Dennis Wheatley

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Dennis Wheatley
Dennis Wheatley Allan Warren.jpg
Portrait by Allan Warren, 1975
BornDennis Yeats Wheatley
(1897-01-08)8 January 1897
London, England
Died10 November 1977(1977-11-10) (aged 80)
OccupationWriter, editor
GenreAdventure, occult, and historical fiction
Notable works The Devil Rides Out

Dennis Yeats Wheatley (8 January 1897 – 10 November 1977) was an English writer whose prolific output of thrillers and occult novels made him one of the world's best-selling authors from the 1930s through the 1960s. His Gregory Sallust series was one of the main inspirations for Ian Fleming's James Bond stories. [1]

Thriller (genre) genre of literature, film, and television programming

Thriller is a broad genre of literature, film and television, having numerous, often overlapping subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety. Successful examples of thrillers are the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

The occult is "knowledge of the hidden" or "knowledge of the paranormal", as opposed to facts and "knowledge of the measurable", usually referred to as science. The term is sometimes taken to mean knowledge that "is meant only for certain people" or that "must be kept hidden", but for most practicing occultists it is simply the study of a deeper spiritual reality that extends pure reason and the physical sciences. The terms esoteric and arcane can also be used to describe the occult, in addition to their meanings unrelated to the supernatural.

Ian Fleming English author, journalist and naval intelligence officer

Ian Lancaster Fleming was an English author, journalist and naval intelligence officer who is best known for his James Bond series of spy novels. Fleming came from a wealthy family connected to the merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co., and his father was the Member of Parliament for Henley from 1910 until his death on the Western Front in 1917. Educated at Eton, Sandhurst and, briefly, the universities of Munich and Geneva, Fleming moved through several jobs before he started writing.


Early life

Wheatley was born in South London to Albert David and Florence Elizabeth Harriet (Baker) Wheatley. He was the eldest of three children in the family, which 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 he mentions in his introduction to The Devil Rides Out ).

South London Boroughs of South London in England

South London is the southern part of London, England. Situated south of the River Thames, it includes the historic districts of Southwark, Lambeth, Bankside and Greenwich.

Mayfair area of central London, England

Mayfair is an affluent area in the West End of London towards the eastern edge of Hyde Park, in the City of Westminster, between Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane. It is one of the most expensive districts in London and the world.

Dulwich College independent school for boys in Dulwich, southeast London, England

Dulwich College is a 2–19 independent, boarding school for boys in Dulwich, London, England. It was founded in 1619 by Edward Alleyn, an Elizabethan actor, with the original purpose of educating 12 poor scholars as the foundation of 'God's Gift'. Admission by examination is mainly into years 3, 7, 9, and 12 to the Junior, Lower, Middle and Upper Schools into which the college is divided. It is a member of both the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference and the Eton Group.

Soon after his expulsion Wheatley became a British Merchant Navy officer cadet on the training ship HMS Worcester.

Thames Nautical Training College

The Thames Nautical Training College, as it is now called, was, for over a hundred years, situated aboard ships named HMS Worcester.

Military service

Wheatley was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant into the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War, receiving his basic training at Biscot Camp [2] in Luton. He was assigned to the City of London Brigade and the 36th (Ulster) Division. [3] 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.

Royal Field Artillery unit of the British Army from 1899 to 1924

The Royal Field Artillery (RFA) of the British Army provided close artillery support for the infantry. It came into being when created as a distinct arm of the Royal Regiment of Artillery on 1 July 1899, and was re-amalgamated back into the Regiment proper, along with the Royal Garrison Artillery, in 1924. The Royal Field Artillery was the largest arm of the artillery. It was responsible for the medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line and was reasonably mobile. It was organised into brigades, attached to divisions or higher formations.

Luton Large town in Bedfordshire, England

Luton is a large town, borough and unitary authority area of Bedfordshire, in the East of England. It has a population of 214,700 (mid-2017 est.) and is one of the most populous towns without city status in the United Kingdom. The town is situated on the River Lea, about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of London. Earliest settlements in the Luton area can be traced back over 250,000 years, but the town's foundation dates to the sixth century as a Saxon outpost on the River Lea, from which Luton derives its name. Luton is recorded in the Domesday Book as Loitone and Lintone and one of the largest churches in Bedfordshire, St Mary's Church, was built in the 12th century. There are local museums which explore Luton's history in Wardown Park and Stockwood Park.

36th (Ulster) Division infantry division of the British Army

The 36th (Ulster) Division was an infantry division of the British Army, part of Lord Kitchener's New Army, formed in September 1914. Originally called the Ulster Division, it was made up of mainly members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, who formed thirteen additional battalions for three existing regiments: the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. However, regular Officers and Soldiers and men from all around the United Kingdom made up the strength of the Division. The division served from October 1915 on Western Front as a formation of the British Army during the Great War.

In 1919 he took over management of the family's wine business. In 1931, however, after business had declined because of the Great Depression, he sold the firm and began writing. [3]

Great Depression 20th-century worldwide economic depression

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.

