Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Scholarship of Sherlock Holmes Films and Other Performances: A Short Survey of Some Books Related to the Great Detective on Screen, Radio, and the Stage

[A version of this essay originally appeared in "Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge", the journal of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, edited by Jayantika Ganguly, BSI, Vol. 8, No. 2, December 2020]

I tend to be cautious when it comes to actors' portrayals of Holmes and Watson, finding that, for one reason or another, the version of Holmes in my mind is rarely reflected by the actors who have portrayed him – even those who make a sincere effort. I believe that this is a combination of having a very vivid “virtual reality” in my head when I’m reading, and also because I read Holmes’s adventures – Canon and pastiche – for years before I really had much experience with seeing him portrayed on screen. Nevertheless, over the years I’ve sought out every film and radio broadcast about the True Holmes that I can find – adaptations of Canonical adventures and original adventures – and I believe that I own every one that can be obtained, aside from digging a tunnel into the United States Library of Congress. I’ve found that there’s generally something good about most Holmes portrayals to balance any objections.

In a way, it’s because of a Holmes film that I ended up becoming such a fanatic – a missionary, as I like to say, for The Church of the True Canonical Holmes. I’ve written elsewhere about how I obtained my first Sherlock Holmes book when I was ten years old, in 1975, when I was trading for some Hardy Boys books, and the Holmes volume was thrown in to sweeten the deal. I didn’t really want it, but a few weeks later, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the 1965 film A Study in Terror was on television and I happened across it. Somehow I recognized Holmes – it was the scene where he and Watson are having a heated discussion with Mycroft – and I was intrigued enough to retrieve my sole Holmes volume and start reading. I never looked back.



I began to read both Canon and Pastiche, finding that they had equal value – if the pastiches were Canonical in nature and tone, and didn’t veer into some misbegotten and time-wasting Alternate Universe version. Thus, for the most part, my association with Holmes in those early formative years was by way of the written word.

I did manage to track down a dozen or so of the 1940’s Basil Rathbone radio shows, on LP records at the local library (and which I later added to my own collection) . . .



. . . and that was the first time that I “heard” Holmes. Rathbone’s crisp, confident, and heroic voice cemented for me what Holmes should sound like – not a self-doubting broken whiner, but a hero – someone who already capably has all the threads in his hands, and can see what the player on the other side is going to be doing four or fives moves ahead. (Even at that early age, I was sophisticated enough to know that Nigel Bruce was not Watson, but that’s another essay entirely . . . .)

Sometime in that first year or so of being a Sherlockian, I was walking through our kitchen while the evening news was being broadcast on television, and for some reason, to illustrate a point, the story just then used a clip from Rathbone’s 1939 The Hound of the Baskervilles – where he states, “Murder, my dear Watson. Refined, cold-blooded murder.” I’d heard Basil Rathbone as Holmes for a couple of years by that point, but that was the first time I’d seen him, wearing the correct headgear. It was electrifying.



In December 1978, I received my first book about Holmes films, Holmes of the Movies by David Stuart Davies (1978) as a Christmas gift from my parents.



I know this because I recorded the fact on the flyleaf, in my 13-year-old scrawl:



This was a fascinating volume, as it revealed to me for the first time the extensive history of Holmes on film, all the way back to the beginning of the medium. As I valued pastiche as much as The Canon, I was thrilled to see that there were so many extra-Canonical tales that could be found on film, and I was able to learn early on – by way of the book years before I met them through films – just which actors looked like Holmes (Rathbone – at least in the early days before those God-awful experimental hair-styles, Arthur Wontner, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and John Neville) and those who sadly did not (Clive Brook, Reginald Owen, and Eille Norwood, for example). Of course, I couldn’t judge their performances then – I only had limited still photos in the book to make my evaluation.

At some point during the late 1970’s, I was able to see The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) during an evening television broadcast. This film, starring Robert Stephens, had been listed in Davies’ book, and I thought that the story was brilliant, as well as showing the wonderful Loch Ness locations. Sadly, neither Stephens’ Holmes, nor Colin Blakeley’s Watson, were very Canonical, and rail-thin Christopher Lee as Mycroft was unexplainable (although his attitude was correct), but overall I appreciated the ambitious scale of this film.

