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Portrait by Allan Warren
|Born||Dennis Yeats Wheatley
8 January 1897
|Died||10 November 1977(aged 80)|
|Genre||Adventure, Occult, Historical|
|Notable works||The Devil Rides Out|
Dennis Yeats Wheatley (8 January 1897 – 10 November 1977) was an English author whose prolific output of thrillers and occult novels made him one of the world's best-selling writers from the 1930s through the 1960s. His Gregory Sallust series was one of the main inspirations for Ian Fleming's James Bond stories.
He was born in South London to Albert David and Florence Elizabeth Harriet (Baker) Wheatley. He was the eldest of three children in the family that owned Wheatley & Son of Mayfair, a wine business. He admitted to having little aptitude for schooling and was later expelled from Dulwich College for allegedly forming a "secret society" (as mentioned in the writer’s introduction of The Devil Rides Out).
Wheatley was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant into the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War, receiving his basic training at Biscot Camp in Luton. He was assigned to the City of London Brigade and the 36th (Ulster) Division. Wheatley was gassed in a chlorine attack during Passchendaele and was invalided out, having served in Flanders, on the Ypres Salient, and in France at Cambrai and St. Quentin. In 1919 he took over management of the family's wine business. In 1931 however, after business declined in the Great Depression, he sold the firm and began writing.
During the Second World War, Wheatley was a member of the London Controlling Section, which secretly coordinated strategic military deception and cover plans. His literary talents led to his working with planning staffs for the War Office. He wrote numerous papers for them, including suggestions for dealing with a possible Nazi invasion of Britain (recounted in his works Stranger than Fiction and The Deception Planners). The most famous of his submissions to the Joint Planning Staff of the war cabinet was on "Total War". He received a direct commission in the JP Service as a Wing Commander, RAFVR, and took part in the plans for the Normandy invasions. After the war Wheatley was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star for his role in the war effort.
His first book, Three Inquisitive People, was not published when completed, but came out later, in 1940. However, his next novel made quite a splash. Called The Forbidden Territory, it was an immediate success when issued by Hutchinson in 1933, being reprinted seven times in seven weeks. After finishing The Fabulous Valley, Wheatley decided to use the theme of black magic for his next book. He wrote: "The fact that I had read extensively about ancient religions gave me some useful background, but I required up-to-date information about occult circles in this country. My friend, Tom Driberg, who then lived in a mews flat just behind us in Queen's Gate, proved most helpful. He introduced me to Aleister Crowley, the Reverend Montague Summers and Rollo Ahmed."  The release the next year of his occult story, The Devil Rides Out—hailed by James Hilton as "the best thing of its kind since Dracula"—cemented his reputation as "The Prince of Thriller Writers."
Wheatley mainly wrote adventure novels, with many books in a series of linked works. Background themes included the French Revolution (the Roger Brook series), Satanism (the Duke de Richleau series), World War II (the Gregory Sallust series) and espionage (the Julian Day novels). Over time, each of his major series would include at least one book pitting the hero against some manifestation of the supernatural. He came to be considered an authority on Satanism, the practice of exorcism, and black magic, toward all of which he expressed hostility. During his study of the paranormal, though, he joined the Ghost Club.
In many of his works, Wheatley wove in interactions between his characters and actual historical events and individuals. For example, in the Roger Brook series the main character involves himself with Napoleon and Joséphine whilst spying for Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Similarly, in the Gregory Sallust series, Sallust shares an evening meal with Hermann Göring.
During the 1930s, Wheatley conceived a series of mysteries, presented as case files, with testimonies, letters, and pieces of evidence such as hairs or pills. The reader had to inspect this evidence to solve the mystery before unsealing the last pages of the file, which gave the answer. Four of these 'Crime Dossiers' were published: Murder Off Miami, Who Killed Robert Prentice, The Malinsay Massacre, and Herewith The Clues!.
In the 1960s, Hutchinson was selling a million copies of his books per year, and most of his titles were kept available in hardcover. A few of his books were made into films by Hammer, of which the best known is The Devil Rides Out (book 1934, film 1968). Wheatley also wrote non-fiction works, including an account of the Russian Revolution, a life of King Charles II of England, and several autobiographical volumes.
He edited several collections of short stories, and from 1974 through 1977, he supervised a series of 45 paperback reprints for the British publisher Sphere with the heading "The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult", selecting the titles and writing short introductions for each book. These included both occult-themed novels by the likes of Bram Stoker and Aleister Crowley (with whom he once shared a lunch) and non-fiction works on magic, occultism, and divination by authors such as the Theosophist H. P. Blavatsky, the historian Maurice Magre, the magician Isaac Bonewits, and the palm-reader Cheiro.
Two weeks before his death in November 1977, Wheatley received conditional absolution from his old friend Cyril 'Bobby' Eastaugh, the Bishop of Peterborough. He was cremated at Tooting and his ashes interred at Brookwood Cemetery. He is commemorated on the Baker/Yeats family monument at West Norwood Cemetery.
His estate library was sold in a catalogue sale by Basil Blackwell's in 1979. It suggested a well-read individual with wide-ranging interests, particularly with respect to historical fiction and Europe.
