|Born||1945 (age 68–69)
Charles Fort Institute,
Robert "Bob" J M Rickard is the founder and editor of the UK magazine Fortean Times: The Journal of Strange Phenomena, which debuted in 1973 under its original title The News. The magazine's express purpose is to continue the documentary work of Charles Fort on the strange, anomalous and unexplained. In addition to his editorial role, Rickard has written several books and hundreds of articles on a wide range of Fortean topics. In 1981, he was a founding member of ASSAP and is also the founder of the Charles Fort Institute.
Robert J M Rickard was born in "an R&R station for shell-shocked [WW2] British Army soldiers" in Deolali, India in 1945. (Rickard notes that "Deolali" is the origin of the term "doolally", "which probably accounts for many of his eccentricities"!)
Discovering the books of Charles Fort, in large part through the science-fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction ("editor John W. Campbell would encourage his writers - such as Robert A. Heinlein, Charles Harness, Theodore Sturgeon, etc - to expand on Fort's themes") and Galaxy, in which "naturalist Willy Ley wrote such inspiring essays on what we now call cryptozoology." Thus attracted, when he attended an SF convention in Worcester in the early 1970s and obtained "all four of the Ace paperback editions," he writes that he "miss[ed] the rest of the Con" to read them. Rickard describes Fort as:
- "an American philosopher and iconoclast who spent 24 years of his life in the bowels of the British Museum Library as it was at that time, in London, and the New York public library in New York, and he collected something like 40 or 50,000 scraps of paper with data on them as he called it, and these were stories that seemed to embarrass the science of the day."
In 1973, after encouragement from "Paul Willis (of INFO), Paul Screeton (of Ley Hunter) and Steve Moore (I Ching specialist)," he founded The News (later renamed Fortean Times) to continue the work of Fort in documenting the strange and unexplained.
In 1981, he helped found ASSAP, and in 1998, the Charles Fort Institute, before relinquishing his 28-year role as editor of FT in 2002 for semi-retirement, in order to "devote more time to enriching the 'apparatus' of forteana by working on projects like the CFI, the legendary Encyclopedia Forteana, and his own digital picture library (Signs-and-Wonders)".
Founding of the Fortean Times
Rickard writes that he was first made aware of the works of Charles Fort, skeptic and researcher into anomalous phenomena through second-hand references, most notably through his (Rickard's) reading of various science-fiction stories:
- "John Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction (as Analog was then titled), for example," writes Rickard "encouraged many authors to expand Ford's data and comments into imaginative stories."
In the mid-1960s, Rickard studied Product Design at Birmingham Art College where he met several like-minded science-fiction fans. Rickard credits fellow-student Peter Weston's fan-produced Speculation 'zine for helping him to "[learn] the art of putting together a fanzine," some years before he created his own.
In 1969, Rickard read an advert in the underground magazine Oz for the "International Fortean Organisation" (INFO), an American group "founded in 1966... by Paul and Ronald Willis," who had acquired material from the original Fortean Society (started in 1932, but in limbo since the 1959 death of its founder Tiffany Thayer). Corresponding with the Willis Brothers (Paul was a particularly avid letter-writer) and sending them British newspaper clipping, Rickard was instrumental in encouraging the Willises to publish their own Fortean journal - and the "INFO Journal: Science and the Unknown" began intermittent publication in Spring, 1967. Rickard writes that he was slightly disappointed not to see (m)any of his clippings used in the journal, later discovering that the production was fraught behind-the-scenes as Ronald Willis had been seriously ill, Paul thus finding it difficult to "keep up with things." Accordingly, the Willises helped inspire Rickard to create his own periodical, and, bearing a date of November 1973, the first issue of Rickard's self-produced and self-published The News was available directly from him. Ron Willis succumbed to a brain tumour in March 1975.
