The eighth Dennis Wheatley Convention was held at the Laura Ashley the Manor Hotel in Elstree on Saturday 31st October – the set for some of the scenes in the 1968 film of ‘The Devil Rides Out’, and the home of our Convention for the last seven years.
As usual, a number of the attendees gathered together for dinner on the Friday night – thirteen in fact. It is funny how that number keeps cropping up in our gatherings. This time, we had two new arrivals who joined us on for the Friday meal – Anna Mannion and Kevin Pearce, both of whom were made very welcome.
The Convention ‘proper’ started on the following morning, with the vast bulk of our ‘regulars’ joining us (John Runter was unfortunately unable to join us, as was Garnet Harrison), and our being joined by two further new arrivals – Paul McGrath and Claire Staniford.
At 10.30 sharp Ken G got the proceedings underway with Darren Nugent showing a wickedly amusing pastiche of some previous Conventions and attendees, and Charles Beck bringing in Steve Whatley’s beautiful hand crafted Programme packs in Dennis Wheatley’s briefcase, as tradition demands.
Ken G then outlined the proceedings and introduced the first speaker of the day – his wife Mary.
Mary’s topic was A Scottish Connection.
The Scottish connection came from DW’s second wife Joan, whose first marriage had been to William Younger – later Sir William Younger, of Auchen Castle in Scotland. She bore him four children before they separated and she married a Captain Hubert Pelham Burn, by whom she had a further son. This marriage ended when the Captain had a fatal car accident. When DW met Joan in 1929 she was accordingly a widow. They married in 1931 and she became his lifelong companion.
Ken and Mary had visited Auchen Castle, which is now a wedding venue. Hugely impressive and full of symbolism, it replaced a castle built in the thirteenth century.
Joan had therefore lived in – and given up – considerable luxury.
Ironically, the Younger fortune came from ales (Younger’s Ales), while the Wheatley money came in part from wines and spirits.
Mary was followed by Ken C, who talked on the subject of Hitler’s secret weapons establishment at Peenemunde.
Ken had chosen to talk about Peenemunde because he was currently re-reading ‘They Used Dark Forces’ , DW’s 1960s novel set in 1943 Germany.
DW liked the book for four principal reasons :
- It was a great spy story based on real events
- It featured Gregory Sallust
- It was a Black magic story in a World War II setting, and
- It was packed with background historical detail, featuring real people and events with DW’s typical thoroughness of research
To illustrate the last point, Ken read out extracts from DW’s description of the town of Grimmen in the book, and compared them with what could be found on the internet. The result – total accuracy.
Ken went on to show film clips of rockets being launched from Peenemunde, of the damage done to London, and of the American rocketry that was developed by the site’s chief scientist, Dr Werner Von Braun.
Bill S asked which came first – the DW book or the George Peppard film ‘Operation Crossbow’. The answer was the former.
There was a consensus that They Used Dark Forces would make a rather good film.
Next up was Ken G, with a talk on (DW and) Food.
Food (and drink) was important to DW, both in real life and in his novels.
Ken recounted how as a schoolboy DW had a fight over food involving Clarinco mints and some promised –but never delivered cake. Ken then distributed Clarinco mints to the party in remembrance. Yes – they still exist, he advised us !
DW followed this up with various escapades on HMS Worcester which naturally involved food. In World War I he had an eye for good restaurants, and in the run up to World War II he advised the population to stock up on food. He himself had luxury foods canned to preserve them for wartime and canned various other things to preserve them as well – including of all things nylon stockings !
Ken’s talk will hopefully be concluded next time because he kindly cut it short to make way for the next, and very special, item.
The special item, thanks to Franklin Johnson and his friend Derek, was the arrival of ‘the Duke’s car’ – or to be more accurate, one of the three remaining 1929 Hispano Suiza’s in the country – and by all accounts the best preserved.
This massive but elegant monster, powered by an aircraft engine and easily capable of speeds in excess of 80 m.p.h., would have been new when it featured in The Devil Rides Out, and would only have been accessible to the fabulously wealthy.
Even now, its cachet – and its rarity – is enormous.
We are all truly thankful to Derek for bringing it for us to see, and to Franklin for facilitating it.
