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Eric the Needy
During 1937 I was one of the members of the Manchester Interplanetary Society who were investigated by the local police and appeared in court following a rocket launch explosion at a technical meeting. Eric Needham insinuated himself into my awareness some time after the excitement of the MIS affair had died down. He was a diffident, faintly scruffy character with short-cropped hair, not aired in the accepted social graces of the time and received with faint disapproval by my mother when he called.
He became a frequent visitor to my attic den at 41 Longford Place and spent more time investigating my collection of SF mags and books than in conversation. One of the books was Astronautics & Relativity, acquired as a prize. Eric, impressed, fingered pages on Relativity and asked: "You understand this ?" I blushed and admitted that I'd bitten off more than I could chew.
He was an omnivorous reader and noter of trifles. When he did talk it usually involved some unexpected, and occasionally disconcerting, questions. He had a knack of picking up some dubious statement and exposing the flaw in an argument. He seemed a serious character, but there were occasions when you suddenly tumbled to the fact that a grin had crept into his face as he led you on to make some prepostrerous claim.
An apparently innocent enquiry could by devious logic lead you into making unsupportable assertions, which Eric would then ingenuously expose... An uncomfortable candour... He was an odd mixture of ingenuousness and artless, childlike guilelessyet he had a knack of needling out info... and a cruel streak on occasion.
Frequent visitors to the clubroom included Rocket, our fox terrier mascot, Bill Shelton and Fred Tozer (ex-schoolmates), George Ellis and MIS enthusiasts Bill Heeley and Stan Daviesall readers of SF, and budding futurologists.
Eric introduced an element of chaos into the serious approach of the rest of us. He had a knack of starting off fierce arguments by some ingenuous query. When we were nearly at each others throats we would realise that Eric had dropped out of active participation and was sat in a corner of the attic listening and watching our antics with quiet amusement...
From Ethel Lindsay's Bletherings No. 5 (May 1972)
Ethel Lindsay wrote:
From Ansible #37 (Jan 1984)
RIP AGAIN: "Eric Needham died suddenly on Dec 1. I received word from his widow Kathleen. Eric was best known for offbeat writings in Harry Turner's fanzine and in particular was the originator of the 'Widowers Wonderful' verses. He was active in early Manchester fandom and had a truly original brand of humour, much appreciated by his friends." (Ethel Lindsay)
Harry Turner first met a 16-year-old Eric Needham in 1937. Appearance "scruffy", short back & sides, blonde bristly hair. He was shy, quiet, not very communicative, more interested in investigating mags and books. H.T. wrote:
POMES by Eric Needham
From Novae Terrae Vol.3 No.1 August 1938
Power-House by Eric S. Needham
Walls and ceiling, white-washed and bare,
From SATELLITE Vol.2 No.8 August 1939
Variation on an Ancient Theme by Eric S. Needham
John Brown's autogyro's kinda old and quaint,
From SATELLITE Vol.2 No.9 November 1939
Variation on an Ancient Theme No.2 by Eric S. Needham
Bill Temple leans over the fuel tank,
[Historical note: "The Smile of the Sphinx" by William F. Temple was published in Tales of Wonder for September 1938.]
From Don Doughty's TIN TACKS 3 (included in Litter: FIDO May 1941 Vol.1 No.8)
Untitled... by Eric S Needham
Genius utilising the power of vapour
Home Sapiens now is master
why is Mankind so morose if
O, better far Man's knowledge lost
From ASTRONEER No.2 Summer 1953
25th CENTURY LOVE SONG
So many times I've wondered, as I fly my daily freight
Anon (Eric Needham)
Written in 1954 for the post-war ZENITH No.2 (which did not materialise)
LOVE STILL FINDS A WAY
A barren Moon and frigid space
To send my love by micro-beam
Hams of ancient days of course
Across the gap which separates
Passed on to Ethel Lindsay, with other surviving mss, and was published in Bletherings No.41971.
