A talk by Phil Baker

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Charles
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A talk by Phil Baker

Post by Charles » Wed 24 Feb, 2010 10:26:05

Phil Baker rarely gives talks, but he is giving one at Treadwells Bookshop in Covent Garden on Thursday 4th March.

Its title is "The Occult Life of Dennis Wheatley: Master of Occult Fiction".

The audience has to be in place at 7.15 p.m. for a 7.30 p.m. start, and I am advised that prompt arrival is essential.

There is a booking fee of £7, and if anyone wants to go they should book a.s.a.p - it's advance booking only, and Treadwells talks are often oversubscribed.

Treadwells telephone number is 020 7240 8906 - have your credit card handy.

Further details can be found on the relevant webpage :

http://www.treadwells-london.com/lectur ... nches.html

I'll be in the audience - I'll look forward to seeing anyone else who can make it.

Best wishes as always
Charles

Jim
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Post by Jim » Wed 24 Feb, 2010 23:07:59

Interesting that they show an old American edition of The Devil Rides Out, and not the currently-available one.

I hope someone will report here on the talk...

Steve Whatley
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Post by Steve Whatley » Wed 10 Mar, 2010 22:54:01

Oh, go on then...

Black Magic In The Bookshop Basement

On the evening of Thursday 4th March 2010 a motley crew of enthusiasts gathered at Treadwells Bookshop in London’s Covent Garden to hear biographer Phil Baker’s talk on ‘The Occult Life of Dennis Wheatley; Master of Occult Fiction.’ Amongst the audience of 41 (including two staff members) who squeezed into the intimate basement room were our very own Charles Beck and Yours Truly with partner Jean. Two further staff members, in true Wheatley thriller tradition, were probably listening out of sight in the passageway.

In a talk which was scheduled to last an hour, Phil spent nearly 25 minutes on what was effectively the introduction, but he nevertheless retained the attention of his audience as he set the scene by establishing Dennis Wheatley’s position as the most successful writer of occult thrillers in the twentieth century. He cited (amongst numerous examples) the unmistakable influence of Wheatley which he spotted in Robert Irwin’s story of Sixties sex and Satanism, ‘Satan Wants Me’ (Dedalus, 1999), and described the memory of his own youthful impression of the Wheatley black magic novels as always having ‘an atmosphere of impending group sex.’ It was here that we were reminded that after his death, Wheatley’s leather-bound set of his own works was snapped up at the 1979 Blackwell’s auction to become part of the library of Sir John Paul Getty (1932-2003).

Mr Baker then proceeded to examine the varying extents to which the several notable characters from the occult world had influenced Wheatley’s works. By far the greatest of these influences appears to have been the Reverend Montague Summers (1880-1948), an eccentric who habitually appeared in eighteenth-century cleric’s dress, and who was credited with having performed the first black magic ceremony in England. This, we were told, took place on Boxing Day 1918 at 15 Eaton Road, Hampstead, but Mr Baker then confused matters by stating that Summers had attended a Black Mass in Bath ten years earlier. Perhaps the Summers archives – lost for many years after the death of his partner Hector Stuart-Forbes (in 1950), but recently unearthed in Canada – may shed some light on that puzzle, and (who knows?) give us some more nuggets of Dennis Wheatley detail.

Other sources which Wheatley explored for his black magic novels were Grillot de Givry’s ‘Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy’ (Harrap, 1931), and ‘The Return of the Magi’ by Maurice Magre (1877-1941), which would later appear in the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult. Less influential were Rollo Ahmed (who drew largely on Summers for material), Eliphas Levi (1810-1875), and – perhaps surprisingly – Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). The latter may have been partly responsible for fabricating the centuries-old history of black magic, which was, in fact, a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century invention. Tom Driberg’s account of how he introduced Crowley to Wheatley was apparently not accurate, and Wheatley’s two favourite Crowley anecdotes were not recounted from personal experience, but borrowed from Driberg (1905-76). Another possible model for Wheatley’s characters was the renowned ghost hunter Harry Price (1881-1948), a real-life version of William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki. Price, however, came to disbelieve in all things spiritual, but kept up the pretence of belief to ‘give the public what they want’ (or more likely, to earn a handsome living).

Phil Baker mentioned that he has identified Medina Place, near Lord’s cricket ground, as the location of Simon Aaron’s St. John’s Wood home in ‘The Devil Rides Out’; the door in the wall is unmistakable. He then went on to demonstrate that Wheatley produced his novels not merely for the income they earned him, nor just to entertain his faithful followers, but also as a medium for delivering political messages. Apart from the obvious instances such as the communist threat in ‘Curtain of Fear’, his Satanist villains in ‘The Devil Rides Out’, ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’ and ‘The Ka of Gifford Hilary’ were all members of some sinister political faction or other. His heroes in ‘The Satanist’ had to combat satanic trade-unionists, and in ‘Gateway To Hell’ the threat was the black power movement. By the nineteen-sixties, Wheatley had taken on the mantle of the late Montague Summers as ‘the father of the occult’, and in 1972 he lectured on the subject to one hundred and fifty members of the Church of England clergy in Northampton.

