[April 15, 1961] London Calling (a peek at UK fandom)

Every once in a while, one comes across a supremely talented, like-minded person.  Ashley R. Pollard is a gifted writer from England who is shopping around her first novel.  I discovered her through her columns in a British ‘zine; I was so impressed that I asked if she’d like to join the Journey as a contributor, writing on fandom in the UK.  To my intense gratification, she agreed.  Here is her first article…

Out of the blue I received a letter from across the pond asking me if I would have a mind to contribute to Galactic Journey and that is how I came to find myself writing this entry for this journal.  To say I was delighted to be known to an American writer would be an understatement, but to be able to write for the Journey in such exciting times as these, the Dawn of the Space Age, is quite frankly a privilege.  When Sputnik took to the heavens on October the Fourth, 1957, my work colleagues could no longer pass off my taste for reading science fiction as some abnormal fancy but rather as a sign of prescience.

Now a Red star has risen in the East — Vostok — aboard the ship is the first human in space: Major Yuri Gagarin, who is now a Hero of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and by extension a hero for all mankind.  The local prestige of our former wartime allies had plunged due to the recent discovery and capture of the Portland Spy Ring, causing ripples of concern over secrets lost, so having Major Gagarin take over the headlines has been welcome change — if only from one kind of paranoia to another: Reds with atomic secrets versus Reds in Space!  And because it turns my liking for all things to do with rocketry into a respectable talking point at parties.

Certainly, Thursday nights conversation at The London Circle, a meeting of like minded science fiction fans, was of nothing else.  (The London Circle was the basis for Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart.  I will not be drawn into the recent fan feud that has split the group because I attend for the ambience of the pub and the chance to have a G&T with ice and a slice. How very non-fannish of me.)

Of course, this being Britain, we had to draw comparisons to Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass Experiment and the British Experimental Rocket Group and what happened to the hapless astronaut to leaven the concerns of those who see Soviet dominance in space as threat to World Peace.

As you can well imagine our conversations were more along the lines of aliens returning to Earth with Major Gagarin, and what would the Russian counter-part of Bernard Quatermass do?

Perhaps, it was opined, the reason that his landing site is undisclosed is because Russian forces are engaged in confronting the alien threat to save the world.  Though, as I said at the time this idea was broached, I imagined that if so then Pravda would be telling us all about the heroic actions of the brave Soviet soldiers who died to save the world.  As we’ve not heard anything to this effect it is simpler to imagine that secret of where Major Gagarin landed is merely something the Politburo do not wish to disclose for fear of Western spies — tit for tat being a common response.

As per my wont, I also mentioned a television series that had caught my eye, engaging fellow fans with a comparison and contrast of visions of the future and the impact of science fictional ideas upon.  I had my listeners’ rapt attention until I revealed that said show was Supercar a production using puppets produced by Gerry Anderson & Arthur Provis of AP Films for ATV (the London independent TV franchise) and ITC Entertainment (a production and distribution company).

I came across this Saturday morning show quite by chance when looking after a friend’s child who sat totally absorbed by the adventures of Mike Mercury, the pilot of the eponymous Supercar, and the science team who created it: Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker.  Admittedly I missed some of the initial episode from being too caught up in reading my newspaper, the aforementioned headlines about the spy ring; but the catchy theme tune and more importantly the silence of the young boy watching kept drawing my attention from what I was reading.

What could be so fascinating that a six years old would stay still and quiet for so long?

I have since sat with him to watch Supercar together.  It’s a delightful concoction with a totally over the top opening sequence that can’t fail to attract the attention of the most jaded viewer.  The attention to detail is superb, for example, the opening sequence of events with Supercar flying up through the clouds banking over and then diving underwater are lovingly shot with music from Barry Gray that will stir the hearts of young and old alike.  More importantly it shows a future suffused with optimism…where cars fly!  I almost feel guilty for taking the babysitting money on Saturdays.  Almost but not quite.

Finally, to end this missive, and because I’m running out of blue airmail paper and worried about the cost of sending some photographs I acquired, I would like to mention another television show that has caught my eye.

It’s called The Avengers and features the rather hunky and adorable Ian Hendry who is supported by a debonaire Patrick Macnee, who looks vaguely familiar but for the life of me I can’t recall what he has performed in before.  I mention this show in passing because it riffs on the James Bond books, and with the Dr. No film coming out next year, I predict a spate of spy adventures gracing television and the silver screen.

However, the real excitement remains Major Gagarin’s achievement and the effects this will have on East-West diplomacy.  If only the world leaders could see the bigger picture here and (to bang on my favourite drum) hope for the future — something that the makers of Supercar caught in their children’s puppet show.  A future bright with possibilities from mankind’s ingenuity which will save the day whatever the adversity we face.

7 thoughts on “[April 15, 1961] London Calling (a peek at UK fandom)”

  1. Thanks for the update, and the tip offs about the programmes (and the London Circle), too. Perhaps someone will come up with a spy who doesn’t feel compelled to give his real name to everyone in earshot. (Sorry, But I just don’t *like* Fleming’s Bond, and have never tried the films. I’m sure they’re a very brief fad, anyway.)

    1. Another good tip -thans too.

      Also, having an English perspective is an excellent idea. I do hope it remains regular. Who knows, perhaps in the future she’ll cover a spaceship/colony with the Union Jack on it.

    2. Those of us with long memories may recall that the old television series “Climax!” adapted one of the James Bond novels, “Casino Royale.”  However they made “Jimmy” (!) Bond an American (!) agent, and changed most of the names of the other characters (except for bad guy Le Chiffre.) I understand that they are casting a good-looking Scottish fellow as Bond in the movie.  That’s closer than American, anyway.

  2. “I will not be drawn into the recent fan feud that has split the group because I attend for the absence of the pub and the chance to have a G&T with ice and a slice.”

    Uhm, I suspect a glitch on my part – ambience would be a better word.

    Would have replied sooner but my internet has been glitchy.

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