11th November, No Comments
By John Watson
Mrs Hudson has been out shopping to get the dried fruit and nuts to make her wonderful Christmas cake and Christmas pudding. So here is my list of possible gifts for those who admire Sherlock Holmes almost as much as I do!
To play games [REIG]
Here you can see them explaining the changes and how both games are played.
If we get a “long succession of southerly gales” (as I mentioned in [BLAC]), Mrs Hudson and I could happily distract ourselves with these absorbing games.
By the way, in the past, Gibsons have run various competitions to write new Sherlock Holmes cases and you can see some of these using this link.
To the theatre [BRUC]
There are a couple of films this year worthy of note.
Ian McKellen as Mr Holmes, is based on the book by Mitch Cullin, A Slight Trick of the Mind. As usual, when Holmes has hold of the pen I come in for a bit of stick over what he regards as my additions to his film persona (though I insist I had nothing to do with the deerstalker and the curved pipe!)
Nevertheless, for once it is Holmes who is being forgetful in this film rather than me (I have pre-deceased Holmes apparently) and there is a lot of humour in McKellen’s portrayal that makes for a very entertaining film. It is not often that someone from the Lancashire town of Burnley gets to play Holmes (as my current literary agent never tires of pointing out).
On television, I have to admit that now having watched the first three series of Elementary on DVD (Season One, Season Two, and Season Three as the Americans insist on calling them), it is much better than the initial reviews that I read and I am grateful for the reviews that The Woman did for me which were published here.
The other film of note this year is a very old film, William Gillette’s 1916 film Sherlock Holmes which I am looking forward to watching. I will give a more detailed review later of the copy Flicker Alley (who have produced the disk) have kindly sent to me.
Gillette’s sole filmed performance as Sherlock Holmes, considered lost for nearly 100 years, was recently discovered and restored by San Francisco Silent Film Festival and la Cinémathèque française. By the time it was produced at Essanay Studios in 1916, Gillette had been established as the world’s foremost interpreter of Holmes on stage—having played him approximately 1300 times since his 1899 debut.
The film faithfully retains the play’s famous set pieces—Holmes’s encounter with Professor Moriarty, his daring escape from the Stepney Gas Chamber, and the tour-de-force deductions. It also illustrates how Gillette, who wrote the adaptation himself, wove bits from my stories ranging from “A Scandal in Bohemia” to “The Final Problem,” into an original, innovative mystery play.
This release includes:
- Two complete versions of the film: the original French-language version as discovered at La Cinémathèque française, as well as an English-language version translated from the French.
- “From Lost to Found: Restoring William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes” – Presented by film restorer Robert Byrne at the 2015 San Francisco Silent Film Festival
- Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900): Courtesy of the Library of Congress and presented in HD, this is the earliest known film to feature the character of Sherlock Holmes
- A Canine Sherlock (1912): From the EYE Film Institute, the film stars Spot the Dog as the titular character.
- Più forte che Sherlock Holmes (1913): Also from the EYE Film Institute, this entertaining Italian trick-film
- HD transfers from the Fox Movietone Collection: Interview with Arthur Conan Doyle and outtakes from a 1930 newsreel with William Gillette showing off his amateur railroad (University of South Carolina)
- PDF typescript of the 1899 Sherlock Holmes play by William Gillette
- PDF of the original contract between William Gillette and the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company
- A booklet featuring images from the film and information about the restoration project.
Note that the versions being released include a region-free Blu-ray version and a region-free DVD NTSC version. The latter will not play on UK PAL DVD players but does play on computers.
There has been nothing new from the BBC Sherlock this year, except for various repackaging of the films from the first three series, and the Christmas special (The Abominable Bride) is not due to be broadcast until New Year’s Day so there’s nothing on my Christmas list for this year.
He looked over his books [STUD]
But the creators of Sherlock have put together a book of what they consider to be the best of my stories.
