Archive for September, 2009

Our worthy landlady, Mrs Hudson

Despite the fact that Holmes always refers to Irene Adler as “the woman” [SCAN] there is no doubt that “the woman” who figures most throughout the Canon is our trustworthy and redoubtable landlady, Mrs. Hudson.

No picture of the real Mrs. Hudson, I’m afraid, as I have always been at pains to preserve her privacy. Again the Granada Sherlock Holmes came close with Rosalie Williams.

She remains devoted to Holmes and now moves between London and Sussex depending on where he is at the time. As he spends much time away from both places, when her services are not required on the South Coast, I have the benefit of her presence here in Baker Street.

Much has been written about Mrs. Hudson and most of it is pure speculation. I know very little about her as she is a very private person. I am sure that Holmes knows much more than me as he will have used his well-known skills of observation and deductive reasoning to determine a good deal about her.

That she is of Scottish descent is well-known, and Holmes referred to her cooking as a little limited but she could rise to the occasion as she did in The Naval Treaty.

Whether there is, or was ever, a Mr. Hudson I couldn’t possibly say. There has never been any mention of a husband. She introduced herself as “Mrs. Hudson” and that is how we have always addressed her. I do know her first name but we never use it.

There has, of course, been some confusion over the identity of Holmes’ housekeeper in Sussex at the time of “His Last Bow”. This lady, referred to as Martha, is a housekeeper and not our landlady, Mrs. Hudson. There has also been some confusion over the Mrs. Turner that appears in “A Study in Scarlet”. This was another housekeeper standing in for Mrs. Hudson who was away dealing with some family matters at the time.

There is little more to be said about “our worthy landlady” [SIGN] except to say that she puts up with a great deal – even to the extent of crawling around the floor moving the life-like bust of Holmes around whilst we were across the way in “The Empty House”.

Annotated Sherlock Holmes

gasogene

When you’ve read the 60 stories in the Canon a few times, or maybe on the very first reading, you may start to wonder about some of the terms used, some of the places mentioned, some of the people involved and some of the quotations given.

For example, would you know what a “gasogene” [MAZA, SCAN] was, where the Grimpen Mire [HOUN] is, and who our landlady was (Mrs Hudson or was it Mrs Turner [SCAN]?)

Over the years several authors have studied the Canon in an attempt to explain, or unearth, the real meaning and the real people behind the stories and to explain some of the paraphenalia of Victorian England. They produced what are referred to as the “Annotated Sherlock Holmes”.

First of note was William Sabine Baring-Gould’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Originally in two volumes and later combined into a single volume, Baring-Gould organised the stories according to the dates during which the cases appeared to have taken place. As I have noted elsewhere, this isn’t always clear (sometimes for good reason) and Baring-Gould’s deductions are not always in agreement with other chronologies. Nevertheless he provides useful extra detail about each case.

My own personal favourite is The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, edited by Owen Dudley Edwards, which produces the stories in their more usual order of publication and in nine volumes. This set I have used so much that some of the pages are coming loose. Each volume is a very handy pocket size that makes them ideal for travelling. A paperback version has been published and I may soon need to replace my hardback version with this. Both the hardback and paperback sets will appear in my library opposite (listing them here would take up too much space).

Finally amongst these extended works is Leslie S Klinger’s Annotated Sherlock Holmes. It’s a set of three very large books (the first two covering the short stories and the third the novels) and condenses what had been written in his The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library where, much like The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, each of the nine volumes of the Canon (four novels and five volumes of short stories) are analysed. Although expensive, this Annotated Sherlock Holmes, like the Oxford Sherlock Holmes, is still in print. The Baring-Gould volumes are only available second hand.

There are also several encyclopedias, including The Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson, The Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia by Orlando Park and, my favourite, The Ultimate Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia by Jack Tracy (you may be able to find a previous version as The Encyclopedia Sherlockiana).

If you have trouble finding these books at your local second-hand bookshop, try my friend’s book shop at The Omnivorous Reader.

By the way, a gasogene is a device for producing soda, the predecessor of the soda syphon. It consisted of two glass spheres, one above the other. The lower one contained water and the upper one containing carbonate and acid. When water is introduced into the upper chamber, gas is produced which aerates the water in the lower chamber. It can then be drawn off and added to a drink.

The Grimpen Mire is on Dartmoor and, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and I walked carefully along the path amongst its green scummed pits and foul quagmires where rank reeds and lush, slimy water-plants sent an odour of decay and a heavy miasmatic vapour into our faces, while a false step plunged us more thigh-deep into the dark, quivering mire, which shook for yards in soft undulations around our feet. Its tenacious grip plucked at our heels as we walked, and when we sank into it it was as if some malignant hand was tugging us down into those obscene depths, so grim and purposeful was the clutch in which it held us. Some believe this to be the area around Fox Tor.

Mrs Hudson occasionally went away for a few days and one of her friends would attend to our needs. That was the case on a couple of occasions, during A Scandal in Bohemia and maybe in The Empty House when Mrs Turner stood in for Mrs Hudson.

Baker Street Irregulars

The Baker Street Irregulars were recruited by Holmes to perform various missions, generally to search London following clues and to go places where Holmes himself could not.

