Croutch the Forgotten, or: The Imperfect Lord of 1940s Canadian Fandom.

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RG Cameron Sep 5 illo #1'Naneck Cover'
Leslie A. Croutch was born in White River, Ontario, on April 25, 1915. The family moved several times, before finally settling in Parry Sound on the Eastern shore of Lake Ontario in 1929. He lived the rest of his life in his parent’s house, address: 41 Waubeek street, until dying in a very Canadian manner on January 2nd, 1969, suffering a heart attack while shoveling snow. He never went beyond grade 10. Self-employed all his life, he ran ‘Croutch Radio Service’ out of his bedroom for many years, then had a workshop built on to his home, and with the advent of television, operated ‘Croutch Radio & Television service’.

In his life he printed at least 175 fanzines under the titles LET’S SWAP, CROUTCH NEWS, CROUTCH MAGAZINE MART NEWS, LIGHT, THE VOICE & ELECTRON. In 1944 and again in 1946 he was elected to the board of the National Fantasy Fan Federation, being considered its Canadian representative, and also served as corresponding secretary for the Northern Fantasy Fan Federation for its short-lived four year existence (1948 to 1951). He was a member of FAPA (the Fantasy Amateur Press Association) from 1943 to 1963.

Croutch was quite consciously an advocate of Canadian zinedom, as witness the following written in 1942: “Is there a true Canadian fandom? …Personally I believe in its existence sincerely. Let’s see where LIGHT goes: 17 to Canadians, 5 to English fans, and the rest (28 or more) to Americans… The small group of Canadians it goes to are fairly active in contributing to it… 9 of them. Available talent that I know of in Canada covers all fields. John H. Mason in Toronto is an able writer, both pro and fan, fictional and article. Fred Hurter can do articles, fiction, verse, and also some art. Gordon L. Peck and sister Shirley Peck (of Vancouver) are both writers and able artists. Nils H. Frome (of B.C.) is a fictionist and a very able artist…Fandom is really alive in Canada! We may not shout from the housetops – we may not throw out our chests and make a big noise – but we are growing in number and in power and are rapidly developing a unique character all our own.”

RG Cameron Sep 5 illo #2 'Croutch'

Further commenting in 1949: “What has publishing a fanzine meant to me? It has meant pleasure – a hobby that has kept me occupied – a hobby that I have shared with friends, and I have found that that kind of hobby gives me the greatest joy… In its small way, it has carved out for me a niche among people that like the same things I do… But the greatest pleasure has been the knowledge that its voice has been the loudest and most insistent Canadian one in America and world fandom. CANADIAN FANDOM and CENSORED have shouted loudly too, but LIGHT does it the most often….”

It is his per/genzine LIGHT for which he is best remembered. Harry Warner Jr. wrote in #11 of FOCAL POINT in 1970: “I keep thinking about Les Croutch… If Les still exists somewhere and hasn’t altered his outlook on life and fandom, I’m sure he’ll understand my good intention when I say that LIGHT was the best of all possible crudzines. If you looked for impeccable mimeography, polished writing, the best available art, and a consistent format, you would have a long hunt through all those scores of issues, with little success in your quest. But LIGHT was as comfortable as a pair of old shoes, nobody ever got angry at anybody else in its pages, and after all these years it still seems to be alive as the ink and paper incarnation of a good guy’s personality… I wish someone still produced something as scruffy and unassuming and genial as LIGHT.”

And in NEW CANADIAN FANDOM #6 (Jan 1983), Harry wrote: “Les was one of my favorite fans of all time…. I’m quite aware that Les wasn’t the kind of writer who took enough time to make his fanzine contributions as entertaining today as they were when first published, but there’s a vitality to everything he wrote, an enthusiasm and joie de vivre that makes them better than the more polished output of the famous fans of the period who wrote dearly dull stuff.”

REVIEW OF LIGHT#49 (Jan 1952)

RG Cameron Sep 5 illo #3 'Cover #49''

The cover of LIGHT #122 (1942) represents the best ‘face’ that LIGHT was capable of presenting to fandom at large. The cover of #49 represents the worst LIGHT had to offer, being rather crude. Sadly, it is by Croutch himself, and I gather it is rather typical of his work.

But apart from artistic merit (or lack of it), you needn’t rush to judge in terms of considering it immature or puerile. You have to remember the times. It was considered ‘daring’ to even mention sex, and the two words most often associated with public commentary on sex were ‘dirty’ and ‘smutty’. In the 1950s, for instance, the RCMP were empowered to enter people’s homes and examine personal libraries. James Joyce’s ULYSSES and any book by Henry Miller would automatically be seized, being illegal in Canada, along with many other works now recognized as genuine literature.

Tweaking the sensibilities of the censorious-minded appealed greatly to Croutch. Using the pseudonym THE PROFESSOR he took on the visage of a virulently virtuous and putatively puritanical writer who frequently wrote to Ackerman’s VOICE OF THE IMAGI-NATION (VOM for short) in a relentless assault on the nude VOMAIDENS appearing on the covers, and also in opposition to the more liberal views expressed by other contributors, circa early 1940s, till he was ‘outed’ as “the lusty Les Croutch, the Canadian sexperimenter in stf”. There is no doubt he took great delight in parodying his critics under the guise of ‘The Professor’.

