The Hellfire Club from the X-Men comics was actually 'inspired' by "A Touch of Brimstone", an episode of the ultra-stylish 1960s super-spy series The Avengers (no relation to the Marvel comic of the same name). The episode (the seventeenth of the The Avengers' fourth season) has British secret service agents John Steed and Mrs. Peel going undercover in The Hellfire Club, whose members are threatening the British economy. As a result, Mrs. Peel gets herself elected The Queen of Sin, and is dressed up in a black basque with matching boots and spiked collar, whilst wielding a whip and snake. This outfit is strikingly similar to the one worn by Jean Grey after she becomes the Black Queen.

The injection of S&M into a Saturday tea-time show proved troublesome for the television producers of the time, and the episode was slightly trimmed in the UK (the whipping scenes especially) and banned outright in the US. There are persistant rumours, however, that television executives on both sides of the pond enjoyed the full, uncut version of the episode at their Christmas bashes.

But what of the connection with the X-Men?

  • The creator of the X-Men's Hellfire Club was Chris Claremont, a former Briton and fan of The Avengers.
  • Chess was a recurring theme in The Avengers, as was the idea of a dangrous underground society whose members plotted world domination.
  • Hellfire member Jason Wyngarde is named after actor Peter Wyngarde who appeared in "A Touch of Brimstone". Wyngarde's most famous role, however, was as ultra-dandy Jason King in the television show Department S, and later his own spin-off series Jason King*.
  • The leader of the American Hellfire Club was Sir Patrick Clemens. Patrick Macnee played Avenger John Steed, whilst Brian Clemens was a recurring writer on the series and eventually became its producer. Clemens wrote "A Touch of Brimstone".
  • Patrick Clemens' mistress in the comic is the actress Diana Knight. Diana Rigg played Mrs. Emma Peel; Emma's maiden name was Knight.
  • Emma Frost's name is presumably inspired by Emma Peel.
  • The Black Queen of the London Hellfire Club is Ms. Steed, a blunt reference to John Steed.
*Department S inspired comic book author Grant Morrison to create Division X, a group of supernatural investigators based around old 70s crime shows. Their leader was Jon Six, who took his identity and appearance from Peter Wyngarde's Jason King. Though originally created to star in their own comic, Division X were eventually subsumed into The Invisibles, whose name is obviously inspired by TV shows such as The Avengers. Morrison himself actually wrote "The Golden Game", an Avengers story that spanned three issues of the "Steed and Mrs. Peel" comic (so called because Marvel Comics had taken the rights to The Avengers for one of their own superhero books). He would later write - wait for it - The New X-Men.

Everything is connected.

The Real Hellfire Club The roots of Clemens and Claremont's respective Hellfire Clubs actually lie with the real Hellfire Clubs, the most famous of which was run by Sir Francis Dashwood between 1746 and 1763. Though created in celebration of Charles Edward's 1720 Hellfire Club, the members themselves never referred to the society as The Hellfire Club, instead giving it various mock religious names including "Order of the Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe", "Order of Knights of West Wycombe" and "The Monks of Medmenham". The male members were "monks", the female members "nuns" and Dashwood himself the "Abbot"; all wore masks to aid them in their debauchery.

Their first meeting took place in The George & Vulture public house (later to be made famous in Dickens' Pickwick Papers) in Lombard Street, London. Despite accusations of Satanism, all documentation suggests that their worship was actually focused on Bacchus and Venus as an excuse for general hedonism; heretical roleplay was performed for kicks rather than genuine worship.

The George & Vulture burned down in 1749 for reasons unknown, and the Club was relocated, first to members' homes and then, in 1751, to Medmenham Abbey which had been leased to Dashwood by the Duffield family. To this day, the Club's motto, fay ce que voudras - "do as you will" - is inscribed above the Abbey's main door. The grounds contained various lewd statues including a Venus, bent over, and an exceptionally well endowed fertility god, Priapus. According to MP and then Mayor of London John Wilkes, the dining room contained statues of Angerona and Harpocrates, the Roman and Egyptian gods of silence, respectively. These may have been reminders to remain silent about the Club's activities.

The Club moved again, this time to the West Wycombe caves owned by Dashwood. A series of failed harvests has left locals empoverished so Dashwood employed them as builders and masons, cutting into the chalk and extending the tunnels to his own design. The Club's Inner Sanctum - supposedly the location of their Black Masses and orgies - was found down a tunnel that led under an underground stream known by the monks as Styx after the Greek river that separated the worlds of the living and the dead.

This version of the Hellfire Club finally disbanded in 1763, when personal and political rivalries exploded into public life, necessitating the destruction of the society. Its members and associates included John Wilkes, The Earl of Sandwich, The Prince of Wales and possibly Benjamin Franklin.

The Hellfire Club has entered into British mythology, and has surfaced in various different fictional works, including a novel of the same name by horror author Peter Straub and in the comic book Hellblazer, where occult conman John Constantine found himself invited to The Caligula Club, a variation on The Hellfire Club whose members' perversions went as far as murder and torture (the story was written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by William Simpson). Sir Francis Dashwood later made a ghostly appearance in the Hellblazer story Warped Notions by Eddie Campbell and Sean Philips.