Open Letters by the Darrows

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Open Letter
Title: Open Letters by the Darrows (The "UnW's Letter" [1] by Paul Darrow and "Untitled Letter" by Janet Lees-Price)
From: Paul Darrow and Janet Lees-Price
Addressed To: Blake's 7 fandom
Date(s): Late 1988 or early 1989
Medium: print
Fandom: Blake's 7
Topic: fan-run vs for profit conventions & slash fiction
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In late 1988 or early 1989, actor Paul Darrow penned an open letter to Blake’s 7 fandom that become a key part of The Blake's 7 Wars.

The actual name of the letter, which includes the addressee, has not been included here on Fanlore.

The letter was in response to an anonymous letter that had been circulating in Blake’s 7 fandom discussing Darrow's plans for a series of professional, for-profit conventions. His letter, along with a letter from his wife, Janet Lees-Price, were published in Paul Darrow’s fan club newsletter, The Avon Club Newsletter, and became a major source of discussion and commentary among fandom.

Both letters were widely circulated and reprinted in at least one other newsletter, The Federation Archives: First Addendum in February 1989.

One of the key aspects of Paul Darrow’s letter is that it identifies the anonymous letter writer. For the purposes of this article, her name will remain abbreviated. [2]

Mr. Darrow’s letter was in response to accusations that one or more actors and writers from the Blake’s 7 TV show were planning to organize for-profit conventions. These conventions, it was 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 displayed and sold. The anonymous letter can be read at the Open Letter by "Name Withheld By Request".

The first part of Darrow’s letter focuses on the accusations that professional conventions, in general, had damaged fan-run events in the past. The second section addresses the reasons behind Paul Darrow and Terry Nation’s plans for organizing for-profit conventions along with responses to some of the convention details as described in the “Name Withheld” letter.

Darrow’s letter offered 12 point-by-point responses to statements raised in the “Name Withheld” letter.

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 merchandize 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, something that drove the costs up. Many fans felt as if their hobby was being taken over by people who were only out to make a buck. (cite??) The Star Trek convention experiences of the 1970s had been replicated across the United States Doctor Who fandom in the 1980s. (cite??) It is against this backdrop that both the “Name Withheld” letter and the two Darrow letters were written.

Without knowing exactly when the Darrow letters were released to fandom (ex: they may have circulated before publication in The Avon Club Newsletter), it is difficult to assess their full impact. Certainly many of the counter points and topics raised in the Darrow letters were used or quoted in fandom letters of comment in both US and UK letterzines (The Federation Archives, Pressure Point and Horizon Newsletter), so the impression is that the letters were eventually widely-circulated to those where were interested. Both Paul Darrow and Janet Lees-Price’s letters were republished in The Federation Archives: First Addendum which reportedly had a circulation of 200 subscribers.

Paul Darrow’s Letter

Opening

Paul Darrow’s letter opens by identifying the writer of the anonymous letter. This section is quoted in full here on Fanlore as it helps establish the letter’s tone.

"Un-[W]'s LIES" by PAUL DARROW

This is a response - though it hardly deserves one - to an article circulated by Ms Annie [W]. If you have not read the article, or if you have read it and refuse, to give it credence, you are to be congratulated. Otherwise, you may care to read on.

Ms [W]'s article discusses fan run conventions, with passing reference to others, and suggests that they and the fans who attend them have fallen prey to the mercenary attitudes of the, "stars", of, 'Blake's Seven', In addition, she attempts, scurrilously, to complete what is impolitely termed, 'a hatchet job', on one, "star", in particular. It was not difficult to interpret her interminable prose and decide upon her target.

Unfortunately, Ms [W]’s dash into print has caused her to overlook any number of facts, to quote and misquote out of context and to indulge in a diatribe so full of hatred that it would be laughable, were it not so inept. In short - she is a liar! However, liars are sometimes misguidedly believed, so let us look at some parts of her article.

Fan-Run vs. Pro Conventions

The letter then moves on to dissect the “Name Withheld” letter point by point. Not all points will be included in this summary.

