1. London by light

British Library, 19 May 2011

The British Library opening of OUT OF THIS WORLD: Science Fiction but Not As You Know It, Thursday, 19 May 2011.

John Clute and I went to the launch party, and entering at the same time were Penny and Charles Chilton. I know them because they are the parents of Mary Tucker our boss at London Walks, and I had been to visit the Chiltons a few years earlier. Charles signed our three first edition books (Journey into Space, The Red Planet, The World in Peril).

Here in 2011 it was a heartwarming sight to see them at the British Library launch party, both looking so well and beautifully turned out in outfits of black and white. Penny is 90 and Charles almost 94.

I don’t think many people in the field had ever met Charles Chilton, and very soon a buzz started to circulate throughout the crowd: “Remember listening to A JOURNEY INTO SPACE when you were a child? Well, there’s Charles Chilton, the author.” And Penny and Charles were soon meeting and talking with all sorts of fans.


One of the first was Chris Fowler. He spoke about being a small lad and listening with wonder to the first broadcasts in 1953, so I snapped a photo of this moment (with available light) and in the background is John Clute pointing. He is standing with Brian Aldiss and Alison Soskice, who had both listened to the broadcasts when they first came out.

Janet Benoy, a member of the British Library team responsible for creating this excellent exhibition, took Penny and Charles in hand and helped with special lifts to get them downstairs to the exhibition. Here she is photographed first with Penny and Charles Chilton, and then with John Clute. That last photograph is out of focus for which apologies, but the small figure between Clute and Janet Benoy is Mike Ashley, who did the excellent book to accompany the exhibition: Out of This World.

Only the official photographer was allowed to take photographs in the actual exhibition downstairs and he hadn’t been told about Charles Chilton, so I suggested that he should photograph Penny and Charles at the display of Charles’s work. The books that John had lent were handsomely set out there, along with, most importantly, the manuscript Charles Chilton himself had given for the radio production open at the first page. I’m glad this moment was not lost to posterity.

Just before they left, Roger Robinson, publisher of Beccon Press, said to Charles Chilton that a lot of people in the sf community had had their lives changed by listening to his A JOURNEY INTO SPACE. Judging from various other comments throughout the evening this seems to be the held view.