David Gerrold's 1984 UFP Con Report

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Title: David Gerrold's 1984 UFP Con Report
Creator: David Gerrold
Date(s): 1984
Medium: print, now online
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: British Star Trek conventions, UFP Con
External Links: Starlog
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David Gerrold's 1984 UFP Con Report was a con report printed in Starlog #86 (September 1984) and reprinted in several zines, one being Federal Information Bureau v.3 n.2.

In it, David Gerrold writes of his impressions of UFP Con, a UK con held in May 1984.

He introduces it, telling of the letter with an English postmark he had received, a letter that starts with "Dear David Gerrold, can you be our guest speaker at UFP-Con in May?"

Report

Bingo. Something wonderful. A free trip to England. All I have to do is stand up and talk to some people. Sure. I'll do it. I check the date. There's less than three weeks to go. I send the convention a telegram. "Yes, I'll do it. Phone me and we'll make arrangements." They do and we do. Because the convention is in aid of Muscular Dystrophy, I refuse a speakers' fee. Round trip air-fare to London is already a big expense for a small convention. (One guest at one English Star Trek convention, once upon a time, demanded a first-class ticket. One member of that particular con committee had to take a second mortgage on his house to cover the additional expenses. I don't want to be that kind of guest.)

I clear my schedule, renew my passport, buy a heavy overcoat, pack my bags, and I'm at the airport two hours early. The prepaid ticket is there. I'm on my way.

The Midland Hotel has ceilings so high, you can get a nosebleed just looking up. They put me in a suite so big, you can play racket-ball in it. The bellman informs me that just last month. Prince Charles and Lady Diana stayed in this very suite. This very suite?

There is a wall of walk-in closets, a bathroom the size of my living room, a sitting room with two bay windows, a fireplace, a dining table, a conversation pit, a bar, and a secret passage down to the hidden dungeon. On the bar is a bottle of champagne, a basket of fruit and flowers, a big box of chocolate, and a little note from the convention committee welcoming me and telling me they want me to be happy.

Happy? I passed happy two days ago on the way to the airport. Right now I'm looking at ecstasy — from the far side.

The convention is a small one by American standards, only about 600 or 700 people — but everybody is smiling. I am immediately suspicious. A convention where people look like they're having fun?

Very quickly, I discover that the English fans are a breed apart. They are intelligent, thoughtful, responsible, playful, fun-loving, courteous, literate and simply delightful human beings. It's like being at the world's best party, you can float from conversation to conversation to conversation, and every one is worth being a part of. I'm invited out to enough dinners to solve the hunger problem for a small nation. I'm offered enough beer to drown an Irishman. And all I have to do is stand up and talk about Star Trek for a little while. I'm beginning to be afraid that I can't do enough to repay these people's kindnesses.

It finally crystallizes in one small incident that, for me, clearly demonstrates that these fans have a totally different attitude toward their guests than you or I are used to.

It's the next-to-last day of the con. It's the business meeting. Everybody at the convention — and I mean everybody — is in attendance. Two separate committees are bidding to hold the next British Star Trek convention; the fans will vote which committee will be given the right. (You don't just decide to put on a Trek con in England, you must ask permission from the fans. It's very effective at keeping the entrepreneurs from staging quick rip-off events.)

I sit in on the meeting, on the stage next to a couple members of the con committee. I'm impressed at the intelligence of the questions that the fans are asking. And I'm impressed at each committee's careful preparations. I would like to attend either of the planned conventions. I'm glad I don't have to choose. Then, someone asks one of the committees, "Who's going to be your guest speaker?" The reply: "We can't announce a guest speaker until he confirms that he'll attend, and we can't invite a guest speaker until we win the bid." Again, I'm impressed at the candor of the response. "We do want to give the best value for your money. You have to tell us what you want." And somebody in the back shouts out: "Better value than we got at this one."

There's a rustle of unease in the hall. People are looking toward me. I'm not taking it too seriously; I've heard much worse, but, apparently, this is a little out of the ordinary at an English convention. The convention chairman—a very attractive and generally soft-spoken lady named Kim Knight —is suddenly at the microphone, saying, "I don't know who shouted that last, but I consider it very rude in the presence of our guest speaker. If whoever made that remark will come up and see me, I will refund the price of your convention membership, and then I would like you to please leave the hotel immediately." As soft-spoken as she is, her words are greeted with immediate and enthusiastic applause.

I figure that's the end of it. But I'm wrong.

