(link to Contents Page) The 2017 Dennis Wheatley Convention

Attendees (left to right):Mary G, Chris West, Anna Mannion, Duncan West, Declan Leary, Jean Wilkinson, Jim Devlin, John Runter, Steve Whatley, Charles Beck, Nat Beck, Ken G, Susan P, Franklin Johnson, Bill S, Darren Nugent.

The tenth Dennis Wheatley Convention was held at the Laura Ashley the Manor Hotel in Elstree on Friday / Saturday 10th / 11th November - the set for some of the scenes in the 1968 film of ‘The Devil Rides Out’, and the home of our Convention for all of these years. Not a bad record !

Dinner on the Friday night

This year we deliberately departed from our usual mid / end October date so we could mark the fortieth anniversary of DW’s death on the Friday night, and thirteen of us assembled for dinner at the hotel for that purpose. It is uncanny how often the number thirteen quite accidentally crops up at our Conventions. We didn’t do anything formal in the evening, but it was a nice chance for our two newcomers (Susan and Jim; the latter a long term DW fan and expert, who flew in especially for the occasion from the U.S.A.) to meet the others.

Ken opens the Convention (left), and Darren works his magic(k) (right)

Following the opening of proceedings by Ken, Darren worked his magic(k) on the morning of the Convention proper, by running a visual / musical display illustrating facets of DW’s life with material from the DW Museum, and seamlessly following this with a resume of the highlights of the last nine Conventions. It was made all the more wonderful by his (hilariously) inserting DW (or his head) into a number of the Convention photos. Apologies Dennis – it is clear you were there, and yet we didn’t notice you !

DW’s briefcase makes an entry, and (right) the commemorative programme

This was followed by Charles’s traditional entry into the Arkley Room carrying DW’s own briefcase, and within it the commemorative Convention programmes, skilfully designed and crafted as always by Steve Whatley.

Charles delivers the first talk

The exhibits (left to right) : The catalogue of the contents of Aspen House, the home of DW’s maternal grandfather; Blackwell’s catalogue of DW’s Library with DW’s distinctive bookplate of Gordon Eric Gordon Tombe; one of DW’s wine trade catalogues; a publicity postcard for ‘The Forbidden Territory’; a signed first edition of ‘The Forbidden Territory’; Crowley’s ‘Magick in Theory and Practice’ inscribed to Dennis Wheatley; DW’s copy of Montague Summers’s ‘Essays in Petto’; Rollo Ahmed’s notes on yoga; a signed first edition of ‘The Devil Rides Out’; DW’s first ‘War Paper’ (CTHB also brought in the second); DW’s special copy of his 50th book, ‘They Used Dark Forces’, and the menu for the dinner which celebrated its launch; and finally one of the ultra rare surviving (and unopened) bottles of DW’s home-made nectarine gin, with its label depicting Grove Place, where he lived.

Click on the images to enlarge

As it was our tenth, Charles then gave a forty five minute talk on ‘DW - the man and his works’, to some extent a reprise of his talk to the Essex Book Fair earlier in the year, putting on display as he talked various items associated with the phases of DW’s life that he was talking about. Some of these were brought in at the special request of attendees who had asked to see them on this special anniversary.

Ken on ‘DW and food’ (part 2)

Charles was followed by Ken G, who completed the talk he had begun the year before about ‘DW and food’. He went through some of DW’s likes (lobster, duck) and dislikes (cold butter – which he simply could not eat), and some of the likes of his characters. While Gregory Sallust was not a ‘foodie’, the Duke de Richleau was, as was Roger Brook.

Ken went through some of the characters’ (and DW’s) favourite dishes such as Duck Montmorency (and here he produced some Montmorency cherries and Montmorency cherry juice for the audience to sample) and Normandy chicken, and then he and Mary to everyone’s astonishment rustled up out-of-nowhere samples of these dishes for the audience to try. And delicious they were too.

He then went on to discuss jugged hare (which to this reviewer’s surprise is not served in a jug !) and the prominence given to picnics in the novels. It was not just complex dishes that DW and his characters enjoyed – they also enjoyed good, plain, wholesome (and in those days largely unprocessed !) food (and again for this, samples were handed round !).

Ken and Mary give the audience the opportunity to taste some of the dishes

Mary, Duncan and John pore over the exhibits

There followed a break before lunchtime, when attendees could look at the material various attendees had laid out on the tables, varying from a set of Heron DW novels which Franklin had very kindly donated to be sold for the benefit of the cause, through to an exhibit of a postcard portrait of DW from World War One, which DW had signed to one of his grandchildren in later years, and an interesting boxed copy of ‘Herewith the Clues’. There was much speculation about whether the box was contemporary or not.