In response to whether actor guests at fan-run conventions should be paid for socializing with fans:

1…. “Dr Who", guests are always paid a fee. The same applies to, "Star Trek", etc. Professional conventions, by their very name, suggest that they are willing to pay fees to guests and, of course, make profits. It seems reasonable that the guests should share, however minimally, in those profits. Thus, I have accepted, 'generous expenses', from Creation conventions that, compared to any other guest's fee, would be considered derisory.

As to whether the shift to professional conventions meant that fan-run conventions had been forced to start paying actor’s fees in order to remain competitive:

2……Not to me they didn't! Of the many fan run conventions I have attended, only two offered, 'expenses'. These amounted to 500 dollars. 100 dollars to cover taxi fare in England, 150 dollars to cover compulsory insurance, 200 dollars to cover dog sitting fees - dogs have to be fed and looked after in one's absence. 50 dollars as agent's fee…..Also, it should be understood that time away from England is exhausting, debilitating and can result in loss of work at home.

As to whether these actor fees were taking funds away from what the conventions normally would have given to local charities:

3…..Ms [W] then goes on to write - "never mind that every extra penny spent on their (actors) demands is a penny taken away from dying children or other worthwhile charities." The accusation contained in the above sentence is beneath contempt!

As to whether the actors are only interested in money:

6. "’’The truth is, the actors no longer want to mingle with the fans. They just want to make a buck."’’ Well, one certainly doesn't want to, 'mingle', with Ms [W]! Others, though, may dispute her claim.

For-Profit Convention Plans

Paul Darrow’s letter then shifts into a discussion of his and Terry Nation’s plans for "profitable" conventions. This may have been one of the earliest public confirmations of their plans – up to this point, information regarding the conventions and their details had spread mainly via rumor, phone calls made by their fan convention organizer (Laurie Cohen) and word-of-mouth.

The reasons why Darrow and Nation decided to organize professionally run conventions:

8. Ms [W] mentions a number of conventions' proposed by Terry Nation and that would involve me.

It is because of the likes of Ms [W] and the power plays and acrimony attributable to other, so called. Big Name Fans, that Terry and I thought it timely to try to return to the, 'real conventions'. Those that are conducted for the benefit of all, fans and guests alike, and that would exclude those who, like Ms [W], attempt exclusivity and preen themselves because they consider they hold a, 'special place' , with the guests. If such a, 'special place', existed, clearly Ms [W] is unworthy!

The proposed conventions would, hopefully, prove enjoyable for everyone. The actors who constantly make themselves available - Mr Nation, Mr Keating and myself - would be able to reciprocate your loyalty and affection in circumstances beneficial to all.

In response to whether these professional conventions were intended to replace fan-run events:

Ms [W] suggests - "the aim is to put fan cons out of business." What she really means is that she and her sycophantic friends would be put out of business. They would lose the, "exclusivity with guests", they have so assiduously sought and now, certainly in Ms [W]’s case, they so bitterly resent the loss. Hell hath no fury like a selfish fan scorned!

At this point, the letter turns to focus what they feel to be factual inaccuracies. One topic that the "Name Withheld" letter raised was whether the for-profit conventions would limit or control what was sold in the dealer’s room. A large portion of fan-run events is the buying and selling of fanzines and fan art, so the concern raised was a valid one to many fans.

9. "Their aim is to control fannish literature." Even if it were true, common sense tells us this would not be possible. Of course, what Ms [W] attempts to write can hardly be described as, 'literature'. She writes, 'slash fiction', and dare not append her name to it!

This is the first time slash is mentioned as the "Name Withheld" letter did not raise the topic. Also, up to that point, the writer of the Name Withheld letter had written slash under a pseudonym.

Finally, the letter begins to discuss of some of the details of the planned professional conventions.

10. Ms [W] continues in describing venues for the, 'proposed convention tour'. Venues that have never been discussed or determined. She continues to speak with forked tongue. An exercise that is seemingly not unfamiliar to her! 11. She further asserts- "the organizers are going to assemble their own stable of approved artists who will be charged 50% commission for this privilege." If we had not already established that Ms [W] is a liar, this would surely prove her so.

