On this day in 1897: Dennis Wheatley, the master of the occult thriller and WWII deception artist who faded from national icon to obscurity, is born

David Wheatley at his home Credit: Allan Warren

In the mid-twentieth century, one British novelist was almost as popular as Agatha Christie. From the 1930s to the 1960s, he sold over 50 million novels, but today the stories are largely out of print, and only people of a certain age remember the author’s name.

To fans, his most famous adventures were a tantalising glimpse into a glamorous world of nobility and privilege under comprehensive siege from malign and all-pervasive forces of black magic. To modern readers, the stories seem hopelessly out of date, with their moneyed socialites battling covens and clandestine diabolic cults.

Dennis Wheatley was born in Brixton, London, on January 8, 1897. He attended Dulwich College for a year – where he was not happy and was expelled – before becoming a Merchant Navy cadet on the Thames-based HMS Worcester. He then spent a year in Germany learning about wine, before returning to join the family...

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