The Origins of the UK Postal Diplomacy Hobby
Stephen Agar: A while back I put together an article on the history of the postal Diplomacy hobby up to the end of the seventies. In doing so I was merely repeating the “official” line on how the hobby came about and developed. However, recently I was reading some early issues of 1901 and all that and in issues 38 and 39 (both November 1974) I unearthed some long forgotten correspondence which casts a new light on how things got started. Make of this what you will. All comments in ((double brackets)) are from “Mick Bullock” the editor of 1901 aat.
Now I have some bad news for all of Diplomacy. Richard Walkerdine is leaving the hobby. I say this with some authority, since, as the more select of our group already know, “Richard Walkerdine” is one of my pseudonyms. I invented him during my first year at Cambridge, at four o’clock one morning after I’d lost some money playing in a rigged game of Brag. Rather to my surprise some people believed in “Walkerdine’s” existence – something I’d hoped to avoid by giving him a patently absurd name. Be that as it may, I found myself forced by circumstances to continue the hoax, which grew steadily more and more complex as time went on. Originally I just wanted “Walkerdine” to produce a few issues of Mad Policy featuring an “in-office” game in order to plug that particular idea. Unfortunately a few people started sending money and asking to be put on waiting lists. Rather than end the hoax before the point had been made, I accepted the money and, in due course, started the games, playing in a Youngstown game myself in order to jolly the hoax along.
DipCons were the next hurdle I had to surmount. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to give “Walkerdine” a bushy black beard and an unmanageable head of hair, so disguising myself wasn’t too much trouble. “Claire” was more trouble, but in return for a small consideration (yes, Meyer, that’s where all the Ethil profits went) Andy dressed in some of his mother’s clothes and put on a few smears of makeup and a blonde wig. He did the voice quite well, don’t you agree? At “Chericon”, which I held in a friend’s flat while he was attending a Festival of Light mission, I had great difficulty in keeping a room separate for “Richard” and “Claire” to sleep in – clearly a snoring “Claire” just wasn’t on – and the quick-change acts which were necessary for me to appear to attend the party as myself also caused much confusion.
You may be interested in knowing why I’m revealing the details of the hoax and thus effectively ending it. Well, the trouble started with Richard Sharp. Doesn’t all trouble in this hobby come from that source? When he started running NGC poker meetings, I naturally went along as “Richard”, since I’d won 14p in this guise at Desscon. In the first session I won about five quid, and “Claire” was able to go into the other room with a Scrabble game or some such. (The cheque book you’ll have read about was actually the Cambridge Board Wargames cheque book.) Unfortunately, at succeeding meetings of the NGC card club the pots have been getting larger and larger, and the last session stung me for a pony, which is far more than I can afford since gambling losses aren’t as easy to reclaim from the Social Security as dental bills are. So, rather than have “Walkerdine” branded as a coward when he doesn’t turn up at any more meetings (and with a name like “Richard Walkerdine” he’s got enough problems, as I’m sure you’ll agree), I’ve decided to reveal the whole sad business. After all, everyone knows I’m a coward already and so there’ll be no loss of face involved.
Another reason I’m stopping the hoax is that Andy is getting more and more truculent, he likes a good game of poker himself, as you’ll know, but clearly he can’t indulge himself when he’s dressed as “Claire”. Also, the risk of discovery is greater now that he’s living with Graham Jeffrey. If they found out he was a transvestite they’d throw him into the street.
So there it is. Yours will be the first zine to feature this news should you decide to print it, so you needn’t worry about being scooped by crudzines like Mad Policy or (to be serious) Hannibal. I can’t say I’ll be sorry at the reduction of workload which the demise of “Walkerdine” will produce – but I will miss that scrawl “Richard” used to put at the bottom of letters…
((Another scoop for 1901…! Of course, when I met “Richard”, you didn’t fool me for an instant, John, with that ridiculous beard and exaggeratedly long hair. But fancy letting Andy kiss you like that…))
THE REAL RICHARD WALKERDINE
So the mincing John Piggott has seen fit to disclose our little subterfuge, eh? A pity, as I was just getting used to my assumed roles. All that he says is perfectly true of course, though there is a wee bit more to it than friend John has actually admitted, but the time for caution is now gone, so what else can I do but tell all?
The story really starts in the Autumn of 1971. I had already known John for more than a year at that time, and it was during one of our numerous FtF games with Hartley Patterson that the three of us conceived the idea of taking over the entire British Diplomacy hobby. At that time, you will recall, there were only two zines in existence: Hartley’s War Bulletin with a small circulation and only a couple of games in it; and Don Turnbull’s Albion/Courier empire, which at that time constituted some 75% of the hobby. Clearly it would be difficult, if not impossible, to stage an all-out assault on the Turnbull edifice, so rather than suffer a catastrophic defeat at the hands of this giant we laid our plans for a much more subtle campaign, plans which were of a very long-term nature indeed!
The basic idea was to induce a large expansion in the hobby, outside the Turnbull empire, while at the same time maintaining absolute control over this expanding section. Then, when our “captive” portion was of a sufficient size, we could gobble up the Albion/Courier segment and be absolute masters of the entire hobby! This sought after expansion was to be obtained by the simple expedient of starting up any number of zines – some in our own names and some under pseudonyms – until, between them, they had a readership (and hence power) far in excess of anything that Turnbull could manage.