Sherlock: The Essential Arthur Conan Doyle Adventures contains the following stories – A Study In Scarlet, The Sign of Four, A Scandal in Bohemia*, The Red-Headed League*, A Case of Identity, The Man with the Twisted Lip*, The Blue Carbuncle, The Speckled Band*, Silver Blaze*, The Yellow Face, The Musgrave Ritual*, The Greek Interpreter*, The Final Problem*, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Empty House*, Charles Augustus Milverton, The Bruce-Partington Plans*, The Devil’s Foot*, The Dying Detective, each introduced by Gattis and Moffat.
It is interesting to compare this selection with the twelve that Sir Arthur regarded as the best short stories (he excluded the long stories) and the seven he later added. Those marked above with an asterisk appear in his lists. He also included The Dancing Men, The Five Orange Pips, The Second Stain, The Priory School and The Reigate Squires, but not The Dying Detective. So I look forward to reading the reasons for Gatiss and Moffat’s selections.
From October of last year to April of this year the Museum of London exhibition Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die and this sumptuous book reflects this marvellous exhibition about which one friend remarked that I was “quite criminally under-represented”.
For those who seek their amusement in what Holmes and I might have investigated, the number of pastiches available continues to rise, and here are “five volumes you could just fill that gap on that second shelf. It looks untidy, does it not, sir?” (from The Empty House)
Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories contains eighty-three stories, published over more than a hundred years. Including cases by modern-day Sherlockians Leslie S. Klinger, Laurie R. King, Lyndsay Faye and Daniel Stashower; pastiches by literary luminaries both classic (P. G. Wodehouse, Dorothy B. Hughes, Kingsley Amis) and current (Anne Perry, Stephen King, Colin Dexter); and parodies by Conan Doyle’s contemporaries A. A. Milne, James M. Barrie, and O. Henry, plus cases by science-fiction greats Poul Anderson and Michael Moorcock.
There must be something there for everyone, but if not here are sixty more split over three volumes: The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Part I: 1881 to 1889,Part II: 1890 to 1895, and Part III: 1896 to 1929
David Marcum, a prolific pastiche writer himself, has put together this three-volume collection, bringing together over sixty of the world’s leading Sherlock Holmes authors. All the stories are traditional pastiches. The authors are donating all the royalties from the collection to preservation projects at Sir Arthur’s former home, Undershaw.
Finally, though not really a pastiche, I am adding Zach Dundas’s The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes.
In this book Dundas carries out his investigation of Holmes from my nearly forgotten first manuscript of A Study In Scarlet to the award-winning series BBC Sherlock. He looks at the history and cultural influence of Holmes and I, weaving investigative journalism with text from my stories. Dundas provides detailed accounts of his travels across London, New York, and Los Angeles, exploring every facet of the Sherlock story, from societies dedicated to scholarly study to a self-trained “mentalist” who Holmes for his uncanny on-stage deductive powers, and includes interviews with Steven Moffat, create of the BBC series, bestselling author Laurie R. King, and others.
So there are quite a few items that could be added to a certain person’s wish list . . .
17th November, No Comments
By John Watson
About this time each year I try to get Holmes to compile his wish list for Christmas. Usually at the top of his list is a request for me stop bothering him with such nonsense and to start rewriting my records of his cases to stress the science of deduction instead of the romantic approach he believes I always use.
Undeterred I have persisted and gleaned from him this list of what he regards as passable though he insists he cannot be cluttering his brain with all this nonsense when he has cases that must be solved.
He seems to have some regard for the BBC Sherlock Series and in this vein he has shown an interest in Sherlock – The Casebook though he did throw it across the room when part way through it (I think it was at the section on ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ – he can be very brusque when anyone else refers to ‘The Woman’). There is now a box set of both series of Sherlock if anyone still hasn’t seen them or just want to pour over every detail of ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ looking for the obvious clue that Steven Moffat says everyone has missed. I doubt that I could persuade him to let me put the Sherlock Calendar up though Mrs Hudson might (she particularly likes the “I am not your housekeeper” from the Mrs Hudson in the series and is thinking of getting Holmes a mug inscribed with it!)
The renewed interest in Holmes generated by the Sherlock series has resulted in even more ‘guides to everything about Holmes’. I did not think any more were needed but Holmes thinks the two from Nick Utechin – Amazing and Extraordinary Facts – Sherlock Holmes and Roger Johnson’s and Jean Upton’s – The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany as providing fresh insight.