When the meeting ends, the fans start coming up to me to thank me for attending, to reassure me that they don't agree with that remark, that they are glad to have me as their guest. Along about the fifteenth or twentieth time, I'm starting to get-embarrassed. The question had never entered my mind.

A little bit after that, a young man comes up to me — his eyes are red and there are still tears running down his cheeks—he apologizes to me on behalf of his club. The man who shouted was one of their members. The young man is clearly very upset. I am impressed with his responsibility and his courage in coming forward to apologize in what must be an extraordinarily embarrassing situation. I tell him, "Listen, I have enjoyed this convention more than any other convention I have ever attended, and nothing has happened to make me change that opinion." I wish I had the time to really sit down and talk with him. (I later find out that the man who shouted is a fairly important member of the club, and responsible for several very thoughtful projects. He didn't mean for his comment to sound as angry as it did. And what he really wanted was more program items. I'm also told that he never collected his refund because his friends hustled him immediately out of the hall for his own protection.) I am beginning to get a sense of how important it is to these people that their guests are made welcome. I am beginning to really worry that I cannot do enough for them. I ask the convention committee to set aside a room for a couple of hours the following morning and I'll do my writers' workshop for anyone who will donate a pound to the convention's charity. We collect more than 40 pounds.

On the con's last day, the gifts begin. People start giving me little cards, boxes of candy, a nifty key chain from the Starship Excalibur Fan Club, bottles of booze, and more—I've lost track.

The point is not that one man shouted something rude, but that a whole convention spontaneously made up its mind to demonstrate that the man did not represent the rest of them. In America, rude comments are ignored, shrugged off, endured—in general, tolerated. In this country, we put up with it. The English don't. (Believe me, the thought of emigrating has passed through my head on more than one occasion since then.)

The kindnesses escalate. I'm in trouble now. They are giving me far more than I can now. They are giving me far more than I can ever repay. It has become a contest that I cannot win, but I'm going to go down trying, invite the entire convention to a room party that night. It gets a late start—(1:30 p.m. because we're late getting back from dinner—but it lasts until 8:30a.m. I am told I set a record for room parties. It's a start.

At the closing ceremony, Kim Knight presents me with an extraordinary crystal paper weight. The convention gives me a standing ovation—and by now, I'm pretty damn close to tears myself.

They hand me a mike and I don't know what to say. I start out mumbling my thanks, and I know that isn't sufficient. I've learned something here—about fans and pros, and the space between them—and suddenly, the thought crystallizes, and I blurt it out the best way I can: "A convention is a great big celebration. It isn't about what you can get out of it. It's about what you bring to it. This is a party—and what you can contribute to its success. All I had to bring to this was myself — and I was afraid that wasn't going to
 be good enough. I know it's expensive to
 bring a guest speaker over from the states, so I 
kept looking for things to bring that would
 also help make this convention a success,
 books, tribbles, film-clips and slides; but
 you've shown me that what you really want
 from a guest is to just share a good time. Well,
 if you've had as good a time as I've had, then
 you've been at the best convention of your
 life. Thank you for inviting me!"

Fan Reactions

Again I can't say how much I enjoyed the convention and David was a wonderful guest speaker. Although it was a shame that William Shatner could not come, I personally think that David made a better guest since he became so involved with the convention events, and I think that his room party will make Trekker history! I was glad at last to hear the right version concerning "that person" at the business meeting. Although my anger hasn't lessened any. [1]

One fan, [Rosemary W], is not as pleased. She writes of her anger over David Gerrold's actions at the UFP Con, a convention he had volunteered to attend:

The event took place on both Saturday and Sunday of the con. On Saturday, Mr. Gerrold picked up a copy of Thrust and said he found such literature 'annoying to say the least.' He then flourished the cover -- there were small children in the audience and, despite being asked to refrain, he continued to do so -- and gave 'mock readings' in a derisory tone, accompanied by jeers from one sector of the audience. Later, he apologized for having given 'offence' (his word). However, on Sunday, the same behaviour prevailed. Mr. Gerrold used words like 'filth' and 'perversion' with regard to zines, in particular K/S Relay. Readings were given from Sun and Shadow, and it was implied this was a K/S zine. The same suggestion was made of Precessional. The atmosphere of the whole auction was not pleasant... Perhaps readers of UT have encountered such a phenomenon before, but I was considerably saddened by it, as it seems so contrary to the spirit of Star Trek [but came] from one who is regarded as a creator. [2]

References

  1. from Federal Information Bureau v.3 n.2
  2. from a personal statement in Universal Translator #23