Dib Dib Dib – A History

by Stephen Agar

Dib Dib Dib started life as a Sopwith waiting list in Chimaera 64 back in June 1980. Tom had enough players for a gamestart by September and from October onwards Dib was distributed as a players only photocopied game report. These were the first ever games of postal Sopwith ever run. I only have a copy of issue 4 from this period and I doubt I will ever be able to track down issues 1-3 and 5-6 now. However, by issue 7 Tom had enough players for a game of Diplomacy and so he decided to launch his own independent zine in March 1981. From the first independent issue Tom used the trademark yellow cover and foolscap sized paper that would last him until the zine finally folded. As Tom had been active in the hobby since 1976he already had a pretty good idea of what he wanted from his zine, namely a Diplomacy focus, a good-natured lettercol and a feud free atmosphere. The zine did well, attracting not only subscribers from Chimera, but also old hobby stalwarts such as John Piggott and Richard Sharp.

Tom was more of an editor than a writer. Indeed, putting aside editorials and the letter column, Tom only rarely wrote articles for Dib. However, he was an excellent editor and the Dib letter column was probably the best (and longest) letter column of its day (winning the Gladys Award for best letter column three years out of four between in 1983 and 1986). That’s not to say that Tom couldn’t write – I particularly liked his observation that being in a game GM’d by Chris Tringham was “something akin to sawing one’s head off with a blunt frying pan while reading a copy of Tolstoy’s War & Peace.”

Tom wasn’t afraid to discuss real political issues in the zine and his subscribers weren’t afraid to write in with all sorts of extreme opinions. Occasional Tom would let out a clue about his old life (he was an Army bomb disposal diver from 1968 – 1973), but only those who met him in person would discover that Tom was confined to a wheelchair (as the result of a sniper), as he never mentioned it in print. One thing Tom did mention was that he regretted calling the zine Dib Dib Dib (a reference to the cub scout promise) and the only reason he hadn’t changed it is that he would have felt morally obliged to go back to issue number 1 and start again.

Reading the back issues now, sometimes it seems like a different world. It certainly was in computing terms, witness the debate in issue 10 about the relative merits of the Tandy compared to an Atari. Tom bemoaned the fact that Jan wouldn’t let him by a computer. By issue 14 she had relented and he was buying an Apple II. And of course in the early issues there was the usual discussion about whether the hobby was in terminal decline – something it would avoid for almost another 20 years.

Early issues had some fairly serious political debate in the letter column. Tom adopted a centre right position, but in a fairly pleasant tone. His support for the police and capital punishment didn’t go down well with the more liberal wing of the hobby (John Marsden described him as the “hobby arch-right-winger”).

In Issue 11 (July 1981) came the news that Tom was taking over the Central Gamestart Service (CGS) from Richard Hucknall, something he did efficiently until October 1984 when he passed it on to Nick Kinzett. Issue 11 also carried the news that Dib Dib Dib had come 23rd (out of 32) in the 1981 Zine Poll – which was not bad for a new zine which had only put out four issues when the poll was held (the winner was Greatest Hits for the third year in a row).

Issue 21 was a trail-blazer in that it was a word-processed zine, albeit produced on a stencil. Tom had managed to hook up his Apple II to a daisywheel printer that could cut stencils. Although we take word processing for granted now, in July 1982 this was fairly revolutionary. That issue also carried the results on the 1982 Zine Poll (won by Ode) in which Dib Dib Dib came 7th out of 32 zines.

Tom wasn’t a particularly aggressive editor who played the hobby political game – but he could be assertive when he believed something wasn’t being done properly. He had a go at RYODA (the Martin le Fevre / Rip Gooch collective) when he thought they weren’t printing zines efficiently, and he had another go at Pete Calcraft when he felt that the hobby stats weren’t being published. His digs usually resulted in some action in the short term.

Although Tom didn’t mention his Army career very often, a rare insight was offered in issue 30 when Tom commented on the fact that for two years running he had appeared at the Aldershot Army Display Show as a diver playing chess underwater… clearly a committed games player.

Dib Dib Dib slipped back a bit in the 1983 Zine Poll, coming 15th out of 47 zines (the Poll being won by Greatest Hits for the 4th time in 5 years!).

When Tom was sent a copy of the letter Richard Sharp wrote to Martin le Fevre (who printed the then novice package) about Richard starting to run games again for novices, Tom was not keen. His view was that someone who had folded messily and had not repaid subs, should somehow make amends before taking on novice games (Issue 34, November 1983). However, issue 35 brought news that Dolchstoβ was being resurrected and sent to all the old subbers, so Tom relented and gave it all his blessing.

Having members of the old Hard Core subbing to Dib had its advantages. When one subscriber mentioned that he had a vague memory of seeing a game of Diplomacy on TV, John Piggott supplied a short article for Dib Dib Dib 39 (reprinted below) on how he came to be on national TV in 1974. And I particularly liked the article by Richard Sharp in issue 41 on being stabbed by the GM (also reprinted below) – but in the interest of balance I have also printed John Marsden’s riposte from Dib 42.

Like many, Tom was not at all happy with the 1984 Zine Poll (won by Hopscotch), which he called a “farce”. The inclusion of all European zines meant that the number of voters went up to 258, but the use of the average voting method to calculate the results allowed grudge votes to carry a lot of weight. Thus Greatest Hits which had won the previous year was down to 22nd place! Dib came 19th, down 8 places.