Now we also have a Sherlock version of Cluedo using characters and locations from the BBC series.
I would add Sherlock’s Home – The Empty House as we still need funds to secure Undershaw although we have won some of the key battles there!
This is a much shorter list than usual but there are a lot of interesting books due to be published in the New Year and at some point we may get a DVD of Elementary (Holmes seems to think that Watson being a woman is particularly apt – I have no idea what he means!)
3rd July, No Comments
By John Watson
“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.
29th April, 1 Comment
By John Watson
So begins the Introduction to Amanda J Field’s book, England’s Secret Weapon, about the wartime films in which Basil Rathbone played Holmes.
This book provides a fresh insight into the performances that, for many, made Rathbone “The Definitive Holmes“.
Field is a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and a volunteer at the Portsmouth Museum where she is helping to catalogue Richard Lancelyn Green’s immense collection of memorabilia. Field is a film historian and the book is principally concerned with where the fourteen films fit within the times they were made and the films genres they represent.
But before that she provides a wonderful introduction to Holmes on the screen.
Holmes had been portrayed in various media (books, radio, films, etc.) for over forty years with at least twenty-two other actors taking on the role, each one adding something of their own to my original description, a deerstalker hat (drawn by Sidney Paget in an illustration in The Boscombe Valley Mystery), a calabash pipe (added by William Gillette), etc. But it was Basil Rathbone’s portrayal that for many became, and has remained, the standard against which all others are assessed. At the same time as these films were produced, Rathbone and Bruce continued to play us on the radio, with the result that Rathbone was more often referred to as Holmes by the general public than by his own name. I have referred to these radio broadcasts in my series about Holmes on the radio and in reviews of these broadcasts as issued in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Volumes I, II and III.
Field’s analysis provides some interesting insights.
Firstly that each film used 221B as a sort of “time capsule” to represent the certainty surrounding Holmes and everything he stands for and we would retreat into the relative safety of our lodgings when necessary before venturing forth again to do battle with the foe. In discussing this with an associate, he drew a parallel with the BBC Doctor Who series in which the Doctor can always retreat to the Tardis for safety. There is also scenes in each of the films where there is a contrast between what the characters are wearing to reflect their different beliefs. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles where Dr Mortimer is meeting Sir Henry as he disembarked, Mortimer is wearing Victorian costume and Sir Henry is wearing more contemporary clothes.
Secondly she questions the assumption that Twentieth Century Fox had lost interest in Holmes after making The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, both set in Victorian times. It may have been more to do with the money-making aspirations of Arthur’s sons Denis and Adrian (who have been described as “spendthrift playboys”) than any lost of interest.
Most interesting of all is the separation of the fourteen films into four key themes:
- The Victorian setting of the first two films – The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- The war-themed films of 1942 and 1943 – Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon and Sherlock Holmes in Washington
- The gothic films – Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, The Scarlet Claw, and The House of Fear
- The appearance of the female villain – Spider Woman, The Pearl of Death, The Woman in Green and Dressed to Kill
These four groupings show an initial desire to bring Holmes to the screen in his normal historical settings and then to use his values as propaganda during the Second World War – cleverly keeping 221B within the Victorian setting to emphasise this. Then moving into horror as an escape from the war and finally recognising the changes in the role of women and their place in society following the war.
Her analysis shows there is much more to be read in these films than I had before realised, so I plan to view them again soon.
4th March, 2 Comments
By John Watson
It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen once again as I did to write those words with which I began The Final Problem, two years after the disappearance of Holmes with Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls.
It seems that almost every portrayal of Holmes and I will, at some point, take Holmes into that great abyss once again, leaving me with a void in my life.
I have been quiet for over two months as regular readers will have noticed. It was almost two years following the events of May 1891 that circumstances (as I related in The Empty House) forced my hand, much in the same vein as caused me to begin this new series of writings (as I have related in the About page of my notes).
