David Kyle's Conspiracy '87 Reminiscence
Every Worldcon for half a century has had "con" or "vention" in its nickname with one exception. Chicago 1952 was called TASFiC by its committee. The name never stuck and the Tenth Anniversary Science Fiction Convention today is referred to simply as Chicon II. The second Brighton event, the 45th WSFC identified now in 1987 as being in Great Britain, not England, unfortunately chose the puerile label of "Conspiracy." Four times the Worldcon has been held in England: twice in London (Loncon I in 1957, II in 1965) and twice in Brighton (Seacon '79 -- not to be confused with the 1961 Seacon in Seattle -- and, in 1987, Conspiracy).
Once again, I have dragged out my Program Book for recollections. Fascinating to read, it tells me absolutely nothing. You see, it's a "Souvenir Book." The "Pocket Programme" held all the details and was as complicated as an airline schedule. This "Souvenir Book," entitled "Frontier Crossings," is a handsome product, chock-full of background materials. It reflects that many on the committee were deeply involved in sf publishing. Never have I seen Guests treated with such informational depth. Brighton town, however, was virtually ignored. Except for the fantasy dust jacket, the clever endpapers, a few fine lines of type, and an official welcoming letter from the Mayor, the convention site might well have been held on the moon. Brighton deserved better.
Past conventions occasionally have had three Guests of Honor, even four when overseas. Conspiracy really smashed the record. There were nine, count 'em, nine! Two pairs were chosen, the Soviet writing brothers of Arkady & Boris Strugatsky and the old-time "fans" Joyce & Ken Slater. Alfred Bester represented the U.S. There was an "artist," Jim Burns. Then there was a "Film GoH," the English-based American Ray Harryhausen. And a "special fan," David Langford. At the head of the honored list was Doris Lessing from the U.K. Not well known in sf circles, I think it desirable to report that she "is heralded not merely within the family of science fiction, but lauded by the greater world of literature as one of the leading writers of our age." Most provocative is the realization that, of the almost one hundred past guests, she is the first "outsider" in our field to have been picked.
Skipping the book, let's take a look at the actual convention. Once more we return to Brighton and once more the con hotel is the Metropole. This time there was a big, big difference. The main events were held in the huge Brighton Convention Center just down the waterfront promenade. With excellent weather, there were fans constantly coming and going up and down the pavement (sidewalk) between the Metropole and the Center. The camaraderie was great. In between was the fancy Grand Hotel, the expensive place where most Americans got booked.
As for the Metropole, the place was as crowded, disorganized, and friendly as the last time. Maybe even more so. It was a trek through twisting corridors and flights of stairs to get to the huckster rooms and art show, like going up and down sheep and cattle chutes, skirting the inevitable dusty hotel reconstruction. Fans, milling around noisily, constantly paused to talk.
On early Friday evening, on the other side of town, there was a by-invitation-only party at the Corn Exchange, held for all the professionals and celebrities. The ground floor of the old building was one huge unfurnished room packed, but not too tightly, with clumps of people nibbling on finger food or sipping various forms of alcohol or simply chatting away merrily. Other parties were popping up all over the Metropole. Some were huge, such as Rog Peyton's Andromeda Bookshop "thank you fandom" open house. Others were in small function rooms with wall-to-wall people. The crowded, open Danish party was almost impossible to get into or out of without a real struggle. The closed Japanese party, with Japanese snacks and drinks and hosted by costumed girls and women, was nearly as crowded. The "4 UK" party (those who had attended all four British Worldcons, a score or so and nearly half Americans) and the L.A. party seemed for a short time destined to contest each other for the double-booked room. Of course Nolacon and MagiCon had their own, open to all. Everywhere something was happening and easy to find.
The Saturday evening program was strangely organized. Starting at six (seven) o'clock, there was a "cabaret" and late supper served, buffet style, at the Convention Centre. Individual tables with chairs filled half of the Center. There was an extra charge, quite heavy , for this event, but in theory those participants had the best seats for the costume parade scheduled to follow. Unfortunately, the imaginative idea flopped. At 9:50 (!) with no buffet in sight, Wendy Ackerman said, "Forry, I've got to get some food." He pleaded, she stayed, a half hour later they ate. "Well...okay," she afterwards judged. Later on with laser lights sweeping around dramatically, the show went on. There were forty costumes, a few very good ones. Actually, the non-paying balcony seats were the best for viewing, because at floor level there was a stage with no runway. Later a petition was being circulated, with much grumbled dissatisfaction, demanding an accounting for the extra admission charge.
For me Sunday was the big day. Caroline Munro showed up and actually asked, "Is David Kyle here?" She was gone before I got the message, but my friends were impressed and so was I. Then in the evening, the Hugos were presented at the Centre. A Pole and two Japanese received Big Heart Awards. The last item on the program was the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award -- and I made the presentation. I was the closing act! Wow! (Little did I know that half the audience had left when the last Hugo had been given. Oh, well.)
The lasting impression for Monday was the passing of the convention gavel for the next year. The Nolacon contingent paraded into the meeting room (now reduced in size) following a jazz band which played "When the Saints Come Marching In" and throwing specially minted doubloons to the audience. (I regret one final melancholy note: GoH Alfred Bester, in poor health, didn't get to England. Not long afterwards, Alfie passed away.)
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