Walt Willis - God's Gift to Fandom


by John Berry


I have been asked by Mr. Fields to say a few words about a subject on which I am an authority -- Walter Alexander Willis.

It has been my good fortune to have been in almost daily contact with this fannish paragon for the past number of years. I realise, of course, my good fortune in having this continuous contact with him, and I have often been told by other fen that for this reason they are terribly envious of me. Some of the biggest BNF's in the business pay frequent pilgrimages to his abode at 170 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, and although Walt has tried to contain this persistant hero worship, fans like the Bulmers and Leeh and Larry Shaw and Chuck Harris ignore these subtle reproaches, and, treading carefully over the big pot-holes and high waving grass on the path, visit him again and again.

For myself, I must admit without qualification that Walt Willis has been a great help to me throughout my fannish career. Several years ago, when I was a dewy-eyed neo-fan, attempting to formulate my own science fiction library, Walt went out of his way to assist me. Not only did he personally sell me his complete stack of Vargo Statten and Other Worlds, he even lent me his wheelbarrow to carry them home. I might add that Walt is sometimes falsely labelled as being a vile huckster. I wish to take this opportunity to refute those malicious accusations once and for all. The prozine kiosk in his front garden is surely a sensible way of getting rid of his surplus British Editions with the minimum of fuss and bother. I should hate people to get the impression that when they visit Oblique House they are almost physically assaulted at the front door by a Shylock type Willis, rattling a tin of halfpennies, and forcing his spare IF's and Galaxy's on them. Oh no. Subtlety, as always, is the watchword at 170. As you enter those hallowed portals, Walt will merely politely indicate a small wooden box on which the legend 'PLEASE TAKE ONE' is stencilled in three-inch letters. These brochures will prove of interest to every s-f collector. And if you forget to take one in the hallway, don't worry ... you'll find another box in the toilet.

In my many factual articles about Walt Willis, I have striven to represent him as I myself see him. His untidy hair, waving above a noble and intellectual brow, a brow creased only by the worries of the latest £/$ conversion rates ... his flamboyant dress, the hall-mark of his fannish status, dashingly original in its blatant duplicating ink stains .... his dual purpose trousers, cunningly tailored to incorporate his position as a high official in the Northern Ireland Government, and when turned inside out, becoming the ultimate in ghoodminton wear .... his many and varied capabilities, as for example, a skilled motorist. It is perhaps not widely known that his present prowess as a driver is a classic example of Walt's persistance .... his unflagging efforts to reach perfection. The trail of mutilated gear boxes strewn behind him being a mute testimony to his unrelenting perseverance. It is common knowledge to those in the motoring trade that the automatic gear change was developed principally to bring down the overheads on car dealers in the Belfast area, it being referred to somewhat jestingly as 'Willis-proof'.

Walt Willis is also a self-professed cookery expert. At first, when he produced such classics as his home-made ginger cake, we visitors took it as a subtle hint that he didn't want us to go there anymore. George Charters strongly resented his slice of cake, pointing meaningly to his solitary tooth, his 'pickle-puncher', and saying he wasn't going to sacrifice it to boost Walt's ego. I was able to smuggle my slice out, and it now performs a useful function in my house as a door wedge.

Walt's ready wit, his superb analytical mind, is always at our disposal. He has titled many of my stories with the genius for which he is rightly famed. His RUST IN PEACE, THIS GOON FOR HIRE, ROBIN HOODLUMS and SHILL-SHOCK being brilliant examples which spring to mind. Just yesterday, for instance, I was in a dilemma. A week previously, I had written a story about the members of Irish Fandom growing beards, and I couldn't think of a title. I telephoned Walt, and within thirty seconds, he gave me the perfect title, THE NON-SHAVER MYSTERY. Pure genius.

My friend Walt Willis is good, kind, patient and forgiving. Knowing him has been an inspiration to my efforts. He has nurtured my limited talents, given me every assistance, even selling me a mechanically perfect Gestetner duplicator for £3 (about $9) when he could have sold it for much more commercially.

A volume of the works of Walter Willis is a noble venture, and I feel proud to have been asked to write an introduction for it.

-- John Berry, 1957

Data entry by Judy Bemis