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Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Adventure of the Fabulous Film Festival





The great thing about a Sherlock Holmes film festival is that it’s an opportunity to meet new friends and renew acquaintances with old ones – and by “friends” I mean the movies.

I own both the British and American versions of the novelization of A Study in Terror, attributed to Ellery Queen, but I never saw the 1965 movie until last weekend at the annual summer film festival of the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis. And it was much better than I expected.

Some of the Sherlockian aspects of the film were a shade off, Jack-the-Ripper’s victims were much too well dressed for Victorian era prostitutes, and the soundtrack was a bit jarring. But the plot and the acting (with a cast including Judi Dench and Anthony Quayle, with John Neville as Holmes) was a good one. While the Ripper’s identity didn’t surprise me, the motive did.

The other full-length film, a 1983 made-for-TV version of The Sign of Four starring Ian Richardson, was also well worth watching. Richardson is an excellent Holmes, although a bit too jovial for my taste. The screenplay, which took more liberties with the novel than I would have liked, was by Cincinnati native Charles Edward Pogue. He wrote an excellent version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, also starring Richardson. Along with other members of the Tankerville Club, I met Pogue in 1987 at the staging of a Sherlockian play he wrote.

Read about Pogue’s Hound here: https://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com/2015/08/a-tv-hound-worth-watching.html

Read about his play, The Ebony Age, here: https://bakerstreetbeat.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-ebony-ape-of-sherlock-holmes.html

In addition to the films, the Illustrious Clients screened a fun episode of the classic TV program Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Called “My Dear Watson,” it presented a decidedly different take on a post-Reichenbach Holmes.

Although none of these productions was perfect, watching them with an enthusiastic crowd of about 40 Sherlockians made for a fun afternoon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Speckled Band Shines as a Play, Too


 I recently acquired a copy of The Illustrated Speckled Band. Why did I wait so long?

 This 2012 volume from Wessex Press (still in print), edited by Leslie S. Klinger, is more than just the script of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s play, although it is that. This beautifully designed book also includes more than 100 photographs of the original 1910 stage production with H.A. Saintsbury as Sherlock Holmes and Lyn Harding as Dr. Grimesby Rylott (Roylott in the short story).

Including his starring role in the famous William Gillette play, Saintsbury played Holmes on stage about 1,400 times. Harding reprised his role as the villainous Roylott in the 1930 film version of The Speckled Band, with Raymond Massey as Holmes, then graduated to playing  Moriarty against Arthur Wontner’s Holmes in The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes in 1935.

The Illustrated Speckled Band includes a contemporary review of the play that lauds Conan Doyle as a dramatist “who has the gift of characterization, crisp dialogue, and telling situations.”  And all that is true! Although I’d read it before, I’d forgotten that it’s simply a wonderful play, with some great lines. For example:

Watson is newly engaged, and Holmes asks what Miss Morstan would say about him going with Holmes on a dangerous quest. “She would say that a man who deserts his friend would never make a good husband,” Watson responds.

There is some great humor—mostly at Watson’s expense. Such as:

HOLMES: An inquest, was it not, with a string of most stupid and ineffectual witnesses?

WATSON: I was one of the witnesses.

HOLMES: Of course—so you were, so you were.  

Holmes in disguise as a workman complains about the mess that is 221B. “I’ve ’eard say he was as tidy as any when he started, but he learned bad ’abits from a cove what lived with him. Watson was his name.” “You impertinent fellow!” the doctor explodes. “How dare you talk in such a fashion. What do you want?” But by this time Holmes has slipped into his bedroom to remove the disguise. Wasn’t that episode inserted into one of the Basil Rathbone films? 

The play includes Billy the page (a creation of William Gillette), Charles Augustus Milverton, an Indian servant named Ali, and a delightful local rustic called Mr. Armitage. 

An example of ACD’s crisp dialogue comes at the end in an exchange that doesn’t appear in the short story. “The brute is dead,” Watson says, looking at the snake. “So is the other,” Holmes replies, meaning Rylott. Then he assures his client, “Miss Stonor, there is no more danger for you under this roof.” Curtain! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Shades of Sherlock Holmes on Montague Street

 

“When I first came up to London I had rooms in Montague Street, just round the corner from the British Museum, and there I waited, filling in my too abundant leisure time by studying all those branches of science which might make me more efficient.”

So said Sherlock Holmes in a nostalgic and revelatory mood one winter’s night sitting by the fire with Dr. Watson.

We visited Montague Street recently on a trip to London. It runs in a north-south direction between Russell Square on the north and Great Russell Street on the south. The British Museum is on the west side of the street, fronting on Great Russell Street. There is also a museum entrance on Montague Street.

I’m told that the street today it is much the same as it was 130 years ago. There is at least one difference, however: All the flats there are now hotels and restaurants. So it is possible to stay in one of the Georgian row houses where young Sherlock Holmes once lived and first began to ply his unique trade. But which address was that, the pro-221B?

