Dennis Wheatley

Dennis Wheatley
Dennis Wheatley

Portrait by Allan Warren
Born Dennis Yates Wheatley
8 January 1897(1897-01-08)
London, England
Died 10 November 1977(1977-11-10) (aged 80)
Occupation editor, author
Nationality English
Citizenship British
Period 1930-1980
Genres Adventure, Occult, Historical
Notable work(s) "The Devil Rides Out"

Dennis Yates Wheatley (8 January 1897 – 10 November 1977) was an English author. His prolific output of stylish thrillers and occult novels made him one of the world's best-selling authors from the 1930s through the 1960s.


Early life

Dennis Wheatley was born in South London to Albert David and Florence Elizabeth Harriet Wheatley (née Baker). He was the eldest of three children of an upper middle class family, the owners of Wheatley & Son of Mayfair, a wine business. He was expelled from Dulwich College. Soon after his expulsion Wheatley became a British Merchant Navy officer cadet on the training ship HMS Worcester.

Military service

He was a soldier during the First World War but was gassed in a chlorine attack at Passchendaele and invalided as a second lieutenant of the Royal Field Artillery after service in Flanders, on the Ypres Salient, and in France at Cambrai and St. Quentin. In 1919 he assumed management of the family wine merchant business in but in 1931, after a decline in business due to the depression, he began writing and married his second wife.

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 gained him employment with planning staffs for the War Office. He wrote numerous papers for the War Office, including suggestions for dealing with a German invasion of Britain (recounted in his work Stranger than Fiction). The most famous of his submissions to the Joint Planning Staff of the war cabinet was on "Total War". He was given a commission directly into the JP Service as Wing Commander, RAFVR and took part in advanced planning for the Normandy invasions.

Writing career

His first novel published, The Forbidden Territory, was an immediate success when issued in 1933, being reprinted seven times in seven weeks.

Wheatley mainly wrote adventure stories, 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 series).

His writing is very descriptive and in many works he manages to involve his characters with real events while meeting real people. For example, in the Roger Brook series the main character involves himself with Napoleon and Joséphine whilst being a spy for Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Similarly, in the Gregory Sallust series, Sallust shares an evening meal with Hermann Göring.

During the 1930s, he conceived a series of mysteries, presented as case files, with testimonies, letters, pieces of evidence such as hairs or pills. The reader had to read the 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, his publishers were 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 his autobiography. He was considered an authority on the supernatural, satanism, the practice of exorcism, and black magic, to all of which he was hostile. During his study of the paranormal, though, he joined the Ghost Club.

Wheatley invented a number of board games including Invasion[1] (1938), Blockade[2] (1939) and Alibi (April 1953).

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.

In the early/mid-1970s, 52 of Dennis Wheatley's novels were offered in a set by Heron Books UK. His availability and influence declined following his death, partly owing to difficulties of reprinting his works because of copyright problems. More recently, Wheatley's literary estate was acquired by media company Chorion in April 2008, and several titles have been reissued in Wordsworth paperback editions. A new hardcover omnibus of Black Magic novels was released by Prion in 2011.

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.[3]


His work is fairly typical of his class and era, portraying a way of life and ethos of clubland snobbery 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 various protagonists against each other in the setting of the Spanish Civil War. His works are enjoyable thrillers, and his "Roger Brook" series books, in particular, offer the reader "history without tears" (Wheatley, in the introduction to The Man Who Killed the King). His historical analysis is affected by his politics, but is well informed. For example, Vendetta in Spain (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 the '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 an unjust state, and he advised both passive and active resistance to it.

"Socialist ‘planning’ forbids any man to kill his own sheep or pig, cut down his own tree, put up a wooden shelf in his own house, build a shack in his garden, and either buy or sell the great majority of commodities – without a permit. In fact, it makes all individual effort an offence against the state. Therefore, this Dictatorship of the Proletariat, instead of gradually improving the conditions in which the lower classes live, as has been the aim of all past governments, must result in reducing everyone outside the party machine to the level of the lowest, idlest and most incompetent worker.
It will be immensely difficult to break the stranglehold of the machine, but it can be done, little by little; the first step being the formation of secret groups of friends for free discussion. Then numbers of people can begin systematically to break small regulations, and so to larger ones with passive resistance by groups of people pledged to stand together – and eventually the boycotting, or ambushing and killing of unjust tyrannous officials."
Dennis Wheatley, A Letter to Posterity