No additional clarification is offered as to what the venues might be, how much the convention might charge in commissions, or whether artists would be selected or approved.

It does, however, touch on another key fear of fan-run convention organizers: would their access to actors as guests be eliminated by the introduction of “for-profit” conventions?

12. She asserts that I - "intend 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 ripped off and controlled." If anyone who has ever met with me at a convention feels That I would, 'rip them off, or 'control them', they should speak out now. Likewise, if any disagree with Ms [W]'s indictment . they should speak out. Her evil may triumph if the rest of you say nothing…..

For more on this topic, see Terry Nation's comments in the January 1990 article Having scrambled British SF TV expectations, Terry Nation considers reshaping fan conventions.

Conclusion: A Call To Take Sides

The letter ends by asking fans to take sides:

Charm has never been one of [Ms W's] qualities. As witnessed by the following phrase - "he's expendable, he s stupid and I'm not going."

Whether I am expendable or not depends on you, dear reader. But, I am not stupid and know that the silver lining of B7 fandom would inevitably throw up a cloud such as [Ms W]. That she, 'is not going', is satisfactory to me. For, where she goes and with whatsoever she has any connection, I will not go! She and her ilk are decidedly, "not safe with me!" ... In the end, you must choose where you stand on this matter. Here I stand - I can say no more.

That you will express your support of me or of others, I have no doubt. It is, the American way, as it is the English.

Janet Lees-Price's Letter

Accompanying Paul Darrow’s letter was an open letter to fans written by his wife, Janet Lees-Price.

Lees-Price was a frequent attendee at fan conventions and had spent some time socializing with fans. Several of these fans wrote slash fiction under pseudonyms and had been very careful to keep these pseuds separate and away from the actors. [3]

Lees-Price's brief letter was probably in response to the editorial introduction to the "Name Withheld Letter" that had been written by the editor of The Federation Archives. She claimed that the editor had been spreading rumors that she was trying to ‘control fan fiction.’ Like Paul Darrow’s letter, she raised the topic of slash fan fiction, even though the editor, in her newsletter had not mentioned the genre. Lees-Price also outed a fan who she had had prior social contact, referring to this fan by her legal name:

I derive great pleasure from fan fiction. The work is almost unanimously excellent and often beautifully illustrated. However, 'slash fiction', I find tasteless and, when real names are used, a gross impertinence. But, if a minority wish to write, read and sell, 'slash', in a free world, that is their right. I don't have to pretend to like it, or keep my thoughts on the subject private - that is my right!
She then asks why fans feel the need to write slash under pseudonyms:
I asked Ms [T] one question;- "If the authors of slash fiction are proud of their work, why do they not append their real names to it?" She has declined to answer. However, she does not display similar reticence when spreading ill-informed rumours and indulging in malicious gossip on other matters connected with fandom. The truth must be protected from her malign influence!

Gallery

References

  1. The actual name of letter has been redacted here on Fanlore.
  2. In fact, Mr. Darrow's open letter uses the fan's real name at least 20 times.
  3. from a letter by Lees-Price, dated December 23, 1988, sent to the author of the "Name Withheld Letter," and "cc., to all fan newsletters": "The over reaction to my comments on, 'slash fiction', is telling. In Australia, I was told that [two names redacted] and you were prominent authors of it. Being friends - I thought - I considered it odd that the subject had never been mentioned and I was intrigued to know if what I had heard was true." In this December 23, 1988 letter, Lees-Price also addresses fanfic and control, then repeats some of what she wrote in the letter that accompanied her husband's: "To be accused, as a result, of trying to control fan fiction is laughable. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence would know that is an impossible task, even if I wanted to attempt it - which I don't! If a minority wish to write, read, and sell, 'slash', in a free world, that is their right. I don't have to pretend to like it or keep my thoughts on the subject private - that is my right!"