March 1985 saw Tom retiring his old Apple II and investing in a Canon A-200 PC, which meant that Tom had to endure a change of Operating System, with all the software changes and data problems that creates – thus issue 47 Tom was forced to produce a games-only issue. Buying a PC for home use as early as 1985 shows what an early-adopter of technology Tom was – I didn’t get my first PC until 1993!

The 1985 Zine Poll saw Dib rise back up to 13th place, the Poll itself being won for the first time by Mad Policy – and thus having finally won the Zine Poll, Richard Walkerdine could afford to turn it over to John Piggott (a very controversial decision as John said his Poll would only include zines running at least two games of Diplomacy).

Dib 52 saw Tom bemoaning that for the third time a subscriber had written to him dropping out of the zine – this time based on something Tom had said in the letter column. This time it was Mike Pollard who hadn’t appreciated Tom’s views that some of the unemployed were benefits scroungers. Another sign of how technology has changed is that in February 1986 Tom was also bemoaning the fact he would have to pay out over £300 for a 1200 Kbps modem – incredible when you think that you can get modems 40 times as fast as that now for about £8. Almost scary.

By Dib 57 (April 1986) Tom had decided that Dib was going to get shorter (no editorial, less letters etc.) as he was going to spend the summer house hunting. Still, I don’t think anything can quite excuse Tom for the lapse of taste displayed on the cover of Dib 60 (even if he did later claim it was both Jan’s idea and tongue in cheek). By issue 61 Tom had reinstated the full letter column due to popular demand, but still no editorial.

The computer theme was continued in issue 62 (September 1986) when John Cavanagh submitted an article entitled “Electronic Mail – a Medium for Diplomacy?” which is interesting to compare to the present time. As far as I am aware Diplomacy was first played online on CompuServe through a publication produced by Russell Sipe called The Armchair Diplomat which started online in February 1983 (and which I can even remember getting in the early 90’s when it was still going).

By issue 63 we had the editorials back as well, Tom had purchased a modem and was signed up to “BT Gold” – Tom noted “…it seems likely that electronic mail will come into its own with the average home and hobby member.”

John Piggott’s refocusing of the Zine Poll on Diplomacy, assisted Dib which managed 10thth place (up from 13th the previous year) despite being thinner over the summer. The 1986 Zine Poll was won by Home of the Brave.

1987 started off by Tom taking the line that the newly formed zine Springboard from Danny Collman, which was a novice only zine taking players who responded to the Diplomacy box flyer, was not a good idea, mainly because he thought it would starve other new zines of newcomers. The debate would rage on for years. Dib 65 also revealed that Tom had started an online game of Diplomacy on the “West London TBBS” bulletin board. A letter from Bob Kendrick revealed that Diplomacy had been played on Micronet / Prestel to weekly deadlines on a bulletin board page organised by Justin Barley “for about 4 years” – though they had the house rule of allowing the move F(NAf)-Spa sc!

In Dib 67 Tom started printing the reports from the online games he was running in order to get them Boardman Numbers and integrate them with the postal hobby. His hope was that some of the online people would join the postal hobby and vice versa. By then the zine had really returned to its pre-issue 57 size, as Tom’s search for a new house with more ground was scaled back. Unusually for a predominantly male hobby, by this stage Dib’s letter column was fairly regularly dominated by women – namely, Michelle Morris, Kath Collman and Madelaine Smith.

By issue 72 Tom had closed all his waiting lists. Issue 73 had an extended deadline to get over Xmas (although Tom re-opened his Diplomacy waiting list with a game to GM’d by Mike Allaway). Also mentioned was the 1987 Zine Poll results (won by War & Peace) with Dib 14th out of 46 zines. Issue 74 had a memorable Tom Tweedy quote that “EMAIL will NEVER supplant the game by post, there’s no fear of that…” But he did have one good point – “the main problem you see is getting steady and reliable email players; mainly because a deterrent against drop-outs in the form of gamefees and suchlike is hard to enforce.”

Tom announced the fold of Dib Dib Dib in issue 75 (February 1988) and the zine seamlessly folded into a re-launched Pyrrhic Victory edited by Mike Allaway. That had been Tom’s plan for a few months, but he was waiting for Mike to be in a position to take over. Tom had produced the zine for over 8 years.

As a postscript, Dib Dib Dib did rise briefly once more. When I was running Spring Offensive, Tom agreed to GM some games of Sopwith for me. I folded SpOff at issue 50 and passed the zine on to Gihan Bandaranaike, whose zine Carpe Diem failed to seize the day by folding after issue 2. So Tom stepped in to run his games of Sopwith himself, in a mini-zine called Dib Dib Dib. Issue 76 came out in May 1997 and things went well until an 8 month gap between issues 78 and 79 as Tom had been in hospital for 5 months. As ever he never even mentioned what had been wrong with him. He started again with Dib 79 in April 1998 and kept going until issue 87 in December when all his existing games had finished. One of the reasons that Tom stopped doing his mini-zine was that more of his time was being taken up by being a webmaster for his other interest (breeding Dalmatians) and the Dip2000 website. But that’s another story.

Reprinted from Strange Meeting 3 (January 2009)