Archive for July, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and The Festival of Britain

A recent article on the Baker Street Blog caused me to look through my commonplace book in which I kept my correspondence and cuttings from The Times concerning whether there should be an exhibition dedicated to Holmes, in the public library in St. Marylebone the district of London that includes Baker Street as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951.

It all began when News in Brief in The Times of Friday October 27th 1950 stated that the councillors of St. Marylebone opposed the suggestion by the borough library committee that a Sherlock Holmes exhibition should be staged in the public library as a contribution to the Festival. The leader of the council said that the borough had “many things to show off about without Sherlock Holmes” [1]¬† (click on any of the cuttings to see slightly enlarged versions).

[1]

I was moved to write to Alderman Dean but instead wrote to the editor of The Times the same day [2]. I doubted that Holmes would have seen the article and also doubted that he would have risen to his own defence. I believed that many of the visitors expected from abroad would find such an exhibition of interest and I suggested, with indignation, that they should reconsider their decision.

[2]

This provoked a good deal of interest with Councillor Sharp inviting me to a meeting of the library committee the following Tuesday [3]. Sharp informed me that no final decision had been made and asked if any of Holmes personal effects might form the basis of just such an exhibition and indicated that he might have been one of Holmes’ clients and that he already possessed one of his violins!

[3]

Although Councillor Vernon [4] says he supported the idea of giving Holmes his appropriate place as an illustrious former resident of the borough, a letter from a Mr Back [5] suggests that Vernon “spoke so slightingly” of Holmes. Back even suggested that I try to persuade Holmes to open the exhibition which was about as likely as the life-size statue of Silver Blaze that Back suggested.

[4] [6]

[5]

Arthur Wontner, one of the actors who played Holmes at the cinema also added his support [6] and Mycroft got involved but only to point out that he thought my memory was failing. [7] One of our former clients wrote to say that she thought my letter was a forgery as she believed that my first name was James [8] and a colleague also added support. [9]

[7] [8] [9]

The following day I was surprised to find that Mrs Hudson had also written to The Times [10] castigating Madame Tussaud’s round the corner for not having our effigies amongst its exhibits.

[10]

Also in that day’s edition it was finally confirmed that a Sherlock Holmes Exhibition would be mounted in library as part of the Festival. [11] They mistakenly refer to Conan Doyle as Holmes’ chronicler rather than as my literary agent.

 

[11]

In a letter to The Times on November 4th, Oscar Meunier, who made the bust of Holmes that was used to trap Sebastian Moran, and was, by then, living in London, stated that Holmes had asked him to ensure that no likeness of either of us or any of those he brought to justice should be perpetrated by waxen images. [12]

[12]

Nevertheless I conveyed the good news about the exhibition to Holmes personally that day along with the copies of the cuttings from The Times that I have included here. He was touched by this tribute but alas many of the relics of our cases that many hoped would form part of the exhibition were destroyed in that mysterious and disastrous fire shortly after the end of the war.

[13]

In reporting in The Times that Holmes had warmed to the idea, I also replied to Mycroft and Kate Whitney. [13] I was surprised to see that Lestrade had added his voice to the chorus of approval though reading it now more carefully I see that the inspector is getting his own back. [14]

[14]

The Times editorial of November 7th sums the whole story up rather well and adds that should the Marylebone councillors feel in the future that they are “getting a little over-confident” in their powers that someone should kindly whisper “Baker Street” in their ears in a similar way to how Holmes asked me to whisper “Norbury” in his! [15]

[15]

But the final word I will leave with Dame Jean Conan Doyle, dear Arthur’s daughter, who offered to provide much material for the exhibition. [16]

[16]

Murder By Decree

“The best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made” said Rex Reed of the New York Daily Times. I might want to argue with that as Basil Rathbone in The Hound of the Baskervilles takes a lot of beating. But this is certainly one of the best.

Christopher Plummer plays a slightly warmer Holmes but I think he overdoes the theatrical garb of deerstalker, Inverness cape and Meerschaum a bit. James Mason is one of the best screen versions of me being more intelligent than most, although towards the end of the film there is a humorous moment involving me chasing a pea across my dinner plate! The friendship between us comes across well.

The scenery is superb with excellent views of London. Few people realise the stark contrast between the grandeur of the area north of the river  and the squalor to the south of the river and the East End in particular.

Holmes’ involvement in the Ripper murders in 1888 has never been made public and so fictional accounts number almost as many as the theories about who Jack the Ripper actually was. The title of this film is an indication of who, it is suggested, is the culprit. Holmes deductive powers are not much in evidence in the film (except for the mystery of the grape stalk) and the real clue to his identity comes from Mary Kelly, the last of his victims, not long before she is gruesomely murdered. The puzzle as to why the five victims were so mutilated is explained in the film along with the prior cause of all five murders. These were not the only murders around this time (and place) and the reason why these five in particular were murdered, and maybe why Elizabeth Stride’s murder may not have been by the same person can be explained by the story in this film. The book on which the film is based, The Ripper File, by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd is itself based on their six, 50 minute documentaries on the subject.

The film, which about two hours long, is fairly evenly paced and builds to a dramatic climax about fifteen minutes before the end. The last part of the film is a classic denouement with Holmes giving an excellent speech and no quarter despite the standing of those present.

This new version, on DVD, is a great improvement on earlier releases in terms of quality. There are no “extras” though on the DVD.

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