Archive for October, 2009

Bert Coules

You may well ask “who is Bert Coules?”. He is the writer and dramatiser who set out to dramatise the whole of the Canon for BBC Radio Four. Not only did he manage to achieve this with the same actors playing Holmes (Clive Merrison) and myself (Michael Williams) but he then went on to write new stories based on my passing references to other cases that Holmes was involved in.

Clive Merrison as Holmes, is for me a little too cold and a little too irascible but Michael Williams is the perfect Watson – an intelligent a capable man and not the figure of fun that Nigel Bruce portrayed in those old black and white movies.

The recordings are frequently broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra and are available on CD – The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Radio Collection).

Sadly, Michael Williams passed away after the Canon was completed so when Bert Coules decided to pick up my references to Holmes “other cases” he needed a new Watson and came upon Andrew Sachs (again maybe someone keen to show he could play a serious character!)

Fifteen additional stories were written by Bert Coules and they have all now been released in the four volumes of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I have included a reference as to where these previously undocumented cases may be found in the Canon.

Volume 1

  • The Madness of Colonel Warburton [ENGR]
  • The Star of the Adelphi [SECO]
  • The Saviour of Cripplegate Square [SIGN]
  • The Singular Inheritance of Miss Gloria Wilson [THOR]

Volume 2

  • The Abergavenny Murder [PRIO]
  • The Shameful Betrayal of Miss Emily Smith [NORW]
  • The Tragedy of Hanbury Street [GOLD]
  • The Determined Client [GOLD]
  • Interview with Bert Coules.

Volume 3

  • The Striking Success of Miss Franny Blossom [HOUN]
  • The Thirteen Watches [NOBL and The Man With Watches]
  • The Peculiar Persecution of Mr John Vincent Harden [SOLI]
  • The Ferrers Documents [PRIO]

Volume 4

  • The Eyes of Horus [HOUN]
  • The Remarkable Performance of Mr Frederick Merridew [EMPT]
  • The Marlbourne Point Mystery (in two parts) [VEIL]

The Northern Musgraves (a group of Sherlockians living in the North of England) have produced “221 BBC – Writing for the World’s First Complete Dramatised Canon” by Bert Coules about the series with photographs, interviews, reviews, backstage anecdotes and script extracts including some material never broadcast. Sadly the first edition is now sold out and Bert Coules thinks it unlikely that a second edition will be available soon. But although the book was included in the original collection it is sadly now missing from the The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Radio Collection). Bert Coules has produced an updated version which is now with the publishers.

Composed of all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before [ENGR]

Holmes displays a vast knowledge of the uses and properties of tobacco in solving cases. His experience with both tobacco and tobacco ash has been broadened by his being such a chronically heavy smoker, prompting me to note, somewhat bitterly, that he was a “self-poisoner by cocaine and tobacco” [FIVE]

He often sits for hours shrouded in smoke. Once during the case of The Hound of the Baskervilles, as I returned to Baker Street “my fears [of a fire] were set at rest, for it was the acrid fumes of strong coarse tobacco which took me by the throat and set me coughing.”

His particular favourite is shag tobacco which he keeps in the toe end of a Persian slipper. Shag is a strong coarse tobacco much inferior to today’s shag which is often used for rolling cigarettes. He also keeps it in various tobacco pouches strewn across his mantlepiece.

Before breakfast he fills his pipe with “all the plugs and dottles left from his smokes of the day before, all carefully dried and collected on the corner of the mantlepiece” [ENGR].

He most commonly uses a black clay pipe, though I think it was once white! Occasionally he will use a briar with an amber stem. When a problem is taxing him he seems to prefer his cherrywood.

He never, never uses a Calabash. That was the pipe used by William Gillette in his otherwise accurate portrayal of Holmes and along with the deerstalker and the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” are the stuff of fiction!

His pipes, like his tobacco are all over the place (his such an untidy person!). They are scattered over his mantlepiece and some are in the coal scuttle with the cigars.

As some of you may know, he has made a special study of tobacco ashes and believes he can distinguish at a glance the ash of any known brand of cigar or tobacco. He has written a monograph on the subject entitled “Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos” [SIGN].

We obtain our smoking requisites from Bradley’s off Oxford Street. I actually prefer ship’s tobacco, a strong blend from the Netherlands or occasionally the Arcadia micture.

The Ocular Helmsman has much detail about tobacco, pipes, cigars and this vile, filthy habit for those who wish to know more.

The letters were still legible [GLOR]

With one of the Baker Street Irregulars pointing out to me that my literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has been honoured by appearing on a set of Royal Mail stamps issued this week to celebrate Eminent Britons, I thought it a good idea to mention the set of Sherlock Holmes stamps issued by the Royal Mail in 1993.

This set of five stamps depicted five stories from the Canon: The Reigate Squire, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Six Napoleons, The Greek Interpreter and The Final Problem.

There is a little puzzle hidden within these stamps – my literary agent’s last name “DOYLE” is hidden, one letter on each stamp. Can you find them? To make it easier go to the Philatelic Sherlock Holmes where you’ll find a much larger set of images if you go to the detailed page.

What also may puzzle some people familiar with the stories is that the title of the story on the first stamp is given as “The Reigate Squire” (singular) when “The Reigate Squires” (plural) appears in some collections. The original title I gave it in the Strand was singular but some later collections changed it to the plural, which does make more sense I concede. In the United States, when it was first published, the title was changed to “The Reigate Puzzle”, possibly fearful that the term “squires” might offend (as William S Baring-Gould suggests in the Annotated Sherlock Holmes)

You will also find at the above website many other stamps relating to my good friends Holmes and Doyle.

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London was founded in 1951 as a result of the work to create a Sherlock Holmes exhibit for the Festival of Britain.

The Society is open to all comers – all that is required is an interest in Sherlock Holmes and his world.

The minimum age for full membership is 16 but associate membership is open to all. Full members receive the twice-yearly Journal and notices of Society meetings and other events, and have the right to attend these meetings. Associate membership would suit those unable to attend the meetings but who would still like to receive the Journal. Associate membership for the UK costs £13 a year and Full membership £16 – good value if you consider the Journal alone.

There is a free newsletter, available to members and non-members, published monthly called “The District Messenger“. The newletter principally covers media in Holmes’s world – film, television, audio and books.

Of course there’s a shop where you can buy all manner of useful items!

There’s a section covering films, television and radio with a set of downloadable plays by the Old Court Radio Theatre Company.

The Society, along with the Abbey National Building Society (as it was then called) commissioned the sculptor, John Doubleday, to create a bronze statue to stand at the entrance to Baker Street Tube Station. The statue, see the picture above, was unveiled on 23 September 1999.

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