originally published in VECTOR 49, June
BEHIND THE SCENES - Malcolm Edwards
STORMING THE CITADEL OF GOMERSAL
A short introduction to the blitzkrieg in sf fandom
Perhaps Gomersal sounds straight from the world of T.H. White - Gomersal, some tower of a wicked baron, the storming of the citadel some valiant deed of a noble knight such as Launcelot.
But, of course, there are no such things. It was Terry Jeeves, not Launcelot, who stormed Gomersal, that Knight of St. Fanthony raiding the small Yorkshire town in the summer of 1967.And the events of that day date back not to the Middle Ages but to 1940.
It was then that the very first Blitzkrieg took place. “The term probably arose spontaneously," states historian Eney in Fancyclopedia II "since the first Blitzkrieg took place in the same year that the Wehrmacht was conducting minor counterparts in Europe.” These events, in the fannish sense of course, were prompted by certain officials in the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), who failed to do their duty and get the mailings of the organisation out on time.
Milton Rothman, then acting president of FAPA, took a party from Washington to Philadelphia (“The Big Slum”) and cornered the official responsible for the lack of activity. (He happened to be at a church institute at the time). The various bits and pieces of paper belonging to the organisation were subsequently retrieved from his house and the mailing issued by the raiding party. Thus a blitzkrieg may be defined as: - ~
An extraordinary exertion by some fan to overcome the failure of others to do their duty.
And now let us consider the situation somewhat closer to home, and with respect to the two British institutions of OMPA and the BSFA.
To take the second first, it became manifestly obvious that the BSFA was in need of “some special effort” in the autumn of 1966. After two years of administration by Roger Peyton, during which VECTOR climbed to the status of a printed magazine, the new editor appeared to be dragging his feet. It wasn’t so much the printed appearance the Association wanted, but the regularity and frequency of the Peyton days.
After one issue of VECTOR (to be fair, of a high standard), editor Steve Oakey disappeared for parts unknown and has not been seen since. Rumour has it that after various letters to Huntingdonshire had failed to attract response, a raiding party was despatched to gather the sundry files and material which were presumably at hand for a following issue. They were beaten off, alas, and the tale goes that the villain Oakey fled safely to Scarborough. And here a very promising Blitzkrieg appeared to run into the ground. Nothing whatever was done to or by Oakey until (by what can only be judged a titanic effort) Doreen Parker and Ken Slater by their own efforts revived the corpse cf VECTOR.
At approximately the same time, another organisation native to this country and even older than the BSFA seemed in very troubled straits. The Offtrail Magazine Publisher’s Association had run out of steam after a successful history of twelve years. (And it is here that we start to get on to the subject of Gomersal.)
OMPA was formed by Ken Bulmer and Vince Clarke, with the object of distributing quarterly bundles of fanzines to its members. The magazines were supplied in quantities of fifty by these members, so that theoretically by producing one magazine you were able to read fifty altogether.You get the idea, I’m sure, and obviously there were all sorts of rules regarding minimum activity requirements, membership fees, officers, etc., and OFF TRAILS, the official journal.
By 1966 a large number of American and German publishers had joined the Association (which by its constitution required the all-powerful Official Editor to reside in the U.K.) and the British character intended by the founders had been well watered down. Not enough British fans belonged or contributed to the mailings with any activity. Possibly this demise can partly be blamed upon PaDs, which must have drained off some of the talent which would otherwise have entered OMPA. But whatever the case, the Deep Waters of trouble were about to rise over the Association.
A new Official Editor, Brian Jordan, took office and hence control. After several normal mailings, a rather long interval was noticed without any sign of communication.
“I wrote back,” says Archie Mercer, “agreeing reluctantly to Brian’s suggestion...” (that the September 1966 mailing be suspended and the membership be informed what was happening). “Then he missed the December 1966 mailing as well, and in fact appeared to have fallen into a hole in the ground.”
On January 21st, 1967, Ron Bennett (then Treasurer of OMPA) took the opportunity of a school sports visit to Leeds to get in touch with Brian Jordan, who it turned out had gone to earth in Gomersal. From this followed sporadic letters to and from Archie Mercer, Terry Jeeves, and exclusively to Brian Jordan. Ron Bennett’s visit appeared to have paid off, and they parted with “expressions of mutual esteem”.
Little if nothing happened on Jordan’s part until April 5th, when Archie Mercer wrote to the effect that he intended to come from Bristol by car at suitable weekend, and retrieve all items of OMPA property. Brian Jordan replied to this letter and advised Archie not to bother since he was going to send out the bundle in any case. Nothing happened again, despite further efforts by Archie.
And then in July Terry Jeeves enquired whether he should make any plans for his own magazine ERG. Upon being informed of the situation he was able to storm the citadel of Gomersal from Sheffield, to liberate the OMPA material, and from there to Bristol, and from Bristol into the hands of members - a mailing delayed almost exactly a year, during which time OMPA had gone in to an involuntary state of suspended animation.
Singapore and Frankfurt
A revival is now under way, although of course some of the rules have to be bent if not altogether broken. For instance, in the interim Treasure Ron Bennett has moved to Singapore; and since no reliable UK mcmber has come forward, the burden of the Official Editorship has moved to Germany, strict1y by Mercatorial decree as President, where Heinrich Arenz has taken over.
What was in that last mailing? Obviously it was small, for after so much uncertainty who would risk their fanzine being lost in the wilds of some Yorkshire town? But there were still 172 pages in total, containing things like OZ (Mercers), THE SCARR (Charters; it’s an anagram of his name), ERG (Jeeves), HAGGIS (Ian Peters), NEXUS (Weston), and various others.
Look at the membership list - there are people such as Bill Donaho, who contributes his huge and glamorous HABBAKUK, Dick Eney who (although in Vietnam) continues with a fantastic output of STUPEFYING STORIES and other items, Arnie Katz (of QUIP), both of the West Coast Pelzes, Alva Rogers, Norm Metcalf, and many more who were and are Big Names in science fiction fandom.
How to join? Well, at present it is simple, although it may not stay that way for very long. It will cost 7s 6d per year, plus a minimum requirement of 20 sides of paper per year (this need not be written exclusively by the member, of course). There is some other requirement or other that half of this output is required in the first six months, I think, but what’s ten pages? the normal fanzine editor uses more than that on his editorial alone!
In the present confused state I would suggest tthat any interested parties contact Archie Mercer himself. I’m sure he has enough to do anyway, but somehow I can’t see that writing to Singapore will bring much immediate result. If you do want to join, I’m sure you’ll be welcome, and in fact I’ll be joining the Association myself, Any Day Now.
But the mind boggles at the thought of a Blitzkrieg to the home of an official in Singapore, or even Frankfurt!