ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Copyright © 1994, 2000
The following appeared in ERB-APA #44, 1994
At some point during the 1990 Louisville Dum Dum, a small group of fans were to be found in one corner of the Galt House hotel lobby discussing their favourite pastime. I cannot recall now who it was that brought up the subject, but each of us began to relate to the others how we made that first contact which led us to the many worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs. If memory serves me right, George McWhorter and Bob Barrett told similar tales how it was an interest passed on from their parents, while several others (names and faces now long forgotten) began theirs from either the movies or the books themselves. Sadly, my experience was not quite so noble...
I am guessing that I was around thirteen or fourteen - about the time when you begin to take notice of girls and playing football (soccer), cricket or whatever, just were not the most important thing in life anymore. I was in a local book store one day looking for something to read when I spotted a book titled 'Lost on Venus' with a picture of a near naked girl on the cover and thought "That's the one for me!" However, as many others have discovered before me, you cannot tell a book from just its cover. But rather than finding tales of beautiful naked women and sex (aaah... the age of innocence!), instead I discovered found that Burroughs was the master storyteller of adventure and escapism.
I was born on May 22nd. 1955, the second eldest of five children (two brothers, two sisters). My father came from the East-end of London, whereas my mother was brought up on a farm in Yorkshire. Shortly after the Second World War ended (VJ Day to be precise) their paths somehow managed to cross and eventually they married and settled down together in Croydon - my birthplace.
It was a great disappointment to my father that he could not serve his country during the war having failed the medical examination for the army who discovered that he had a serious heart condition. Undeterred, he tried for the merchant navy, but again was turned away because of his health. In his youth, my Dad collected the works of Frank Richards who wrote the 'Greyfriars' books and the adventures of Billy Bunter (aaah... if only it had been Greystoke and Billy Byrne!) . I guess it was that same kind of enthusiasm that rubbed off onto me when I began collecting the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
As I recall, there were only three Burroughs books available in my local bookstore: 'Lost on Venus', 'Escape on Venus' and 'Llana of Gathol'. At the time it did not occur to me to check out second-hand stores and I ended up going through a very frustrating period of having nothing new of Burroughs to read. The Tarzan series with Ron Ely was being shown on TV at the time and although I enjoyed it, the fact that Burroughs created Tarzan still had not occurred to me. My parents scoffed at the TV show saying that he was nothing like the "real Tarzan" who they had seen at the cinema years before. They were of course referring to the Johnny Weissmuller films.
The summer of 1972 will always be special for me for it would be last summer I would get to spend with my Dad. During our traditional camping trip, I walked into a nearby book store to once again browse through the science-fiction section not really expecting to find anything when there, shining like a beacon in the night sky, were the complete Mars and Venus series published by New English Library - and they had naked women on the covers as well !
My father's health finally failed him and he passed away just two days before my 18th birthday. I found condolence by escaping reality for a few short hours at a time as I immersed myself into the fantastic worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Several months later, I picked up a magazine in a newsagent for there on the cover was mentioned the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The magazine was titled Science Fiction Monthly and faster than a jackrabbit I had paid for the issue and was rushing home to read its contents. Here was something new in my eagerness to read Burroughs which up until that point I had only ever read his works - now I could read about the man himself! The article was written by a man to whom I shall always owe a great deal for it was he that introduced me to the world of ERB fandom. His name was Frank Westwood. There was an advertisement in the same issue inviting those who enjoyed reading Burroughs, to join the 'British Edgar Rice Burroughs Society' created to "…keep alive the memory and works of ERB."
Despite the fact that Frank lived just a few miles from my parent’s home, it would be four years before we finally met at an exhibition centre where the British ERB Society had a stand. It would be the first of many visits and countless phone calls over the years that also included a trip that we took to Louisville in 1985 for the ECOF gathering along with his wife Doreen and another friend, Ken Hall.
I met Ken sometime around 1982-83 when visiting Frank one evening after work. During the course of conversation it turned out that Ken and I worked fairly close to one another and also amazingly, had frequented the same lunch-time pub years before in Central London (the fact that the pub had topless go-go dancers every day was of course purely coincidental!). We know that on at least one occasion we were at the pub on the same day because of an incident that took place. It so happened that just as the delightful Trixie was about to reveal her ample charms, there was an almighty crash from one side of the room as a table collapsed under the weight of the four guys standing on it straining to see the show! It turned out that Ken was one of the four!
The trip in 1985 was special for a number of reasons not least because it was my first ERB convention but it also gave me the opportunity to at long last put a face to names such as Bill Ross, Mike Conran, George McWhorter, Pete Ogden and of course the grandson of ERB, Danton Burroughs. I met another ERB fan for the second and last time that summer in the guise of John Flint Roy. Our first meeting was at the 1979 World Sci-Fi convention in Brighton, England. I well remember talking to him about his book 'A Guide to Barsoom' and of his theory that Mars and Barsoom are not one and the same but split by different dimensions. He told me that he tried the same formula with Tarzan to account for the time discrepancies but gave up because he had to make up new rules all the time.
Through Frank Westwood, I discovered another ERB fan that lived in my hometown of Croydon. It was of course Frank Shonfeld who first coined the phrase ECOF (Edgar Rice Burroughs Chain of Friendship). I spent many an hour at his home listening to his stories - many of which he also related to Jim Thompson and subsequently appeared in the ERBAPA a few years later.
There was a time when I felt that it was important to travel and explore the world over. Indeed I had plans to tour Africa and the Himalayas but never quite reached there. The reason turned out to be quite simple. In 1990 I had booked two trips, one was to spend four days in Louisville for the Dum-Dum, the other a month touring Venezuela and Peru. While I enjoyed the South America trip (despite suffering from dysentery for ten days), visiting the lost city of the Incas at Machu Piccu and also the desert drawings of Nazca, I discovered that the four days spent in Louisville held something more special. There is of course the added bonus of not needing various innoculations and malaria tablets to keep me alive on what is meant to be my holiday!.
Since then of course I've visited the United States twice a year (my bank balance still asks me how!) seeing a bit more of the country each time. With ERB fans in Oregon and Vermont hosting the two conventions this year, it means that I will get to see just a little bit more....