Monday, January 11, 2016

H.B. Gregory

H.B. Gregory (b. Derby, Derbyshire, 5 December 1912; d. Lichfield, Staffordshire, 6 August 2007)

Harry Beare Gregory was the only child of Harry Welbourne Gregory (1879-1960), the manager of a wall paper manufacturer, and his wife, Constance Ellen Beare (1883-1971), who were married on 19 December 1908 in Littleover, Derbyshire. 

Little is known of his early life or education, but by the late 1930s Gregory was working in a bank, and he had begun writing plays for his church theatre. He was a devout Anglo-Catholic. He married Ivy Joan Mee (1917-1999) in Derby, Derbyshire, in the spring of 1939. They had two daughters. Gregory served for nearly six years in the army during World War II, mostly in India, before returning to his bank job in 1946. In 1972, Gregory retired from his career as a bank manager.

The 1940 dust-wrapper
Gregory’s only book, the novel Dark Sanctuary (London: Rider, [February] 1940), is the tale of a family curse on the Lovells, who have an ancestral home on Kestral, an imaginary island off the coast of Cornwall. It shows the decided influence of Dennis Wheatley and Charles Williams, with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft.  It was publish in a small edition, and received almost no notice until 1983 when Karl Edward Wagner listed it as one of the “13 Best Supernatural Horror Novels” in a series of lists in the May-June 1983 issue of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine. Wagner’s contributions therein were based more on scarcity than on literary quality, and have elevated the desire for the specifically-mentioned titles well beyond their literary value.  In the last few decades, many of these impossibly rare titles have been reprinted, and thus can at last be assessed on their merits—or lack thereof. Dark Sanctuary was reprinted in a limited edition hardcover in 2001 by Midnight House, with a speculative introduction by D.H. Olson. Noted genre authority E.F. Bleiler called Dark Sanctuary “really third rate,” but that dismissal is a bit harsh. More realistically, Dark Sanctuary is no lost classic, but it is an interesting period piece, and it is fairly typical of many library thrillers of its time.

In the summer of 2004, the author, presumed long-dead, turned up alive and well at age 91, and in the autumn he was interviewed by John Pelan of Midnight House, though the interview was not published for nearly five years, appearing in the Summer 2009 issue of Allen K’s Inhuman Magazine. Gregory noted that he wrote Dark Sanctuary after spending his honeymoon near the island of St. Michael’s Mount, off the Cornish coast near Penzance.  This locale inspired the island of Kestral. Dark Sanctuary was again reprinted in 2012 by John Pelan’s Dancing Tuatara imprint with Ramble House Publishers. It reprints Olson’s introduction, and adds a fannish puff-piece by Pelan and his 2004 interview with Gregory. 

Gregory gave up after the lack of success of his novel. In the late 1950s he returned to writing and penned a small number of short stories for The Boy’s Own Paper.  The first was probably “Boys on the Moon” (publication date unknown). Other appearances include “Runaway Rocket” in the September 1959 issue, and “Landfall on Venus” in August 1963.  A further story formed the basis of an eight part film serial, made for showing to children in cinemas on Saturdays, produced by the Children’s Film Foundation, under the direction of Frank Wells, son of H.G. Wells.  Masters of Venus went into production in 1960 and took two years to make. It tells of the adventures of teenagers Pat Ballantyne and her brother Jim who end up on their father’s rocket to Venus, where they discover a race of six-fingered humans descended from Atlantis. It was released in September 1962, a well-done example of its kind.   

*entry revised 29 January 2022


  1. Wasn't the lack of success partially due to most copies having been destroyed in the blitz ? Or am I conflating that with what happned to "The Death Guard" ?

  2. Partially, yes. But Dark Sanctuary was published in February 1940, and the bombing that destroyed many publishers warehouses happened on the night of 29/30 December 1940. So the book had ten months to sell before the stock was bombed. Doubtless some copies of Death Guard were also destroyed in the bombing, but it had been published in October 1939, and remaindered in December 1940, so it had a slightly longer period of few sales.