When an hour’s fact-filled talk was over, Phil Baker dealt with questions from an eager audience. Did Wheatley believe that Satanism inspired communism, or that communism led to Satanism? Had Wheatley really suggested that all anti-apartheid demonstrators and campaigners for nuclear disarmament were Satanists? What was the true extent of Wheatley’s involvement with the security services? Was a suburban upbringing responsible for Wheatley’s great respect for the aristocracy? Most of the answers can be found in Baker’s comprehensive biography, but one last anecdote was that when asked by spymaster Maxwell Knight (1900-68) whether he remembered meeting William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw), Wheatley denied ever having met the man for fear of being denounced as a Nazi sympathiser.

Despite repeatedly protesting in the past (according to Charles) that he doesn’t like ‘public speaking’, Phil Baker’s delivery was clear and relaxed. The whole thing had the air of an intimate conversation. The heavily-bandaged hand, which had nearly caused him to postpone the event, did not seem to bother him until after the talk, when it started bleeding: dark forces at work?

To return to the ‘motley crew’ mentioned at the beginning – well, there were people dressed all in black (nothing sinister in that), one with more metal in her face than I have on my keyring (not unusual these days), and several men with hair long enough to be tied back (Roger Brook fans presumably). Whilst Charles’s claim that nearly all the men present sported beards was something of an exaggeration, there were quite a number of goatees, some of them a bit sinister - and one positively Satanic. But despite all this, no black magic was actually performed in the bookshop basement – honest!

NOTE: Many of the dates which I've quoted were found in Wikipedia, a handy reference but notoriously inaccurate, so please don't bother to correct me on any of them. Why not correct Wikipedia instead?
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Stevie P
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Post by Stevie P » Sat 13 Mar, 2010 11:33:50

Hi Steve,

Great review. I wish I could have been there with you, complete with artificial beard!!!

One point I thought I ought to mention;

Your text states;

"Phil Baker mentioned that he has identified Medina Place, near Lord’s cricket ground, as the location of Simon Aaron’s St. John’s Wood home in ‘The Devil Rides Out’;"

I think you'll find its Melina Place. I only discovered this by looking at my A - Z for the location. I must get along there and look out for any strange going's on..........

All the best

Stevie P

Charles
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Post by Charles » Sat 13 Mar, 2010 12:39:23

Steve - what a superb review. Thanks for volunteering to do it !

Very little I can add from my side ...

Among sources mentioned there was also Camille Flammarion's "Death and its Mystery" - and Phil mentioned how DW wrote in his copy (per the Blackwells Catalogue, item 634) "so many really well attested occurences of the supernatural - after reading these pages, the most rationale could no longer doubt".

Also, as mentioned elsewhere in The Library, DW took 'The Sussamma Ritual" and the Pentacle made of neon striplights that features in "To The Devil A Daughter" straight from William Hope Hodgson.

I found it interesting that Phil put Crowley last among DW's sources, while DW always tended to put him first - possibly because of Crowley's notoriety. As Phil mentioned, while DW often recounted the two 'Driberg' Crowley stories, and showed off his wonderfully inscribed copy of "Magick" at 'the drop of a hat', he never really talked about the lunch with AC itself. Curious. If I could be a 'fly on the wall' (preferably non-reincarnated) at two of DW's meetings, it would be at that lunch and the meal at which Ian Fleming was one of his guests at the height of World War II.

Steve P is right about Melina Place .. and a wonderfully evocative place it is. Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. One of Phil's many finds !

One last thing ... Steve W, his partner Jean and I had an excellent Greek meal afterwards - those of you who couldn't attend - be sorry you missed it !

Treadwells sometimes ask speakers back for repeat sessions. If Phil gives another talk, my advice is - Don't Miss It !

Again great stuff both Steve's - this is what The Library's all about !

Jim - we thought of you !

All best to all of you !
Charles

Steve Whatley
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Post by Steve Whatley » Sat 13 Mar, 2010 13:55:14

Thanks Stevie for you correction - that was one of the things I didn't bother to check. Jean thinks we may have explored this road by car one evening a couple of years ago, but I can't remember it very well. Guess we'll have to go back and have another look - maybe in daylight and with a camera.

And thanks Charles for your additions which are particularly valuable, as I felt I was a bit short on detail of that kind - I had a great long list of names with very few specific examples of their actual influence on DW.

PS Charles, I see you haven't been able to get rid of that smiling face thing on Maxwell Knight's dates yet. I would like publicly to denounce it as a 'computer glitch'! (Or is it Satan in sunglasses?)[font=Courier New] [/font]

Charles
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Post by Charles » Sat 13 Mar, 2010 22:13:49

Steve

Re your PS

Those who watch supernatural programmes on TV will tell you there's no such thing as an accident.

I have asked the software chaps who stand behind the site to fix it, but I see so far it hasn't been done.

Perhaps they're busy - but then again perhaps its fate or pre-destination ....

All best !
Charles

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