His work is fairly typical of his class and era, portraying a way of life and a gentleman's club ethos that gives an insight into the values of the time. His main characters are all supporters of Royalty, Empire and the class system, and many of his villains are villainous because they attack these ideas, although in The Golden Spaniard he pits his series protagonists against each other in the setting of the Spanish Civil War. His works are thrillers, and his "Roger Brook" (French Revolution/Napoleonic Wars) series books, in particular, offer the reader what Wheatley, in the introduction to The Man Who Killed the King, called "history without tears." His historical analysis is affected by his politics, but is well-informed. For example, Vendetta in Spain (a pre-World War I adventure in that country) contains a discussion of political anarchism which is well-researched, though unsympathetic. His strong attachment to personal liberty also informs much of his work. This, as well as a sympathetic attitude toward Jews (as shown in the 'Simon Aron' character introduced in Three Inquisitive People) caused him to criticise the Nazi system mercilessly, in those 'Gregory Sallust' thrillers set during World War II.
During the winter of 1947, Wheatley penned 'A Letter to Posterity' which he buried in an urn at his country home. The letter was intended to be discovered some time in the future (it was found in 1969 when that home was demolished for redevelopment of the property). In it, he predicted that the socialist reforms introduced by the post-war government would result inevitably in the abolition of the monarchy, the "pampering" of a "lazy" working class, and national bankruptcy. He advised both passive and active resistance to the resulting "tyranny," including "ambushing and killing of unjust tyrannous officials."
Employers are now no longer allowed to run their businesses as they think best but have become the bond slaves of socialist state planning. The school leaving age has been put up to 16, and a 5 day working week has been instituted in the mines, the railways and many other industries... The doctrine of ensuring every child a good start in life and equal opportunities is fair and right, but the intelligent and the hardworking will always rise above the rest, and it is not a practical proposition that the few should be expected to devote their lives exclusively to making things easy for the majority. In time, such a system is bound to undermine the vigour of the race.
From 1972 to 1977 (the year of his death), 52 of Dennis Wheatley's novels were offered in a uniform hardcover set by Heron Books UK. (This was in addition to Hutchinson's own "Lymington" library edition, published from 1961 to 1979.) Having brought each of his major fictional series to a close with the final Roger Brook novel, Wheatley then turned to his memoirs. These were announced as five volumes, but never completed, and were eventually published as three books, the (fourth) volume concerning the Second World War issued as a separate title. His availability and influence declined following his death, partly owing to difficulties of reprinting his works because of copyright problems.
In 1998 Justerini & Brooks celebrated their upcoming 250th anniversary by revising his last work about their house, 'The Eight Ages of Justerini's' (1965) and re-issuing it as 'The Nine Ages of Justerini's'. The revision by Susan Keevil brought the history up to date.
Wheatley's literary estate was acquired by media company Chorion in April 2008, and several titles were reissued in Wordsworth paperback editions. A new hardcover omnibus of Black Magic novels was released by Prion in 2011.
When Chorion encountered financial problems in 2012, the Rights House and PFD acquired four crime estates from them, including the Wheatley titles. PFD hoped to broker new series for TV and radio, and a move to digital publishing.
In October 2013, Bloomsbury Reader began republishing 56 of his titles; many of these will be censored and abridged. However, many of them will also have new introductions evaluating Wheatley's work, including some written by his grandson, Dominic Wheatley. These are to be available in both printed format and as ebooks.
List of works
All titles in this list (up to the end of the 'Short Story Collection' section) were made available in the 1970s 'Heron' hardback edition, except for the titles marked with an 'X'.
- Forbidden Territory (November 1934)
- Secret of Stamboul; US title The Spy in White (adaptation of The Eunuch of Stamboul; October 1936)
- The Devil Rides Out; US title The Devil's Bride (July 1968)
- The Lost Continent (adaptation of Uncharted Seas; July 1968)
- To the Devil a Daughter (March 1976)
- The Haunted Airman (adaptation of The Haunting of Toby Jugg; October 2006)
- Baker, Phil, The Devil is a Gentleman: the Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley, Sawtry, UK: Dedalus. 2009. ISBN 978-1903517758
- Cabell, Craig, Dennis Wheatley: Churchill's Storyteller, Staplehurst, UK: Spellmount. 2005. ISBN 978-1862272422
- Wisker, Gina. "Horrors and Menaces to Everything Decent in Life: the Horror Fiction of Dennis Wheatley". In Clive Bloom, ed. Creepers: British Horror and Fantasy in the Twentieth Century. London & Boulder CO: Pluto Press, 1993, pp. 99–110.
- Peter Sheridan. "Stranger than fiction". Express.co.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- Biscot. "War Diary". http://www.worldwar1luton.com/. Luton Culture. Retrieved 08/09/2014. Check date values in:
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- "Mr Dennis Wheatley". The Times (London). 12 November 1977. p. 16.
- The Time Has Come: The Memoirs of Dennis Wheatley (Vol 3) 1919-1977: Drink and Ink, p. 131.
- "Invasion - Board Game - BoardGameGeek". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- "Blockade - Board Game - BoardGameGeek". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
- Crash Online: Issue Ten: November 1984
- "Dennis Wheatley: A Letter to Posterity". BBC Four. 2005. Archived from the original on 8 January 2006. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- "A Letter to Posterity". DennisWheatley. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- "Book Trade Announcements - Dennis Wheatley - Prince Of Thriller Writers - To Return". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
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