The new series of Sherlock from the BBC, in its final episode, The Reichenbach Fall, has done it again, and created doubt in many minds about the true nature of Holmes abilities. The public support has been overwhelming but as the BBC Sherlock Series 2 makes its way around the world I must refrain from providing too much detail, with particular reference to our American friends, and therefore I will delay any discussion of the events that led up to this latest tragedy.
I will, instead, endeavour to concentrate on the immediate future and the many examples of the work of he whom I shall always regard as the best and wisest man whom I have ever known.
I have the following books already awaiting review:
Kate Workman’s Rendezvous at the Populaire
The Outstanding Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes by Gerard Kelly
The Sherlock Holmes Companion – An Elementary Guide by Daniel Smith
Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Devon – a complete tour guide
The following books are due later this year:
Three sets of audiobooks read by Edward Hardwicke Three Tales of Betrayal, Three Tales of Intrigue and Three Tales of Avarice (these are not due until April but Amazon appears to be shipping them already!)
A Sherlock Holmes Who’s Who (With of Course Dr.Watson) by Molly Carr (March)
The Secret Archives of Sherlock Holmes by June Thomson (April)
Sherlock Holmes at the Breakfast Table by Leslie Coombs (May)
Pocket Sherlock Holmes Quizzes and Puzzles by The Puzzle Society (June)
The Lost Casebooks of Sherlock Holmes: Three Volumes of Detection and Suspense by Donald Thomas (July)
The Sherlock Holmes Miscellany by Roger Johnson and Jean Upton (July)
Garment of Shadows: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie King (September)
I have the following films awaiting review:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (with Ronald Howard as Holmes)
The following films are due later this year:
Murder by Decree (April)
I plan to continue the series I started this year on Holmes on TV and I hope to bring us up to the present (including the BBC Sherlock Series and perhaps the pilot for the forthcoming CBS series).
I hope to return to my regular writing soon . . .
4th January, 1 Comment
By John Watson
I have several books to review. These include Mr Holmes and Dr Watson – Their Strangest Cases by Edith Meiser, The Official Papers Into The Matter Known As The Hound of the Baskervilles (DCC/1435/89 refers) by Kieron Freeburn, The Lost Stories of Sherlock Holmes edited by Tony Reynolds, a series of books by Molly Carr including The Sign of Fear, A Study In Crimson and In Search of Doctor Watson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Devon, a tour guide by Brian Pugh, Paul Spiring and Sadru Bhanji. There is also the audiobook, The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries by John Taylor read by Benedict Cumberbatch that I have yet to review.
New books expected this year include Watson’s Afghan Adventure – How Sherlock Holmes’ Dr.Watson Became an Army Doctor due January 24th, Reasoning Backwards: Sherlock Holmes’ Guide to Effective Problem Solving due March 1st, The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-Defence: The Manly Art of Bartitsu: as Used Against Professor Moriarty, due April 27th, and The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes due any day now.
Finally, in the books section, I will be looking at a series of children’s reading books based on the Sherlock Holmes stories from Lerner Books.
I have also received a DVD of Robert Stephens in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The BBC Sherlock Holmes Collection (which includes Peter Cushing in A Study in Scarlet, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of Four and the Blue Carbuncle, Richard Roxburgh in another version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Rupert Everett in The Case of the Silk Stocking, and Douglas Henshall in The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle) and Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes.
So, all in all, it looks like a busy year for all those who admire the best and wisest man whom I have ever known.
31st October, 1 Comment
By John Watson
As happened last year, with the case of the Blue Carbuncle just chronologically around the corner again and people beginning to think about gifts, Holmes has compiled his Christmas list.
He did not get everything that was on last year’s list but this year’s list is completely new. I have provided links to amazon.co.uk and amazon.com where possible.
1. Top of the list this year is the DVD of the BBC Sherlockwith a contemporary take on the classic stories set in present-day London. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as me, his loyal friend. We couldn’t be more different, but Sherlock’s inspired leaps of intellect coupled with my pragmatism forges an unbreakable alliance.