From Now & Then 1 (1954)
Forget Lysenkian eugenics.
As Manchester daylight fails
Left to midnight mice and fairies
Unseen by hurrying homeward goers
And there the window cleaner's Nemesis
From Now & Then 2 (1954)
The proposition "I love you"
From: Scottishe No. 2 1954 (Published by Ethel Lindsay)
Don't think I never cared for you,
That evening with the stars above,
I wanted so to share your dreams
There was no need for you to vex
You made my perm come all uncurled
No wolf were you, nor yet a pest,
One final word now as we part
Now & Then 3 (1955)
My love has gone, but I recall
With lovelight gleaming in my eye
Later that evening when we danced
You broke my aching heart in three
I tried to hide my hurt, and so
And when my feelings, savage fem,
So after only two short weeks
I turn on you my hateful glower,
Written circa 1954, published in Now & Then 8 - Jan 1957
E r g o n o m i c M u s e
No more for me those lustful nights of elemental passion.
From The Grin No.1, September 1955
THE FRAGRANT MINUTE
In pensive mood I sit and write of things which
I think I love the hangman's niece
Of all funereal thoughts I get
HE says to ME "Forget that scowl
Now & Then 5 September 1955
REMEMBER THE ALAMO
No laughing girl sets my head in a whirl
When at night in pure delight
Or if I think of drugs or drink
I can't endure these thoughts impure
If at a date I turned up late
Should I deplore a mother-in-law
Some nervous wrecks told me that sex
"Beware!" they said, "You're off your head.
Now & Then 6 November 1955
If your dentist has apprenticed
No sound of corn pushed through a horn
Now & Then 7 June 1956
THE BREEZE AND ME
He blew into my life one day, a breezy lad
So many a scientifictional theme
* * * *
"Cogito, ergo sum" to me
LIFE KNOWS OF NOTHING MORE FORLORN
Life knows of nothing more forlorn
At work or else on pleasure bent
But then I felt my conscience harden;
Alfred Lord Sennapod
After a 20 year spell in the glades of GAFIA, a search party sponsored by ERG, discovered Eric Needham and brought back this nostalgic message from him as he recalled to our white hunter, his account of..
by ERIC NEEDHAM Ex-Triode, Ex-GAFIAte.
I remember Christmas 1977 not only because I had Christmas lunch in my new suit and coat, but because ERG 61 arrived and a young lady at the local amateur radio club asked me how a Bussard ramscoop travelling at half the velocity of light, gobbling interstellar hydrogen as it went along, could decelerate and stop. A young lady, mark you.
My wife claims I own one of the oldest suits on earth, since I bought it and a matching coat in the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. She refers to it as my Coronation Suit, and this year, hinted that as it was now Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee I ought to do something about it. I don't see why... I didn't buy a new suit for the Jubilee of George Vth. in 1937. After all, there was my wedding suit, and before that, my demob suit given to me in 1946 by a grateful government since the zoot suit I wore when I joined the the RAF in 1940 was out of style.
I still remember that zoot suit, for I wore it when Madge Flanagan and I came in as runners-up in the North Manchester Jjitterbug Contest. Who remembers that now ? Come to think of it, I can't even remember who won it.
I think it was in 1937 I joined the Thrilling Wonder Science Fiction League and learned that sf fans published fan magazines in great nuubers...really sold on the stuff, they were. Everyone knows how sf arrived in this country as ballast in ships and historians of the cult stress this to the point of obliterating the memory of HORROR STORIES, TERROR TALES and WEIRD TALES which arrived in the same way. I still remember. WEIRD TALES wherein a youngster named Robert Bloch got his start.
