NMR! (March-May 80)

Edited by Ken Bain and Brian Creese

by Stephen Agar

Ken Bain and Brian Creese’s NMR! was one of the classic zines of the 80’s, quickly establishing itself it the centre of the hobby soon after it’s launch in November 1979. Although not the first zine to be produced on a co-operative basis, I can’t think of any other zine which came before NMR! which made the formula work. One thing which help sustain NMR! in the early days was the fact that it took on all the Pigmy (editor, one Stephen Agar) orphans in issue 3 (January 1980), only for NMR! to fold after 137 issues in July 1992, transferring all its remaining games to Spring Offensive (editor, one Stephen Agar). However, in keeping with my aim in this column to look at hobby history 20, 15 or 10 years ago, the first issue of NMR! I will turn to is issue 5 

NMR! No.5 (March 1980) 

Quite a sizeable issue for a zine which had only been on the go for 4 months, this issue clocked in at 25 pages on 26 sides of paper – for some reason best known to Brian his one-page editorial appeared on page 2 and what would have been page 3. Cock-ups of the sort were always a problem with mimeo duplicators. The main topic of conversation was the fact that the price was going to have to go up to 30p an issue! Wow. Brian had been championing the idea of organising Hobbymeets all over the UK and in issue 5 he reports the inaugural meeting of the Nottingham Hobby meet where the participants all arrived, but failed to recognise each other. In content, the zine itself was quite different from what you would generally expect to see today. Richard Bairstow (later editor of Gazfinc) contributed an article on D&D teleport systems, Ken Bain wrote an article on his experiences at job interviews, while Brian reviewed the film Breaking Away (not to be confused with the cycle game from John Harrington) and the play The Real Inspector Hound (put on by an amateur dramatics group in Guildford and featuring Richard Bairstow in a leading role). The inclusion of broader pieces from outside the limited world of postal Diplomacy was certainly a feature in early NMR!s – many even including one of Brian or Ken’s favourite poems on the back page (can’t imagine many Dip zines doing that today). 

Brian started his zine review column in issue 5 with the following observation. “It is always more pleasant to write good reviews rather than bad, particularly of zines, when you know how much work and love has gone into even the most pathetic product! Accordingly I will shove the grotty zines to the bottom of the pile in the hope that they will improve, and instead concentrate on two very good zines this month.” Maybe that’s a practice I should employ as well. the two zines chosen for review were Chimaera (edited by Clive Booth) and Putty Riffo (edited by Rob Chapman), the former being the renowned champion of a multi-games approach and the zine which popularised postal soccer simulation games, while the latter was admired for the quality of its artwork, presentation and recipes (!). Brian comments that Clive Booth’s antagonistic approach to zine editing (“If anyone tries to sling mud at me, I just stir it up ’til it’s nice and gooey and then hurl it back… much more satisfying”) seemed anachronistic in early 1980, given that his principal targets, Sharp and Piggott, had dropped out of the hobby. Not that Rob Chapman was afraid to pull punches, as he observed “fantasy/SF novels are the dregs of literature…” (and who can really disagree?). 

NMR!s letter column was largely dominated by religion (something which rarely gets a look in today) with the Turin Shroud receiving much support as proof of the resurrection and John Piggott mocking the very thought (of course, as we now know, carbon 14 tests have proved that the shroud is a medieval fake). The other contentious issue in the letter column was nuclear power – something which we were all very worked up about in the early 80’s until people realised that whatever the safety arguments, it wasn’t economic anyway. once you put decommissioning costs into the equation (rather than “nuclear Power No Thanks” more a question of “Nuclear Power Too Expensive”). 

NMR! No.6 (April 1980) 

This issue saw Brian leave his job as a school teacher, even though he had no other job to go to. A brave decision and one which more and more teachers are making these days, thanks to the crummy pay and excess of stress teacher’s face. Anyway, I digress. On the hobby news front Mr Gladgrind (edited by John Miller, home of the Gladys Awards) and Tantalus (edited by Don Brown) both announced folds. Brian reckoned one of the reasons for the number of folds at the time, which was apparently quite high, was cost – NMR! needed £35 of stationery and postage an issue (compared to £250 for an issue of Spring Offensive). he also reports Chris Tringham as claiming that standards were too high – that a zine needed to be too full of chat to succeed and that the hobby needed some games-only type Diplomacy zines to create a balance. On the subject of zines, Brian had a major go at the non-appearance of trades – a predicament which continues to this day. After six issues, they still hadn’t had a single issue back of seven of the zines they were “trading” with. that is the problem with a universal trading policy – trading is something which keeps the hobby alive, but the expensive and regular zines subsidise the rest. 

