LoneStarCon wasn't as 'international' a convention as last year's L.A.Con, but there
were still many foreign fans there, including some from the United Kingdom. One of
the more famous British fans is Ron Bennett, who returns to our pages with a new
fanzine article about an old fanzine. In Gamesmanship, Stephen Potter
defined a 'ploy' as a strategem that would put a Gamesman in a one-up position.
The term was introduced to fandom in 1954 with Bennett's fanzine PLOY, which
started with issue no.2, letting readers think they had missed the first issue.
But it's a better story than just that...
My first attempt at publishing a multi-copy fanzine was a tortuous affair with a flat-bed duplicator, or duploycator if you prefer, in the garage at the side of my parents' house.
I'd produced magazines previously, when I was aged about ten or eleven. These were single-copy hand-written affairs called Outlook, full of items gleaned from the newspapers of the day and circulated around the extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and other assorted suckers.
I liked magazines. Certainly the magazines of the day. The Strand Magazine was my favourite, with its stories by authors like H de Vere Stacpoole, Rider Haggard and Somerset Maugham. I missed the earlier issues with the Sherlock Holmes stories, though I did have the issue which dealt with Conan Doyle's treatise on the Cottingley fairies.
I liked the departments and features, too, the odd little fillers and the puzzle pages. And there was something satisfying, comforting and secure about the monthly cover picture of a bus cruising along the London thoroughfare I knew at that time only from a name on a Monopoly board's British version.
I can't think off-hand which American magazine I could cite as a comparison. Liberty springs to mind, but the issues I managed to pick up were much smaller than Strand which had a format very much like that of the National Geographic.
I also liked the weekly John Bull once it had taken to sporting colour painted covers, many with London scenes by the excellent Roland Lampitt, who always depicted his views looking down from a high angle. Without doubt this was the British equivalent of The Saturday Evening Post and Colliers.
The world of the science fiction fanzine might, then, have been created especially for me. Not only were there like spirits out there, who also liked magazines and liked producing magazines, but the door had been opened to producing magazines which had more than one copy. Gosh and gee whiz!
I'd recently joined a local band of worthies who called themselves the Leeds Science Fiction Association, whose advert I'd come across in an issue of Authentic which I'd bought for, naturally, its Ray Bradbury story. This little band was in the process of producing its own fanzine. Orbit had a hekto cover and the interior was produced on a flat-bed. I restrained myself for a couple of issues and then rushed out and picked up a second hand flat-bed of my own.
Within minutes I had a duplicator, stencils, a typewriter, ink and even a title. Wowee! I was almost a fan-ed.
The title I chose was Bem. Bug-Eyed Monsters were really big in those days, and, besides, I could run it as a Bennett Edited Magazine.
I went along to the next Leeds SFA meeting to tell the gathering.
When I got there everyone was thumbing through a pile of copies of a new fanzine produced by two out of town members, Tom White and Mal Ashworth. You're ahead of me... "You've stolen my title!" I screamed. Yes, their magazine was called Bem!
They based it, throughout its all-too-short run, on the superior, magical Northern Ireland fanzine, Hyphen, which was produced by Walt Willis, and, though it irks me to admit it, Bem wasn't too far behind Hyphen in the humour stakes.
After dithering around for a new title, I came up with PLOY. After all, I was a Stephen Potter fan and even own a couple of his books, signed too, which is a nice bit of One Upmanship on its own account. This title gave me the opportunity of inserting the magazine's name into every word in which 'Pl' was followed by a vowel, not only in the magazine itself but in every piece of correspondence I wrote in those days. And always was the device emPLOYed in capitals to make the name stand out.
I'd have expected fans to have come round it droves and lynched me for this but everyone seemed happy to patronize me and go along with the gag and write back in similar vein.
Fans were kind enough, too, to answer my requests for material and so it was nose to the typewriter and eventually out to the garage with the flat-bed.
Whoever had sold it to me must have seen me coming. The quality of reproduction was appalling. At best. Looking back from the vantage point of forty plus years down the trail... Ah, Hindsight, thy name is... er... Hindsight, I suppose... I don't know how I had the gall to do it to the contributions sent me by those kind fans.
