The British Fantasy Awards have been in existence for almost as many years as the Society itself. In 1971 Ramsey Campbell suggested the Society present an award in honour of the recently deceased August Derleth. The following year at the BSFA’s Chessmancon (the annual Easter convention), Michael Moorcock received the August Derleth Fantasy Award for his novel The Knight of Swords.
The physical award has gone through many changes over the years. The first Awards were presented in the form of a scroll designed by Jim Cawthorn, but the 1974 AGM, held at the BSFA’s Tynecon, suggested that a more enduring symbol be used. The following year the BFS Awards came in the shape of a cowled figure designed by Jim Pitts. In 1980 Jim Pitts’ cowled figure design gave way to a dark fantasy statuette designed by Dave Carson. The award was redesigned again in 2005. For 2009 the award was a winged demon, which was tricky to produce and too fragile to send by courier. The replacement design for 2010 was a genre-inclusive demon/alien with a dragon’s egg, from the same sculptor. Another new design was commissioned from the same sculptor for 2011. In late 2011, the membership voted in a rule that the award “should be abstract or genre-neutral in design, avoiding any preference for horror, fantasy etc”, meaning the previous design was no longer suitable, nor was anything in that vein. So an abstract etched crystalline award fitting the bill was used for 2012, and a slightly different version of the same was used for 2013. From 2014 the award was a handcrafted wooden bookend.
For several years the awards presented by the British Fantasy Society were collectively known as the August Derleth Fantasy Awards – including the addition of several other categories. As the Society grew, so the Awards widened their scope: besides the Best Novel and Short Story sections there were Small Press, Art, Comic and Film categories. The BFS decided it should promote itself on a wider scale, and in 1976 the August Derleth Fantasy Awards became the British Fantasy Awards, with a proviso that the original section of Best Novel retain the August Derleth title. In the list below, the word “Best” is omitted from all categories for clarity.
By now FantasyCon was established as an annual event, both to showcase the Awards and give a forum for the Society’s AGM. The BFS Awards now had form, style and a place in the yearly calendar.
The Awards categories have changed over the years, with sections being introduced and dropped, as the focus of the Society’s members changed. The Comic Award, for instance, was once dropped because the nominations and votes for this section had fallen to a point where it was no longer viable. Film, on the other hand, originally fell off the edge of the lists mainly due to a lack of interest from its recipients. However, both were resurrected in 2009, and two new categories were introduced: television and magazine.
The Icarus Award was intended to mark a promising newcomer and was renamed the Newcomer Award when the Icarus Society “ceased to be”. The question of whether this should remain a BFS Award came up several times, mainly on the point of cost; it was eventually decided that as an Award for Best Newcomer was still valid it should be assimilated into the Special Award. The award was reintroduced in 2007, funded by the estate of Sydney J. Bounds.
The Special Award was originally a discretionary Award, not presented every year. The recipient may be an author of long standing; an editor; any other person, who has contributed much to the genre; a BFS member that has given great service to the Society in some fashion; or a newcomer who, it is felt, shows special promise. It is now known as the Karl Edward Wagner Award.
Over the years there have been certain names which crop up time and again in the history of the awards. Ramsey Campbell had won seven by the time of this article’s original publication in Silver Rhapsody (1996). The Sutton/Jones combo gained no less than eight for Fantasy Tales, plus one each separately (by that time, at least – Stephen Jones went on to win many more awards as editor of Best New Horror). Michael Moorcock had by then been bestowed with our awards on five occasions. Others with several entries each include Karl Edward Wagner, Clive Barker and Stephen King.
Other changes to note. After 1998, the Best Collection award was divided into Best Collection and Best Anthology. After 1995, the Best Newcomer Award (known as the Icarus Award) was merged into the Special Award. A new award for best newcomer was introduced in 2007, the Sydney J. Bounds Award, which includes a small amount of prize money provided by the family of Sydney J. Bounds. In 2003 a proposal by Ramsey Campbell (and seconded by Graham Joyce) that would have limited eligibility for the awards shortlist to living authors passed successfully at the AGM, but was never added to the constitution. (A rewritten constitution that did not contain this rule was approved entire by the AGM some years later, so the rule does not now apply.)
The 2009 awards reintroduced the comics and film awards, and magazine and television prizes were awarded for the first time. PS Publishing withdrew from competition in the small press award, choosing instead to sponsor the award. Also in 2009, the winners of each category were decided entirely by a vote on the shortlisted nominees, whereas in most previous years the initial vote on the longlist had already decided them before the shortlist was announced.
The best novel award for 2011 originally went to Demon Dance by Sam Stone, who announced a few days after the ceremony that she would return the award. The other nominees declined to accept it, and so a result of no award was announced. A reorganisation of the awards followed, and from the 2012 awards the winners were chosen from the shortlists by juries, rather than by a vote of the BFS and FantasyCon memberships. The longlist stage was also dropped (the gap later being filled by a crowdsourced list of suggestions), and the juries were given the power to add up to two items of their choosing to each shortlist.
The best novel award was divided into a best horror novel award (the August Derleth Award) and a best fantasy novel award (the Robert Holdstock Award). The FantasyCon committee was no longer involved in deciding the special award. The dividing line between short story and novella was raised from 10,000 words to 15,000 words. The television and film awards, though popular with voters, were briefly replaced by a screenplay award, which for the 2014 awards was itself replaced by a best film/television episode award, due to the difficulty of acquiring screenplays for the juries to read.
The 2013 awards were presented at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton alongside the World Fantasy Awards. That was the final year of PS Publishing’s sponsorship of the best small press award, and for the 2015 awards it became the best independent press award. (A successful 2011 proposal to similar effect had passed under the radar.) For the 2016 awards the category of best film/television episode was changed again, this time to best film/television production, with multi-part stories, mini-series and entire seasons becoming eligible if credited to the same writer(s).
Text relating to the years up to 1996 is adapted from an article by Jan Edwards appearing in Silver Rhapsody, the BFS booklet celebrating the society’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Details of the awards from then till 2007 are taken from David Sutton’s invaluable booklet, The British Fantasy Awards 1972–2008: a Listing, which lists all nominees as well as winners.