I used to read the lot, along with DOC SAVAGE, G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES and when nothing else was available, BOOTHILL GUNSMOKE WESTERNS. Those Westerns were all alike and I remember nothing of them. I still remember the Virgil Finlay illustrations in WEIRD TALES, and though it sounds as if I remember things in geological eras, my interest in sf began in 1927 when I was about the age of the kids now queueing up outside the ODEON for STAR WARS. Why, I wonder, should I recall stories and illustrations of Thurston Kyle, the Night Hawk, from the long defunct NELSON LEE ?
Two illustrations haunt me from those boy's books. One from the BOY'S MAGAZINE showed a leering bald-headed villain seated at the control of a huge horseshoe magnet directed at a globular spacecraft whose occupants were looking out of the windows of the space bubble in a sort of disaproval. The other was from the cover of BULLSEYE, depicting a similar bald-heard leering villain who was engaged in encapsulating a man inside a giant Edison lamp-bulb in an attempt to bestow immortality on the occupant who was also looking out with an expression of disapproval. Chances are it was the same artist, but in them days a small boy didn't need a degree in physics to know that a large magnet trained on a spaceship would cause it to sink like a stone.
This calm acceptance of visual effects is at present reflected in the state of television productions like SPACE 1999, BLAKE'S SEVEN, LOGAN'S RUN and of course, DR. WHO. When, I wonder, do kids grow out of this stage? There must come a time when they begin to think about how to persuade an interstellar ramscoop to slow down and stop instead of the mere acceptance that they can and do. After a few pints of ale at the radio club I reached the hypothesis that just as a rocket cannot fly in space since there is no air to push against, so, in interstellar space swept clear even of odd hydrogen atoms, vacuum brakes will not work since there is no external atmospheric pressure to make them operate.
Christmas Day saw my wife and I passing children with shiny new bicycles, doll's prams and a thousand oddly clad skateboarders whose helmets, knee pads and gauntlets reminded me of the costumes worn by Buck Rogers and the fearless warriors of the American Expeditionary Force to Europe when playing football. How well I remember those American lads, some in their late twenties, who used to smoke tobacco and play boogie-woogie on the piano till nine o'clock at night! Some of them must have been SF readers, but in those days few people actually admitted to reading the stuff.
Some of them, possibly, even bought it, as opposed to my habit of swapping and re-swapping magazines. That way I read all the magazines but never formed a collection. What I did collect was tatty copies of PRACTICAL WIRELESS and I got a lot of pleasure from late night listening to a crystal set. In one area of Manchester called Red Bank I got my first introduction to SF in its American form. My Dad and his pal used to limewash factories and workshops and l went along to help. In one place I saw (and stole) an AMAZING STORIES issue with an atrociuos Morey cover illustrating 'When The Atoms Failed' by John W. Campbell Jr. The one time I met JWC I asked him how old he was when he wrote it. "Eighteen", he said. Yes, I think SF is for the very young.
I still think that the theft of an SF magazine from a workshop about 1932 was a perfect crime, still a mystery to the police. Similarly, I looted a dustbin and smuggled home a bundle of PASSING SHOW magazines containing an Edgar Rice Burroughs serial, THUVIA, MAID OF MARS, I think. I still remember the Fortunato Matania illustrations to this day. Don't think I went through life looking at pictures. I read and re-read THE NIGHT LAND by W.H,.Hodgson because of the scenery he evoked rather than described. Of all the SF stories I ever read only one had illustrations which were as good and that one was Heinlein's DOUBLE STAR with Kelly Freas illos.
So on Christmas morning I watched FLASH GORDON DESTROYS THE UNIVERSE while my wife unpacked my splendid new suit for me to wear at the Jubilee Christmas nosh-up. We walked to the restaurant, and as we sat down a waitress wiped the sleeve of my new suit with a chocolate cream gateau....Oh well.
Over the meal I brooded over Bussard ramscoops and the steady progress in environmental conditions which can produce a restaurant in almost total darkness in defiance of the invention of electric light. I pondered the improvements in sound reproduction and why distortionless amplifiers are needed for pop music, and what will happen in ten years time if food embalming techniques continue at their present rate. None of this has ever been covered in SF, and I think it is as good a time as any to revive HORROR STORIES, which could do justice to such progress.
