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Sunday 26 November 2023

50 Years of Fortean Times

Having got this blog back up and running, my next problem was to think of new things to write about. Since this month sees the 50th anniversary of the first issue of Fortean Times, it seems an obvious place to start.

Actually the magazine only carried the name "Fortean Times" from issue 16 onwards - prior to that, it was simply called The News. When its first issue appeared in November 1973, I was just short of 16 - i.e. old enough to have been interested in it if I'd known about it, but as it happened I was blissfully unaware of it. I believe the magazine's founding editor, Bob Rickard, was a member of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group, which I also joined around that time, so maybe I saw him there without knowing it (though I did get a brief but nice email from Bob many years later, as documented further down this post).

[Just as an aside before I forget - I did have one encounter at the BSFG with someone who, though now forgotten, was a big name in the fortean world at the time. This was Professor John Taylor, who was one of the first mainstream scientists to carry out laboratory experiments on Uri Geller and other people who displayed seemingly ESP-like powers. I attended a talk by him at the BSFG in April 1976.]

In common, I suspect, with many other people, I only really became aware of FT's existence in the early 1990s, after copies started to be distributed more widely to British newsagents. My first few issues (starting with #67 in February 1993, more than 30 years ago) are shown at the top of this post. Notice that the magazine's covers - by the brilliant and inimitable Hunt Emerson - were a lot livelier and more colourful in those days than they are today!

Over the years, I've made enough appearances in Fortean Times to consider myself a "regular contributor" to the magazine. To keep track of them (for myself if no one else), I've put a list of contributions on my website. So far they amount to 18 articles - mainly 1 or 2 page Forum pieces - and 46 book reviews, as well as 12 "letters to the editor", the first of them appearing way back in January 2001. But my personal high point came in June 2019, when FT printed David Clarke's interview with me about my time working in the Ministry of Defence (when I was peripherally involved in their UFO/UAP research). Here it is, complete with a photograph of me talking to a Russian scientist in Red Square (top picture on the right-hand page):

Returning to the subject of FT founder Bob Rickard, he's been mentioned quite a few times in previous posts on this blog, including a couple in the context of comic-book homages. The first (Fortean Agent of SHIELD) actually predates the founding of Fortean Times, coming from issue 12 of Marvel's Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, cover-dated May 1969. That particular issue's creators, Steve Parkhouse and Barry Windsor-Smith, were friends of Bob at the time and named one of the story's characters "Robert Rickard" after him.

The other comic-book connection I wrote about, in The Department of Fortean Events, relates to a 2000 AD story called "Shamballa", featuring the Judge Anderson character. Written by Alan Grant and Arthur Ranson, the story is reprinted in book form in Judge Anderson: The Psi Files volume 02. As I explained in that earlier post, "Doc Rickard" - an obvious homage to FT's founder - is a paranormal researcher at the "Department of Fortean Events" (which doesn't really exist, but ought to).

I mentioned earlier that I once received an email from Bob Rickard, and I'll get onto that now. Back in February 2011, I put a short video clip on YouTube showing a scene from a video game which namechecks FT. It's from a Sam & Max episode called "Night of the Raving Dead", in which Sam, inspecting a complicated-looking piece of equipment, says "I'd bet my lifetime subscription to the Fortean Times that that's an alchemy machine".

I sent the video link to FT editors David Sutton and Paul Sieveking, and one of them must have forwarded it to Bob - because shortly afterwards I received an email from him saying "Great - my kids loved the first Sam & Max adventures". Here's the clip in question:

There's another connection between FT and video games that I'm aware of, which I mentioned on my other blog in May 2017, shortly after this one went into hiatus. It's a cameo appearance by a (sadly fictitious) magazine called Freaky Times, in the game Barrow Hill: The Dark Path by my favourite team of adventure game developers, Matt Clark and Jonathan Boakes. In case the magazine's oddly familiar cover design isn't enough of a giveaway, Jonathan himself once described it as "a little nod to the Fortean Times". Here's his cover mock-up from the game:



Kid said...

Interestingly, I don't recall ever knowing of Fortean Times before you started commenting on my blog, AM, and I've never yet read an actual issue. Incidentally, what were John Taylor's conclusions about Uri Geller's abilities - fake or fact?

Andrew May said...

At the time I saw him he was a strong advocate for the reality of ESP, and wrote a book about it called Superminds. But I think he got more sceptical about it later in his career, due to the inability to produce consistently reproducible lab results. The fact that several of the "talented" youngsters being studied were caught cheating didn't help, either.

Colin Jones said...

I discovered Fortean Times around 2006 I think and I've read it on and off ever since but I haven't bought a copy since February 24th 2022. I stopped buying all my regular magazines (FT, SFX, New Statesman) to save money and I haven't gone back to reading them. Last Christmas I didn't even buy the Radio Times Christmas double-issue so it was my first Christmas without the Xmas RT since about 1974 but the sky didn't fall in and I survived just fine by looking at the TV and radio schedules online instead. I won't be buying the Christmas Radio Times this year either and 2023 is likely to be the first year since before I could even read that I haven't read a physical magazine, comic, book or newspaper.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Colin. Sadly (since a lot of my income these days comes from magazine writing) I have to agree with you that magazines have become an expensive luxury that most people can do without. So it's even more impressive that FT is still going after 50 years, especially given its niche appeal.