Open Letter by "Name Withheld By Request"

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Open Letter
Title: Open Letter by "Name Withheld By Request"
From: Anonymous (later identified as Ann W.)
Addressed To: Blake's 7 fandom
Date(s): 1988
Medium: print
Fandom: Blake's 7
Topic: fan run conventions
External Links:
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In late 1988, an anonymous open letter began circulating in Blake’s 7 fandom. The letter was passed around at fannish events and included as a flyer in Blake’s 7 fanzines that were being sold at conventions and by mail.

The letter discussed a series of professionally run, “for profit” conventions in the US that would be organized by volunteer fans under the direction of some of the actors and writers of the Blake’s 7 TV show. These conventions, the letter argued, would compete with fan-run events and would place further restrictions on fannish activities, including on what type of artwork and fan fiction could be sold.

The letter was signed "Name Withheld By Request".

In early 1989, the letter was published in the US letterzine The Federation Archives, along with a supporting editorial and a call for additional letters of comment.

Fandom's response to the letter was vigorous. Many of the letters of comment were printed in a wide variety of US and UK letterzines such as The Federation Archives, Pressure Point and Horizon Letterzine. You can read these responses on their respective pages.

page 1 of the letter. This copy was slipped between the pages of a Blake's 7 fanzine that was ordered by mail in 1988

More significantly, the “Name Withheld” letter spurred numerous additional open letters: two from the Blake’s 7 actors (Paul Darrow) and his wife, Janet Lees Price (the Darrows’ Letters). A press release was also issued by Paul Darrow and Terry Nation about their planned pro convention tour, along with a letter from their fan coordinator, Laurie C. (the Paul Darrow/Terry Nation Press Release Packet). All three people took issue with the contents of the Name Withheld letter.

From here the debate spiraled out and grew until it became what many fans now call The Blake's 7 Wars.

Background

The earliest media conventions were Star Trek conventions organized by fans in the 1970s. These events were non-profit, volunteer run with the actors and TV show writers and directors often in attendance. As time went by, more and more professionally run conventions took over such as CreationCon. These events lacked many of the social amenities that fan run events had – if there was a dealer’s room, only licensed merchandise could be sold, not fanzines. There was no con suite, no fanzine library and no fan run panels. Additional charges applied to almost every event driving the costs up. Many fans felt as if their hobby was being taken over by people who were only out to make a buck. [1] The Star Trek convention experiences of the 1970s had been replicated across US Doctor Who fandom in the 1980s. (cite??) It is against this backdrop that both the “Name Withheld” letter and the two Darrows’ letters were written.

Letter

”Have you ever attended a "fan" convention? Have you ever attended a "pro" (e.g. CREATIONS) convention? Do you know the difference? Because there are a world of differences.

Fan conventions, by their very nature, are run solely for the benefit of the fans and usually donate any profits made to charities (and, in the case of B7, the chosen charity is often a local PBS station which shows B7). The committee and staff of these conventions donate their time, their skills, their hard work, and quite often their money to support the endeavor. The only compensation they receive is the pleasure of attending the convention (where they work some more ... and often even have to pay for their membership!). Virtually none of the committee’s or worker's expenses are paid by the convention but come rather out of their own pockets.

At fan conventions, there is usually a video room where various fannish videos, TV series, and movies are shown for the enjoyment of all; a dealers' room where professional dealers and fan dealers alike sell merchandise such as zines, buttons, posters, pictures, etc.; a convention suite where fans can gather to talk, socialize, often share refreshments, etc.; caption contests; costume contests; fan cabarets or shows where skits, parodies, etc. are performed; fan panels where fans get together and discuss certain aspects of their favorite fandom, etc; banquet get-together where fans can again socialize; sometimes even group outings to see the premiere of movie or something similar; blood drives; and all manner of other activities. The key thing to pay attention to here is that everything centers around and is done for the benefit of the fans.

In recent years, fan cons have sprung up which focus on the actors of B7 rather than on purely fannish activities. Because of the high cost of bringing the actors over from England (and it's only going up and up with the declining dollar), membership fees, correspondingly had to go up. But, the actors were so charming and so willing to mingle with the fans (in other words, so lacking an American "star" attitude) that everyone was willing to pay more to see them. The actors took note of this. Fannish activities at cons dropped off as the committees were forced to spend more and more time and money on keeping the guests satisfied, it became a CATCH-22: the fans wanted to see the guests so the guests had to be kept happy; but in order to keep the guests happy, the fans' needs began to be ignored.

Then the "Pro" cons stepped in. These cons are run for no other reason than profit. There are few fannish activities at them. There is usually a video room; a dealers' room (where you are expected to spend yet more money -you will see few fannish dealers here as the tables cost in the hundreds of the dollars); and you get to see an actor talk for one hour on stage. Afterwards, you can stand in line for an autograph. That's it. If you want more, you can come back the next day, pay to get in again, and see the actor for another hour.

But it's great for the guests: they hardly have to work at all and they get paid a fee.

