Archive for January, 2010

The Norwood Author

Alistair Duncan kindly sent me an advance copy of his third Holmesian book (or maybe this is really his first Doylean book) entitled “The Norwood Author” which covers the four years when my literary agent, Arthur Conan Doyle, lived in South Norwood, a suburb of London.

Alistair’s first book “Eliminate the Impossible” has been described as “a frank, fascinating and sometimes controversial review” of the Canon on page and screen. This was followed with one of the most popular books on Holmes “Close To Holmes” which reviews the places across London featured in the Sherlock Holmes stories and dear to Arthur Conan Doyle too. Anyone visiting London with a fascination for Holmes will find this book a valuable guide to the metropolis.

He has written on the flyleaf of the copy of his new book that he sent me an appropriate quotation from “The Empty House” to the effect that it “could fill that gap on the second shelf”. This quotation is appropriate for several reasons. Firstly, the story that immediately follows “The Empty House” in “The Return of Sherlock Holmesis “The Norwood Builder”.

Secondly, it was whilst Conan Doyle was living in South Norwood that the story of Holmes apparent demise came to the knowledge of the public in “The Final Problem” which is included in “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes“. Holmes returned in “The Empty House” to dramatic effect shortly after quoting those words above and causing me to faint with the shock!

Finally, the quotation is apposite to the book itself because it does fill a gap in our knowledge of the life of Conan Doyle. As Alistair points out, Arthur’s autobiography “Memories and Adventures” is often at odds with what we know from his letters (as can be seen in “Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters” and from other biographers (including Russell Miller and Andrew Lycett).

Taking each year in turn, Alistair chronicles Arthur’s activities, and paints a clear picture of the environs nicely supported by contemporary pictures. He brings Arthur’s life “to life”.

We read about Arthur’s membership of the Norwood Cricket Club and the turbulent proceedings of the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society as he begins to develop his interest in psychic research.

During these years, Arthur and Louise’s first son was born, Arthur’s father died and Louise was diagnosed with tuberculosis. However it was a busy and successful time from a literary point of view. A third of Holmes’ cases were published around this time culminating in the sadness of  “The Final Problem”. Some of Arthur’s most interesting work was also published, including “The Stark Munro Letters” and “The Refugees“.

At the end of the book, Alistair points out some interesting “coincidences” in South Norwood. There is a Doyle Road, a Baskerville Court and a Priory School!

Finally we learn about Alistair’s own contribution to the literary heritage of South Norwood – a Conan Doyle display in the William Stanley public house. The next time I’m down that way I will call in for a half in memory of Arthur. Norwood, Upper Norwood in fact, has personal memories too of my first wife, Mary, as I recounted in “The Sign of Four“.

The Carleton Hobbs Sherlock Holmes Collection

The BBC has released a set of three volumes of cases from the Canon starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as my good self.

Carleton Hobbs portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 80 radio adaptations although he had played myself once with Arthur Wontner as Holmes in a wartime production of  The Boscombe Valley Mystery.

Each of the twelve stories, has a specially commissioned introduction by Nicholas Utechin, former Editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal.

Volume 1:

  • A Scandal in Bohemia
  • The Red-Headed League
  • Charles Augustus Milverton
  • The Speckled Band

Volume 2:

  • The Blue Carbuncle
  • Silver Blaze
  • The Final Problem
  • The Empty House

Volume 3:

  • The Musgrave Ritual
  • The Blanched Soldier
  • The Bruce-Partington Plans
  • The Dancing Men

BBC 7 ran a competition to win this set of CDs autographed on the sleeve by Nicholas Utechin, plus an autographed hard back copy of “Stage Whispers“, actor Douglas Wilmer’s memoirs (Douglas played Holmes in the first BBC 1965 TV series). Three questions were posed:

  1. In which year did Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley start this series? (1952)
  2. What was the name of the radio slot that the programme featured in? (Children’s Hour)
  3. On which station was it broadcast? (The Home Service)

The competition is now closed and the winners have been announced.

A story for which the world in not yet prepared [SUSS]

Or maybe it is? In the The Sussex Vampire case, Holmes mentioned a Matilda Briggs and then hastened to point out that this was not the name of a woman but a ship associated with giant rat of Sumatra and that it was “a story for which the world was not yet prepared”.

Holmes never elaborated any further and I cannot find any notes in my battered tin dispatch box that shed any further light on the matter save that at some point I determined that the “giant rat” may have been Sundamys infraluteus which is commonly referred to as the “Giant Rat of Sumatra” and as rats colonise ships this may be a link. In the picture above it does not look very formidable though!

Well, Book and Magazine Collector (February 2010 issue) and Writing Magazine have apparently decided that the world is ready for this story. In February they are running a competition to write the story. Your story must be no more than 2,000 words, there is a £4 entry fee and must be submitted by the end of February. It need not be a Sherlock Holmes story. The winner will get £200 and the runner-up £50. The story will be published in the May 2010 edition and the magazines contain an entry form.

Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra, written by Alan Vanneman, purports to tell the tale as if it had been hidden for more than a century in my dispatch box. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Nevertheless are there any budding Watsons (or Conan Doyles) out there wanting to write their own version?

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Two volumes of Basil Rathbone as the “high strung crime solver” and Nigel Bruce as his “phlegmatic assistant” have been released on CD.

Each volume contains 12 stories, some with Canonical connections, marked below with a “C” if they are based on actual stories or with an “R” if they are merely cases that I mentioned in the stories.

Volume I comprises:

  1. The Unfortunate Tobacconist [R]
  2. The Paradol Chamber
  3. The Viennese Strangler
  4. The Notorious Canary Trainer [R] [L]
  5. The April Fool’s Day Adventure [L]
  6. The Strange Case of the Uneasy Easy Chair [L]
  7. The Strange Case of the Demon Barber [L]
  8. The Mystery of the Headless Monk [L]
  9. The Amateur Medicant Society [R] [L]
  10. The Case of the Vanishing White Elephant
  11. The Case of the Limping Ghost
  12. The Girl with the Gazelle [L]

Volume II comprises:

  1. The Case of the Out of Date Murder [L]
  2. The Waltz of Death
  3. Colonel Warburton’s Madness [R]
  4. The Iron Box [L]
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia [C]
  6. The Second Generation [L]
  7. In Flanders Fields
  8. The Eyes of Mr Leyton
  9. The Tell Tale Pigeon Feathers
  10. The Indescretion of Mr Edwards
  11. The Problem of Thor Bridge [C]
  12. The Double Zero

From October 1939 to July 1947 Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in 220 episodes (though Bruce missed one due to illness). By 1947 Rathbone wanted to dissociate himself from the character of Holmes. Neverthe less he remains so closely associated with him that many still regard him as “the definitive Sherlock Holmes”.

Nigel Bruce continued for another two series with Tom Conway as Holmes.

These recordings include war-time announcements, original narrations and commercials for the shows sponsors.

There is a book by Ken Greewald who has taken some of these radio programmes and written them up as short stories. As well as the stories on the the CDs above (which I have marked with [L], the book also contains these three cases:

  • Murder Beyond the Mountains
  • The Case of the Baconian Cypher
  • The Case of the Camberwell Poisoners

The book is called “The Lost Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and has a picture of Nigel Rathbone on the cover. The book is out of print but a second hand copy should be easy to come by. I appear to have written a short introduction to the stories in the book!

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