In the early 1970s, Michael Harrison, the well-known British Holmesian, established from old volumes of the London Post Office Directory that a “Mrs. Holmes” rented 26 Montague Street on a seven-year lease beginning with the Michaelmas (September 29) of 1877. (Harrison originally wrote “24 Montague Street” but later corrected that.) Neither tax records nor records of the Duchy of Bedford Estate, which owned the freehold, yielded any further information about Mrs. Holmes. But we would be dull indeed if we did not strongly suspect that she had two sons, one of whom lived with her as he tested his ability to make his own way in the world.

That would mean that before there was Mrs. Hudson, another Mrs. H was tested by his strange hours and even stranger visitors.


Monday, June 6, 2022

Inside 221B at the Sherlock Holmes Pub

I was pleased that our granddaughter wanted to join me in the room!

I bought my first copy of the Doubleday edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes with my own money when I was 12 years old. One of the things I loved about the book was the photograph on the back: the sitting room at 221B Baker Street. On Friday, May 27, I was in that room—although at a different location.

The room was constructed at Abbey House on Baker Street as just part of the Sherlock Holmes Exhibition mounted during the Festival of Britain in 1951. Mattias Boström and Nicholas Utechin tell the whole story in the Baker Street Journal’s 2018 Christmas Annual. The Exhibition moved to the United States in 1952, the year I was born.

Since the end of 1957, the sitting room—reduced in size—has been part of London’s Sherlock Holmes Pub in Northumberland Street. And that is where I was afforded the rare opportunity of stepping inside, courtesy of the British Holmesian Roger Johnson. Roger and his wife, Jean Upton, maintain what Roger calls “the study” as a labor of love. The coal scuttle, the chemical corner, the gasogene, the wax bust of Sherlock Holmes—everything that signals 221B was there. And so was I, along with granddaughter Amelia (who is a Potterhead rather than a Sherlockian).

Most pub patrons only get to the see the familiar room in passing. At the end of the Christmas Annual, Mattias argues that photos taken of the reconstruction over the years have played an important role for Sherlockians and for people who are not so fortunate:

“Those pictures have been used in so many books and articles; they have become our shared images of Holmes’s and Watson’s living-room. Through that Room, the two friends on Baker Street stepped out of our imagination and into reality.”

If you visit London, the Sherlock Holmes Pub is a “must” stop. Even the food is good.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Joys of The Valley of Fear

I’ve been in the Valley of Fear recently.

It started when I bought a copy of Murderland at the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis auction on May 14. This companion volume to the Baker Street Irregulars expedition to Jim Thorpe, PA, and environs in 2004—site of the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel—is a wonderful little book with essays covering both historical and literary analysis of Valley.

Steven T. Doyle writes about the Mollie Maguires of fact vs. the Scowrers of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fiction, for example, while Gary Lovisi deftly explores Birdy Edwards as the first hard-boiled detective of fiction. (In my mystery novel Queen City Corpse, one of the characters writes a series of Birdy Edwards novels—which I still think is a crackerjack idea.) And the manuscript notes for the novel in ACD’s own hand are reproduced here for the first time.

The Valley of Fear on Film,” Pat Ward’s largely positive take 1935’s The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, caused me to watch for the first time a movie I’ve owned for years. And it’s great!

I agree with Pat that it has a weak supporting cast, with a Watson whom she accurately characterizes as a “pompous popinjay.” The film has more of Moriarty than the novel, which is all to the good, but Lyn Harding is a bit over-the-top in the role. Arthur Wontner, on the other hand, is an excellent Holmes who looks just like the Frank Wiles portrait for The Valley of Fear that caused ACD to say, “This comes nearest to my conception of what he really looked like.”

The scriptwriters did superb job of making the second half of the novel—the world’s first hard-boiled detective story—into a flashback that is the middle part of the movie. And, best of all, they retained this glorious exchange between Boss McGinty and the man he knew as McMurdo:  

“Is he here? Is Birdy here?”

“Yes, Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!”

Asked for his favorite passage of English prose, T.S. Eliot—one of the greatest poets of the Twentieth Century—gave that interchange as his response, delivered with appropriate gestures.

The Valley of Fear is nowhere near as famous to the general public as The Hound of the Baskervilles. But count me among those who consider it a masterwork—two great short novels in one. I’m grateful that Murderland made me take another look at it. Unfortunately, Murderland is out of print. But if you can find it, get it!

Sherlock Holmes by Frank Wiles


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

'And It is Always 1914'?

I had the pleasure of choosing the story and writing the quiz for Sunday’s meeting of the Agra Treasurers of Dayton. I picked my sentimental favorite, “His Last Bow.”

