The Musuem
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The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - The Women in DW's life

The Women in DW's life

Dennis Wheatley gave an extremely candid account of his interaction with members of the opposite sex in the three main volumes of his autobiography.

He had a younger sister, Muriel, with whom he does not appear to have been particularly close, and he had an 'honorary' sister Hilda Gosling (upon marriage Hilda Gardner), with whom he kept on friendly terms throughout his life.

According to his autobiography, he had three great romances; the first with Barbara Symonds in his youth, the second with Nancy Robinson, his first wife, and his third with Joan Pelham Burn, his second wife.

Between his late teens and his thirties, DW also admitted to having a large number of casual affairs. It will perhaps be a surprise to some that for some people at least, the late 1910s and 1920s were as liberated as the 1960s or our current era, if not more so.

When DW wrote of his friend Gordon Eric Gordon Tombe that "of sex, he had nothing to learn" the same appears to have applied to DW himself, and his unpublished novel "The Lusty Youth of Roger Brook" further confirms that he had nothing to learn from the modern era in this respect.

DW's first crush came at the age of seven, when he fell in love with a girl called Honor at his infant school. He dreamed of rescuing her from various perils, but in real life their roles were reversed and it was she who rescued the young Dennis by doing up his shoe laces when he couldn't do them up himself.

Other school time crushes followed, and when the family moved to Becmead Avenue in 1910, DW met in his neighbour's daughter a lifelong friend. This was Hilda Gosling. DW relates in his autobiography that although in her teens she was very fat, she had enormous vitality and a great sense of humour. In their teens he became her 'stand-by cavalier'. Although they indulged in mildly amorous kissing, according to DW's autobiography, neither of them was "ever actually in love with the other".

In his early teens, while they were still young enough for their intentions to be relatively innocent, DW and his best friend Douglas Sharp spent their spare time attempting to pick up girls. In the main these were the daughters of local shopkeepers, and matters never seem to have progressed much beyond sitting on a park bench and flirting. Most of the girls were scared their parents would give them a good ticking off if they found them talking to strangers, and they proved giggly and tongue tied.

Two of these girls that DW remembered in particular were "the extraordinarily pretty" Irene de Lacy, and a girl nicknamed "Blue Hat". "Blue Hat" had "masses of golden hair, enormous blue eyes and a milk and roses complexion". DW met "Blue Hat" several times, but their budding romance ended abruptly after DW returned from a family holiday. When he got back he found Blue Hat's father's garage empty and the curtains of the apartment in which they had lived gone. Blue Hat's father had presumably got into financial difficulties and done a flit. Persistent even in his youth, the young DW tried to track down the family through the rental agent, but to no avail. He often wondered what happened to her.

When DW was sent to Germany in 1913 to learn about wine, he struck up a friendship with a local girl of good family named Pia Emert, about whom he wrote several stories in his autobiography. Then, back in England, in July 1914 DW met the first great passion of his life (his own words); Barbara Symonds.

DW and Douglas Sharp sat behind two pretty girls in the cinema and followed them out. The girls were reluctant to engage in conversation, but when the second girl's mother came across the girls standing right next to the boys, they had no option but to act as if they were existing acquaintances. The second girl's mother then invited them home for tea. DW was never timid in such circumstances. Seizing the moment, as they washed their hands before tea, DW gave Barbara a kiss. As he recalled, the moment he released her, she ran from the room without speaking.

She can't have thought too badly of him however because later on, if her sister accompanied her as etiquette demanded, Barbara permitted DW to take her out. Sometimes they took DW's motorbike for a ride in the countryside. Barbara and her sister took turns with one riding pillion behind him and the other sitting in the side car.

DW later wrote, "Barbara did not return my love. She readily accepted all the presents I sent her .... yet she never responded to my kisses with any fervour or spontaneously showed affection for me. Yet when at last I went to the Western Front, it was Barbara's photograph in a locket .... that I wore over my heart".

It is not clear exactly when DW lost his virginity. It is possible it was with one of the other girls he saw at around that time (it was certainly not with Barbara), but if not, it was certainly on his forays in 1914 with 'Shitty Bill' Inglis, his Battery Commander (see Room Two).