The News (1973–76)
The magazine which was to become The Fortean Times thus began life as Rickard's self-published bi-monthly mail-order miscellany The News. The title is said to be "a contraction taken from Samuel Butler's The News from Nowhere", (although Rickard may be conflating/confusing Butler's Erewhon and William Morris' "News from Nowhere"). The News saw mostly regular bi-monthly publication for 15 issues between November 1973 and April 1976. Rickard met kindred spirit Steve Moore at a comics convention when the latter was a sub-editor at IPC, and found the two had much in common - including a love of Chinese mysticism. Moore and "Paul Screeton (then editor of The Ley Hunter), both urged on the first few uncertain issues" of Rickard's publication, with Moore in particular frequently joining Rickard to help "stuff envelopes and hand-write a few hundred addresses" to disseminate the early issues. These early issues featured some articles by different individuals, but were "largely the work of Bob Rickard, who typed them himself with some help from Steve Moore."
Amongst the key early Fortean Times advocates and supporters, Rickard cites Ion Will, a "constant [source] of valuable clippings, books, postcards and entertaining letters"; Janet and Colin Bord, authors of Mysterious Britain (among other titles and articles - an article by Colin in Gandalf's Garden is particularly cited by Rickard as being overtly Fortean) and cartoonist Hunt Emerson, introduced to Rickard when in late 1974 (after seven issues) he "wanted to improve the graphics", which Emerson certainly did (Indeed, Emerson's still-on-going monthly "Phenomenomix" strip in FT had its prototype in #11's three-page "Fortean Funnies").
Fortean Times (1976–present)
After fifteen issues of The News, #16 (1976) saw the magazine renamed Fortean Times, which "new title emerged from correspondence between Bob Rickard and Paul Willis" - the two having talked of creating a Fortean version of The Times newspaper, "full of weird and wonderful news and read by millions worldwide". Fortean Times issues #16-18 (as The News #1-15 before them) were solely edited, published (and in large part written & typed) by Rickard himself, but with #19, Steve Moore was credited as assistant editor for issues #19-21. Moore then became co-contributing editor (with Phil Ledger, Stan Nichols and Paul J Willis) on issues #22-26, before being promoted above them to associate editor with #27. He was joined by contributing editor David Fideler, and subsequently (also as co-associate editor) by Paul Sieveking (#28-) and Valerie Thomas (#31-32). In 1982, Rickard, Moore and Sieveking were joined editorially by author Mike Dash (who particularly oversaw the publication of scholarly occasional papers)
Another early contributor was writer and researcher Nigel Watson, who wrote a regular column titled Enigma Variations for several editions, before contributing major articles on the subject of UFO-related murders and stories of sexual assault by aliens.
In 1978, mutual friend Ion Will introduced Rickard to Paul Sieveking, who recalls that "the Forteans used to meet every Tuesday afternoon above the science-fiction bookshop Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed in Soho", a shop run by Derek Stokes, to open post and interact. (Indeed, this was the semi-official address of FT until that shop closed. With #35, Summer '81 the address was changed.) Sieveking joined the FT team with #28 as co-associate editor, and writes, highlighting the intrinsic early difficulties in printing FT that that issue "was printed by an Israeli entrepreneur in northern Greece and shipped to London," before #29 was printed fully typeset in A4 (thanks to Dick Gywnn) and even distributed on a limited basis through WH Smiths.
Sieveking took over full editorial duties from Rickard with #43, helming the subsequent four quarterly issues (to #46) to give Rickard a chance to "revitalize", which he did, returning with #46 to the position of co-editor. Moore, Dash and Ian Simmons (and others) variously edited the magazine for the next 18+ years, and although main editorship passed to David Sutton in 2002, Rickard still regularly contributes to FT, despite being "semi-retired from [the magazine]."
During the 30 years of its publication, Fortean Times has changed both format and publishers on a couple of occasions. Early issues (particularly of The News) were produced on a typewriter in black & white (for ease of photocopying). Colour, professional printing (and wider distribution) followed and a 6.5 x 4.5 in size held sway for several years before the magazine settled into its "normal" A4 (magazine) size in the late 1980s. Changes of logo and a glossy covers followed.
