Fred Robinson. Hardly a name on the lips of those who happily acknowledge the greatness of Willis and Clarke. And Robinson's STRAIGHT UP is by no stretch of the imagination in the class of HYPHEN or even SCIENCE FICTION NEWS. In fact CAMBER, the later Robinson project, is more known as a product of its subsequent editor Alan Dodd (of whom it has been said.)
But let us remember Fred Robinson. Even if nothing else he was (probably) the first Welsh science fiction fan of any real substance, at least the first to issue a substantial run of fanzines, and was a character who can be clearly seen today as a genuinely fannish sf enthusiast, who while not the greatest writer in the world conveyed a deal of charm and enthusiasm in his work. He even had an idea of mobilising all Welsh sf fans as The Cymrades as a gesture against the almost habitual sense of righteous dominance that emanated from the London area. That was, alas, just the first time an attempt to cohere Welsh fandom failed.
To tell the truth we don't know a lot about Fred, or the other few Welsh fans of the late 1940s - early 1950s. Arthur Hillman of Newport, for example, who features in S.U., was clearly an interesting guy, but we know little of him, except that he was active in fandom during the 1940s and recieves a few scattered mentions in the fanzines of the day. And that's almost as much can be said about Fred Robinson; in the days before sf fans (and almost everyone else...) detailed every tiny element of their inner and outer lives for public view the bulk of what Fred writes about is sf and fandom, reflecting on his enthusiasms rather than his own mundane activities or neuroses.
What do we know for (reasonably) certain; He was definately in contact with British and US fandom by 1951, having been to the 1951 Festivention in London. he also shows up at the 1952 Loncon, and is again at the 1953 Mancon. He was in some sense - amateur or professional is not clear - a book-binder, and detailed advertisments for his work appear in the OPERATION FANTAST HANDBOOK for the years 1951, '52 and '53, and apparently his work was good. That makes it the more surprising, perhaps, that STRAIGHT UP, his first fanzine, was so badly produced, with stencils cut with a poor typewriter and duplicated on an ancient and defective flatbed machine. None of that is helped by the fairly obvious sense that Fred was writing everything he contributed to his fanzines direct onto stencil, first draft. The idea are there, there is insight and wit, but for the most part it is blurred by hasty composition and frankly eccentric punctuation!
Having started his paper fanactivity with the notionally monthly news-zine STRAIGHT UP in early 1952 he gave up on the idea by October of that year, but came back with CAMBER, a more general-interest fanzine, in Summer 1953. But although there was another issue (with a long and interesting report of the 1953 Coroncon) in Autumn of that year he dropped off the plot almost immediately thereafter. He had always referred to a great interest in photography in his writings, and in part that may have been the cause of his change of course.
1954 CAMBER reappeared with a third issue,
with Alan Dodd of
Hoddesdon not Fred Robinson of Cardiff at the handle.
There was no detailed explanation of this
reappearance or change of editorship in the
fanzine itself, but an article by Dodd in Ron
Bennett's PLOY number 4 of September 1955 told the
tale, although there is some confusion over the
time elapsed and it all must have happened much
faster than Dodd seemed to remember –
suggested that Dodd should take over the fanzine
altogether and Dodd eventually received
CAMBER continued with an engaging if not illustrious run, but for all its qualities it lacked the cheerfully enthusiastic editorial presence of Fred Robinson. In fact nothing at all more is ever heard of Robinson after this point - he vanishes from the sight of fandom altogether, almost as if he was never there at all. But he was, and and while some might please themselves to find many defects in his fanactivity I believe it well repays reading today, long after Fred would have thought it forgotten.
Greg Pickersgill - November 2009
(This profile of Fred Robinson and his fanactivities will be improved and expanded as soon as possible. I'm presenting it in this short form now simply to get the webpage live.)
Please note - the two issues of CAMBER are not yet webbed.
The above pictures are believed to be from the 1952-52 period.
The first from left shows Mike Wilson, Fred
Robinson, Vince Clarke, Bob Shaw and Jim
The second, from the 1951 Festivention, apparently
shows all extant British fanzine editors of the
day - Mike Tealby, Derek Pickles, Fred Robinson,
Walt Willis, Bob Foster, Vince Clarke and Ken
The third is Fred speaking at the 1952 Loncon, and the fourth, dated on the back 1952, shows him as a sergeant in the 53rd (Welsh) Division, possibly as a Territorial, perhaps during National Service.We know nothing of his Army career.
If YOU know anything about Fred Robinson (this Fred Robinson, not just any one...) please tell us !