Across three, 90-minute, thrilling, scary, action-packed and highly entertaining television movies, Sherlock and I navigate a maze of cryptic clues and lethal killers to get at the truth. Holmes has come out of the fog. With sparkling scripts and unforgettable performances from the two leads, this is Sherlock for a new generation. The DVD contains all 3 episodes and the original Pilot.
2. Linked to the BBC Sherlock is this neat, compact magnifying glass that every modern Sherlock needs. Watch Sherlock in A Study In Pink to see how he uses it. All you now need is the scarf, the coat and his endearing manner with all those about him and you’re set to go sleuthing this Christmas!
Amazon UK: Eschenbach Magnifying Glass
3. The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries, which I mentioned in Part 2 of Holmes on British Radio , has just been released. These are four new Holmes stories with a railway theme written by John Taylor who wrote The Undiscovered Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. These new stories are “An Inscrutable Masquerade”, “The Conundrum of Coach 13”, “The Trinity Vicarage Larceny” and “The 10.59 Assassin”.
According to Taylor, in a drawer in my desk, I have a locked cedarwood chest containing notes referring to some of Holmes’ cases that, for one reason or another, never saw the light of day. Now, for the first time, I have decided to reveal the truth to the world. In these four thrilling stories, Holmes experiments with the science of ballistics, locates some missing gold bullion, investigates the theft of a large amount of money and solves the baffling mystery of the Stovey murder.
If all that wasn’t enough then the stories are read by the newest Sherlock – Benedict Cumberbatch. Just one question then. Why is Sherlock (Cumberbatch) reading these stories rather than me (Martin Freeman)?
Amazon UK: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries, Amazon USA: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries (sorry but not available in the USA in time for Christmas but you could try The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes instead).
4. I have already reviewed this digitally-restored collection of the 14 films with Basil Rathbone as Holmes.
The multi-million pound restoration is discussed in a 5 minute featurette with Robert Gitt, Head Preservation Officer at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Along with the beautifully restored films are audio commentaries by Sherlock Holmes Expert David Stuart Davies (author of numerous books on Holmes and Rathbone) on The Scarlet Claw, The Woman In Green, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death and The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is also an audio commentary by another Holmes Expert Richard Valley (acclaimed author and publisher of Scarlet Street Mystery Magazine who in Amazon’s review is said to be currently penning a book on Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes although he sadly died in 2007) on The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.
Richard Valley has also provided production notes and the films are accompanied by photo galleries, movie posters and theatrical trailers.
5. Again I have already reviewed Sherlock Holmes for Dummies and despite its American bias and a couple of errors (my wife becoming Mary Marston instead of Morstan and mistaking the blue plaque above the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street for a legitimate historical plaque) it is still a handy guide to the stories, Britain as it was at that time, the characters in the stories, our portrayals in films, on television and on the stage, etc.
6. Continuing with the guides, I have now reviewed Close to Holmes – Alistair Duncan’s popular guide to Holmes and Conan Doyle’s London.
Close to Holmes is a handy guide that will just about fit in your pocket as you explore London as it is today and how it looked in the late nineteenth century to us and to my literary agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Alistair Duncan’s research is carefully done, as usual, and he treats us to pictures of many of the locations as they were and as they are now.
7. The second edition of Christopher Redmond’s Sherlock Holmes Handbook sums up this Canadian scholar’s lifetime expertise about Holmes. The first edition appeared in 1993 and this new edition catches up on new films and books and the advent of the Internet.
It is still one of my favourite guides providing a summary of each story in the Canon, the characters in the stories, the cases I chose not to publish, our rooms at 221B, Holmes’s methods and so on. In the section on Crime and Punishment, as well as a summary of British law (and law enforcement) as it was then, there is a summary of other detectives’ work before, during and after Holmes’ career.
8. The exhaustively annotated, ten-volume edition of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Edgar Award winner Leslie S. Klinger ends with The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes.
As is well known, Holmes’ adventures have inspired a vast body of literature. Since the 1920s these “writings about The Writings” have contributed fascinating new insights into the stories, enhancing the pleasure of reading them.
This final volume of The Sherlock Holmes Reference Library covers more “adventures” of Sherlock Holmes than those that are contained in the sixty tales. This deposit of extra-Canonical material is known by Sherlockian scholars as The Apocrypha.