Not content with their forays with Captain Inglis, DW and his comrade Bertie Davies took a flat in Guilford Street in London. When their army and family duties did not require them to be elsewhere (and DW was still living with his parents when not in barracks), he and Bertie entertained young women at the flat.

Despite this, Barbara was still very much on his mind. As DW later wrote, "much of my free time was occupied by my affairs with a succession of pretty girls and longing for the unattainable Barbara".

DW was sent to France in 1917, and perhaps surprisingly, France also had its consolations. While DW wrote to Hilda that he was "nearly always at least ten miles from a petticoat, and even then generally a very undesirable one", his near contemporary notes and autobiography tell a very different story. When away from the gore and the terror, as the exhibits in this Room show, DW had at least his share of amorous adventures.

From across the Channel the on/off relationship with Barbara carried on, and although he continued to see other girls for more carnal pleasures, he saw her whenever she allowed on his return from the Front. Sometimes DW displeased her despite his best intentions. He proposed to her several times, but she always replied saying "I can't make up my mind yet".

Barbara finally made up her mind, and in the most unfortunate way for DW. In April 1919 DW's father sent him on a cruise as his chest was still troublesome after his gassing in World War One. When his ship arrived in Madeira, he found a letter from Barbara saying that she had just got engaged to one of his closest friends, Cecil Cross.

DW was devastated. He spent most of the following year trying to put Barbara out of his mind, and here his amoral friend Gordon Eric did much to help. When DW's duties at his father's wine shop did not demand otherwise, they spent much of their time out on the town.

Although DW only made small contributions towards the cost of their entertainments (Gordon Eric always insisted on paying the bulk of their expenses), DW's finances deteriorated in their customary fashion. He was entertaining and buying presents for his lady friends when he was not out buying books for his nascent book collection. One of DW's affairs of the time is described in more detail in the pages that follow.

Hilda married in October 1921 and Dennis was best man at the wedding. After this he appears to have been pretty lonely. Things changed however on 12th November when DW's parents threw a dinner party and invited a Mrs Robinson, whom they had recently met, and she brought along her daughter.

Nancy Robinson was "a lovely cendré blonde with beautiful blue eyes", and she sat next to DW at dinner. They were instantly attracted to each other, and despite her having half a dozen young men begging her to marry them, within a week of meeting they were engaged to be married.

The wedding took place 17th June 1922, not long after Gordon Tombe's disappearance. At around the same time, Barbara Symonds and Cecil Cross got married, and DW proudly took Nancy to the wedding (for a description of DW's feelings on the day click here).

For Barbara and Cecil, this was not the end of the story - as Cecil later confessed to DW, for reasons that are still unclear, Barbara left him on the day after their wedding. Nothing is known about what happened to Barbara subsequently.

After a honeymoon in Belgium, Dennis and Nancy moved into a flat in Trebovir Road in Earls Court. The flat had been chosen by DW and Gordon Eric. Some eighteen months later DW's only child was born - his son Anthony.

While the marriage began well - in their courtship DW wrote Nancy poems, and she painted his portrait as 'Dennis the Valiant' - over time it became clear that they had few interests in common. Nancy loved tennis and dancing, but as a result of being gassed DW could no longer play tennis, and although he could dance quite well, he preferred reading, parties, and going out with his male friends. They gradually began to drift apart.

In early 1926, DW took a mistress, Gwen, with whom he had an on-off relationship. The relationship finished when she tore up Nancy's photo. DW and Nancy might be growing apart, but that was completely unacceptable behaviour.

DW took up with other women, but as far as we know it was only in the Spring of 1929 that anything became serious - and that was after Joan Pelham-Burn walked into his office. Joan was the sister of one of DW's well connected staff, and did not make an immediate impact. Over time however they became increasingly close. Joan persuaded DW to leave Nancy in February 1930 and they were divorced in June the following year "after having been married for nine years, most of which had been very happy ones".

DW married Joan in August 1931 and they remained together for the rest of his life.