London Calling

‘Cause in sleepy London town,
There’s no place for a street fighting man!

Harlan Ellison

Feel free to guess who this is.

So lets start with some background.

The Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation was first presented in 1958. It doesn’t appear to have been an especially popular addition as ‘no award’ topped the list in 1959 and again in 1963. This is perhaps why in 1964, Pacificon II, the worldcon held in Oakland, California added the category of Book Publisher and dropped Dramatic Presentation. The folowing year, Loncon II, the 1965 worldcon held (not surprisingly) in London, England, left the Book Publisher Hugo in place of the Dramatic Presentation Hugo on their nomination ballot. This was possibly done because the Loncon II committee had assumed that the Pacificon II committee had made a formal change to the Hugo categories. It’s also possible that the Loncon II committee felt the Book Publisher category would be of more interest to the largely British membership of the con.

In November 1964 the fiftieth and final issue of Ron Ellik’s newszine, Starspinkle, was mailed out with the Loncon II nomination ballot included. At least one person was not happy to see that…

The following was written by Ron Ellik and appeared in Vair-Iner, a fanzine published by him as part of the going away celebrations being held in honour of the fact that Ellik was about to move to move from LA to Washington). I’ve edited it slightly to remove a few details not relevant to the story but otherwise this is how Ron wrote it:

On the night of the Go Away party, Harlan called me. He had just received the fiftieth, final issue of STARSPINKLE, and he was upset.

“Ron! Harlan! What’s this goddam Hugo nomination ballot I just got? Who sent this out? What happened to the nominating committee? Why didn’t London contact anyone on the study committee? Who do I talk to?” That was about how his part of the conversation went, an all I could do was explain that the London convention committee has decided to ignore the two motions regarding Hugo Award nominations passed at the Oakland business session, and as far as I could tell they were within their legal, if not their apparent, rights. He wanted to complain directly to the London group, and I apologized for not having Ella Parker’s phone no. He assured me he could get it from Information. We said good-bye, and as I came back into the room to tell the assemblage what all that had been, I suddenly realized the time – it was 6:26 pm Sat 7 Nov, Pacific Standard time. By all rights, it should be 3:26 am Sun 8 Nov, Greenwich Mean Time – an hour at which Miss Ella Parker would give Harlan an extremely Mean Time if he woke her.

There are events in the tide of history with which man may not interfere. I sat back into the Brag game, and when I had lost another 17¢, the phone rang.

“Ron! Harlan! I just talked to Ella Parker!”

“At 3:3O am” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, with (I swear it) a touch of quiet apology in his tone, “and I wish I’d thought of that. You know, Ron, she’s an extremely unpleasant woman.” I relayed sections of this to the rest of the group, who were gasping with the exertion of silence amidst their gigantic laughings.

It seems Harlan presented his side of the story, and Ella informed him the London committee had voted on these matters, and elected to continue traditional methods of Hugo nominating– and, further, to drop the drama award., installing the Best Publisher award in its place. Ella, of television sf shows, said, “You know, we don’t see any of those things over here, anyway.” Harlan can be a tremendous mimic, and by this time I, too, was almost vainly attempting to control my laughter.

We are going to do this and that, Harlan had told her, and she informed him she had better things to do than stand around just before dawn and argue this sort of thing. He said something I shall not quote, which he quoted to me, and Ella hung up.

Harlan wanted to publish this outrage in STARSPINKLE, but it is folded; I suggested the Hugo Study Committee (of which he is an appointed member) was the best outlet for him – if he could convince the other two US committeemen to act, they could speak as an official body of some sort of other. He thanked. me, and I went back to tell everyone what they had missed, and then we played cards some more.

When I had lost perhaps half a dollar, Harlan phoned again. He read me a letter. He had talked to two dozen people since his trans-Atlantic call – other Study Committeemen, convention committeemen from past years, etc – and this letter, signed by Harlan, cited these several people as being, each, in at least passive agreement that London should not do this thing. In conclusion, Mr. Ben Jason and the group producing the physical Hugo trophies had agreed with him to withhold the trophies from the London convention.

We eagerly await news of London’s answer.

And there you have it folks, if you want to be a successful squeaky wheel then you need to really apply some of that old-fashioned elbow grease. Ah, I hear you ask, and was Harlan, that tiger of the telephone, a truly successful squeaky wheel? Well, yes. To quote various issue of Ron Bennet’s newszine, Skyrack:

Skyrack #72 (November 1964)

Further to the Hugos there’s a funny story going the rounds at the moment. Following the example of the Pacificon II, the London Worldcon Committee has decided against presenting an award for a dramatic work, such as a film or TV show. It is understood that a certain Committee member recently suffered a three a.m. phone call from an irate writer who stated that he had spent over $300 in publicity for his own dramatic work, who asked how could he possibly win a Hugo for this work if one wasn’t to be presented and who announced that unless this decision was retracted he would not join the convention. I tell you putting on a Worldcon is great fun.

There is incidentally some little discussion going on behind the scenes about the manner of balloting for the Hugo awards and there will possibly be a change in the system employed by future conventions. London is employing the old well-tried system, and had agreed to do so before the storm broke over our heads. Some very sensible comments have been made by both sides in this argument which has happily not degenerated to personalities. Let’s keep it that way.

Skyrack #73 (December 1964)

The last issue ran a story about an author phoning a London WorldCon Committee member in the middle of the night. It is now common knowledge that said author was Harlan Ellison who phoned Ella Parker from New York to complain about the London decision not to award a Hugo for a dramatic presentation. The position has been greatly complicated since then by various fans, Harlan among them, publishing reasons why London should or should not abide by its Committee decision.

Skyrack #79 (May 1965)

The London Worldcon Committee, which originally followed the lead of last year’s Pacificon in dropping the drama award, have bowed before the general feeling prevalent in fandom and have heeded what has been a significant number of write-in nominations regarding this category. The Committee is undoubtedly to be congratulated, not only upon the reversal of its original decision, but upon the admirable manner in which it has conducted itself in the entire matter. Despite obvious provocation from certain sources, the Committee has not responded in kind, resorting to personalities. Well done, London!

However, despite the above Harlan didn’t have it all his own way. Like that 3am phone call it’s also common knowledge that he was trying and win a Hugo for one of the two 1964 episodes of The Outer Limits for which he had provided the script; The Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand. It was not to be though, despite Ron Ellik himself producing two special issues of Starspinkle to promote Ellison’s work. Instead fandom chose to nominate Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and The Seven Faces of Dr Lau. In the end it was Dr. Strangelove that received the the rocket in 1965. Harlan had to wait till the following year for Hugo glory. That was when he won the Short Story Hugo for ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.

I imagine the wait was worth it.

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