Amazon UK: This volume is not yet listed by amazon.co.uk, Amazon USA: The Apocrypha of Sherlock Holmes
Bending the Willow, David Stuart Davies wonderful tribute to Jeremy who said that he wanted his interpretation of Holmes to “bend the willow, but not break it.”
Apparently a second edition of this fascinating and perceptive study is available but I have not yet seen it. The second hand copies listed on Amazon are quite expensive so it may be worth contacting the publishers direct.
10. Finally the Sherlock Holmes film. This was originally top of the list but I am now undecided about this as my initial enthusiasm for it has dissipated in the wake of the BBC Sherlock. I now wonder if anyone will really be able to capture what Holmes and I were up to in Victorian times. Some of the liberties taken with the Canon now begin to jar – such as Holmes appearing never to have met my future wife when in reality we both met her at the same time in 221B at the start of The Sign of The Four. Still, it is a very enjoyable film and the new one in production has Leslie Klinger advising them and with the addition of Stephen Fry as Mycroft this should help to ensure greater fidelity.
This was, as I predicted, a bumper year of Holmes books and other paraphernalia following the Sherlock Holmes film and Sherlock TV series and with follow-ups to both in production yet another bumper year may be soon upon us.
15th October, No Comments
By John Watson
I was invited to see Roger Llewellyn in David Stuart Davies’ play “Sherlock Holmes – The Last Act“. This was a somewhat daunting prospect for me. The play is set in 1916 and Holmes has come back to our Baker Street rooms from his cottage is Sussex following his two years of retirement.
What has brought him back? My funeral!
Roger Llewellyn is the only person in this play though through his marvellous virtuoso performance we get to meet me (my middle name is apparently Horatio and I speak with a Scottish accent), Mrs Hudson (first name Martha and sounds like Janet from Dr Finlay’s Casebook) plus Lestrade and many others. He changes accent and persona quickly and with ease and there is much humour from David Stuart Davies skill with the Canon. The second half is somewhat darker, delving, with much conjecture into Holmes’ early life. Mysteriously, The Hound of the Baskervilles appears in the play after references to The Final Problem and The Empty House when it should be earlier but it suits the mood of the second half. I will not spoil your enjoyment by telling you how it ends but I hope you will be moved – I was!
David Stuart Davies wrote this play after seeing Roger Llewellyn’s first theatrical encounter with Holmes in an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He wrote this solo drama specially for Llewellyn and the show premiered at The Salisbury Playhouse in 1999, won five stars at Edinburgh, was selected as one of The Top Ten Fringe Plays, and has toured world-wide ever since with over 550 performances so far!
The play explores the mind of the real man – not the thinking machine. An unexpectedly passionate and secretive man, with a cutting sense of humour (as I know all too well!)
Stripping away the infamous clinical façade, Holmes reveals fears, weaknesses, and the devastating consequences of the dramas of his formative years. The whole being ‘deduced’ from the ‘clues’ in the Canon.
Following the success of this play, Davies wrote a second Sherlockian venture “Sherlock Holmes – The Death and Life” which was premiered at Guildford in March 2008. This play deals with Arthur Conan Doyle tiring of what he sees as the intolerably arrogant Sherlock Holmes, and suggests that he created the malevolent Professor Moriarty to dispose of him. But the author’s dangerous strategy, combined with his passion for raising the spirits of the dead, has rather more bizarre and dramatic consequences than he bargained for!
Audio versions of both plays are available (see the links above).
David Stuart Davies has written extensively about Sherlock Holmes. His non-fiction books include:
- Holmes of the Movies (1977)
- Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes (1996 and 2002)
- Starring Sherlock Holmes (2001)
- Clued Up on Sherlock (2004)
- Dancing in the Moonlight: Jeremy Brett – A Celebration (2006)
His fiction books include:
- Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair (1991)
- The Tangled Skein (1995)
- The Scroll of the Dead (1998)
- Shadow of the Rat (1999)
- The Veiled Detective (2004). Explores the relationship between Holmes, myself and Professor Moriarty
- The Games Afoot (2008)
He is the editor of several collections for Wordsworth & Collectors Library including:
He has written and narrated commentaries for the digitally re-mastered Basil Rathbone Holmes films.