So the fan cons had to start paying many actors a fee (there are a few of them who haven't lost their idealism in this area yet) PLUS expenses or the actors wouldn't come. Why should they? They could go to a pro con, do very little work, and make money. They also began to demand business-class or first-class airfare (a difference of about $2,000.00 in price from coach from England). And never mind that every extra penny spent on their demands is a penny taken away from dying children or other worthwhile charities. Never mind that the fans are willing to scrape up the money somehow by contributing to guest funds -that's still not enough. Which tells you about how much respect these actors actually have for the fans. Many of these actors who used to pontificate about how they considered the fans their "friends” are now copping a “star" attitude. How dare we not bankrupt ourselves to obtain their sterling presence? After all, they're worth it and screw the charity (and the fans who worked for a year to put on the con, for tatter). Ever wonder why certain actors never appear at SCORPIO anymore, even though the SCORPIO people were mostly responsible for promoting B7 in the USA? There's your real answer. SCORPIO doesn't pay the actors a fee, you see. And the worst part of it is all that many of the committees of these fan conventions are being blamed for "keeping the guests away from the fans." I have served on the committee for two major B7 cons last year; I am on the committee for three in the upcoming year. I am acquainted with lots of the organizers of the other major cons across the country -and I’m very sorry to have to tell you that the committees in question rarely try to keep a guest "away from the fans". They are rarely able to control the guests at all. The truth is, the actors no longer want to mingle with the fans. They just want to take a buck.

At a recent CREATION CON, a well-known B7 actor, used to be known as a “friend” to fans, was heard to say he was doing as little as "necessary" at the Con. As he entered a brunch, he said, 'I've only got to spend 75 seconds with each fan. I worked it out. That's all I’m getting paid for.'

This same actor has been telling people that he intends to start up a series of "pro” cons in direct competition with CREATIONS. There are other people involved in this venture, most notably a financial backer who once ran a “fan" con of her own. Their aim is to (and here I quote) "put the fans cons out of business" and 'control fannish literature.' (!) The cities they are considering for these cons are: Ft. Lauderdale (where OMNICON, a fan con, is held); Chicago (where SCORPIO, the major fan run British media con is held); Houston (where REBELLION -and previously DESTINY -is held); San Francisco (where ORAC is held); Newark, NJ (where GAMBIT - and previously DSV -is held); and I believe St. Louis (where TARDISC0N was held). Dallas (where STAR ONE was held last year) and ORLANDO were also mentioned as 'possible' sites (the people it ORLANDO put on OASIS is the spring and they are working toward getting World Con in 1992). Many people of my acquaintance who are involved in running the fan cons in these cities have already been approached about helping to run the "new" Cons. In other words, these new organizers want the fans to help (free of charge, of course) put themselves out of business!! To their credit, most of the people approached that I am aware of have said either "No" or that they'd only work for a fee (after all, it's a profit-making venture, not a charitable one, so why should they donate their time, money and expenses to line the actors' pockets?)

Now, to the latter of "control". The organizers of these cons are going to supposedly assemble their "own stable" of approved artists. Only these artists will be allowed to exhibit at the cons. And the artists will be charged a 50% commission for this privilege. They want to put together their "own stable" of fan writers and only these writers' work will be allowed to be sold (I’m assuming in the zines). The Cons will feature different "events" at each venue, too, so that if you want to see everything, you will have to attend all of them across the country. One of the actors involved was so kind as to point out that he is well aware that there are fans who "follow him around". This same actor also intends to refuse to attend any other cons so if you want to see him, you will have to come to his con and allow yourself to be controlled and ripped off. He also claims (I have no idea if this part is true) that he can guarantee two other actors for his cons because they are friends of his and they will "do what he tells them". Well, it looks like the day of the guest-oriented conventions is coming to an ignoble end, my friends, because I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to sit still for this. I won’t be controlled; I won’t be taken advantage of; I won’t allow the fans to be ripped off; I won't work for free for a non-charitable con; I won’t line a greedy actor's pockets, no matter how charming he is; I won't travel cross-country just to see an actor for a few minutes on a stage when I can see him for free on my VCR (this actor who thinks people follow him around obviously never considered the fact that a lot of us attend cons to get together with our friends in other parts of the country); in short, I will fight this attempt at a hostile "Federation" takeover. It's free country and anybody who wants to can contribute to my zines, whether they're part of an "approved" stable or not!

I think it's time to get back to the affordable, fan-oriented, fan conventions. We can have conventions without a single "guest" in attendance. MediaWest and others do it every year. The committee and the fan attendees are the only indispensable components here. I am adopting a new motto: He's expendable; he's stupid; and he's not going.[2]

You think about it.

My sources of information for all of the above were: the actor involved; some of the people involved in backing the proposed conventions; some of the people who have been approached to run the conventions.

References

  1. One example was Star Trek Chicago. Another example is the commentary in City on the Edge of Whatever Coloring Book.
  2. Paraphrase of a quote from Avon one of the characters on Blake’s 7. Avon was played by Paul Darrow and the actual quote is: "I am not expendable, I'm not stupid, and I'm not going."