Non-games material included Brian’s experiences of job interviews, and an article on Magic in D&D by Steve Doubleday (including a letter from Don Turnbull – editor of Albion, the first postal Diplomacy zine in the UK, but then the new Top Man at TSR UK, the distributors of AD&D material). but there’s also the review section to contend with – Midnight Express (“magnificent”) and Taxi Driver.(“a load of old wellies”), The Clash’s London Calling (“simplistic and often naive”) and The Boomtown Rats’s The Fine Art of Surfacing (“disappointed… poor”), Brian Clark’s play Whose Life Is It Anyway? (“superbly crafted”) and Raymond Brigg’s Gentleman Jim (“very, very sad”). Maybe Tringham was right about zines having too much chat in them – these days only Greatest Hits would offer anything like the same sort of coverage on general arts topics. Quickly passing over the “Aunt Ethel” problem page, which was appallingly weak (as spoof problem pages usually are), the letter column continued to be dominated by the sort of subjects Sixth Formers are compelled to discuss at school (nuclear power, Christianity, CND etc.). All a far cry from something like Spring Offensive. 

NMR! No.7 (May 1980) 

Zine just kept on folding or going AWOL. This issue the fold of Down Alien Skies (from Nick Shears) was announced while Steve Plater’s The Orient Express was by then five months overdue. Only the launch of Bats from Michael Heaton was on the positive side, though it can’t be said that Bats ever set the world on fire. Brian reviewed Adrien Baird and Glyn Palmer’s Filibuster at length. It should be said straight away that Filibuster was a truly eccentric zine – it had the tone of a retired Colonel in the 1880’s (lots of “bah!” “Humbug” etc. etc.) while the cast of characters were drawn exclusively from the old Hard Core of postal Diplomacy (such as Sharp, Piggott, Davidson and Tringers). 

The plethora of non-games reading material included a short SF story called Argo by Steve Doubleday and an article on postal D&D from Tom Tweedy – has that died out completely? . There were yet more reviews – the 1979 Booker Prize winner Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (“not that good”), The Pretenders first album (“a good start”). Was Brass in Pocket really 15 years ago? That’s almost half my lifetime ago and it still seems like yesterday. Keith Black commented on the rather cruelly “One characteristic of NMR! is the wealth of interesting reviews… I say interesting rather than well-written or informative deliberately.”). Ouch! 

In the letter column an interesting debate arose between Richard Walkerdine and Brian Creese on the subject of Diplomacy press. Richard liked press “It allows the players to be even more devious than usual by the use of both the attributable and non-attributable game related press releases and it allows players, spectators and the GM to play what is effectively a separate game by indulging their egos with non-game-related press.” Brian disagreed – “Games-related press is often rubbish… 95% of this sort of press can be done away with, saving vast quantities of ink, paper, time and patience of readers who are not in the game. Most good press writers are good writers and could make a far greater contribution to the zine if their contributions were in the articles pages…” Common mythology states that in the early days of the hobby there was a good deal of interesting well-written press, often on a SF or fantasy theme. Having read a lot of early 70’s zines, I would refute that view. In the 70’s players felt more able to write reams and reams of drivel because (a) the Diplomacy hobby grew out of the SF hobby were this sort of amateurish crap was par for the course and (b) thanks to (a) such rubbish was approved of by some and tolerated by the majority. Personally, I don’t mind a bit of press with a game – at least it shows a degree of interest and occasionally it can be quite witty. 

After 15 years it is NMR!s breadth and enthusiasm that still stands out – the zine was a runaway success and although it never won the Zine Poll, it undoubtedly should have done. There is nothing of its like today.

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 33