The first moves were made the following January; John started two zines, Ethil (in his own name) and Bellicus (using the pseudonym “Will Haven”). At about the same time Hartley launched his second zine XL – for this purpose he adopted the pseudonym “Colin Hemming”. At that time I hadn’t started any zines at all as it was my job to attempt to infiltrate the Turnbull empire and effect what sabotage I could, and clearly, in order to do that, my name had to be “clean”. Everything went well to begin with, and all the zines grew rapidly in size and circulation. Indeed, progress was so spectacular that John even launched a third zine, Der Krieg, using the name “Graham Jeffrey” (he’d been drinking rather heavily at the time and couldn’t think of a better name, unfortunately).
But then came the faint rumblings of the impending disaster! While sipping his Vodka (which, as usual, I’d paid for!) at his usual corner seat in the “Globe” one Thursday night, John casually mentioned that he was going to start yet another zine, Mad Policy – and that he was going to run it in my name! He explained this away by maintaining that a zine, supposedly run by me, would take up so much of “my” time that it wouldn’t allow me time for any other activities at all – and so, of course, any suspicions that Turnbull might have about my clandestine activities within his organisation would appear to be groundless. In short, he was offering me “cover”.
I naturally pretended to agree with him, but the very next day I began my investigations into the suspicions he had aroused. I won’t bore you with the details of my six-week “stake-out” in a hastily-converted attic opposite the Turnbull mansion in Cambridge; nor do I wish to disclose the dreadful events I witnessed in nearby Jesus College. But suffice it to say that within a few short weeks I had assembled all the facts of this strange and dreadful affair. I now knew the truth: John Piggott was Don Turnbull’s illegitimate son! Far from helping Hartley and myself control the whole of British Diplomacy his plan was to use us as mere stepping-stones to his final objective: control of the Turnbull empire! To his warped mind it appeared that his natural father had robbed him of his rightful inheritance by having him born a bastard, and this whole affair was no more than the result of his terrible revenge!
What could I do, alone and friendless against the already considerable power of Piggott? My first act was to disclose the whole sordid business to Hartley. But man-of-the-world though he was the sordid details of double-dealing and intrigue were too much even for his strong stomach; he immediately folded XL (though I continued to run a couple of games for him under the pseudonym “Jeff Oliver”), retired to his house in the country, devoted himself entirely to War Bulletin and took no further part in this affair. I was on my own again.
After several days of solid thought I realised that the only way to fight fire was with fire itself. I went to see Don Turnbull, and told him the whole story. Much to my surprise (for I had a very biased picture of him from Piggott) he proved to be both sympathetic and understanding. Together we devised a plan to thwart Piggott of his evil ambitions, and within a month we were putting it into effect. Obviously I couldn’t act openly against Piggott in my own name or all would be revealed to him, but by that time we were all used to working under assumed names (Don himself had already begun preparations even then for the creation of the fictitious “Mick Bullock”, in order to expand his own empire with another zine – but of course I hardly need tell you that, er Mick, er Don?) and the resulting complexity proved to be no great handicap.
A few weeks later a “Graeme Levin” had launched the British Diplomacy Club – with its games run, naturally, by Don Turnbull. Solely to show which side he was really on, Hartley himself took on one of the early BDC games as well. Soon after this we created “Richard Sharp” to run further games and this was followed by still greater expansion in the names of “Colin Bennett”, “Richard Scott”, “John Coombe”, and “Ken Jones”. Later on we dropped the name “Graeme Levin” (it was a silly name anyway) and concentrated most of the activity under “Richard Sharp”. Later still we added “Les Pimley”, “Craig Nye”, “Adrien Baird”, “Doug Wakefield” and, in recent weeks, “Pete Birks” to the list.
During this time of course Piggott was hardly inactive! Within a couple of months of the founding of the BDC he had hit back at us by starting Grafeti in the name of “Brian Yare”, and this was followed the next year by Our Enry, Bolshevik Star, and Tales from the Black Forest – and others have appeared since. But by this time it was too late; we had now gained the upper hand and Piggott was in decline.
Proof of this last statement can be readily seen in the events of the past six months; the NGC has been reorganised and is now run by a Committee (and no one can fail to notice that the Committee members such as “Scott”, “Bullock”, “Sharp”, “Pimley” etc. were among our first creations); and many of Piggott’s zines are now falling by the wayside – the demise of Ethil was, of course, our greatest victory, but the current doubts about TFTBF, Grafeti, Our Enry, Bolshevik Star etc. also serve to show which way the wind is blowing. In short, the threat of total domination by Piggott now seems to be averted. He’s still there of course, and will no doubt continue to be a thorn in our side, but the main danger now seems to be past.
Some might think it a pity of course that characters such as “Sharp”, “Bullock”, “Pimley”, “Yare”, “Sherrad” etc. are no more than figments of the imaginations of Piggott, Turnbull and myself – but bear in mind that at least 150 NGC members are really Piggott in various guises, and most of the others are really Don or me. Personally I doubt that there are more than about 14 different people in the whole of the British hobby! Sad perhaps, but then the truth was bound to be disclosed one day…
((Don here. Well, it was a good rag while it lasted. but I suppose it’s best that everyone knows the truth – even Richard Sharp’s bald patch was just a pet balloon with a wig on.))