If you get the chance to see it, please do. You will laugh and you may cry but you will not be disappointed!
25th September, 1 Comment
By John Watson
“Eliminate the Impossible” is the first of two books by Alistair Duncan on Holmes. His second Holmes book, “Close to Holmes” in which he looks at the historical connections between London, Holmes and my literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, will be the subject of another review at a later date.
Alistair has also written a book about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Norwood Author“, which I have already reviewed. Currently, he is writing another Doylean book about Undershaw, the house that Sir Arthur had built at Hindhead which remains under threat from developers. This book is not due to be published until next year, by which time the fate of Undershaw will almost certainly have been decided.
“Eliminate the Impossible” runs to 244 pages of which the first three-quarters cover Holmes on the page and the last quarter looks at Holmes on the screen.
I note that he prefers to the term “Sherlockian” which is usually reserved for Holmes fans abroad whilst “Holmesian” is supposedly the term used in the UK. I have always found “Holmesian” a bit cumbersome – “Sherlockian” leaves no-one in doubt who you’re talking about and in the BBC Sherlock series we’re on first name terms with the main protagonists for the first time!
May I also raise a point about our address. It was 221B Baker Street – note the capital “B” after 221. Flats are designated with a capital letter not a lower case letter. So where “221b” has been used “221B” should be used instead. Even the Dummies Guide gets this wrong! But congratulations to the BBC Sherlock props department for getting this right and commiserations to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street for getting it wrong on their unofficial blue plaque.
Part One – Holmes on the page
This covers the origins of the stories, Holmes’s influence on crime fiction, his appearance and character before dealing with the “Heroes and Villains” as Alistair calls them, beginning with me (I assume I am a hero?) His selection is interesting. It includes two women and I will leave you to guess who they are!
Following this is a short discussion about the “timeline” of the stories which has always, and continues to be, a subject of much discussion (and many books)! Alistair picks out D Martin Dakin’s and Leslie Klinger’s chronologies and sets them against the dates found on the Internet. The order of the stories as listed here puts the last three stories from The Case-Book in the order in which they are now usually published (VEIL, SHOS, RETI) rather than the order in which they originally appeared in The Case-Book (RETI, VEIL, SHOS).
For each of the sixty stories, he then gives the date of publication (in The Strand except for the first two stories which were first published elsewhere), the date the story was set in (just the year) and the identity of the client. Following a brief synopsis he then presents some notes about the story, usually about the dates involved, but sometimes about the real identities of the people involved, and some of the puzzles and inconsistencies.
His own inconsistencies are that he leaves “The Adventure of” off all the stories in The Memoirs and again changes the order of the last three stories – this time to SHOS, RETI and VEIL. I think he has the date of publication of SHOS in The Strand incorrectly as January 1927 when it should be April 1927 making it the last to be published.
In the general introduction to the stories he sensibly suggests that you read the story first before reading his notes and doing it the other way round is likely to confuse matters.
Part Two – Holmes on the screen
This looks at Holmes portrayal in film and on television by looking at a selection of actors who have portrayed my good friend. Alistair attempts to classify them as either “good” or “bad” and “remembered” or “forgotten” making the point that some portrayals (“good” or “bad”) might only be remembered by Sherlockians rather than the general public.
He has left out all the comic portrayals presumably on the grounds that they are universally viewed as “bad” and “best forgotten”.
Rathbone and Brett come out best in this analysis with perhaps Douglas Wilmer coming in third. Alistair puts Brett just out in front and probably the favourite for those who would see the Rathbone films as largely set in their own time rather than the time of the original stories.
Alistair recommends David Stuart Davies book, “Starring Sherlock Holmes“, for more detail about Holmes on film and television (and stage and radio for that matter!)
