‘The Fellowship’ is a curious moniker for a body of people who spend most of their time sabotaging, back-biting and occasionally murdering each other. Officially, of course, The Fellowship are the governing body of Old College, charged with the day-to-day running of the establishment, often by forming enormous committees who fail to come to any agreement about anything at all.
The history of The Fellowship stretches all the way back to the College’s foundation by shadowy secret society, the Order of the Lesser Dragon, in 1448. The College takes it’s name from the Order’s initials (it was very nearly called Ootled College) and this was the first and last decision unanimously agreed by The Fellowship. Since then, the clutch of academics and eccentrics occupying the top tier of the Old College hierarchy have put substantially more time and effort into clawing personal benefit from the institution than they have actually running it. They place great demands upon their bowler-hatted underlings in the Porters’ Lodge, who are obliged to offer constant deferential reverence to even the most unreasonable and, often, insane of their number.
Overseeing this well-read rabble is The Master, a respected professor of economics and a Lord of the realm, no less. With a penchant for sudoku and stalking the secret passages that snake through the College, The Master is an enigmatic and vaguely threatening presence. In The Vanishing Lord we learned that he keeps secret files and compromising photographs of most of The Fellowship, no doubt as means of persuasion should any of them consider stepping too far out of line. Although he rarely lowers himself to fraternise with the lower orders, The Master’s occasional visits to the Porters’ Lodge are always met with a mixture of dread and blind panic.
One Fellow who needs no introduction is The Dean, but if I don’t give him one the consequences do not bear contemplation. Brilliant and terrible in equal measure, The Dean considers himself above the petty sniping and bickering of his contemporaries and concentrates his considerable efforts on defending the sacred reputation of Old College. A renowned professor of law, The Dean had a previous successful career in international litigation, during the course of which he befriended the dashing and adventure-loving American, Professor Horatio Fox (‘What happens in Kuala Lumpa, stays in Kuala Lumpa’), hero of First Lady Of The Keys. Always a champion of the Porters, The Dean became especially close to Deputy Head Porter after a night of drinking whisky and he is a central figure in the haphazard investigations she undertakes. With a fondness for searching for clues, one would think that The Dean would find a kindred spirit in Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, but it is not to be. The pair enjoy a fierce rivalry, despite there being distinct similarities between the two of them.
Fellows at Old College come and go – in the cases of Professor K and Senior Bursar, by way of murder; in the case of Junior Bursar, by way of escape to Tuscany after being unveiled as their murderer. Sinister Dexter welcomes two new members to The Fellowship, the first being flash ladies’ man Professor Palmer. Deputy Head Porter takes an instant dislike, following a perceived slight against her hat and The Dean is not impressed when Palmer announces to anyone who will listen that he intends to take The Dean’s job for himself. The Professor’s oily manner is grudgingly tolerated, but only until he oversteps the mark with young student Penelope and finds himself in the unwelcome position of being on the wrong side of both Deputy Head Porter and The Dean.
The second new Fellow to arrive is dreaded new Bursar, Professor Dexter Sinistrov… but more about him later…