As usual, many of the attendees gathered on the Friday night, commenting on how appropriate it was, given that DW’s most famous novels are his occult novels, that we should gather at Halloween.
On the Friday night, after drinks at the bar, the ’vanguard’ settled down to dinner in the Regency Room, and once again Mary G regaled those present with gifts - specially made DW lapel badges and ‘The Devil Rides Out’ key fobs. Thank you, Mary for your generosity !
As I have noticed before, while everyone is brought together by a love of DW, everyone has their own, other, external interests, and the conversations at table covered such varied topics as the ports of Colombia, Sax Rohmer, Kate Bush, famous Scotsmen (you can guess who introduced that !), famous Canadians (more obscure !), how insulin was discovered, the meaning of ‘inver’ in ‘inverness’, and a host of other topics. DW would have been proud !
The following morning, the Convention proper began with Darren playing some suitably spooky music from the film of ‘The Devil Rides Out’ as Charles brought in the commemorative programmes - as custom requires, in Dennis Wheatley’s own briefcase.
Charles brings in Steve Whatley’s commemorative programmes – as tradition demands, in DW’s own briefcase
As custom also dictates, the programmes were handmade souvenir programmes crafted by our own Steve Whatley – thank you Steve !
Ken G then outlined the proceedings and introduced the first speaker of the day – his wife Mary.
Mary’s topic was Dennis Wheatley’s World War One – topical because this year the nation commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.
Mary not only went through the ‘facts and figures’ of DW’s War, but brought out some other points she considered especially important :
In other words even as a young adult, all of his later character traits were pretty much in evidence.
Mary was followed by Ken C, who talked on the subject of DW’s Cars.
In real life, there are those who believe that DW himself never drove anything with more wheels than a motorcycle, and that Joan always drove him around.
Be that as it may, the novels and films are filled with a wonderful array of luxury cars.
Most famous is certainly the Duke de Richleau’s Hispano Suiza. Ken took the group through the history of the Hispano Group, which started in 1888 in Barcelona, and which made less up-market vehicles as well as the luxury cars we now know them for. For a while they also had a tie-up with Skoda.
In 1930 a Hispano would have cost £6,800. Declan contrasted this with the cost of a three bedroom house in outer London at the time – that would have set you back a mere £750 ! The Hispano was clearly a true luxury item.
Other cars in the original novel ‘The Devil Rides Out’ included a blue Rolls Royce registration umber OA 1217 (probably a made up number – the OA prefix was used for cars registered in Birmingham in the period between February 1913 and October 1915), a green Daimler and a yellow Sunbeam.
Ken then turned to the cars and other vehicles in the Hammer film of ‘The Devil Rides Out’. The plane in the opening sequence was a De Haviland Moth from absolutely the right period – it was filmed at Pansanger airfield in Buckinghamshire, which is now sadly being demolished for re-development. The Duke’s car in the film is a yellow Rolls Royce (registration number JJ 3328 – right for the period, even if the colour is wrong) and Rex drives a Bentley (MG 1280 – again right for the period), while the beautiful collection of cars outside the house where the Satanists meet up before the Sabbat (High Cannons; not that far from Elstree – possibly worth a visit one day?) includes a superb Lancia Lambda. The cars in that shot would now be worth a King’s ransom.
And a strange co-incidence; Ken saw one of the cars from the film parked outside a hotel near Hampton Court – it is now used at weddings.
Steve Patton, our book-reviewer-in-chief then took up the mantle, and discussed the latest book he had been reviewing, ‘The Satanist’.
Dedicated to DW’s favourite novelist Alexandre Dumas père, the story is loosely based on a short story of Dumas, ‘The Corsican Brothers’, about two identical twins.
The blurb describes the book as surpassing ‘The Devil Rides Out’, but this is hype. I won’t in this Convention summary attempt to précis Steve’s review – you can read it here – but I would just say that the majority of those present who had read it enjoyed it, but felt it was not one of DW’s very best, and that it was slightly spoilt by being over-long, and that it was marred by a couple of implausibilities. That said, well worth a read – and enhanced for dedicated fans as always by Steve Patton’s ‘snippets’.
After Steve’s review the group had a break and then gathered for lunch in the hotel’s main dining room.
Some of the exhibits on display in the Convention room
These included original photographs of DW in World War One, Foreign editions courtesy of Steve Whatley, books courtesy of John Runter and Franklin Johnson, Daily Mail cuttings courtesy of Darren Nugent and a World War One collage created by Mary G
After lunch, everyone had a chance to look at the various exhibits that attendees had brought in , and then Ken G gave the first talk of the afternoon – on ‘Wheatley, Witches and Warlocks’.
Ken shared his reflections on various co-incidences, his thoughts on who might have been the inspiration for some of DW’s less well known characters, and added a sprinkling of other facts which the audience did not know about DW related matters.
Among the co-incidences were the handful of people in real life who either had, or had close to the same names as some of DW’s characters – there are for example a number of Mocattas (but fewer Mocatas) knocking around. There is even a Damien Mocata on LinkedIn, but that may be the pseudonym of a closet DW fan we don’t know about.
Ken then discussed the resemblances between some of the minor heroines in the books and some of the female film stars of the day – the resemblance between Erica von Epp and Marlene Dietrich is brought out by DW himself in the Gregory Sallust novels, but there are also resemblances between Lavinia Leigh in Sixty Days to Live and the American actress Myrna Loy. Ken has just finished reading ‘The Irish Witch’ and is still looking for a possible inspiration for Katie O’Brien.
