The dawn of the Science Fiction Book Club explored in latest 1950s British Science Fiction videocast

1950s British Science Fiction - Episode 35

Episode 35 of the mini-documentary series 1950s British Science Fiction on YouTube sees author Philip Harbottle continue the story of the early development of the genre in the UK until a publishing slump mid decade, turning attention to the early hardcover publication of works by Arthur C. Clarke, and others, by Sidgwick & Jackson.

As ever, Philip highlights the contribution the book’s cover artists and interior illustrators made to the success of the books, who include the legendary American artist Chelsey Bonestell and Britain’s own self-taught illustrator, Gerard Alphonsus Quinn, from Belfast.

Born in 1927, Quinn’s working life started on building sites in London, but he would always escape to roam the capital’s art galleries and it was through these frequent visits that he studied his chosen craft, and became determined to be an artist.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote Prelude to Space, his first SF novel, in 1947, in only twenty days, but it was not published until 1951, first serialised in the magazine Galaxy Novels. Publication in book form was only in 1953 by Sidgwick & Jackson in the UK, with an eye-catching cover by Gerard Quinn | Photo: Hyraxia Books
Arthur C. Clarke wrote Prelude to Space, his first SF novel, in 1947, in only twenty days, but it was not published until 1951, first serialised in the magazine Galaxy Novels. Publication in book form was only in 1953 by Sidgwick & Jackson in the UK, with an eye-catching cover by Gerard Quinn | Photo: Hyraxia Books

When he returned to Belfast he was determined to be an artist, his drawings and paintings ranging across many subjects – but he had a passion for science fiction. He submitted his work, on spec, to John Carnell, editor of the London-based New Worlds magazine, who was instantly impressed. Gerard soon became a regular contributor to this and other publications, his paintings gracing many front covers.

He also worked in advertising, through to the 1970s, before retiring. He died on 30th November 2015, aged 88.

Philip also covers the arrival of the Science Fiction Book Club in this new videocast, a marketing initiative from Sidgwick & Jackson, its list of lower-priced hardcovers selected by a four person team that included Arthur C. Clarke and New Worlds editor John Carnell. The catalogue included work by a range of authors, including Ray Bradbury, Judith Merril, EC Tubb, Olaf Stapledon, and more.

Two titles published by Sidgwick & Jackson before the publisher temporarily withdrew from SF publishing, including Tiger, Tiger (aka The Stars My Destination) by Alfred Bester, an edition released in June 1956, before the US version, making it highly collectable
Two titles published by Sidgwick & Jackson before the publisher temporarily withdrew from SF publishing, including Tiger, Tiger (aka The Stars My Destination) by Alfred Bester, an edition released in June 1956, before the US version, making it highly collectable

The videocast makes it clear just how vital Sidgwick & Jackson were in promoting Science Fiction as a genre, editor Herbert Jones very much a driving force – not only marketing it directly, but across its non-SF books, too, many beautifully illustrated. There are some twists and turns revealed, and the sudden slump in SF publishing in the UK in the mid-1950s touched on, in what, as ever, is a smashing guide, filmed by Eleanor King.

Philip Harbottle is a life-long science fiction fan, regarded as a world authority on the works of John Russell Fearn, whose credits encompass writing “Garth” for the Daily Mirror, and the “Golden Amazon” for Spaceship Away (adapting Fearn’s stories). 

He’s also very kindly contributed a number of synopses of early “Garth” stories to downthetubes, which we are adding as time permits.

Back in the 1950s, he adapted some of the Radio Luxembourg Dan Dare radio shows into comics at a young age – the only record of some of these tales known to exist, since very few recordings survive.

• Subscribe to 1950s British Science Fiction YouTube Channel here

Books edited or published by Phil Harbottle on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

Chelsey Bonestell – Official Site www.bonestell.org

SF Encyclopaedia – Gerard Alphonsus Quinn

The Irish News, 19th December 2015 – “Falls Road artist was grand old man of sci-fi’s golden age”

Hyraxia Books – Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke – Sidgwick & Jackson, 1953. Hardback first edition and first impression – yours for £100

Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke is available as a reasonably priced Kindle digital edition here (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

The Bodleian Libray, Oxford, holds the archive of Sidgwick & Jackson, a collection of contains material from the establishment of the firm to the mid-1960s

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.



Categories: Art and Illustration, Books, downthetubes News, Other Worlds, Science Fiction

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