Friday, November 13, 2015

Sherlock Holmes - Memories, my dear Watson

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

Sidney Paget Strand portrait, 1891

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

What does the Great Detective mean to someone who finds fascination in all things Victorian? As a child I watched "The Baker Street Boys", a British television show written by Richard Carpenter (creator of the popular "Robin of Sherwood" TV drama) and Anthony Read, and first broadcast in 1983, focusing on a gang of children who assist the legendary Sherlock Holmes in several cases, yet end up involved in many more of their own, facing the dangers of the Victorian criminal underworld. Add to this the classic adventures as experienced through the pure genius of English actor Jeremy Brett's performances as Holmes in the popular Granada television series (airing 1984-94) and you have a world of murder, intrigue, kidnapping and blackmail to relish. These types of shows left a deep impression on me to this very day, ghosts of memories that had to be relived through the eyes of an adult. In recent years I have even been fortunate enough to explore the same world via audio, with the fantastic Welsh actor Clive Merrison as the equally great man himself...

I suppose my fascination with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character stems from the age in which it is set - a dark and deep history where legends have been born: Jack the Ripper and the Elephant Man, both utterly real and whose own stories have been told many times over. It was a pioneering era of literature, inventions and construction, and gave birth to people such as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. London was a thriving city of commerce and yet... the poorer regions ultimately bred poverty and crime, those who could not afford to live robbed and murdered, others resorted to prostitution; it was, indeed, a tale of two cities!

Though there have been newer, fresher takes on the legend of Holmes - think BBC's "Sherlock", created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat; or Robert Downey Jr.'s role as the fictional detective - none have captured the true spirit of the character as seen by Brett or heard by Merrison. Even veteran English actor Peter Cushing never truly encapsulated the part for me (perhaps I am too drawn to Cushing as a loveable grandfather figure after his Van Helsing and Dr Who roles): in my mind Holmes is arrogant and clever, deceitful and ruthless, opinionated and a law unto himself, though he firmly embraces truth and justice whenever possible. I guess your view of the perfect actor is reflected by experience.

If you are open to new possibilities then I am always glad to give a mention to the wonderful people at, whose own vision is masterfully created in full-cast audios starring Nicholas Briggs - the great detective even takes on an infamous murderer in "Holmes and the Ripper", also featuring Richard Earl and India Fisher. It is always a treat to share this character with so many people clearly as equally passionate. Having researched a little into this subject, I was unaware of another created by Doyle, that of Professor Challenger; I have not, to my shame, ever read "The Lost World", nor any follow-up novel featuring this character.

I honestly believe that if it hadn't been for Sherlock Holmes, I would never have discovered other steps into the murky world of Victorian fiction. I am grateful for this. Another adaptation I must mention is that of "The Hound of the Baskervilles", a 2002 production starring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes, Ian Hart as fellow crime fighter Doctor Watson, Richard E Grant as Jack Stapleton, and the stunning Neve McIntosh as Beryl Stapleton - it was produced by Tiger Aspect productions and directed by David Attwood; sadly a "sequel", "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking", again with Hart in the role as Watson but now casting actor Rupert Everett as Holmes, failed to be as promising...

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(Sidney Paget Strand portrait, 1891). Article © Alwyn Ash 2015.