Posts Tagged ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’

England’s Secret Weapon

“It is midnight. Clouds scud across the face of the Houses of Parliament as Big Ben begins its familiar chime . . . ”

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:

  1. The Victorian setting of the first two films – The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  2. 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
  3. The gothic films – Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, The Scarlet Claw, and The House of Fear
  4. 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.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is most people’s favourite Holmes adventure and it has been the subject of many radio adaptations and over half a dozen films. For many it was their first encounter with Holmes, as played by Basil Rathbone in the version bearing the full title “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles”. I will gloss over for the moment how my literary agent seems to take most of the credit!

I envy those who have never heard the story before whose suspicions of everyone but the real villain are aroused by the events as they unfold in my narrative.

Laurence Owen has been working on this new version for four months and he describes it as a labour of love. He says that his parents introduced him to my accounts when he was very young and he has been hooked ever since. It has been something of a life ambition to have a stab at an adaptation himself.  He has assembled his cast (including himself), recorded and edited the performance, adding sound effects (some subtle, some quite startling) and composed and added a musical score. He calls it a “radio film” and he feels that The Hound lends itself particularly well to sound or radio adaptations. Many filmed versions of The Hound have been criticised because of the feeble nature of the actual hound (in one example leading a reviewer to refer to the poor creature as “The dog that did nothing in the night-time”). Owen prefers to create an image in the listener’s imagination using only sound.

In choosing The Hound, he mentions that he is also keen on The Creeping Man, The Speckled Band and in particular The Devil’s Foot, indicating a preference with the gothic, although he thinks that if The Hound is well-received, he might consider The Blue Carbuncle (hardly a gothic story!) as it would give him lots of interesting sound effects to simulate – markets, geese, drunken rows etc. – as well as a nice Christmas-themed soundtrack to compose.

The result of all his labours with The Hound  is a very atmospheric production, true to my original story in almost all respects, that is best listened to, as Owen suggests, in complete darkness, though if you’re holding the glass of brandy as he also suggests, you may lose its entire contents!

I noticed two characters were missing from the plot – I will leave you to work out who they are. One was excluded because of time constraints (see later) – the other to enhance the drama in one of the key scenes near the end.

The recording is available as a stereo podcast and will also be available in 5.1 surround sound that will take “listeners on a chilling and unforgettable sonic journey” and this is where the time constraints mentioned earlier become important.

Owen will eventually play the piece in a theatrical setting, in complete darkness, in surround sound. For this reason its length needs to be reasonably short, since the piece demands quite a lot of attention from its audience.

This surround sound version will be presented as a cinema or theatre style performance, for people to enjoy as a group. The idea is that they come along to a designated venue, as they would with a movie or a play, and experience a radio-style piece together in total darkness. This is very rarely done, and it is hoped that it will encourage the audience’s imaginations to really come into their own. This version of the piece is still in development, and we await further information about these performances. The current plan is to present them in Fringe theatre style environments, and as such will be ticketed events. Look out for The Hound of the Baskervilles at next year’s Brighton and Edinburgh festivals.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is available from Corporate Records, which provides  a new way for performers (mainly musicians) to share, sell and promote their work. Performers can sell single tracks or group them into multiple albums, set minimum prices or use a pay-what-you-like system, embed their tracks in blogs and share static download links on Twitter and Facebook.

The album version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is now available.

More information about Laurence Owen’s The Hound of the Baskervilles can be found at and Owen is on Twitter at @laurenceowen

A promotional video can also be found on You Tube at The Hound is Released!

The Official Papers Into The Matter Known As – “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Over Christmas I amassed a pile of books to review and one of these is this set of official documents, published by MX Publishing on behalf of Detective Inspector Kieron Freeburn (retd.) of New Scotland Yard. Freeburn discovered a dusty folio at an auction in Exeter. As a result of his examination of the contents he believes that they are the original police case files that detail the investigation by Scotland Yard  represented by our good friend, Inspector Lestrade and various members of the Devon County Constabulary into the story that I recalled under the title “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

This is the first time I have seen the witness statements, medical files and original police reports that chronicle the police view of the case covering the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, the killing of the hound and the tragic aftermath.

At the outset, I must state that I have not seen the original documents although I understand that the publishers have received a request from the USA to purchase the originals. The set I have been provided with (which you can obtain for yourselves here) are facsimilies of the originals which are said to be in a delicate condition. The author, possibly on the advice of the publisher, has decided to type up many of the documents in a copperplate script to make them easier to reproduce and read than the original handwritten and typed versions.

However, there do appear to be some discrepancies between these documents and my own records of the case. I am, in this repect, grateful to Roger Johnson of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, pointing out to me that the post mortem report on Sir Charles gives Sir Henry’s name; Selden’s name changes from Arthur to Albert; Mrs Lyons is referred to as Miss Lyons, and Barrymore once refers to his wife as his sister! Some of these errors may have occurred in the transcription from the orginals. In the original publication of my version of the events in the Strand, the death of Sir Charles were stated as occurring at the beginning of May. This was later changed to June when the account was published in book form but the police records still refer to these events as occurring in May rather than June. The “tone” of some of the police reports has, I think, something to do with the resentment that the police felt about Holmes becoming involved in the investigation.

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes and the volume on The Hound of the Baskervilles from the Sherlock Holmes Reference Library are useful aids in checking the validity of these documents. My own view is that whilst they do not shed any further light on the events they do provide a useful background to Holmes’ investigation and an insight into the official police view at the time.

Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing [BRUC]

The 1901 Census was taken on March 31st and the return for that date shows us that my literary agent, Arthur Conan Doyle, was staying at the Ashdown Forest Hotel in East Grinstead in Sussex. Along with Arthur were his mother, Mary Foley Doyle, and the new lady in his life, Jean Leckie (see right). Arthur’s wife Louise (see left) was very ill and his liaison with Jean seemed to have the approval of his mother.

In Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, edited by John Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley, Arthur’s letters to Mary talk of his plans to go spend three days at the hotel, ostensibly to play golf with Jean’s brother, Stewart, and asking his mother to invite Jean to join them. Arthur was still fiercely loyal to Louise and had already told Jean that he would not leave nor divorce Louise and he would neither hurt not be unfaithful to her.

Holmes and I were away from Baker Street on the night of the census. I had been a widower for nearly ten years by then and I was abroad with my new lady friend who was soon to become my second wife. Holmes and I had been busy with the case of the Ferrers Documents and the Abergavenny Murder was coming up for trial. I think Holmes had gone to France and he had taken with him the manuscript of The Hound of the Baskervilles which I was hoping Conan Doyle would publish later that year. We were shortly to take up the case of the Duke of Holdernesse that would be later published in The Return of Sherlock Holmes as The Priory School.

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