Geoff Winterman on the Cheltenham Circle

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CHELTENHAM SCIENCE FICTION CIRCLE -- Geoff Winterman’s recollections -- 28th October 2021

Memories of stumbling across the Cheltenham Science Fiction Circle club rooms on London Road just out of the town centre: There used to be a Rolls Royce Dealer at the traffic lights nearby but in 1958 I settled for my trusty Lambretta. I’m not sure how I came to be walking up London Road that dark, wet autumn evening, but I suddenly glimpsed, up a weed strewn path leading to a decrepit Georgian terraced house, a flickering coloured illuminated sign:

“Cheltenham Science Fiction Circle”.

I paused, before what was on the sign registered, I initially pictured some seedy strip-joint hiding away there. Science Fiction! I was and still am an avid reader of SF, but up until that point had never heard of Science Fiction Clubs or of ‘Fandom’, or Groups or conventions.

I cautiously followed the path to the flickering signed, then down some steps and though a door and into a basement room stacked high with hundreds of books – SF Books! I was in an Aladdin’s Cave of Science Fiction. Later to learn that this was the BSFA Library. I was greeting by Peter Mabey then the BSFA librarian assisted by someone who I remember as “Humph”. They were packing books for postal loan. That Peter Mabey, now in his nineties, and I am still in touch with him, via social media. When I last settling down to chat with him, in person, was at Novacon 40 in Nottingham some 11 years ago! Peter’s long life spans so much of what has happened in fandom, and his warm welcome that miserable night certainly drew me in.

Through the library into the club room with that amazing wall smothered in graffiti and signatures of the then great and good of British Science Fiction and Fandom. The toilet tucked away behind a door in the corner that if you glanced up you were confronted with a booted foot seemingly coming down from the floor above! Audrey Eversfield was Secretary then, always busy making order out of chaos. I think at some point I fell in love with her but she went off to live in Paris! I did give her a ride on my Lambretta though. SF artist Eddie Jones was about then – bit of a character I recall. I remember Colin Kapp always sucking on his pipe. I was bursting with pride when he asked me to take his photo for the cover of New Worlds that was publishing one of his short stories. The photo was taken in the Cheltenham Science Fiction Circle club room.

Keith (Freeman) I ‘think’ I remember, but certainly Barbridge Road I visited many times. In 1959 I gave up my job in the Lloyds Bank in Winchcombe to training in Cheltenham to be a teacher. At around that time my folks moved from Cheltenham to Cornwall so, though I was immersed in student life, Eric & Margaret were always there to offer friendship, support. I wonder if Keith remembers the “Green Lady” print on Eric & Margaret’s sitting room wall? Very popular at the time I recall.

So much has happened since that fateful evening when I was introduced to a whole new world of fannish folk. Since moving up to teach in Birmingham, the Black County and finally here in West Wales, I have been dipping in and out of the ‘Magic Kingdom’ for the last sixty years. Now retired here in Pembrokeshire I find I still have links with that ‘Magic Kingdom’.

Just down the road live Greg and Catherine Pickersgill, and also nearby is my good friend David Redd, writer of numerous short stories and fan articles, who accompanied me to a number of conventions over the years. Peter Weston, before he passed away, made occasional pilgrimages down here to see us. Peter, I knew from Birmingham where he. Roger Peyton and Vernon Brown presided over the birth of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group and the Novacon series of conventions then meeting at the Imperial Hotel in the City Centre. A couple of issues of Peter’s Speculation were also collated in my dining room in Sutton Coldfield in the seventies, but I can’t remember why!