In 1979, a new Holmes film appeared, the first to be produced since Davies’ book had been written and added to my small but growing collection, and I was able to see it when it was new, along with the rest of the Sherlockian world. Murder by Decree starred Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Watson, and in spite of neither really being right for the part – Mason was seventy years old at the time – Good grief! – playing Watson, who would have been thirty-six in 1888 – they were thoroughly brilliant.



I saw the film with my dad in an otherwise empty movie theater, and was absolutely stunned from beginning to end. Near the conclusion, when Holmes angrily confronts the Prime Minister himself, I realized that this was the way that I saw Holmes too – unafraid of power, and willing to do whatever it takes to stand up for right. Willing to be a hero. This has been the Holmes that I’ve supported, encouraged, and defended ever since.

This film, like the earlier A Study in Terror, had Holmes facing Jack the Ripper, and I believe that Murder by Decree is not only the finest Holmes film, but the best version of Holmes against the Ripper. (I discuss this further in my irregular blog entry entitled “Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper”:

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2017/02/sherlock-holmes-versus-jack-ripper.html

My exposure to Holmes films continued at a much slower pace when compared to finding, collecting, and reading Holmes books. When I was in high school, people began to acquire video cassette recorders (VCR’s) for watching movies at home. (This would have been in the early 1980’s, an unimaginable time of technological backwardness for some people.) Our family wouldn’t have a VCR for several more years, but one of my friends did and, knowing that I liked Sherlock Holmes, he and his family invited me over one Saturday to watch a Basil Rathbone Holmes film that they had rented – my first full-length introduction to Rathbone as Holmes on film. It was one of the later films, set in the 1940’s. I understood all about those from Davies’ book, but didn’t know quite how I felt about the change. Sadly, after that day I still didn’t really know, as I didn’t quite get to watch the movie. My friend and I were joined by his mom, and the two of them talked so much throughout the showing that I really saw and heard nothing. (Nearly forty years on and I still feel bitter about it.) I wouldn’t really get to dive into the Rathbone films until a few years later, when I was able to rent and watch them – in peace – while in college.

It was during those college years (1983-1987) that I made a deeper dive into being a Sherlockian. I began to wear a deerstalker as my full-time and only hat in the spring of 1984. For more about that, see this entry from my blog, "In Praise of the Deerstalker":

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2019/07/in-praise-of-deerstalker.html

I also found ways to track down and purchase more Sherlockian books. And in 1985, my deerstalker and I were able to see Young Sherlock Holmes when it premiered in the theatre. (I discuss that film more in this blog entry, “Actually, That Wasn’t Watson”:

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2017/03/actually-that-wasnt-watson-some-notes.html

As the years have progressed, I’ve made an effort to track down various volumes related to Holmes on Screen, and each has proven to be of great value. Around the same time as Davies’ Holmes of the Movies was published, two similar but much larger volumes appeared, Sherlock Holmes on the Screen (1977) by Robert W. Pohle, Jr. and Douglas C. Hart, and The Films of Sherlock Holmes (1978) by Chris Steinbrunner and Norman Michaels. As was the case regarding Davies’ book, each of these gave me basic information about and glimpses of plots for the Holmes films – good and bad – years (or even decades) before I’d ever get to see them for real.



A 1975 special-edition magazine, The History of Sherlock Hlmes in Stage, Films, TV & Radio Since 1899 made a passable attempt to look at the Holmes films up to that time:



In the mid-1980’s, after the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett began production, there were several associational volumes published, including two oversized editions of The Television Sherlock Holmes (1986 Hardcover and 1994 Revised Softcover).



Both of these books by Peter Haining were ostensibly about all of the Holmes television shows, but probably eighty percent of each volume was actually devoted to Granada’s version – which was acceptable, as the show (at least in the early years) went out of its way to be faithful to The Canon, and visually recreating many of the original Paget drawings. Additionally, David Burke was probably one of – if not the – finest Watson yet portrayed on screen, and Edward Hardwicke who followed him, although being too small and too old by then, did an excellent job as well.



There have also been several associational volumes related to the Granada show, including the oversized A Centenary Celebration of Sherlock Holmes 1887-1987. While showing some of the overall history of Holmes, this, listed as Granada Companion – Number One, understandably focused on their own television show. (While writing this essay, my research showed that this is considered by some to be “one of the rarest and most collectable of [Jeremy Brett] memorabilia.” Who knew? I’m very glad that I grabbed two of them!)