On our way back I kept thinking about ERG and the article I threatened to write for Terry. I looked at the brilliantly dressed kids and the strangely costumed skateboarders and remembered my own interests at that age. They were simple....a mixture of Hoot Gibson, Robin Hood and rockets to the Moon and Mars. If I were an enterprising manufacturer I'd market something of universal appeal to small boys, say a Hopalong-Cassidy Spacesuit in a shade of Lincoln Green. I probably never shall, but it makes a nice title.
Back home, my funing wife got the dry cleaning fluid and tackled my suit while I looked through the TV programmes. Oh, goody.... THE WIZARD OF OZ, and later on, THE MUPPETS.
That was Christmas. But if I meet that young lady again I shall tell her that in my young days, young ladies of proper upbringing did not discuss such things as Buscard ramscoops.
Eric Needham 1978
From ERG #63 (1978), artwork by Terry Jeeves
On the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley I was deeply disturbed to find the evening paper had two full pages of IN MEMORIAM adverts. It seems to me that those youngsters who vowed undying love did not know what they were doing. I'm old enough to remember my mother having a gentle weep on the death of Rudolph Valentino in 1926, while I had my terrible-sense-of-loss in 1937 with the death of George Gershwin. I was 16 years old.
People who have never heard of George Gershwin know his music, which is as fresh and sparkling today as when new. But he left something else...an all-negro opera, PORGY AND BESS. I knew all the music, drooled over the names in the original cast, but due I believe to copyright difficulties at the time of Gershwin's death, PORGY AND BESS was never produced on any stage in any country outside the United States. Not until the 1960's was a motion-picture version produced. Even then I still hoped to see PORGY AND BESS on the stage.
But to return to Elvis Presley. In 1977 I was completely taken aback by the incredible similarity between the Leningrad of 1977 and the Manchester of 1938. Manchester and Leningrad are twin cities, both inland seaports, and the resemblance by night was incredible, with lots of neon-lighting and trams and trolleybuses and everywhere, people walking on foot.
Manchester's neon lights went out in 1939 and never returned to the same degree. Leningrad with the passing days seemed more and more like home, and the feeling of having gone forty years into the past steadily grew. And one night we went to see DON CARLOS by Verdi at the Kirov Theatre. And the world turned upside down. In the foyer was a forthcoming events board and on it, labelled in Russian and English, were photographs of a production of PORGY AND BESS. Forty years after the death of George Gershwin I came face-to-face with a stage production of his greatest work in en uneasy feeling of disbelief.
I looked at those black-faced Russian actors in immaculately-cut, faultless pressed suits and dazzlingly polished two-tone shoes. It may be true that in Western democratic republics impoverished negro fishermen in their spare time do dress like Mafiosi, but to me it seems they are such costumes as are worn by such citizens as George Raft, Edward G.Robinson and James Cagney. in Warner Bros. gangster films of the early 19301s, and indeed these films are still the only places I ever see such costumes.
In disbelief we went in to take our seats for DON CARLOS, a lavishly produced, magnificently lit, brilliantly-costumed drama with a cast of hundreds. And after a few minutes I flipped in time.
Elvis Presley spent some time in uniform, as I did. Towards the end of World War II, as Allied armies drove towards Berlin, I found myself confined to camp for a week on Fire Picket, guarding two fire extinguishers through fourteen showings of MARK OF ZORRO in the camp cinema of 620 Squadron. On the last night I was told to stay behind for a special showing of a captured German film of the life of Baron Munchausen, a vividly coloured brightly costumed production with German dialogue and French sub-titles, of which I understood not a word.