Lunch followed in the Beaufort Room, and while sipping their coffees afterwards, attendees looked at some of the material put out on display in the Arkley Room – books for sale courtesy of Nick and Franklin, and exhibits including a complete set of the cartoon strip ‘Paula’, courtesy of Darren, and the menu card for the luncheon that launched The Forbidden Territory in 1933 – recently acquired by an attendee off eBay.
Declan was up next, with a talk on ‘Drink’.
He took as his theme the wine scroll displayed in the DW website’s ‘virtual Museum’. Printed in 1927, it accompanied Wheatley & Son’s foray into the market for rare, fine and obscure liqueurs. The scroll was less than 6” wide but almost 6’ long, and Declan took as his theme the first 22 liqueurs that were visible in the illustration on the website.
Declan went through them one-by-one, explaining what each one was and where and how it was made, the cost back in 1927 and the 2015 equivalent price.
Then, joy-of-joys, he produced a selection of these for the audience to sample.
If Charles can get a copy of the next part of the wine scroll, we hope Declan will give consider giving us more or the same !
Steve Patton then took up the baton, and read out his latest book review.
This year his book was ‘Vendetta in Spain’, published in 1961, and set in Spain in 1906.
Although written some twenty years later, the book forms a prequel to DW’s Duke de Richleau novel ‘The Golden Spaniard’, and deals with the Duke’s (or as he was then known as, Armand, Count de Quesnoy’s) attempts to foil the plots of Spain’s anti-Royalist anarchists.
Steve read out various passages, including a mesmerising one where the count is trapped in a corn mill. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, but big thanks Steve for another top quality review !
To finish the formal presentations, Darren talked about ‘Curious DW Discoveries’, exhibiting once again his unique flair for researching hitherto unexplored facets of DW’s life and times.
Darren’s talk had five sub-topics :
- Music; he talked about and played ‘Gregory Sallust’ by Seth Kessel – a piece familiar to those who had listened to Tina Rosenberg’s webcast
- Paula – the cartoon strip in the Daily Express that DW co-authored with T.E.B.Clarke (DW’s wartime friend Dudley Clarke’s brother). Exceptionally, Darren had put together a display which included the complete series – probably the first time since 1946 DW fans have been given the chance to see the whole story ‘in one go’.
- Articles by DW. Darren listed and went through a number of articles which had appeared in the Daily Express. None were yet recorded on the website !
- Correspondence between DW and Jewell Stevens, deposited in Southern Illinois University
- Montague Summers’s correspondence with DW deposited in Georgetown University
After Darren’s meticulously researched and exciting talk, the group broke up, to re-assemble at 7 o’clock for two exciting events.
The first was a display of Franklin Johnson’s unique collection of DW books.
The core of the collection, which some had been fortunate enough to see in London, was the late Iwan Morelius / Hedman’s collection of signed, jacketed first editions. Iwan, as many present recalled from personal contact, was one of DW’s principal fans in Sweden, he wrote the first ever DW bibliography, and was the dedicatee of The Ravishing of the Lady Mary Ware.
His superb collection is accompanied by a complete collection of the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult, various rare copies of books in this series, and other rare items, like one of the two known copies of the 1954 Justerini & Brooks scroll ‘We Move With The Times.
The collection was admired by all.
The other event was Ken and Mary G’s fabled drinks party, supplemented by snacks provided by various female members of the group.
Thank you Ken – I certainly enjoyed my Moscow Mule !
After the cocktails, as tradition and DW’s novels demand, dinner was served at 8 p.m. in the Regency Room, followed by toasts. The toast to absent friends (including John Runter, whose letter to the convention was read out) was proposed by Charles, and the Toast to DW, based on a clause from his unpublished Will of 1971, was proposed by Nick - with a picture of DW from the 1930s looking down benevolently on the fraternity and sorority.
No Convention is complete without a few surprise gifts from Ken and Mary, and this year was no exception. Everyone except those who had registered at the last minute had a brass plaque prepared for them giving them an ‘alter ego’ from among DW’s fictional characters, and much mirth was had in guessing everyone’s alternative identities.
A kind attendee also provided a batch of Hoyo be Monterrey cigars, which perhaps half a dozen of the men took outside the dining room and smoked like naughty school boys.
A good time was had by all. The organisation by Ken was superb, the speakers were superb, and every single person whether on the rostrum or in the audience contributed their special something.
Roll on the ninth Convention !
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