As Alistair’s book was written in 2008, it predates the Robert Downey Jr film “Sherlock Holmes” and more importantly the BBC Sherlock series. It will be interesting to speculate where these two very different portrayals would be in the “good”, “bad”, “remembered” and “forgotten” categories. Cumberbatch’s Holmes has a good chance of being in the category “good and remembered” if they can maintain the standard of the first series (mostly ignoring The Blind Banker) whereas Robert Downey Jr may end up in “bad but remembered” if they cannot raise their game!
Nevertheless, Alistair Duncan succeeds, as he sets out in his introduction, “to bring a fresh perspective” to some of the puzzles concerning “the anomalies in the stories and the films”. Whilst he “conceived it as an introduction to the canon” it does, as he hoped, “appeal to long-standing fans as well as novice Sherlockians”.
This book, like its successor “Close to Holmes“, is available on the Kindle although Amazon have not linked the two versions properly on their website so you will need to go to the Kindle store to find it.
30th August, 1 Comment
By John Watson
With all the current debate about who is the definitive Holmes (Rathbone, Brett or Cumberbatch?), I thought it was worth reviewing Basil Rathbone’s fourteen films as the Great Detective which have been carefully restored in The Definitive Collection.
These films updated elements of the Canon to the early part of the 20th century (except for the first two which remain in the Victorian era and were the first films to portray us in Victorian times) in a similar way to the 21st century updating that has taken place in the BBC Sherlock series.
The fourteen films (in order of release) are:
- The Hound of the Baskervilles, based on the story of the same name. As this was Rathbone’s first film as Holmes, and he wasn’t as well known as Richard Greene (who played Sir Hennry Baskerville), he only achieved second billing! In The Definitive Collection, this film also has an added commentary version by David Stuart Davies providing lots of useful background to the film, the script, the actors, the scenery, the clothes, the music (or lack of it!) and to Rathbone’s portrayal.
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was supposedly based on the stage play by William Gillette but little of the original plot remains apart from the conflict between Holmes and Moriarty. This film also has a version with a commentary by Richard Valley (wrongly credited to David Stuart Davies on the DVD packaging).
- Sherlock Holmes and The Voice of Terror is based on His Last Bow.
- Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Weapon is inspired, rather than based on, The Dancing Men.
- Sherlock Holmes in Washington
- Sherlock Holmes Faces Death is based on The Musgrave Ritual and there is a version with audio commentary by David Stuart Davies (the packaging this time saying it is by Richard Valley). This film brings back the familiar dark mystery for Holmes to solve.
- The Spider Woman starts with the demise of Sherlock Holmes (similar to The Final Problem) and is followed by his surprise return (as in The Empty House). The following story is then based on elements from The Sign of Four and The Devil’s Foot. The theatrical trailer is included on the DVD.
- The Pearl of Death is based on The Six Napoleons. Again the theatrical trailer is included.
- The Scarlet Claw uses the device of a killer using a supernatural entity to cover up his crimes borrowed from The Hound of the Baskervilles. This has an audio commentary by David Stuart Davies and the theatrical trailer is included.
- The House of Fear is based on The Five Orange Pips. The theatrical trailer is included.
- Pursuit to Algiers. This is based on the affair concerning the steamship Friesland that I mentioned in The Norwood Builder.
- The Woman in Green is an adaptation of The Empty House but also includes elements from A Case of Identity and The Final Problem plus the first appearance of the Persian Slipper first mentioned in the Musgrave Ritual. This film has a version with an audio commentary by David Stuart Davies.
- Terror by Night is loosely based on The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax and the Blue Carbuncle. This includes the theatrical trailer.
- Dressed to Kill. This was known as Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code in the UK. The theatrical trailer is included.
As well as the extras mentioned above The Definitive Collection also carries a “featurette” about the painstaking restoration of these films and how some missing elements were carefully replaced. Each film is accompanied by production notes by Sherlock Holmes devotee Richard Valley (who sadly died in 2007) and a photograph gallery.
Those who are critical of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of me in these films should not forget that up until this point, Watson had either not appeared alongside Holmes or had been relegated to a minor role. Nigel Bruce ensured that from then on, Holmes would have his Watson and that it would always be a two-handed performance as it had mostly been in real life!