The Shoestringcon [1]
Polycon 1979 story

40 years ago a bunch of Hatfield PSIFA students decided
to run an SF convention a scant few months after Britain's
third SF Worldcon. Pete Gilligna (the well known
typing error) recounts how initially it all came to pass…

Hatfield PSIFA, Hertfordshire science fiction SF


How does a convention happen?  What deep thought and soul searching goes into the decision to attempt such an undertaking?  Does the word 'committee' conjure visions of hatchet faced, serious men and women peering at charts and lists in an atmosphere of military precision? Are months of detailed and meticulous planning finally brought to perfection with the announcement that a new Con is about to be launched on an unsuspecting world?  The answer to these and other such portentous questions can be summed up in a mere monosyllable, the two-letter suffix 'NO'!

No, no and again definitely not.  Emphatically and unequivocally not.  At least not in the case of POLYCON 79 that's for sure.  Indeed, this convention has been subtitled Shoestring Con partly because our budget's limited but also because our common sense must be on a shoestring too!

The entire fiasco is due to the unbounded enthusiasm of Jon Cowie and the incipient alcoholism of most of the rest of the group.  The story starts a few months ago in a pub on the Hatfield Road in St. Albans.  PSIFA, that's us the Hatfield Poly(technic) crowd, were engaged in deep, serious and momentous discussion with the St. Albans group, STAFFEN for short. The topic at hand was, of course, that old perennial 'Whose round is it?'

As usual numerous diversionary tactic were being employed.  John Watkinson was hiding in the little boys room, adjusting his dress, when Jon Cowie dragged a complete red herring in saying: "Let's have a convention!"

A superb tactic: a true masterstroke.  At least it got him off the hook of being the next round buyer. At the sound of this notion we sat entranced, bemused, rapt in silent wonder.  At least that's what it could have been, on the other hand it could have been just too many pints of Wethereds.  As John Watkinson was still otherwise engaged he was unanimously voted Con officer, or conned officer as he would have it.  On his return, he accepted this signal honour, so gratuitously thrust upon him, in good part.  (I think his watering at the springs of Bacchus may have had something to do with this.)  STAFFEN were ecstatic: wouldn't you be at the prospect of some other poor mugs organising a con in your back garden?

From then Polycon just grew into one of those monsters in 1950's SF films.

"There's no way to stop it now Professor, what do we do?"  "Fankind will once more have to demonstrate his fitness to exist as the most flexible organism on the Earth.  We just have to learn to live with it"

And that's what we all had to do. I got suckered in as secretary, accommodation, porter, gofer and general support.

I can't say no.  My moral fibre has the breaking strain of a Mars bar.  Many others have rallied round with offers of help and encouragement. But special thanks to the following without whom none of this would have been possible or necessary:-

Liz Burak for making the Gronk. Harrow group especially Mike Westhead and Cathy Flint. The staff at 2000AD. And all the backroom people we take for granted: the girls in the Union office, the Poly Reprographics people, Media Services, the Elephant House snack bar staff, the porters, Mark Gander of the Film Soc., Pat Thomas, Paddy Sweeny at the bar, the S.U. Exec. for patience and understanding, the Elephant for his house and ALL those too numerous to mention who gave time, energy, sweat, blood and money to make all this happen.


Pete Gilligan was a Hatfield psychology student and a founder generation member of PSIFA.  The above article was reprinted from the Shoestringcon 1: Polycon '79 convention booklet.


The Shoestringcon 1 – Polycon '79 committee
consisted of:-

                              John Watkinson (Chair)
                              Jonathan Cowie
                              Pete Gilligan
                              Liz Burak
                              Paul Smith


Review of Shoestringcon 1; Polycon '79, from the Hugo-award winning newszine Ansible, is here.



Following Polycon '79 further PSIFA conventions followed, beginning with Polycon 2 chaired by Graham Connor, carrying the torch forward.  The full run of PSIFA Shoestringcons is tabled below.



Guests of Honour


Shoestringcon 1:   Polycon '79

Ken Bulmer (Obituary) & Mat Irvine


Shoestringcon 2:   Polycon 2

Ian Watson & 2000AD staff


Shoestringcon 3:   PSIFAcon

Rob Holdstock (Obituary)


Shoestringcon 4:   Economy

Bob Shaw


Shoestringcon 5:   FTLcon

Iain Nicolson


Shoestringcon 6:   Io Con

Geoff Ryman


Shoestringcon 7:   Knocon:

Pete Milligan


Shoestringcon 8:   Articon

Bryan Talbot


Shoestringcon 9:   Necronicon

Ramsey Campbell


Shoestringcon 10: Decade

Gwyneth Jones & Lorna Mitchell


Shoestringcon 11: STLcon

Ian Banks (Obituary)


Shoestringcon 12: Ghengis Khon



Shoestringcon 13: ????????



Shoestringcon 14: Economy II – The Wrath of Khon

Storm Constantine & Peter Pracownik


At the time (1993) of Shoestringcon 14, PSIFA's Shoestringcons were the longest running UK student SF con put on by a single student SF society.

For those with a penchant for British SF fandom history, the detail behind this claim is as follows.  The Unicon series of student SF conventions began a couple of weeks after Shoestringcon 1 (three or four members of the Keele University Unicon 1 committee attended Polycon '79 and some first generation PSIFAns made friends with some members of Keele SF).  However, after a couple of Keele Unicons, the Unicons then rotated around different university SF groups.  Also, at the time (1993) Imperial College London's Picocons had not been running as long as the Shoestringcons.  However, since the PSFIA Shoestringcons have ceased, the Imperial College Picocons now hold the record for the longest running UK series of student SF cons run by a single student SF group. (Trivia: PSIFA's founder Jonathan Cowie was a GoH at Picocon 2.  PSIFA gets everywhere.)

Shoestringcon entry at the here.


Other PSIFA-related content elsewhere on this site includes:-
          PSIFA Resource Page – Download links to logos, leaflets, etc.
          PSIFA - 30th Anniversary 0.1 (2009)
          PSIFA 30-year Event 0.2 (2009)
          Hypo-Space 10th anniversary edition
          Hatfield PSIFA and Warwick SF re-union (2002)
          Hatfield PSIFA: Who was who? (2019)
          PSIFA member Chris Cooper – Obituary (2008)
          PSIFA member Pete Gilligan – Obituary (2015)
          PSIFA member Graham Connor – Obituary (2019)
          PSIFA member Graham Connor – A tribute (2019)


External link: PSIFA Alumni page.


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