Dave Kyle's Loncon Reminiscence

1957Loncon, London
A Reminiscence by Dave Kyle
For the Noreascon Three PB

My life is measured by sf Worldcons. In 1955, 1956, and 1957, I met Ruth Landis at the Clevention (see Isaac Asimov's autobiography), courted her at Newyorcon (she moved to NYC and was con secretary), and married her in 1957 for a honeymoon in London. And we had 53 other people, an sf crowd, flying off with us on that honeymoon. Wow!

The convention in London was another dream come true. My good friend, old time fan and prominent English editor, E.J. "Ted" Carnell, was the convention chairman for the first Worldcon outside of the U.S. and Canada. Part of his successful campaign for the site was based on my chartering an airplane to take, at a bargain fare, those who wished to get to England for the big event.

The famous Fan Flight or London Trip Fund on a KLM DC-4 had every seat sold, dubbed by the inimitable Forry Ackerman as KLM — the Kyle-Landis Marriage. The flight (before the days of jets) took 16 hours, with a stop at Gander. We had a celebration on board with champagne and cake and then went to sleep. (The wedding night was three days previous.) In the droning silence of the night, as dawn was arriving, Ruth shook me awake. On her very first flight, she was peering out of the round window at the carpet of unmoving clouds far below. "David," she whispered, alarmed, "we've stopped!"

For an unprecedented third time, John W. Campbell, Jr. was chosen as the sole guest of honor. "It was a way to get to meet him," said my British friends. (Ruth's highpoint: "John kissed me on the cheek!") He absolutely captured the affection of the convention. (Robert A. Heinlein was also given that triple distinction at the 1976 MidAmeriCon.)

For the first time there was a truly international flavor to the programming of talks and panels, and a score of Europeans came, as well as Americans from around the Continent. Proportionate to the convention size (268 officially) the American attendance was very large. The U.S. visitors were able to sample the singular British sf con atmosphere, so very warm and intimate, in the small, "quaint" King's Court Hotel with the "lounge bar" as the magnetic hospitality center.
In keeping with a traditional English manner of structuring societies, the 15th WSF Con in London had an honorable figurehead called the President over the working Chairman. The distinguished writer John Wyndham filled that role.

The hotel site became a problem when the Royal Hotel in the Bloomsbury section was considered, after much committee consultation, as too stuffy and also too expensive because of miscellaneous conference charges. Replacing it was the entire King's Court Hotel in Bayswater, exclusively for con members, thus making it virtually a private club. The accommodation per person was ("ridiculously low," boasted Ted Carnell) a mere $2.80 per person, breakfast included, with lunch 65¢ and dinner 95¢. What English hotel service! Hot meals up to 10:30 pm, coffee and sandwiches at any hour, and a round-the-clock bar!

The Loncon opened officially on Saturday (actually the second day of the convention) with a luncheon banquet ($1.50!) at one o'clock, having speeches and introductions. (Another boast: "This will be the first World Convention ever to start on time!") Who will ever forget the peculiar seating? Three long, narrow rooms ran railroad style from hotel front to back with doorless framed openings blocking an unbroken view. With seats against the wall, a banquet table extended through the three rooms. Only one third of the diners were visible to each other — unless — unless you leaned forward over your meal and, stretching your neck, looked to the left or right to see other banqueters stretching their necks to look back at you.

An importation from the New World was the fancier level of the costuming. The BBC (or was it ITV?) was happy to find such strange costumes on parade and the well-known Commentator Alan Wicker, unperturbed by the general hubbub, did a better coverage than was finally telecast. We have the same complaint even today.

Never did I imagine to what that Fan Flight would lead. Unfortunately, some persons involved in the charter flight stirred up terrible trouble. They accused me in the name of the newly created World Science Fiction Society, Inc. of misfeasance in the London Trip Fund. This led into lawsuits and counter lawsuits for several years. Toward the end of the fifties, this fan feuding reached heights and bitterness far beyond those of the thirties which had culminated in the infamous Great Exclusion Act of the first Worldcon in 1939. Sadly the WSFS, Inc. was discredited, and at the 1958 Solacon in L.A. it was dismantled. (Harry Harrison, one of the Fan Flight trippers, wrote a remarkable letter with many kind words. He called the few troublemakers "spiteful and vindictive" and said I should "expose their motives and the imbecility of their charges. Enlightened fandom will be on your side.") So, I wrote three "tolling bell" atypical fanzines meticulously detailing the whole unpleasantness. Eventually, after their publication and much courthouse action I received an apology and a token payment. But gone was my dream of a national fannish fraternal society. And, after all, the name still survives with the World Science Fiction Society (unincorporated and powerless, everyone stresses).