As usual, although the Convention proper was due to be held the following day, a number of our party arrived the night before in time for dinner.
It was the same hotel but at once we saw something was different – the historic wooden panelling which Nick had admired so much in previous years had been painted over – and was now a dull white. The explanation – the hotel had changed hands earlier in the autumn, and is now owned by Laura Ashley, who are slowly making their mark on it.
We got over the shock and everyone settled into the bar. Charles went up to his room just before dinner (he hadn’t unpacked yet) and got another shock; the ‘Sophia Loren Lounge’ had been renamed the ‘Dennis Wheatley Lounge’ and there was a large banner proclaiming the Fifth Dennis Wheatley Convention. Ken G’s grin when Charles came down made clear that he was the ‘culprit’ !
'The Dennis Wheatley Lounge'
Ken C, Richard and Charles relaxing in the lounge, and (right) John Rodger taking a photo of Steve’s poster (with a little help)
Steve W's giant poster
John must have broken all HSE regulations in taking the photo !
I can’t remember when the group broke up, but it was ‘early’ rather than ‘late’.
On the Saturday morning everyone assembled at ten o’clock as usual to the sound of Colin McCourt’s musical rendering of ‘The Devil Rides Out’, and Charles came in bearing Dennis Wheatley’s briefcase, contained within it Steve Whatley’s superb programmes. Each year they become more and more intricate. This year the ten page programme – which ended with a memorial section dedicated to the late Iwan Morelius, who had died earlier in the year – was supplemented by a menu insert and another insert containing a gallery of photographic memories from the first four years of Conventions and Field Trips, together with Steve’s customary commemorative bookmarks. Real works of art.
The programme pack, courtesy of Steve W, who also provided some commemorative bookmarks
Two additions to our numbers were warmly welcomed – Richard Humphreys and John Rodger. We also had another enthusiast drop in during the course of the morning – Declan Leary, who had been unable to make contact with Charles and decided to visit us in person. We hope he will be able to join us next year.
The day began with a real treat. Richard Humphreys, the man who formed one of the most impressive collections of DW material in recent decades, gave a talk on the origins of the DW website. He described how he began collecting in the 1990s when DW was hardly collected, and how there was no bibliography to assist him in the early days, and no internet; many of the jackets came as a surprise when the books arrived in the post, although in due course Iwan Hedman’s Fyra Decennier proved a help. The beginning of the website came when he produced a bibliography for his own purposes (printed rather than published), and put a copy up for sale on ebay; it was bought by Bob Rothwell. Bob had a small site devoted to DW paperbacks, and they joined forces to put the first editions, and later reprints, on the site, together with various articles of topical interest. When Richard bought some manuscript material from Sweden and wanted to show it, Bob was more concerned about copyright issues, and this led to Richard setting up his own site. Happily, the two sites have since been re-united. Richard remains immensely proud of the DW website, and said he would never have imagined it as it is now when he and Bob first started.
Richard giving his talk, and (right) with the bibliography that brought him and Bob together
Asked about the background to his interest, Richard said that his interest was mainly in the books as things themselves, and in DW as a person – he had not read absolutely all of DW’s works.
He had also been instrumental in one of the major TV documentaries on DW – where he had provided all the material (including the letter) for the BBC documentary ‘Letter to Posterity’. Sadly, and unforgivably, the BBC had not given him any mention in the credits.
Richard’s talk was followed by Charles, who gave a brief presentation on ‘Unpublished Wheatley’. He talked of the three major unpublished pieces; ‘Julies Lovers’ from 1917, ‘Of Vice and Virtue’ from 1950 and ‘The Lusty Youth of Roger Brook’. Charles believes he may have seen a few handwritten pages from the first of these. The manuscript and typescript of the second exist, and one of DW’s copies of the third turned up in a London auction room a few years ago which led to an article about it being added to the website. Various other unpublished pieces either once existed or still exist – ‘This Winter’, one of his war papers and various speeches and short stories among them.
A slide from 'Unpublished Wheatley'
Steve Whatley then gave a talk on ‘DW’s calling cards’.
While Steve hasn’t yet seen a calling card from DW’s days as a wine merchant, various other calling cards or associated items survive. A rather marvellous one – illustrated in Phil Baker’s book - is DW’s calling card as a member of the ‘Anti Prohibition League’; an international organisation whose aim was to ensure that prohibition did not cross the Atlantic.
Steve also showed a brass printer’s plate (Nick described the actually process used) for Joan Wheatley (DW’s wife) and Diana Younger (his step-daughter) giving their address as St John’s Wood Park (where they lived in the early days of the War) but posted to Joan at Grove House, where she and DW moved after the War. It seemed curious that the printer should send her the plate when – as she no longer lived in St Johns Wood Park – it would no longer be of use.
Next up Steve displayed an envelope addressed to Joan’s son Colin Pelham Burn at the British Embassy in 1967 containing passes for Joan to visit the Vice President’s Gallery in the Senate and the House of Representatives on 19th October 1967.
These treasures were put on display along with the ‘travelling museum’ in the afternoon.
Steve W on 'calling cards'
Two of the items about which Steve talked
Steve was followed by Jean Wilkinson, who has been researching DW’s ancestry using a variety of resources including www.ancestry.co.uk, where she has posted some of the results. So far Jean has found records of DW’s ancestors going back to the early 1800s, and she hopes to delve further.