So that in Leningrad of 1977 which so much resembled my Manchester of 1932 in a theatre which like Manchester's defunct Theatre Royal is a copy of Milan's. La Scalara, I sat down to an opera of Old Spain by an Italian composer sung in Russian still reeling from the shock of seeing photographs of a play by a composer who died in 1937. The seething fury and impotent rage I felt to realise that after forty years we had arrived a week too early to see PORGY AND BESS I'll leave you to guess. It was like a vision of Paradise to an unbeliever. Like a glimpse of the Pearly Gates with a notice "Closed for Stocktaking" to a relapsed heretic. So near and yet so far.
In this frame of mind I flipped back to 620 Squadron in England in 1945, or was it flipped forward ?...to Baron Munchausen and German dialogue and French sub-titles and incredible costumes in wartime England, And back again to DON CARLOS in Old Spain sung in Russian in a Leningrad which was incredibly like pre-war Manchester. And this continued for two hours back and forth.
After the show my ecstatic wife murmured "Wasn't that marvellous?" All I could say as I passed those hateful photographs in the foyer that I had never known anything like it in my life.
And this is why I look with concern on those teenagers who write the IN MEMORIUM ads. I think they are all mixed up.
From Scottishe #81 (1981)
HOW STRANGE IT IS that throughout life it is the small things which have the greatest influence on us. So small a thing as a hundred gallon drum of Widower's Wart Remover brought me to a fate almost worse than death ... marriage. It was in this way -
The following day at work it occurred to me that a wartless toad would encounter supply difficulties, since toads are scarce, and when wartless resemble frogs, of which there is a world surplus. Frogs even fall out of the sky in showers of rain, according to Charles Fort. Far be it from me to contradict Charles Fort, but since I work in the open
and it rains often, I have yet to see a shower of frogs descend on rooftops and fire-escapes. Once, in Titus Livius's History of Rome, in the first chapter, I came across a reference to a shower of stones on the Capitol, whlch is just as well since I only read the first chapter. I asked a fellow window-cleaner, and he admitted that he too, had never seen a frog on a fire-escape. This puzzled me immensely. Do frogs dislike fire-escapes?
An Experiment with Time offered me a clue. Did the fear of fire-escapes exist in the future? I asked Madam Clara in her Oldham Street salon how to determine the future, but she, being a palmist and clairvoyante, could offer no help, though she did give me the address of a horoscope manufacturer. But here, as always, there was a snag. When is a frog born? As frogspawn? tadpole? or when it loses its tail and becomes a true frog? So, to be certain, I had a horoscope cast for a frog of each sex at each stage of its development. If any one of these six remarkable horoscopes comes true, there is a surprising future in Algy. I banged my head against the wall, and went to see Harry again.
Numbly, I answered, "Kiss you? Kiss you? Kiss you?
reprint in When Yngvi was a Louse (Eric Bentcliffe, 1982)
H.T. letter to Steve Sneyd, 21 September, 1987
In the poetry category, the name that stares oat for me is that of Eric Needham. He belonged to my fannish generation, haunted meetings of the SFA in the attic meeting room of 41 Longford Place, Victoria Park, in pre-war days, mainly to borrow magazines, We lost touch with each other during the war, though we were both in the RAF, but made contact again in the late 40s when I was living at Moston, Manchester.
We became embroiled in the North Western Science Fantasy Club in the early fifties, and I resuscitated the club fanzine Astroneer, using stuff I had left over from the Zenith days. I can't lay hands on a copy but will track it down as I fancy it has a pome by Eric.
Eric and I became committee members in an effort to rescue the SuperMancon of 1954 from the dreamy clutches of Dave Cohen and convert it from fantasy to reality. Eric and I eventually fled from Mancunian fandom to start up the Romiley Fan Veterans & Scottish Dancing Society, and issue Now & Then, when OMPA was formed.
The Widower's ad campaign attracted many fannish copywriters, but none with quite the flair of the originator - Eric. After the first small issue, we rapidly expanded in paging with each issue, and had to make it generally available instead of just an APAzine after the third issue.
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