic and that many people who have no interest in fanzines are good fans and shouldn't be disenfranchised.

The other is about the counting of votes. The method in the elections held by me had been to allow each voter to name first, second, and third preferences, to give a more accurate reflection of opinion, but to permit a voter to "plump" for a candidate by not using his second and third votes. Don Ford evidently misunderstood this and allowed people to vote one candidate in first, second and third places, thereby in practice accepting two votes for the same candidate from the same voter. This didn't come to light until he published his own ballot form, the one used in previous elections having been drafted by me. Don now feels that having used this method of counting in the last election and having announced he was going to use it in this one, he cannot very well change it now. Against this his opponents argue that he is not being asked to change the method of voting, only the method of counting; and that the method he proposes to use is wrong and will upset the balance of the election by tending to give more weight to the votes of those who only know one candidate than to those who are discriminating.