Ken Slater 1917-2008

Sad news this morning, as reported on the BSFA website. Ken Slater, who was closely involved in the founding of the BSFA, has died at the age of 90. I’m going to repost the website’s notice in full:

In 1947 Ken founded Operation Fantast, ‘a very loosely organised group of fans who all wanted to “do their own thing” in various ways, and found that OF offered a sort of umbrella or shield which enabled them to do these things.’ By 1950 membership had reached 800 people worldwide. In 1948 he used OF to help spread the word about the Whitcon, the first post-war British SF convention and now generally regarded as the first of the Eastercon series. Military service was to keep him away from the convention itself, although he sent along money to buy a round of drinks for everybody attending.

His fannish achievements and contributions were recognised in the UK and internationally with the Doc Weir Award in 1966 and the Big Heart Award in 1995. He was a guest of honour at the 1959 Eastercon and also, with his late wife Joyce, at the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton. At the first Hugo Award ceremony in Philadelphia in 1953, Forrest J Ackerman won the trophy for #1 Fan Personality, but Forrie said at the time that the award should have gone to Ken.

Throughout the decades, though, Ken was known to thousands of SF readers and fans as a man who sold and traded science fiction books and magazines, and along the way he was to lead many hundreds of people to science fiction fandom. His energy and enthusiasm never abated: last year he attended a convention in Poland and was still running a sales table at Novacon, although in the last two or three years he had reluctantly conceded that he needed a bit of help with carrying boxes.

His influence on British science fiction fandom is incalculable and he will be missed by many, many people within the science fiction community. The BSFA sends its condolences to Ken’s family.

I never met Ken, though I was looking forward to doing so — he was scheduled to be the guest at the London Meeting this April. We did correspond briefly, though, when I was putting together Vector 250 and soliciting contributions from earlier editors. He was charming, and helpfully put me in contact with several other people I needed to get in contact with. So it seemed appropriate to reprint his recollections here today.

“A lifetime ago? Perhaps not quite, but it was around 1948 I started thinking that Britain should have a national science-fantasy society. The account of my rather off-hand editing of one issue, and joint editing (with Doreen Rogers) of, I think, two other issues of Vector has been worn thread-bare in the telling, so this time I am using my mental time machine to retrace some of those events. Actually, you will find a lot about those events on the web, if you look, but for the record that is mostly recounted by other people. We don’t all look at things from the same angle, do we?

“I never used to distinguish between British and American science fiction, or even the author until I had finished the book or the story; so far as possible this removed ‘expectation’ from the equation. As writers such as Ian Watson, James White, E.C. ‘Ted’ Tubb and others started writing tales the differences twixt the American and British styles decreased, anyway. But in terms of fandom at that time, in the States there was the N3F (National Fantasy Fan Federation) and in Britain there were only a few small regional or ‘town’ groups — mostly very small — except for the folk in London. Basically, London’s fans had no need for organisation; anyone who cared could attend a meeting every week, and so could anyone from out of London who happened to be visiting. Easy and anarchistic – but not really helpful if anyone had a ‘project’ in mind. I had spent a fair amount of time bombarding British fandom with letters, one-shot fanzines, and even physical visits when I was in England on leave. Finally I talked Vince Clarke, Owen Plumridge and some others into forming the society that was called ‘the British Fantasy Society’ — really original! — which survived a couple of years, and was outlived by the fanzine originally published in its name. At this point I more or less gave up. I had left the army, and was struggling to convert parts of ‘Operation Fantast’ into ‘Fantast (Medway) Limited’.

“This was the time of the Cytricons in Kettering, and at the fourth one of those, in 1958, my dream came true. The formation of the BSFA took place. Unfortunately, I was not there. I can no longer recall why — maybe I was ill, or my wife was. But the first I knew about was a letter from (if I remember correctly Ted Tubb) telling me of the formation, and informing me I had been made founding member number six, in view of my past efforts. Note, therefore, that I did not join the BSFA. I was conscripted!

“I must admit that I did not take a very active part in the proceedings; I contributed an item to Vector as requested which was a sort of catch-all column titled ‘General Chuntering’, and would help out with other things if/when asked. But things seemed to continue on a reasonably smooth course — the odd stagger occurred, but there were always enough of us helpful folk around to grab hold of the organisation by the collar and put it back on its feet.

“A very good Vector was being produced, and there seemed to be a reasonable number of people joining the BSFA. But then at the AGM at Yarcon it was revealed that the financial position was far from good; there was a fair possibility that the Association was bankrupt, although the accounts were unclear. What was clear was that the cost of the publications was taking too much of the income, and although there were new people joining, they were not renewing memberships when they expired. So everything was put on hold, and people were appointed to consider how bad the position was, and what should be done.

“Well, most of you probably know the following action. The BSFA became ‘BSFA Ltd.’ so that officers had a legal responsibility, we produced some duplicated (and self-typed) Vectors as a stop gap and information line, and then I resigned — not for any particular reason, except that I felt I had done enough — and was made Life member Number Four. Go onto the web and dig if you wish to know more — it is all there; and much more as well! There is an industrious group of fans from the 60s or thereabouts who are industriously putting all things fannish into electronic format. Even all the book reviews I wrote for Nebula Science Fiction, and the issues of Ron Bennett’s excellent Skyrack fanzine. If anything, I guess the Skyrack issues contain more “historical” fannish data than anything else I can think of, and I was pleased to learn that they were widely available before Ron’s regrettable death. Perhaps increasing records of that sort is something the BSFA might care to engage in.”


6 thoughts on “Ken Slater 1917-2008

  1. The April BSFA London meeting, when Ken was scheduled to be the guest, will now be a commemoration of Ken. I’ll be working on the exact details of that over the next few days, and will announce them when I know what they are.

  2. I’ve known Ken since the 60’s and he did much to help me find the SF I wanted. I used to work in his shop on Saturdays and my daughter helped him on his market stall.
    His last event was his 90th birthday party and I’m delighted to say that it was a splendid day and well attended, with people travelling great distances to be there. Ken was in fine form and had a really enjoyable day, as did we all.
    We’ll miss him, but we’ll never forget him.

  3. Two things that I recall about ken, one os that despiet logic telling me it must be true, I was surprised to hear how old he was, he seemed to be permanently about 65. And the other is that unlike most of us at one time or another he never seemed to lose his genuine enthusiasm and warmth for Sf and Fandom alike. Its sad to lose him but his legacy is vast and vital. Thank you Ken, RIP.

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