Getting back to the questionable ‘artistic merit’ of the majority of LIGHT’s illustrated covers, Harry Warner Jr. had this to say: “Les kept getting into trouble with a few fans over his artistic productivity. His own sketches ran heavily to Chic Sales as subject matter, usually with some kind of punch line involving science fiction or fandom. When he published the work of other artists, he had a bad habit of putting extremely ugly nudes on his front cover. Some of them had ninety-degree angles at spots where a normal body should be either straight or gently curved, leading to the general impression that only girls with steel plates in their bodies would pose for LIGHT’s artists. Breasts usually looked like an extra pair of lungs…”

Anyway, after the cover, issue #49 has a colophon reading: “LIGHT – published every so often by Leslie A. Croutch, Box 181, Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada, for the Fantasy Amateur Press Association and a motley crowd of hangers-on, all of whom get the magazine gratis. No payment beyond a free copy in which material appears, but as everybody gets his/her copy free who gives a damn? The editor is abetted now and then by the able help of the disabled Robert W. Gibson, Samuel Welcome-to-my-house McCoy and ex-sergeant Norman Vee Lamb.”

RG Cameron Sep 5 illo #4 'Proposition''

The next page is headed by an illustration drawn by Croutch himself to introduce his story THE PROPOSITIONER, about a man propositioned off the street by a pimp. When the main character meets the girl: “I expects this babe to start the long blather but she’s quiet as the proverbial grave. Maybe she’s dumb, I think, and am happy, as I don’t like my women yak yakking all the time.” Undressed, the woman turns out to be three-legged, and the man flees, convinced he was about to be entrapped by an alien. The character’s final comment: “I feel sorry for the girl.” Presumably he wouldn’t have if she had turned out to be an ordinary prostitute. The SF element is very weak, and is swamped by the pseudo-hardcore detective fiction style ala Micky Spillane, but nevertheless remains an interesting attempt to combine the two genres.

Typical Croutch pun: “‘Well, bless my soul,’ said the ram, as he plunged over the cliff, ‘I didn’t see that ewe turn.'”

The longest article is ‘Light Flashes’ by Croutch, on the subject of record players, or more particularly, the different types of playing needles. He reveals that cactus needles “never were any good” and damaged the grooves, especially after sharpening, and that taking out a steel needle and putting it back in is a bad idea, for one or two plays will have ground the end of the tip into a chisel shape and “you are sure to get it turned so the chisel tip becomes a chisel in fact and it will cut into the record groove and ruin the record.”

The best current solution? Use a light pressure pickup “with a precious metal needle, or a sapphire needle, or a diamond tip, and you will find that even after many thousands of plays there is no apparent wear either with the needle or with the record.”

An insight into obsolete technology. However, some of his comments ( he is a radio/TV repairman after all ) are totally meaningless to someone as ignorant as I: “And this stuff about push pull triode outputs – push pull pentodes, beam power tubes, with proper negative feedback, can give you the same curve within reason.” ( ? ) Haven’t got a clue.

I like his comment on contemporary televisions: “A leading company states that their TV receiver contains 14,370 feet of wire, 799 individual parts, 756 soldered joints, and requires 7,458 assembly operations. No wonder a TV set costs upwards of $500!” A lot of money in 1952!

And most interesting of all, close to my heart as a faned, is his commentary on the SPEED-O-PRINT he owns, though it is not clear to me whether this is the brand name of his mimeograph itself or simply the title of its paper feed mechanism. He has a lot to say about the latter device:

For a long time I never used the automatic feed on my machine, but the last LIGHT was run off using the feed. At the time I was very enthusiastic over the results as LIGHT was run off in about half the time due to not pre-counting the paper – just putting a stack in and then counting the sheets as they come through But in the last few weeks I have been reconsidering and now I am wondering if this advantage is worth the disadvantages.”

For one thing, using the automatic feed increases the paper wastage quite a bit. Using hand feed you can put a hundred sheets through and get 100 sheets that are usable. Using the feed you have to put at least an extra 10 sheets through and even then you can’t be 100% sure of getting 100 perfect ones. Using hand feed you CAN get registration that is a good 90% better than when using the feed.”

Another thing, it is easier to adjust your speed so that you can get better copies by going slower near the end of your run than when using the feed, where you seem to run faster, and where the feed arm acts as a drag that has to be overcome, resulting in a certain amount of jerkiness if the speed is lower than a certain minimum.”

I have not yet decided whether this issue will be run off ‘by hand’ or ‘by feed’.”

RG Cameron Sep 5 illo #5 'Years of Light'All in all a varied issue offering insight into his numerous interests both professional and fannish.

 

(Note: in 1982 Hounslow Press of Toronto published a book on the life of Croutch by John Robert Colombo, titled “YEARS OF LIGHT: A CELEBRATION OF LESLIE A. CROUTCH: A COMPILATION AND A COMMENTARY.” Now out of print, it’s well worth getting a hold of if you can. It not only puts together a compelling story of Croutch’s life, interests and achievements, it’s a great survey of Canadian Fandom in the 1940s.)

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