The ninth Dennis Wheatley Convention was held at the Laura Ashley the Manor Hotel in Elstree on Saturday 29th October - the set for some of the scenes in the 1968 film of ‘The Devil Rides Out’, and the home of our Convention for nine years.
As usual, a number of the members the gathered together for dinner on the Friday night; at one stage eleven, but then Steve Whatley and Jean Wilkinson joined us for coffee, and for a short while we were thirteen. As Duncan commented, it is strange that the number thirteen figures so repeatedly – and yet so accidentally – at our Conventions.
The Convention ‘proper’ started on the following morning, with the vast bulk of our ‘regulars’ joining us. John Runter was back, and while some (Nick Dow, Darren Nugent, Ken and Viv C and Garnet Harrison) couldn’t make it due to prior commitments, we were fortunate to have with us two new joiners – Colin McCourt of ‘The Devil Rides Out – the musical’ fame, and his partner Elvira.
All in all, there were therefore seventeen people present when the proceedings opened.
At 10.30 sharp Ken G got the proceedings underway, with Charles bringing in Steve Whatley’s beautiful hand crafted Programme packs - for those who hadn’t received them the previous evening - in Dennis Wheatley’s briefcase, as tradition demands. This year’s programme was special in more than one respect – not only did it include a fresh selection of handmade bookmarks etc. courtesy of Steve Whatley, but also a copy of the rules for ‘Alibi’, which was going to be played in the afternoon, and – as he could not be with us – an article by Darren Nugent detailing his latest researches – he has discovered that a stage play of the Satanist had been performed at the Leicester Arts Centre in 1985, and there is even a surviving videotape of the performance. Another impressive piece of research, Darren !
One new feature commented on at the opening was ‘Mary’s Wall’ – Mary G had made a wall which was set up at the back of the room showing all the major things that had happened in the previous Conventions. More will be added after this year’s, and after future Conventions !
John Runter gave the opening talk, ‘Is this how you imagined DW’s Heroes ?’
|The Duke de Richleau
|Lucretia, ‘The Golden
|Gregory Sallust (1940)||Gregory Sallust (1951)||Grauber (1950s)||Julian Day (1941)|
In it, John discussed how some of DW’s heroes and anti - heroes were depicted on dustjackets, both in the 1940s and 1950s. A particular curiosity, John pointed out, was Julian Day, because DW wrote his first two Julian Day books in the first person, so there was no detailed description of him – but the 1940s dust jacket depiction was quite evocative.
Next to speak was Anna Mannion, on the subject of ‘Come into my Parlour – DW Themed Escapes’..
Anna began by explaining that her interest in DW began when she was a teenager, and she showed us a picture of her taken by her mother, with her surrounded by all her DW books. An enlightened upbringing indeed !
Anna then went on to explain how she used to think it was perhaps unusual to take her family on holidays and trips where ...co-incidentally ... she could also see where the action in DW novels took place; and how when she read any of the books, she consulted her atlas to see exactly where the action was happening, and to give further depth to her reading.
Taking the family on fieldtrips ... one of the best things about discovering the group, Anna said, was the discovery that this was not abnormal behaviour – at least as far as members of the group were concerned !
For the main substance of her talk, Anna took Erika’s escape from the Nazis and Schloss Niederfels in Chapter Seven of ‘Come Into My Parlour’ – a scene which Steve Patton had identified in the 2010 Convention as an example – in his view – of DW’s writing at its finest, and Anna talked about whether Schloss Niederfels was based on a real castle.
With many an exciting detour and amusing factual anecdote, Anna took the audience through the Erika’s journey across Lake Constance and looked at the many possible real castles on which DW could have based his own, before identifying Schloss Hohenzollern as the most likely candidate
Perhaps the finest proof that Anna was right was that everyone in the audience who had read the book agreed that Schloss Hohenzollern looked exactly like the castle as they had imagined the castle in the book.
The third speaker of the morning was Colin McCourt, whom Charles had long hoped would come to a Convention, and whose writing of the famous ‘The Devil Rides Out’ musical is described in detail on the DW Website.