- Phenomena: A Book of Wonders (with John Michell) (Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1977; hardback ISBN 0-500-01182-6, paperback ISBN 0-500-27094-5)
- Photographs of the Unknown (as Robert Rickard with Richard Kelly) New English Library Books, 1981; paperback ISBN 0-450-04991-4
- Living Wonders: Mysteries and Curiosities of the Animal World (with John Michell) (Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1983; paperback ISBN 0-500-27263-8)
- The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena (with John Michell) (Rough Guides, October 19, 2000; paperback ISBN 1-85828-589-5)
- The Unexplained - Keep It Simple (with Joel Levy) (DK Publishing, 2002, paperback, ISBN 0-7894-8941-4
Fortean Times collected editions
- Yesterday's News Tomorrow: Fortean Times Issues 1-15, (editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1992, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-26-3
- Diary of a Mad Planet: Fortean Times Issues 16-25, (editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1995, paperback, ISBN 1-870021-25-8
- Seeing Out the Seventies: Fortean Times Issues 26-30, (editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1992, paperback, ISBN 1-870021-20-7
- Gateways to Mystery: Fortean Times Issues 31-36, (editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1993, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-37-9
- Heaven's Reprimands: Fortean Times Issues 37-41, (editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1994, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-52-2
- If Pigs Could Fly: Fortean Times Issues 42-46, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1994, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-47-6
- Fishy Yarns: Fortean Times Issues 47-51, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1994, hardback, ISBN 1-870870-48-4
- Bonfire of the Oddities: Fortean Times Issues 52-56, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1995, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-61-1
- Strange Attractors: Fortean Times Issues 57-62, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1996, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-73-5
- Plumber from Lhasa: Fortean Times Issues 63-67, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1996, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-79-4
- Memories of Hell: Fortean Times Issues 68-72, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1997, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-90-5
- Mouthful of Mysteries: Fortean Times Issues 73-77, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1998, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-66-2
- Snakes Alive!: Fortean Times Issues 93-97, (co-editor, original magazine) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1998, paperback, ISBN 1-902212-04-5
- Fortean Studies: Volume 1, (producer) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1994, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-55-7
- Fortean Studies: Volume 2, (producer) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1995, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-70-0
- Fortean Studies: Volume 3, (producer) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1996, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-82-4
- Fortean Studies: Volume 4, (producer) John Brown Publishing Ltd, 1998, paperback, ISBN 1-870870-96-4
References and footnotes
- Tony Coleby interviews Bob Rickard for 2atoms, February 1998. Accessed March 6, 2008
- Working title of the Charles Fort Institute's on-going mammoth endeavour
- Rickard, Bob (June 1992). Sieveking, Paul; et al., eds. Yesterday's News Tomorrow: Fortean Times Issues 1-15 (Preface) (Fortean Tomes, 2nd edition, 1995 ed.). John Brown Publishing. ISBN 1-870870-26-3.
- Rickard, Bob (April 1975). "Editorial". The Fortean Times #9.
- Sieveking, Paul; Rickard, Bob, Moore, Steve et al. (1991). Diary of a Mad Planet: Fortean Times Issues 16-25 (Preface) (2nd ed. 1995 ed.). John Brown Publishing. ISBN 1-870021-25-8.
- Sieveking, Paul; Rickard, Bob; Moore, Steve; et al. (1991). Diary of a Mad Planet: Fortean Times Issues 16-25 (Preface) (2nd ed. 1995 ed.). John Brown Publishing. ISBN 1-870021-25-8.
- Sieveking, Paul; Rickard, Bob; Moore, Steve; et al. (April 1990). Seeing Out the Seventies: Fortean Times Issues 26-30 (Preface) (Fortean Tomes 1990 ed.). John Brown Publishing. ISBN 1-870021-20-7.
- Rickard, Bob (Autumn 1984). "Editorial". The Fortean Times #42.
- The Charles Fort Institute
- Fortean Times, The Journal of Strange Phenomena
- Blog at the Charles Fort Institute