This isn’t the best story. It’s not even the story that gives us the most of what we love about Sherlock Holmes in one tale. (My choice for that is “The Bruce-Partington Plans,” which has Mycroft, Lestrade, a murder mystery, a spy story, Holmes and Watson committing burglary, and some wonderful dialogue.)

For years I thought that what I loved out “His Last Bow” was the beginning and the ending. Both are fantastic. The opening:

“It was nine o’clock at night upon the second of August–the most terrible August in the history of the world. One might have thought already that God’s curse hung heavy over a degenerate world, for there was an awesome hush and a feeling of vague expectancy in the sultry and stagnant air. The sun had long set, but one blood-red gash like an open wound lay low in the distant west. Above, the stars were shining brightly, and below, the lights of the shipping glimmered in the bay. The two famous Germans stood beside the stone parapet of the garden walk, with the long, low, heavily gabled house behind them, and they looked down upon the broad sweep of the beach at the foot of the great chalk cliff on which Von Bork, like some wandering eagle, had perched himself four years before. They stood with their heads close together, talking in low, confidential tones. From below the two glowing ends of their cigars might have been the smouldering eyes of some malignant fiend looking down in the darkness.”

And the famous ending:

“There’s an east wind coming, Watson.”

“I think not, Holmes. It is very warm.”

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God's own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared. Start her up, Watson, for it’s time that we were on our way. I have a check for five hundred pounds which should be cashed early, for the drawer is quite capable of stopping it if he can.”

Great writing, indeed! But I now realize that what makes the story special for me is something else: This is the story that makes Holmes and Watson real because they have aged along with the world around him, unlike Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. They were young men in A Study in Scarlet and, well, not-young men in “His Last Bow.”

And the last couple of sentences assures us that they will keep soldiering on.

Always 1895? Not really. Sometimes it’s 1914. And that’s a good thing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Reichenbach Memories on May 4

                                   

 
            Today, May 4, is Riechenbach Day, the anniversary of that encounter that spelled the end of Moriarty and the beginning of the Great Hiatus.

            My friend Steve Winter and I visited the Falls with our spouses on Oct. 13, 2008. But on that fall morning, off in the distance from a point close to our hotel, the Falls looked more like the Reichenbach Trickle than the awesome force of nature described by Watson. No matter. Steve and I set off with determination on the fussweg, or footpath, well-marked (at least at first) with signs bearing the universally recognized image of Sherlock Holmes. Along the way our wives fell back and Steve and I hiked on past cows, goats, and Swiss chalets with satellite dishes. Without the funicular “Zum Reichenbachfall,” which marked “100 Jahre” in 1999, we had a delightful sense that we were walking more closely in the footsteps of Holmes and Watson than if we had taken the cable car much of the way up. 

            About two thirds toward the top of the mountain, within site of the Falls, we unexpectedly came across yet another plaque. In English, followed by German and then French, it said: 

AT THIS FEARFUL PLACE,

SHERLOCK HOLMES

VANQUISHED PROFESSOR

MORIARTY ON 4 MAY 1891. 

It was erected in the 1990s by the Bimetallic Question of Montreal and the Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland, and not arbitrarily. The spot certainly fit the description of where Holmes and Moriarty tussled, just above a ledge now protected with a metal railing. Heights not being my favorite thing, it was to me indeed a “fearful place.”  Even the intrepid Steve told me later that he could imagine the fear and awe that one would have felt looking down into the chasm when the Falls were cascading over the jutting rocks at full force – especially in the days before funiculars, safety rails and marked trails.

By this time, it was clear that the view from below had been deceiving. In October, virtually shut off, the mighty Reichenbach is still a lot more than a trickle. In another context, with lower expectations, it would be considered a respectable waterfall. “The Falls, even now, are quite loud,” I wrote in my travel diary as we stood on a bridge overlooking the great chasm and the cascading water. And their roar was the only sound to be heard in the stillness of nature that fall morning. Steve and I had seen no one else, except for a distant hiker that never came close to us. “This really was a pilgrimage for two,” Steve said as we began our descent about two and a half hours after we had started up.

A pilgrimage indeed, and one that I wrote about in my first Sherlockian Book, Baker Street Beat.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Young Sherlockians: Beacons of the Future

 

Ryan Roley and Carolyn Senter

Ira Matetsky, Sherlockian and Wolfean, made an interesting point about the difference between the world of Sherlock Holmes devotees and the counterpart fandom devoted to twentieth century American sleuth Nero Wolfe.

Interviewed by Steve Doyle on The Fortnightly Dispatch YouTube program from the Baker Street Irregulars, Ira pointed out that Wolfeans tend to skew older in age and their numbers are not being replenished, whereas admirers of Mr. Sherlock Holmes come in all generations and their numbers continue to grow.