And... you'll like this... while I was busily rolling to and fro... the roller that is... I was joined by the luscious young lass from a house two or three doors along the street. Our paths rarely crossed as she was working in some other part of the country and was home for a short break, as I was from college.
Wait! I haven't finished. It was late August. It was sunny and hot. Exceedingly hot. She was dressed accordingly. At a time not too long after the Bikini Atoll tests.
She tried to make conversation but soon left. Poor girl. Didn't she realise that she was competing against Tru-Fanism!
So, PLOY appeared. The logo comprised four Greek letters to form the word 'PLOY'. Well, hoi PLOY, y'know... And the cover was printed on salmon Gestetner stock, which was slightly larger than the normal quarto size in vogue in the U.K. at the time, so that the covers overlapped the interior pages, a small homage to the old pulps.
I'd remembered hearing the first episode of a radio comedy series in which the chief comic (Arthur Askey, I think it was) mentioned that as the first in a series isn't usually very good, they were commencing with show number two. Which seemed an idea worth stea... borrowing, and I labelled PLOY's first issue Number Two. I'd mentioned this to a few people and they kindly sent me comments so that I could have a letter column in the issue, praising that non-existent first issue. Terry Jeeves and Mal Ashworth, each of whom contributed to that 'second' issue wrote such letters. Mal mentioned that he liked the title and might have considered using it himself but didn't want to steal too many titles from me as I might get frustrated.
The gag, however, actually worked against me. Despite the atrocious reproduction of 'Number 2' a number of fans wrote asking for a copy of number one.
In this country a copy of anything published has to be sent, by law, to a university libraries' agent in London. In those days the lucky gentleman with what must therefore be the country's largest fanzine collection was a fine fellow with the impressive title, The Principal Keeper of the Printed Books. At the British Museum, no less.
I received an official looking letter from him. It was official looking because it was Official. With a capital letter. It detailed all the penalties which might.. Might? Hell's teeth... Would... be incurred if I didn't cough up a copy of PLOY Number One pdq. I seem to remember the Tower of London and St. Helena being mentioned even before I got down to the small print.
I wrote back exployning (warned you, didn't I?) the gag.
I had a reploy by return.
He didn't believe me.
Eventually, the matter was sorted out. I think I offered to produce a one copy number one especially for him. It wouldn't have taken me long to staple up a few left-over sheets.
Michael Rosenblum was a giant in British fandom in those days. He'd virtually held together British fandom during the war years with his contact magazine and newsletter, The Futurian, and happily, Michael was also a member of the Leeds SFA and was sufficiently inspired to revive his fanzine under a slightly different title, the highly qualitative New Futurian.
Also worthy of note is that Michael was an estate agent who had an office and in that office was...
A rotary Gestetner! And he was kind enough to allow me to disrupt the office and run off subseissues of PLOY (a marvellous, generous service also carried out at different times by Don Allen, Alan Dodd and Dave Newman).
PLOY #3 appeared just after I'd left college and included contributions by such as Terry Jeeves, Vince Clarke and even John Brunner. It should have been a fine issue, but I ruined it with a piece of unforgivable stupidity, which, looking back, I find difficult to believe that anyone would even contemployte.
It was not only stupid, it bordered on the criminal.
Mal Ashworth's contribution to PLOY #2 had revolved around a character called Mickey. I wrote a second Mickey story and ran it under Mal's name.
I can't remember whether or not I hoped that readers would actually believe that Mal had written this piece of rubbish and praise my writing, but I do remember that it was my intention to run off two issues of PLOY, numbers three and four and mail them just a few days apart.
PLOY #4 would contain a retraction and the essential exploynation and apology. I hadn't intended to cause Mal any lasting damage. Like the non-existent story, The Invisible Witch*, in PLOY #4, it was one of my little ploys, but, as you'll have realized and appreciated by now, hardly one of which to be proud.
It was even worse than you might imagine, if that's possible. I suddenly up-and-awayed to take up a post in Liverpool so that PLOY #4 didn't appear until almost a month later and during that interval Mal had plenty of time to let me know what he thought of the trick. Ever a gentleman, he was remarkably restrained about the whole thing. Other fans rightly criticized me, but again all in a remarkably gentle fashion. Chuck Harris, for instance, wrote to say that he only hoped that the piece "gets the recognition it deserves" and Harry Turner asked, "Do we address you as Yngvi henceforth?"