Ken’s far ranging talk included many other fascinating ‘snippets’ – the real Madame d’Urfe lived in Casanova’s time. Casanova described her as the ‘sublime madwoman’. She was a Parisian aristocrat who wished to be reborn as a man was it was believed at the time that only a member of the male sex could communicate with the spirits of the Kabbalah.
It would be impossible in this space to replicate all of Ken’s speech – or indeed the full text of the others – but one other snippet that deserves a special mention is the fate of Aleister Crowley’s Abbey at Thelema. It is apparently little more that a run down shed, and was quite recently put up for sale.
The final talk of the day was by Darren Nugent, who talked about ‘The Mystery of Weylands School’.
The school, as DW enthusiasts will recall, features prominently in ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’. Toby Jugg was sent there and it was designed, as he later concluded, to ‘brain wash’ (my term, not Darren’s or DW’s) children into rejecting Christianity and embracing Satanism, with all of its amoral consequences.
As Toby Jugg described it in the novel :
‘Weylands is in Cumberland, and the school takes its name from an ancient Abbey ... there were no classes or teaching in the accepted sense ...Every pupil could take whichever subjects he or she liked best .... in the recreation hours there were no organised games ... the only penalty for not getting up at the usual hour in the morning was that , when you did, you had to make your own bed.’
More tellingly, ‘ in the senior house the sexes were not segregated and everyone had separate cubicles ... and there was no bar to a chap visiting a girl’s cubicle or vice versa.... we were taught that sex was a normal, healthy appetite similar to a desire for food ... the elder girls all willingly submitted themselves to a special routine whereby Matron and the resident Doctor took steps to ensure against their getting themselves into trouble, so there was never any bother of that kind ... ‘
And in terms of religion :
‘we were taught that all religion was a product of the Dark Ages’ ... and ... ‘in order to encourage them in developing a contempt for the symbol before which the ignorant masses still bowed down all the doormats had a crucifix woven into them , so that we trod on it every time we went in or out.’
In the third volume of his autobiography ‘Drink & Ink’ (page 164) DW wrote how, in 1939 he had written ‘several chapters of a new book. I had heard about a school in Devonshire which was co-educational and run on ultra-modern lines. The pupils were allowed complete licence to attend classes or not as they liked, lie in bed all day if they wished and even abuse teachers that they disliked. It was rumoured that the pupils were encouraged to attend Satanic gatherings in a ruined church nearby. Sir Pellinore should send Gregory Sallust to the neighbourhood to carry out an investigation. The book was never completed. But I used the idea many years later in The Haunting of Toby Jugg.’
Darren had decided to investigate further.
The school was Dartington Hall School near Totnes, which was active between 1926 and 1987.
It was founded by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, with the headmaster between 1931 and 1957 being a Bill Curry. Curry was on record as saying how the ‘social order must be radically changed’ and of saying how the world needed a ‘new elite’, and media reports show that when the Mayor of Torquay visited and asked to see the school chapel, Curry laughed at the thought.
Stories of nudity and of the school’s lax attitude to sex were rife in the local community, with media stories that local boys hung round the school because of the prospect of a ‘free f***’.
The sexual liberation seems to have continued into the 1980s when several well publicised scandals precipitated the closure of the school ... in the late 1970s the then headmaster’s wife posed nude in a girlie magazine (Google Mayfair and ‘Beth Blackshaw’ for details), and in 1984 a 15 year old female pupil died in mysterious circumstances after a nude swimming and sunbathing session and some kung fu lessons from the school caretaker.
In June 1938 a mysterious Captain Arthur Rogers gave an account of the school to Parliament. Rogers talked of how the school taught children to dislike their own families, and made a statement that ‘communism is the invention of Satan’, giving the school its first occult link.
Rogers (possibly an agent of DW’s friend Maxwell Knight, the Head of MI5) and the wife of Admiral Sir Barry Domvile were also involved in a libel case brought against them by the school for allegations of links with communism, Crowley and Black Magic. The case was settled out of court.
The links with communism were confirmed by its former pupil, relation to the founder and speechwriter to Franklin D Roosevelt Michael Straight in his memoir ‘After Long Silence’. Straight was recruited as a communist agent by Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt and later betrayed him.
As for Black Magic, Darren finished his talk by relating how he had managed to get access to (and photograph) some recently de-classified material on the MI5 investigation of Dartington Hall and read from it an extract of an anonymous report titled “The Case Against Dartington Hall”.
“A house in South Kensington was used for ceremonies. It was said the house belonged to Mr. Elmhirst [owner of Dartington Hall] and that he and his wife supported Aleister Crowley known to be an exponent of Black Magic. Aleister Crowley was spoken of as the Master of Ceremonies and those women permitted to attend the ceremonies told of being hypnotised and practicing what they afterwards felt to be the most degrading acts. Those men and women permitted to go deeper into the rites of Black Magic were invited to Dartington Hall where the ceremonies were of greater significance. Dartington Hall has a room which was once a chapel and in this room certain boys of the school saw a ceremony conducted by men and women wearing masks of animals.”
The party then broke up for the night and headed for bed. In the morning after breakfast, farewells were made and the group dispersed to the various parts of the U.K. from which they had come, contented with another successful Convention and looking forward to the next one.
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