I first encountered them in A Study in Scarlet as six dirty little scoundrels who stood in a line like so many dispreputable statuettes. Their chief was the energetic and inventive Wiggins. Holmes explained to me that there was more work to be got out one of these little beggars than a dozen of the police force.

The mere sight of an official looking person seals men’s lips. These youngsters went everywhere, however, and heard everything. They were as sharp as needles too and all they wanted was organisation.

Holmes paid them a shilling (five new pence, I understand, in current coinage) plus expenses with a guinea (one pound and one shilling in old money and therefore 105p in new money) bonus to the one who found the object of their search.

Holmes used the Irregulars to hunt down the cab driven by Jefferson Hope in A Study In Scarlet, to find the ship Aurora in The Sign of Four, and to watch over Henry Wood at Aldershot in The Crooked Man.

I note that the Irregulars have appeared in a number of interesting films and productions, including Without A Clue (1990) where they took delight in tormenting the incompetent Holmes played by Michael Caine. The various portayals of Holmes and myself will be the subject of a future discussion – there are few that I could say I approve of!

Most recently they appeared in a television production, Sherlock Holmes & The Baker Street Irregulars, where their sharp wits saved Holmes from an accusation of murder and helped to foil an audacious robbery while rescuing members of their own gang. Jonathan Pryce played Holmes and I was pleased to see a relatively acceptable portrayal of myself by Bill Paterson.

They also appeared in the The Baker Street Boys, a series of eight 30 minute episode broadcast by the BBC in 1983. They were released on video in 1985 but have since been deleted from the BBC catalogue.

The Baker Street Irregulars are also the name of an organisation of Holmes enthusiasts founded in 1934 by Christopher Morley who publish the Baker Street Journal. Although subscriptions to the journal are available membership is by invitation only and to those who have made a significant contribution to the Sherlockian world (as the Americans prefer to call it). Their members have included US Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S Truman who maintained quarters for the Secret Service labelled “The Baker Street Urchins” on a map of what is now known as Camp David.

Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive, tasked by him to “set Europe ablaze” during the Second World were often referred to as the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Richard Lancelyn Green Collection

The Richard Lancelyn Green Collection is an extraordinary collection of Conan Doyle and Holmes related material housed in the Portsmouth City Museum.

This collection of over 16,000 items was bequeathed to the City of Portmouth on Richard’s death. Richard was the world’s foremost experts on Conan Doyle. He amassed this collection over 40 years and the items filled 11 vans!

With this number of items, cataloguing the collection has been a mammoth task and only a small proportion of the items are on display at any one time.

The current exhibition is A Study in Sherlock: Uncovering the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. This showcases many more of the fantastic items including unique photographs, production posters and letters from the influential and the famous of Victorian and Edwardian society. The exhibition’s displays explore the life of Arthur Conan Doyle and the creation of Sherlock Holmes. It features a range of interactive displays, a ‘new’ Sherlock Holmes mystery, and narration by Stephen Fry, the Patron of the collection.

Entry to the museum is free and it is open daily except from the 24th to 26th of December. Opening times are 10am and the museum closes at 5.30pm from April to September and 5pm from October to March. Parking is also free. The museum is located on Museum Road, PORTSMOUTH, Hampshire, England PO1 2LJ. Telephone: +44 (0)23 9282 7261 Email: info@portsmouthcitymuseums.co.uk

If you are in the area it is worth visiting Bush Villas where Arthur Conan Doyle began his professional career as a GP in the summer of 1882. He had arrived in Portsmouth in the June of that year, from Plymouth, with no job, nowhere to live and little more than £10 to his name. It is from here that he arranged for the publication of the first two Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four. Portsmouth was, in this sense, the birthplace of the Great Detective.

Richard Lancelyn Green was born in 1953 and died in tragic circumstances in 2004.

In To Keep the Memory Green, reflections on his life, edited by Steve Rothman and Nicholas Utechin, the bibliography of his work covers 30 books by or edited by him, 56 contributions to books, 55 contributions to periodicals, 33 Christmas cards and postcards, 26 articles about him, 4 books dedicated to him and 4 television appearances.

His own books included The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of stories written to reflect and enhance Holmes great achievements. Conan Doyle was always trying to persuade me to release further stories but others soon began to fill the public’s desire for more stories about the Great Detective. This book contains eleven stories, at least one of which I have mentioned amongst the cases that for various reasons I have not felt able to publish.

He also published a collection of parodies, plays, poems and speeches that really extend the Canon by pulling together all Conan Doyle’s other writings related to Sherlock Holmes. The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes includes the original prefaces some of the collections including the one I wrote to His Last Bow.

Year in and year out, letters flood into our address in Baker Street and for a while the nearby Abbey National Building Society used to respond to some of these letters whilst we were away. In 1985 Richard published a selection of the most interesting and entertaining of these letters in Letters to Sherlock Holmes.

When Richard died he bequeathed his collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia to the City of Portsmouth because he was helped by the staff at the City’s Central Library when he was researching Conan Doyle. He had plans to produce a definitive three-volume biography of Sir Arthur which of course remains unfinished.

To quote from The Bruce-Partington Plans – “His position is unique. He has made it for himself.”

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