Colin discussed his background and the famous people with whom he had worked (including Neil Sedaka and the Moody Blues) and how writing and refining‘ The Devil Rides Out’had become one of the abiding passions of his life.... how Dominic Wheatley had given the original project his blessing ...and he talked about the thrilling experience of looking at the original manuscript of the book.
Colin also gave the most succinct summary of the plot of TDRO I have ever heard : ‘Devil gets Boy / Devil loses Boy / Devil gets Boy back / Devil loses Boy for good’. Beat that if you can !
Colin gave a host of insights into how writing the musical had lead him to discover further depths in the genius of DW’s writing, and how – for example – all the names in the book were eminently sing - able ... which they would not have been if the characters were Eustace, Stanley or Margaret !
Colin then showed excerpts from the rare recordings of some of the productions, and discussed the excellent performances of Christian Hart and Bernie Nolan. The latter played Tanith in the 1990s, had a really powerful voice, and was the lead vocalist of The Nolans.
A coffee break followed, and members had the opportunity to view this year’s ‘Travelling Museum’. As the afternoon was to be taken up with playing ‘Alibi’, Charles had arranged to bring in examples of all known editions of all three of DW’s Board Games (‘Invasion’ , ‘Blockade’ , and ‘Alibi’ ), including one of the three known copies of the ‘Deluxe’ edition of ‘Invasion’ – and that the most pristine of the copies known to exist.
After the coffee break, the group re-assembled to talk about the future – a possible London Field Trip, which had been mooted a while back by Franklin and Charles, and about what we might do at our Tenth Convention – a special occasion indeed.
The discussion was followed by a buffet lunch.
... and the usual group photo ... see the top of this Report.
The afternoon was spent playing – or watching others play – DW’s 1950s board game ‘Alibi’.
Steve Whatley had included a copy of the rules in the programme and Ken G and Bill S had played a trial game in Scotland before the Convention while Franklin and Charles had done the same thing in London.
Ken and Franklin made some introductory observations about the game and how it should be played, and Ken and Mary G set up a display board to remind players of the identities of the six suspects, as with the benefit of hindsight, they knew it was vitally important to remember who was whom, and if you discovered one of the suspects (once or twice – if you found a suspect twice in separate locations, they had the all - important ‘Alibi’, and could therefore be ruled out of having committed the crime), and the group prepared to set about playing the game in two groups – both using original boards and original pieces
Before that though, Charles had another surprise in store from the Travelling Museum ...DW had apparently kept for himself a copy of each of his games, carefully wrapped up in brown paper tied up with string secured with one of the knots he had learned to tie when he was a cadet on H M S Worcester ... and DW’s wrapped up copy of Alibi survived intact and had never been opened since his lifetime.
As this was a special day, Charles had arranged to borrow the package, and to open it in front of the group.
After a few tense moments it was opened, and having never been exposed to daylight, its colours were significantly brighter than those of the ‘playing’ copies. It also had a sheet of protective paper laid between the playing surfaces ... this was a completely unknown feature of the original game.
With the help of a couple of the female members of the group, Charles re-wrapped the package to go back into the Wheatley archives.
Play then began.
The chocolates in the foreground were from Switzerland, and courtesy of Anna.
Play progressed with enthusiasm, but as it progressed, it became clear that the two tables were playing to slightly different rules .... Ken G’s group were using two sets of dice, whereas Franklin’s group were introducing other complexities which may or may not have been implicit in the original Rules !
Suffice it to say that neither game finished, but all had a good time. Two things that became apparent were that (1) before the Television era people were used to much slower and more leisurely forms of entertainment, and (2) either DW and his friends or the country in general in the 1950s had very superior memories and powers of concentration compared with us
After the games there was a break, and then Ken and Mary G hosted their customary cocktails to the accompaniment of suitable period music.I must confess their Moscow Mules are a work of art !
Cocktails were followed by dinner...
Dinner may have started at Eight, but it certainly didn’t finish by Ten, and many of us were still there chatting long after we should probably have gone to bed
All agreed it had been a great Convention, and we look forward very much to our ‘Special’ Tenth.
We know that Declan will be doing a follow - up slot on DW’s 1927 Wine Scroll, but we will have to wait to see what other wonders our Tenth on 10th/11th November 2017 will unveil!
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