Lunch in the Beaufort Room

A buffet lunch followed in the Beaufort Room.

A very much ‘on form’ Declan delivering his talk

After lunch, courtesy of Jo, who has skilfully taken it for a number of years, we had the usual group photo outside the hotel entrance (see top), and then we repaired to the Arkley Room for the much awaited part two of Declan’s (practical) tour through DW’s famous 1927 wine scroll – part one having been delivered at the 2015 Convention.

The relevant section of the wine scroll, of which only one copy is known to exist

Modern day descendants of some of the liqueurs on the scroll, available for tasting courtesy of Declan

As before, Declan had brought in, where possible, modern day examples of these classic drinks. Unfortunately some are no longer made, and others (such as Centerba Semplice) are likely to go out of production very soon because the ancient way in which they are made is incompatible with the modern pace of life. Some of the drinks were exhorbitantly expensive, such as the Chartreuse in its original carafon, the earliest known form of the drink, which was priced at £ 25 a carafon, or £1,377 in today’s money. As Declan commented, he and Charles had speculated about whether this had been genuine, or a gimmick.

Declan’s talk was – as we have come to expect – extremely lively, and contained a Bertie Wooster impersonation (in context of drinking a ‘Green Swizzle’) that had the whole audience in stitches.

Bill the quiz master

I’m not sure if the timing was good or bad, but Declan’s lecture on ‘drink’ was followed by the quiz, ably hosted and with much good humour by Bill. It was generally agreed that people would rather answer as a group rather than in competitive teams, and Bill launched on us some interesting and extremely varied questions. Those who provided questions included not only those present but a few who couldn’t make it to the Convention this time – most notably Ken and Viv C.

Questions ranged from the deliberately jokey and obscure (What is the 3rd word on the 13th line of the 17th page of the first edition of “The Devil Rides Out” ?) through the novels (example : ‘in which city does The Forbidden Territory end ?’), the films (example : ‘what was the title of the film based on ‘Uncharted Seas’ ?), DW’s life (example : ‘where was DW gassed in World War One ?), and other fact (example : ‘what was the real life inspiration for Weylands School in ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’?’).

I think it is safe to say no-one knew the answers to anything like all of the questions, and the writer of this report for one did not know the answers to quite a few apparently simple ones (example : ‘name the main adversary of Julian Day in ‘The Quest of Julian Day’ ?’). All in all it was tremendous fun, tremendously educational, and I am sure this will be a recurring topic in years to come. Again thanks to all who provided questions, and to Bill for being a brilliant quiz master. If you would like to see the questions to test yourself, click here.

Ken leads the discussion on ‘next year’

Following the quiz, Ken led a discussion of when we would hold the next Convention (it was agreed it will be held on Friday night / Saturday 13th October 2018; again at Elstree, of course), and what attendees would like to do. Many features will be repeated, and possible guest speakers were discussed (one of whom has already accepted the invitation to speak – excellent news !).

There was also discussion of a possible London Field Trip. Everyone was keen, so please follow developments on this (and the Convention) in The Library.

Ken and Mary’s cocktails

Everyone then had some free time, after which we joined Ken and Mary for their traditional cocktails.

Pre-dinner champagne and canapes, courtesy of the hotel

The hotel wished very kindly to mark the occasion of our tenth stay with them, and they gave us complimentary champagne and canapes before dinner.

Our thanks to Kellie, Jo, Filippos and indeed all the staff who once again gave us such a memorable, and such an enjoyable stay.

Dinner in the Regency Room

Dinner was served, as tradition demands, in the Regency Room, and followed by Toasts from Jim, Declan and Bill. While remembering the author who has brought us all together, we did not forget those others who have now gone to a better place, nor our absent friends.

Dancing the night away

Dinner was followed by something unusual – or at least something not hitherto a part of our Conventions, though why not, I do not know. Dancing !

Before the Convention, Duncan had gathered everyone’s favourite songs or pieces of music for a ‘Desert Island Discs’. These were played at various parts of the proceedings, and were then put to good use after dinner, with the ladies (and a couple of the men !) dancing to the music of the ages.

Epilogue : Darren ( or is it Dean Corso ?) doing his homework the following day. Is that the Great God Pan I see about to materialise behind his left shoulder?

Other moments from the Convention caught-in-time

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Great fun it was, as was the whole Convention. On one thing we were all agreed – we cannot wait to do it all again !

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