The Society’s Annual Convention (11-14 August) was held at the University of Essex, Colchester campus. The Society’s new website was live for the first time and delegates were able to see the changes that had been made. Like all websites, it is a work in progress and changes can be made at any time.
There were many enjoyable talks and activities. Society Archivist Alison Hall gave a talk entitled ‘Public Opinion -The Bishop and the BBC: Letters about The Man Born to be King’. This was a fascinating look behind the scenes at the challenges faced by DLS and the BBC in the broadcasting of the play.
Dr Jennifer Palmer then spoke to delegates on ‘The 1930s as reflected in the Detective Fiction of Dorothy L. Sayers’. This informative talk ranged over contemporary attitudes, clothing, the status of women, politics, food, travel and the after-effects of the Great War.
Nigel Simeone gave a moving presentation entitled ‘What Passing Bells: Music in the Great War’ the focus of which was composers (British, Australian, Italian, French and German) who had been involved in the war and the music they composed: George Butterworth, Rudi Stephan, Frances Purcell Warren, Frederick Septimus Kelly, William Denis Browne, Cecil Coles, Arthur Bliss, Tulio Serafin, Ezio Pinza and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Nigel played excerpts from their music and described their service in the war and, all too often, their deaths during the conflict.
Professor Suzanne Bray gave a talk ‘Creed or Chaos: Varying the Words a Trifle’. The talk centred on the writings by DLS that made up the volume Creed or Chaos, a collection dated between 1938-1945. Suzanne outlined DLS’s commitment to Christianity and her response to the conflict around her, giving examples of DLS’s spiritual development and her inspiration to others in troubled times.
Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer was held on the Sunday of the Convention, celebrated by the Reverend Alan Jesson.
In the afternoon, Claiborne Ray presented some excerpts from films involving screenplays written as adaptations of fiction by DLS. Ealing Studio’s 1935 production of Silent Passenger as rewritten by the studio had an enjoyable bad script and the dialogue caused a good deal of merriment. We heard some excerpts from radio adaptations of fiction featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. We were also treated to a screening of excerpts from a 1940 film of Busman’s Honeymoon, featuring Robert Montgomery as Lord Peter (sweet but dim) and Constance Cummings as Harriet (not dressed in cloth of gold but in a ridiculous headdress and veil). Some adaptations have not stood the test of time!
A rehearsed play reading of Busman’s Honeymoon then followed and it has to be said it was a lot better (and stuck more to the original) than the 1940 film adaptation. Alan Jesson was a marvellous Lord Peter (not a bit dim) and Harriet was cleverly played by Lenelle Davis with Richard Birkett as a scene-stealing Frank Crutchley. Gillian Hill sensitively portrayed Aggie Twitterton and David Doughan, complete with excess knitwear, was Mr Puffett, the chimney sweep. Hilary Robinson was Martha Ruddle, Chris Seymour was delightfully vague as the Rev’d. Goodacre and Carol Bagnall played Mr McBride. Our Vice President, Philip Scowcroft played P.C. Sellon, with our Chair, Seona Ford, directing.
Monday Morning began with a talk from Vice Chair, Geraldine Perriam, ‘ “The Courts or a Horsewhip”: DLS Reviewer and Reviewed’. The title of the talk came from a quotation from historian, Professor Sir David Cannadine. The theme of the talk was the art of reviewing with particular focus on Taking Detective Stories Seriously (available from the Society), a newly published volume of reviews written by DLS for The Sunday Times between 1933 and 1935, edited and introduced by Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association, Martin Edwards. Also discussed were reviews of DLS’s detective fiction. It was noted that these were largely positive until the publication of Gaudy Night when detective fiction reviewers felt that the detection was less prominent in the novels.
DLS read and reviewed three novels per week which was quite a feat during a busy, working life. The reviews are packed full of knowledgeable critique of the genre, funny asides and a genuine understanding of what readers want from detective fiction. This collection of her reviews is enjoyable and informative reading for anyone interested in Golden Age fiction.
The final session was a series of memories of ‘Dorothy in Essex’ read by members of the Society. Seona Ford had prepared the readings, selecting them from the Society Archive. Seona’s father, Dr Jim Denholm, who was DLS’s GP, recalled DLS having the biggest ashtray he had ever seen. Others described DLS’s life in Witham, where she lived with her husband Mac, her enjoyment of long baths and her dedication to completing The Times crossword.
Some delegates then returned to Witham to explore DLS’s home town.