Harry Turner's Footnotes to Fandom
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NOW & THEN
The Beginnings...


Written by ERIC NEEDHAM, circa 1954, first published
in Ethel Lindsay's fapazine BLETHERINGS #4, 1972.
 

THERE WAS A CONVENTION of science-fiction fans held in Manchester in 1954. Harry Turner was roped in to deal with the Combozine. The latest light of love went out of my life... and I wandered into the Waterloo Hotel, where nefarious schemes were being hatched to amaze and delight the London Fans. Pause for sad reflection. Nursing burnt fingers, Harry and I subsequently met at his new home in Romiley, and joined company for the first time since the Manchester Interplanetary Society achieved fame by firing the only rockets to be launched from English soil by an amateur society. Pause for reflection on that, too. Even the BIS can't make that claim.

Pensively we pawed through piles of ancient fanmags, dragging up the past and sadly contemplating some newer fanzines. Then Harry mentioned a word... a single word... and I found myself writing for Zenith. When the mag will appear we don't know. What I do know is that a yearning appeared in Harry's face to publish a fanmag again, and deep in the heart of London plans were being pushed forward for a thing called ompa, which prospect appealed to me not in the least.. Yet I wrote an article about Jonah, gave him a pome, a few cockeyed notes, and left him to his dreams. One Saturday night he wandered round with a pink sheet of Now&Then. I was horrified. He had published my name as well.

From that day n&t never looked forward. The entire equipment at Harry's disposal swung into action. Out came his home-made stylo. Out came his weary old wheel-pens. Out came his slightly irresponsible typer... and lastly, the Original Zenith Duplicator.

Now this needs a paragraph to itself.

Fans old enough to remember when zenith first appeared will recall that a war had broken out a year or so before. Patriotic appeals were launched for scrap metal, and great dumps of rusty machinery appeared everywhere. I do not claim there is any connection... but this is the time that Harry acquired his 1913 Model 2a roneo duplicator. This is a purely paleotechnic device, lavish in its use of ornamental cast-iron, and qualifies for the title of being an upright grand. One night we wearied of sticking gestetner stencils on to roneo headings, so the appliance was examined carefully. Bits were removed and changed over. Some skilful hammering, and the contraption henceforth could be used with any make of stencil known. Was Harry satisfied? Not he.

He now uses ellams stencils, stuck to roneo backings, for economy, very successfully. And his latest feat is to cut off the unused bottoms of foolscap stencils, stick them with Sellotape to very weary-looking interleaving sheets cut into masks, to make full use of resources. I suspect that the ink and paper is gained illegally, since Harry keeps neither books nor records.

And that covers the production side, but ohhh, the speed of the production. Each sheet is individually fed in, individually removed and slip-sheeted. Every twenty pages or so Harry reverently lifts the stencil and anoints the drum with ink (the original inking mechanism is long gone). Each page is manually produced, not mass-produced as with most fanzines. There was one occasion when Harry successfully produced two-colour pages from one stencil with one crank of the handle. Brother, that night was terrible. There was time to lose all interest in the proceedings between one sheet coming out and the next. Occasionally the Turner children assist dad to produce his comics. Sometimes Harry, with determination I can only admire and deplore sets to with clenched teeth and does the whole sickening process himself. Oh, I forgot... Harry does the illustrations. He can draw pictures.

What of the contents? Dear me... I take no responsibility for this. There are now 30 members of the rfv&sds. To date we have had only Sid Birchby contributing... though we have published letters from the Bulmer love-birds, the Lyons, and an old croaker called Robert Bloch, who has been around for some time now. You never know; the old croaker might write again (gentle hint). He is Our Most Revered Member.

Harry Turner & family at the duplicator
A rare photograph of the Turner production team for Now & Then in 1955. Dad is cranking, Bill (left) is slip-sheeting, and Rob (right) is recovering from a stint on the night shift. Note the "economical" stencil in position on the drum (the back page of N&T#4, made up of three stencil-bottoms stuck together, hopefully, with Sellotape). The interleaving sheets date back to wartime days and it is rumoured that Eric found his best ideas reading through them.
from a photograph taken by Sid Birchby.

Sometimes people look at me thoughtfully, as Walt Willis did, and speculate how the stories and articles get written, and ponder, as Walt did, on how my mental processes work. I'm flattered beyond belief that Walt credits me with mental processes. The whole truth is that now&then is purely autobiographical and completely factual in every respect. (Well I knew you wouldn't believe it.)

Being a window-cleaner I find that the improbable is to be expected in life. I have long ceased to find anything unusual in seeing a half-ton chunk of Giant's Causeway in a hair-dresser's saloon, but what if I should write a story on such lines? I could write yarns about literally true incidents I meet which are completely improbable, and often funny.

How would a visitor from outer space account for the fact that certain windows in office buildings often have on them old corset ribs and suspenders? The curious problem of neat packets of used razor-blades to be found in gutters and rooftops? The inexplicable quantities of women's under-garments found around chimney stacks, or the mystery of a roof-top covered with rusty hair-pins? People do not know of the oddities above them.

At the other extreme is the miscellaneous assortment of oddments to be found below cellar gratings. Opening cellar windows may on occasion release a few pounds of rusty nails, boxes of marbles, Masonic regalia, and stuff dumped by shoplifters, such as coat and dress hangers. They steal the coat complete with hanger, and throw the hanger away. I've got lots of them. It was more interesting once, though, after the war, with clips of cartridges, rifle bolts, and my prize memory, a box of twelve land-mine detonators.

Almost equal to this was a parcel containing a number of hand-grenade pins and retainer levers. What happened to the grenades themselves makes fascinating speculation. By far the most unusual was a neatly wrapped parcel of freshly-sliced bacon beneath a cellar grating, about four pounds of it. I rewrapped it, replaced it, and looked for it at the end of the day. I lived on bacon for a week, because the ration in those post-war days was four ounces a week.

Plots come ready made to me. It is a literal fact that that after heavy showers of rain I've looked for frogs on rooftops and fire-escapes. No luck. Then I find reference to falls of frogs and all sorts of Fortean phenomena in The Anatomy of Melancholy. And in Titus Livius, plus Machiavelli, too. They are there, if you look for them. Biggest snag is persuading fans that literature can be fun.

And so it came about that legends have been explored, after a fashion, and will continue to be. History and myth will be shown in a new light as the worldwide effect of Widower's Products becomes known. Remarkable new verses may see the light of day, and many anomalous situations may be examined... All we hope is that people get a laugh out of it. ■


© Eric Needham & Harry Turner.

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