Jeremy Paul, one of the principal writers of the Granada television series, published several of his own scripts from the show, and also for the 1988 play that he wrote (starring Brett and Hardwicke) The Secret of Sherlock Holmes:



Also providing a valuable insider’s view of the show is producer Michael Cox’s invaluable A Study in Celluloid (1999, Revised 2011) derived from a number of articles originally in Sherlock magazine, relating invaluable behind-the-scenes information about the earlier years of the Granada series.



I was personally thrilled with the late Mr. Cox provided a foreword to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Parts VII and VIII – Eliminate the Impossible:



Some of Cox’s book is quoted extensively in two recent volumes by Maureen Whittaker, both published in 2020, Jeremy Brett – Playing a Part (a huge volume looking at Brett’s overall career), and Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes (which pulls out the Holmes section of the former book as a separate work.)



There have been several other invaluable volumes that deal with the entirety of Holmes’s screen career. Following his 1978 volume, David Stuart Davies returned with two editions of Starring Sherlock Holmes (2001, Revised 2007):



For those who inexplicably didn’t care for the Basil Rathbone cover, there is a Jeremy Brett cover on the opposite side of the dust jacket.



In 2002, Alan Barnes created a massive and very handy volume with a deep dive into various Holmes films and television episodes, Sherlock Holmes on Screen. When new information became available, he issued revised editions in 2004 and 2001.



Howard Ostrom is compiling an amazing look at Holmes’s film appearances – not just in movies and television episodes, but in commercials and cartoons, and many other locations as well, such as Abbot and Costello films – by taking a scrapbook-like approach in Sherlock Holmes on Screens, having sections for each jammed with obscure information (clippings, set photos, etc.) and explanatory text. Long may this series wave! I have the first two volumes, I believe there is a third, and I can’t wait to someday have them all.



While Ostrom’s books are visual treats, there are several scholarly volumes that rely a great deal on very informative text. One of these is Gordon E. Kelley’s invaluable Sherlock Holmes: Screen and Sound Guide (1994). Based on information available at the time, Kelley compiled extensive and very complete lists of Holmes films and television episodes from all over the world, as well as cartoons, advertising, computer programs, and especially radio broadcasts. The radio information is especially useful. Somewhat similar is Ron Haydock’s Deerstalker! Holmes and Watson on Screen (1978). Haydock’s book is very similar in size to Kelley’s, but he limits his efforts to film appearances, and rather than providing lists, some of his information is in the form of essays, meaning that while it’s quite useful, it isn’t always easily found when one is in a hurry. Michael Pointer’s The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes (1975) also begins with essays, with the first half of the book focusing on certain earlier Holmes actors – such as William Gillette, Eille Norwood, and Basil Rathbone – while the second half includes lists of most Holmes film appearances up to the mid-1970’s.



Pointer continued with this informative take on Holmes films with The Sherlock Holmes File (1976) and The Pictorial History of Sherlock Holmes (1991), a particularly fine volume nearly fifteen inches tall!



Ronald Burt DeWaal’s two massive works, The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (1974), and The International Sherlock Holmes (1980) also have lists and information related to Holmes’s appearances on film, but by their very ambitious nature, they were out of date by the time they were published.



A third version of DeWaal’s bibliography, The Universal Sherlock Holmes, was available from the Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, and is also maintained online at the University of Minnesota, but it isn’t updated:

https://www.lib.umn.edu/scrbm/ush/intro

There are a number of other scholarly works that drill deeper into specific areas of interest, instead of simply providing lists and short summaries of Holmes’s many film appearances. One such is Sherlock Holmes – Behind the Canonical Screen (2015), edited by Lyndsay Faye and Ashley Polasek, containing papers from a 2012 UCLA conference with discussions related specifically to Holmes films:



Ms. Polasek followed up with Being Sherlock, a collection of 11 Canonical adventures, interspersed with essays that contained information related to film adapations, as well as photographs of different actors portryaing Holmes and Watson:



More recently, Alexandra Kitty has made a study of Holmes on stage in The Dramatic Moment of Fate: The Life of Sherlock Holmes in the Theatre (2020):



A really fun book examining the power of the 1940’s Rathbone Holmes films to help lift morale during World War II is Amanda J. Field’s England’s Secret Weapon (2009). It provides new insight to these sometimes anachronistically troublesome efforts for those of us who do not want to see Holmes presented in the incorrect time period.