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.

London Controlling Section

The London Controlling Section (LCS) was a secret department established in September 1941, under Oliver Stanley, with a mandate to coordinate Allied strategic military deception during World War II. The LCS was formed within the Joint Planning Staff at the offices of the War Cabinet, which was presided over by Winston Churchill as Prime Minister.

Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve

The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) consists of a number of groupings of Royal Air Force reservists for the management and operation of the RAF's Volunteer Gliding Squadrons and Air Experience Flights of the Royal Air Force Air Cadets. It also forms the working elements of the University Air Squadrons and the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme. Unlike the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, the RAF Volunteer Reserve is not an active reserve from which members may be drawn to supplement the regular air force.

Writing career

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." [4] 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 - making them into Fantasy and specifically Contemporary Fantasy. 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, including 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!.

Wheatley also devised a number of board games including Invasion (1938), [5] Blockade (1939), [6] and Alibi (April 1953).

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.

Wheatley's grave in Brookwood Cemetery Dennis Wheatley Grave Brookwood.jpg
Wheatley's grave in Brookwood Cemetery

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 grandson Dominic Wheatley became one of the co-founders of the software house Domark, which published a number of titles in the 1980s and 1990s. [7]


Wheatley's work reflects his conservative worldview. His protagonists are generally supporters of the monarchy, imperialism and the class system, and many of his villains are villainous because they attack these ideas. Wheatley was an opponent of Nazism and Communism, believing the latter to be controlled by Satanic power. [8] [9]

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 the house 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. [10] [11]

Posthumous publications

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 edited 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. [12]

In Fiction

In Stephen Volk's novella Netherwood (part of Volk's 2018 book The Dark Masters Trilogy), a fictional version of Wheatley meets Aleister Crowley and becomes involved in black magic. [13]


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'.

Film adaptations


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<i>The Haunting of Toby Jugg</i> 1948 psychological thriller novel by Dennis Wheatley

The Haunting of Toby Jugg is a 1948 psychological thriller novel on an occult theme by English writer Dennis Wheatley, incorporating his usual themes of satanic possession and madness, in what was at that time a fresh situation: a disabled British airman recovering from his experiences in the last stages of World War II, in which he played a part in the bombardment of Germany.

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The Haunted Airman is a psychological thriller film first aired on BBC Four on 31 October 2006. Adapted from Dennis Wheatley's 1948 novel The Haunting of Toby Jugg, it was directed by Chris Durlacher and starred Robert Pattinson in the title role, with Rachael Stirling and Julian Sands in supporting roles.

Duke de Richleau Fictional character created by Dennis Wheatley

The Duke De Richleau is a fictional character created by Dennis Wheatley who appeared in 11 novels published between 1933 and 1970.

<i>The Satanist</i> (Wheatley novel) book by Dennis Wheatley

The Satanist is a black magic/horror novel by Dennis Wheatley. Published in 1960, it is characterized by an anti-communist spy theme. The novel was one of the popular novels of the 1960s popularizing the tabloid notion of a black mass.


  1. Peter Sheridan. "Stranger than fiction". Daily and Sunday Express ( Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  2. Biscot. "War Diary". World War One: Great War Stories. Luton Culture ( Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  3. 1 2 "Mr Dennis Wheatley". The Times . London. 12 November 1977. p. 16.
  4. The Time Has Come: The Memoirs of Dennis Wheatley (Vol 3) 1919-1977: Drink and Ink, p. 131.
  5. "Invasion (1938)". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  6. "Blockade (1939)". Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  7. "News Input". Crash – The Online Edition. Issue 10. November 1984.
  8. "For Wheatley, in fact, Satan was the ultimate Cold Warrior: very consistently, across a series of works from, for example, The Haunting of Toby Jugg (1948) through The Satanist (1960) and beyond, Wheatley understood Communism as a gigantic Satanic plot to control the world – Stalin himself was merely a tool or agent of the Devil." Darryl Jones, ""It's in the Trees! It's Coming!" Night of the Demon and the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, in Jones, Elizabeth McCarthy and Bernice M. Murphy, (eds.) It Came From The 1950s! : Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties. New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. ISBN   9780230337237 (p.39).
  9. Carrol L. Fry, Cinema of the Occult : New Age, Satanism, Wicca, and Spiritualism in Film. Bethlehem : Lehigh University Press, 2008. ISBN   9780934223959 (p.104).
  10. "Dennis Wheatley: A Letter to Posterity". BBC Four ( 2005. Archived from the original on 8 January 2006. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  11. "A Letter to Posterity". Dennis Wheatley ( Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  12. "Dennis Wheatley – Prince Of Thriller Writers – To Return". Book Trade ( Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  13. Magdalena Salata, "“But Terrifying People Was What He Did Best”: The Dark Masters Trilogy by Stephen Volk". Diabolique Magazine, 18 November 2018. Retrieved 6 February 2019.

Further reading