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Dramas from the Depths [Hardcover]

Reggie Oliver

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He is the nephew of Stella Gibbons, author of "Cold Comfort Farm", and wrote a biography of her. While doing this he was the beneficiary of a number of extraordinary coincidences, including securing a cache of letters and a book of her poetry owned by her former lover from a book dealer whom he contacted on quite another matter. He also managed to contact one of her oldest friends, then aged 95, having by chance heard her speaking on Radio 4's Woman's Hour.

There is a memorial window in Salisbury Cathedral to his Great Grandfather, aspects of whose life form the basis for his acclaimed ghost story story "The Devil's Funeral."

His mother once played Gertrude to Sir Donald Wolfit's Hamlet in Cairo in 1944 when she was young enough to be his daughter. Later, more appropriately, she was Regan to his Lear.

His father was a POW of the Japanese on the infamous "Railway of Death." He had transferred to an infantry unit from the Field Security Corps where he had taken part in an abortive plan in which he and another were to infiltrate the German Embassy in Dublin, disguised as electricians. Once, in the 30s, he suggested to an entrepreneur that Gatwick would be a good site for an airport. The idea was taken up.

At Eton R O won the Newcastle Scholarship at the age of 17. (M. R. James was 19 when he had won it 88 years earlier.)His completion of an M. R. James ghost story "The Game of Bear", left unfinished at James's death, features in Best New Horror 21 (Robinson 2010).

He was also nearly thrown out of Eton for practising hypnotism with a fellow Etonian, Dillibe Onyeama, the son of a Nigerian High Court Judge. Witchcraft (and worse) was suspected. While there his Bottom was seen by the Queen Mother. (His Bottom in a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that is.)

At Oxford he was offered the part of Tiger Brown in a production of The Threepenny Opera and turned it down in favour of Holofernes in a production of Love's Labour's Lost. The former production featured Tony Blair in the cast; the latter had Benazir Bhutto as its stage manager. Also while at Oxford he had his first stage work produced at the Oxford Playhouse, a musical version of Zuleika Dobson.

His first job as an actor was in a haunted theatre. He was present late one night when one of the company saw a ghost, but he saw nothing. It was at this theatre that Joe Orton's lover and murderer had had his first and only professional engagement.

His second job was in pantomime with Charles Hawtrey of "Carry On" fame. Having only a small part he was deputed to sit with CH and prevent him, if possible, from becoming incapably drunk before the end of the second performance of the day. (Occasionally he succeeded.) He also understudied Sir Anthony Quayle in his last West End performance as Lord Ogleby in The Clandestine Marriage in which production he also played Traverse and later Sir John Melvil. His uncle, the actor and opera singer, Allan Bourne Webb had understudied Quayle's first leading West-End role as the Earl of Essex 46 years earlier, in which production he also played Sir Walter Raleigh.

The first of his plays to be put on in London was at the old Half Moon Theatre which backed onto an alley where one of the Jack the Ripper murders had taken place. His second was produced at the King's Head, Islington by a convicted bank robber.

He once played the part of Rudolf Valentino in The Little and Large Show on BBC television.

In 1992 he married the actress and painter Joanna Dunham whose performance as Juliet in New York was so admired by another actress that she became a dedicated fan of hers and followed the production as it toured round the U.S. That fan's name was Marilyn Monroe and it was the year of her death. Joanna also starred in, among others, the Amicus film, The House that Dripped Blood.

REGGIE OLIVER has been a professional playwright, actor, and theatre director since 1975. His plays include Imaginary Lines, (Scarborough 1985), Absolution (King's Head 1983), Back Payments (King's Head 1985) and A Portrait of Two Artists (Royal Academy 1988 & Radio 3). Adaptations include Maupassant's Taking Liberties (Wolsey, Ipswich 1996), Feydeau's Put Some Clothes on, Clarisse! (Duchess Theatre 1989) and Winner Takes All (Orange Tree 2000). His biography of Stella Gibbons, Out of the Woodshed, was published by Bloomsbury in 1998. Besides plays, his publications include four volumes of "strange" stories: The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini (Haunted River 2003), The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler (Haunted River 2005), Masques of Satan (Ash Tree 2007), and Madder Mysteries (Ex Occidente 2009), a novella The Wounds of Exile (Passport Levant 2010). An omnibus edition of his stories entitled Dramas from the Depths (2010) is published by Centipede, as part of its Masters of the Weird Tale series. A fifth volume, entitled Dances in the Dark is due out from Tartarus Press in 2011 as is the novel The Dracula Papers I The Scholar's Tale, the first in a tetralogy due out in January 2011. His stories have appeared in over 25 anthologies, including successive volumes of Best New Horror, Year's Best Horror, The Black Book of Horror etc. His most recent acting has been a one man show based on two of his stories entitled Stage Frights. December 2010 will also see the first production of his play Once Bitten at the Orange Tree, Richmond.

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