Jean giving her talk, with Steve's assistance
A couple of Jean’s exhibits
DW’s indenture to the Vintners Company, and the Baker family memorial
Jean hasn’t found a link to the Pevensey John Wheatley that DW’s father claimed as an ancestor, nor any connection between DW’s maternal grandfather William Yeats Baker and the Earls of Warwick – these probably don’t exist; but she has found a wealth of detail about DW’s wealthy grandfathers and their tradesman ancestors, and she was able to show copies of a host of historical documents such as the papers whereby DW became an apprentice to the Vinters Company, and photos of the Baker family memorial in West Norwood Cemetery which bears DW’s name, as well as his final resting place in Brookwood Cemetery.
The text of Jean's talk can be found here
After Jean’s talk the group broke for lunch, which was served in the Beaufort Room as usual, and which was well up to standard.
Lunch in the Beaufort Room
The first session after lunch was devoted to the travelling Museum and the other exhibits that various attendees put on display.
First up was Richard Humphreys, who had brought with him DW’s copy of ‘A Century of Horror Stories’ (1935; Blackwells Catalogue No. 22). An incredible item not only annotated by DW himself, but also signed by a number of the other contributors, including H G Wells.
Steve Whatley then put on display not only the material he had talked about in the ‘Calling cards’ section, but his copy of the First Gift Box (one of only two known), and Val Biro's original drafts for the dustjacket of 'The Ravishing of Lady Mary Ware'; one very different from the published version.
Ken G displayed Iwan Morelius’s autographed copy of the rare 75th birthday booklet together with a letter from the publisher to Iwan.
Next up was John Runter, whose displays included Howard Spring’s inscribed copy of ‘The Eunuch of Stamboul’, a book about Hammer Films and a book from DW’s Library complete with his bookplate.
Richard, Steve W, Ken G and John Runter displaying some of the items they had brought to discuss
DW memorabilia was not the only thing on display !
Charles then added to these various exhibits from the ‘travelling museum’; a 1938 poster for the US release of ‘The Forbidden Territory’ (Steve added copies of some other posters of DW’s films), DW’s copy of the contract for ‘Invasion’ (1938), a bookseller’s display card for the launch of ‘They Found Atlantis’ (1936), ‘Ready Money’ Wheatley’s indenture for some property leased in the West End in 1902, some Wheatley & Sons/Son wine invoices from 1899 and 1924, and a film script for ‘The Lost Continent’.
Nick and Ken G
This was followed by a tour through ‘the songs of the Roger Brook era’, courtesy of Nick Dow and Ken G.
This was actually more of a tour de force than a tour - Ken summarised the events that took place through the twelve Roger Brook novels (without spoiling the plots), and Nick sang contemporary songs – sometimes just the vocals, and sometimes accompanied by his own guitar playing. Parts of it sounded like the singing at the start of one of the Sharpe dramatisations – Nick, please take that as a compliment. One snippet among many Nick and Ken let fall was that the English songs tended to be far more miserable than their French counterparts. If the Roger Brook novels are ever dramatised for TV, we’ll have to make sure Nick is engaged to provide the musical background. With assistance from Ken’s researches, no-one is better qualified !
Steve P discussing the field trip
Nick and Ken were followed by Steve Patton, who gave a few further thoughts on the locations of some of the buildings featured in DW’s novels (Duncan had suggested in the Library that a trip DW made to the Escorial in Spain, where he saw an octagonal room, might have been an inspiration for the octagonal room in Cardinals Folly) and then proceeded to give an account of the Salisbury Plain field trip for those who had missed it. No-one is better qualified to give such a talk than Steve – indeed, he suggested the idea to Charles many years before we had even thought of the Conventions and Field Trips.
Viv and Ken
Tea-time proved a special occasion – Viv and Ken had got married during the summer, and they had bought some wedding cake in so the group could share in the celebrations. We did, and everyone wished and wishes them every happiness.
After tea, Steve Whatley made a third appearance, this time joined by John Runter – now that Iwan has sadly passed away, the only member of the group who actually met DW.
John Runter and Steve W
Their theme was ‘Dennis Wheatley’s speeches and lectures’, and they traced some fourteen speeches and lectures that DW had made between 1932 and 1972, with Steve giving a commentary, and John reading out the actual speeches, or excerpts.Much of the material was new to the entire room.
Steve and John’s speech was followed by a general discussion about the future format and content of Field Trips and Conventions – this to be continued by email and in the Library after the Convention.
The bar then beckoned, and after that “dinner was served at eight, but coffee was not served till after ten”. The usual toasts were given, including one by Steve in memory of his and our recently departed friend Iwan. We missed him.
There was a brief discussion about what film we would watch – and where. The ‘what’ was easily decided – a unanimous decision was taken to watch Hammer’s just re-issued and re-mastered version of ‘The Devil Rides Out’. The ‘where’ was the subject of brief debate. We had spent enough time in the ‘Arkley’, comfortable as it was, and the management thought it might be too noisy if we set up a TV in the ‘Wheatley Lounge’; so Ken and Mary kindly suggested we repair to their suite and watch it there, which we did. A noble gesture, Ken and Mary !
The group assemble for the film
Overall, the verdict was that the re-mastered film was well worth watching.
After breakfast on the Sunday morning the group dispersed, looking forward to the sixth Convention.
For a discussion of where and when it should be held, and what everyone would like to see on the agenda, please visit the Library.
This page last updated Copyright © 2002-2006 Bob Rothwell. 2007-2021 Charles Beck.