List of works

  • The Duke De Richleau series:
    • The Forbidden Territory (January 1933) - filmed in 1934
    • The Devil Rides Out (December 1934) - filmed in 1968
    • The Golden Spaniard (August 1938)
    • Three Inquisitive People (February 1940)
    • Strange Conflict (April 1941)
    • Codeword - Golden Fleece (May 1946)
    • The Second Seal (November 1950)
    • The Prisoner in the Mask (September 1957)
    • Vendetta in Spain (August 1961)
    • Dangerous Inheritance (August 1965)
    • Gateway to Hell (August 1970)
  • The Gregory Sallust series:
    • Black August (January 1934)
    • Contraband (October 1936)
    • The Scarlet Impostor (January 1940)
    • Faked Passports (June 1940)
    • The Black Baroness (October 1940)
    • V for Vengeance (March 1942)
    • Come into My Parlour (November 1946)
    • The Island Where Time Stands Still (September 1954)
    • Traitors' Gate (September 1958)
    • They Used Dark Forces (October 1964)
    • The White Witch of the South Seas (August 1968)
  • The Julian Day series:
    • The Quest of Julian Day (January 1939)
    • The Sword of Fate (September 1941)
    • Bill for the Use of a Body (April 1964)
  • The Roger Brook series:
    • The Launching of Roger Brook (July 1947)
    • The Shadow of Tyburn Tree (May 1948)
    • The Rising Storm (October 1949)
    • The Man Who Killed the King (November 1951)
    • The Dark Secret of Josephine (March 1955)
    • The Rape of Venice (October 1959)
    • The Sultan's Daughter (August 1963)
    • The Wanton Princess (August 1966)
    • Evil in a Mask (August 1969)
    • The Ravishing of Lady Mary Ware (August 1971)
    • The Irish Witch (August 1973)
    • Desperate Measures (September 1974)
  • The Molly Fountain mini-series:
  • "Lost World" novels:
    • They Found Atlantis [Camilla and others] (January 1936)
    • Uncharted Seas [Various] (January 1938) - filmed in 1968 as The Lost Continent)
    • The Man Who Missed the War [Philip Vaudell] (November 1945)
  • Other Science Fiction novels:
    • Sixty Days to Live [Lavinia Leigh and others] (August 1939)
    • Star of Ill-Omen [Kem Lincoln] (May 1952)
  • Other Adventure/Espionage novels:
    • Such Power is Dangerous [Avril Bamborough] (June 1933)
    • The Fabulous Valley [The Heirs of John Thomas Long] (August 1934)
    • The Eunuch of Stamboul [Swithin Destime] (July 1935) - filmed in 1936 as Secret of Stamboul
    • The Secret War [Sir Anthony Lovelace, Christopher Pen, Valerie Lorne] (January 1937)
    • Curtain of Fear [Nicholas Novák] (October 1953)
    • Mayhem in Greece [Robbie Green] (August 1962)
    • The Strange Story of Linda Lee [Linda Lee] (August 1972)
  • Other Occult novels:
    • The Haunting of Toby Jugg [Toby Jugg] (December 1948) - filmed in 2006 as The Haunted Airman
    • The Ka of Gifford Hillary (Gifford Hillary] (July 1956)
    • Unholy Crusade ['Lucky' Adam Gordon] (August 1967)
  • Short Story collections:
    • Mediterranean Nights (October 1942, revised 1963)
    • Gunmen, Gallants and Ghosts (June 1943, revised 1963)
  • Historical Non-Fiction:
    • Old Rowley: A Private Life of Charles II (September 1933)
    • Red Eagle: The Story of the Russian Revolution and of Klementy Efremovitch Voroshilov, Marshal and Commissar for Defence of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (October 1937)
  • Reference:
    • The Devil and all his Works (September 1971)
  • War Papers and Autobiographical:
    • Total War (December 1941)
    • Stranger than Fiction (February 1959)
    • Saturdays with Bricks: And Other Days Under Shell-Fire (March 1961)
    • The Time Has Come ... : The Memoirs of Dennis Wheatley: The Young Man Said 1897-1914 (1977)
    • The Time Has Come ... : The Memoirs of Dennis Wheatley: Officer and Temporary Gentleman 1914-1919 (1978)
    • The Time Has Come ... : The Memoirs of Dennis Wheatley: Drink and Ink 1919-1977 (1979)
    • The Deception Planners: My Secret War (August 1980)
  • Private Printings:
    • The Seven Ages of Justerini's (1749-1949) (1949)
    • Of Vice and Virtue (1950)
    • The Eight Ages of Justerini's (1749-1965) (1965)
    • The Nine Ages of Justerini's: A Celebration of 250 Years (1998)
  • Crime Dossiers (with J.G. Links):
    • Murder off Miami (July 1936)
    • Who Killed Robert Prentice? (June 1937)
    • The Malinsay Massacre (April 1938)
    • Herewith the Clues! (July 1939)
  • Board Games:
    • Invasion (1938)
    • Blockade (1939)
    • Alibi (1953)

Film Adaptations

  • 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 9781903517758


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Crash Online: Issue Ten: November 1984

External links

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