With PLOY #4 I also acquired an art editor, whom I met shortly after arriving in Liverpool and who was a student at the College of Art there. This was Bill Harry who later not only produced his own fanzine, Biped, but who found fame in a wider publishing field by becoming editor of Mersey Beat, the weekly Liverpool newspaper which charted the career of the Beatles. Bill produced some fine illustrations for PLOY, most notably a back cover send-up of Confidential and a superb reproduction of the poster for the movie Sweet Smell of Success in which he blended his face and mine into those of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster.
By PLOY #7, I'd acquired a regular columnist. Michael Rosenblum's New Futurian had folded and its constant contributor, who is still active in fanzine fandom and who wrote under the pseudonym of 'Phoenix', kindly agreed to ensure that I'd have at least one item of quality around the magazine by moving over to PLOY.
Other worthies who contributed columns on a regular basis were Arthur Thomson (whose initial offering was illustrated by John Berry), Sandy Sanderson, Dennie Tucker (another New Futurian regular) and Pete Daniels, the lead trumpet with the Merseysippi Jazz Band who was also a member of the Liverpool SF Group.
PLOY #12, which appeared early in 1958, was given over almost entirely to a twenty-four page fannish whodunnit by Vince Clarke. The setting was a convention (this was only a few months after Britain's first WorldCon) and drew in references to just about every fan of the day. If ever a piece deserves to be reprinted, or published in an updated version, The Case of the Convention Cadaver would have to be it.
PLOY #14, published in 1958, turned out to be the final issue. (Well, the latest issue, for one never knows...) This was the Bob Tucker Appreciation Issue; I'd been a Bob fan -- and am still -- since I'd read The Long Loud Silence (actually the first SF novel I'd read, my introduction to SF having been via the short story). This issue ran tributes from Gregg Calkins and Bob Bloch and also reprinted some of Tucker's fanzine writings. The cover featured a fine Bill Harry stencilled picture of Bob, copied from a photograph.
Towards the end of PLOY's run, one fan accused me of not having matured editorially. He was probably right; it surprised me then and it still surprises me now that in spite of my terrible gaffs, so many worthy people were willing to support, and continue to support, the magazine. Still, editorial maturity or not, fans didn't read PLOY for me.
After all, where would PLOY have been with only me? The enjoyment, the readability, was provided by the contributors, and what high quality there was, provided by Don Allen, John Ashcroft, Mal Ashworth, Eric Bentcliffe, John Berry, Sid Birchby, Bob Bloch, John Brunner, Greg Calkins, Terry Carr, Vince Clarke, Bob Coulson, Pete Daniels, Alan Dodd, Paul Enever, Cliff Gould, Don Harley, Bill Harry, Lee Hoffman (with a pithy "Why I Can't Write for British Fanzines"), Dave Jenrette, Terry Jeeves, Keith Joseph, Brian Lewis, Nigel Lindsay, Stuart Mackenzie, Archie Mercer, Ken Potter, Pete Reischer, Peter Rigby, Sandy Sanderson, Laurence Sandfield, Jim Sharman, Jack Smillie, Arthur Thomson, and Dennis Tucker.
The covers were drawn (several straight on to stencil) by Don Allen, Bill Harry, Dave Jenrette, Eddie Jones, Nebula's Ken McIntyre, Arthur Thomson and Jack Wilson and the interior illos were drawn, in addition to those who provided the covers, by John Berry, Juanita Coulson, George Matzger in his pre-Underground Comix days, Lynette Mills and Bill Rotsler, who provided a sheaf of filler illos which were then captioned by John Owen, such as this one from PLOY #13...
These are the worthies who made PLOY what it was. Their support was in the fine spirit of the time. Good grief! I hadn't really realized what a loss fanzine fandom suffered when PLOY went into its forty-year hibernation. They certainly gave me a tremendous amount of... you know it's coming, don't you?... ploysure.
* This was listed as appearing on the equally non-existent page 21. One fan did write to say that he thought my writing improving and that this was the best thing he'd seen from me.
All illustrations by Charlie Williams