Ann and I met an enthusiastic young Sherlockian on Tuesday, April 26, when we and Carolyn Senter presented Ryan Foley with a plaque commemorating his second-place finish in the 7th-9th grade category of the R. Joe Senter Sr. Memorial Essay Contest. Most of the plaques were mailed out, but Ryan’s school is just a few minutes from our home. So the presentation took place front of the entire eighth grade at St. Ignatius School, the large elementary school in the state of Ohio.

The essay contest, funded by Carolyn Senter in honor of her late husband and administered by the Beacon Society, offers cash prizes of $300, $200, and $100 in the 4th-6th, 7th-9th and 10th-12th grade categories. I chair the Beacon Society’s Awards Committee, although my four stellar committee members do all the work.

Ryan’s essay compared and contrasted Holmes and Watson, primarily in “The Red-Headed League.” You can read it and all the other winning essays at: https://www.beaconsociety.com/uploads/3/7/3/8/37380505/2022_senter_essay_award_winners_--_essays.pdf

The Senter Contest is just one way the Beacon Society strives to bring the magic of Sherlock Holmes alive for young people. Learn more about this lively scion society at: https://www.beaconsociety.com/

Deadline for next year’s contest is far way, but not too far to start thinking about young people you know who might be interested in the chance to win a cash prize. This could be their gateway to that wonderful world where it is always 1895.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Good Old Stuff


The early issues of the Baker Street Journal, published by Ben Abramson, have long been remembered for their striking appearance. Jon Lellenberg, in his Irregular Proceedings of the Mid ‘Forties, accurately called the Old Series BSJ “a lavishly eye-pleasing piece of Victoriana.”

But perhaps not enough attention has been paid to the equally high quality of the content. The very first issue in 1946 contained material from such Sherlockian luminaries as Bliss Austin, Belden Wigglesworth, Vincent Starrett, Jay Finley Christ, S.C. Robert, Christopher Morley, and Anthony Boucher.

Edgar W. Smith’s first “Editor’s Gas Lamp,” is appropriately called “The Game Is Afoot” and begins:

It is altogether fitting that Sherlock Holmes should be honored by the publication of a journal devoted to a critical analysis of his life and times. No other man has ever been so honored before him but then no other life has ever lent itself so completely to affectionate dissection; no other times have offered quite so full a flavor of the stuff of which our dreams are made.

From our 2022 perspective, it rather amusing to the read that H.W. Starr’s “Some New Light on Watson” begins with the words: “There is noticeable, to a keen observer, a tendency in the more recent Baker Street scholarship to advance – one hesitates to use the word fanciful – theories in which the scholar presses his thesis perhaps beyond the point of complete plausibility and in which the evidence is possibly not as sound as one might desire.”

Best of all, for my taste, the inaugural BSJ contained this classic poem:

A Greeting in Arduis

By Helene Yuhasova

(To the Baker Street Irregulars, on the occasion of their Annual Dinner, 1945)

I hear your footsteps patter in the hall;

I see you standing eager in the room

Before great Sherlock; and I heed the call

To urge a budding poem into bloom:

In vain! My verse is spatulate and tegular –

Despite my prayers to Zeus and great Jehovah

I’m not, alas, a Baker Street Irregular –

I’m just

Sincerely yours,

H. Yuhasova

In their wonderful 2017 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual, “A Woman of Mystery,” Sonia Fetherston and Julie McKuras write: “Of all Yuhasova’s known works, this is the most heart-wrenching. It’s the voice of someone who feels excluded; being a woman was the surest reason for exclusion by the Irregulars in those days.”

Fortunately, however, women were never excluded from the pages of the BSJ. That same issue included an essay by Esther Longfellow on “The Distaff Side of Baker Street” and the beginning of a regular column by mystery editor Lee Wright called “Mrs. Hudson Speaks.” Ms. Wright was also one of five associate editors of the original BSJ.

You don’t have to be a collector to acquire those early numbers of the BSJ. All issues from 1946 through 2011 – 276 issues and more than 18,000 pages – are available in PDF form on a searchable DVD. Check it out www.bakerstreetirregulars.com/2013/01/06/ebsj-v2/

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Look What Popped Up! Holmes-in-the-Box


When you have a passion for something, kind people tend to give you things. A large percentage of my library and almost all of my keepsakes related to Sherlock Holmes were gifts.

Among the latest non-book items was what I call a Holmes-in-the-Box, a present from my wife, Ann.  A few weeks ago, a Sherlockian visitor from another state saw it and said, “I have one of those.” Doesn’t everybody?

The Tankerville Club of Cincinnati, our local scion, has made “Sherlockian Show & Tell” a part of every meeting. I really look forward to the amazing variety of tchotchkes our members bring in to display. Our March meeting included a Legos reconstruction of 221B, a doll portraying Sherlock Holmes as a badger, and a Holmes story in the form of one the world’s tiniest books.

What’s on your shelf or in your closet that’s Sherlockian, but not a book?