(My own theory about three of the Rathbone wartime films, and who is really the main character – it isn’t Sherlock Holmes! – can be found in my blog entry “Basil Rathbone’s Solar Pons films”.)

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2016/11/basil-rathbones-solar-pons-films.html

Kieran McMullen did a study specifically related to Watsonian portrayers, The Many Watsons (2012):



William S. Major has taken a lifetime of collecting theater posters and lobby cards from old Holmes films to assemble the attractive and full-color Elementary Art: 100 Years of Sherlock Holmes (2017)



When considering Holmes films, some will doubtless find that volumes related to the actors themselves can be useful. There are many of these that I don’t have - such as numerous biographies of Basil Rathbone - as I generally limit my collection to works about Holmes instead of his portrayers. However, two books in my collection (bought from the authors themselves in the Dealer’s Room of the amazing From Gillette to Brett conference) are Sherlock Holmes and the Fabulous Faces (2012) by Michael A. Hoey (son of 1940’s Lestrade actor Dennis Hoey), and Tony Earnshaw’s study of Peter Cushing, An Actor and a Rare One (2001).



(One of the amazing things about the From Gillette to Brett conferences is how one can spend great amounts of time with the celebrity guest speakers. At the 2011 conference, I sat next to Mr. Hoey in the theater during a showing of Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Before and after the film, we talked about my ever-present deerstalker, his experiences in Hollywood, and how my mother was a Rathbone - thus making me half-Rathbone - and his memories of Basil Rathbone when he was a boy on the Hollywood sets with his father in the 1940's - it was an incredible experience!)

While this essay has been mostly confined to screen portrayals, some of these aforementioned books also address Holmes’s many appearances on radio. As I related, it was several years after I’d discovered Holmes before I truly saw him on screen, so old radio shows were the way that I heard him. I believe that I’ve been able to collect every available Holmes radio performance – except for those that are practically impossible to find, such as programs stored at the U.S. Library of Congress – and I value all of them, as they present new interpretations of The Canon, and also countless additional extra-Canonical investigations.

The first major source of Holmes pastiches were the radio shows of the 1930's, written by Edith Meiser. After the various Canonical stories had been adapted and broadcast several times, Meiser – with the permission of the First Literary Agent’s family – began to pull previously unknown extra-Canonical stories from the Tin Dispatch Box, the first being “The Hindoo in the Wicker Basket” (broadcast January 7th, 1932). There were many other extra-Canonical stories broadcast in the years between 1930 and 1944, when Meiser relinquished the writing duties. All of these have intriguing titles – “The Corpse in the Cab”, “The Syrian Mummy”, “The Sinister Wind Bells”, and “The Case of the Walking Corpse” – and a number of them were converted into daily comic strips with art by Frank Giacola. These have since been published by Eternity Comics and ACG, and also in a few books:



After their 1939 film premieres as Holmes and Watson, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce began a long run on radio - even during those years when they weren't playing the parts on screen. A number of those broadcasts have since been converted into text form by Ken Greenwald (The Lost Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 1989) and by H. Paul Jeffers(The Forgotten Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - 2005) These were based on episodes that are fairly easily found. A number of others from the 1942-1943 season, by Leslie Charteris and Denis Green, are considered lost, but fortunatley Ian Dickerson located a cache of scripts, as he is associated with caretaking Mr. Charteris's estate. He published a number of them in Sherlock Holmes: The Lost Radio Scripts (2017) and Sherlock Holmes: More Lost Radio Scripts (2018) As Mr. Dickerson wasn't able to publish all of the scripts he discovered, several of them from that "lost" season have been included in various volumes of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.



Mr. Dickerson delved deeper with an amazing review of the Holmes radio shows, and particularly those of Rathbone and Bruce, in Sherlock Holmes and His Adventures in American Radio (2019):



From the early 1930’s broadcasts (with William Gillette and Richard Gordon and Luis Hector), through the long influential tenure of Basil Rathbone, and then those that followed him (including Tom Conway, John Stanley, Norman Shelley, Sir John Gielgud, and so many others), the Holmes radio tradition has been strong. The torch is currently carried by John Patrick Lowrie and Lawrence Albert of Imagination Theatre, respectively portraying Holmes and Watson, who are now both the longest running radio performers in those roles, and also one of only two radio duos to perform The Complete Canon. A number of the scripts performed by Lowrie and Albert have been published in Imagination Theatre's Sherlock Holmes (2017), with scripts from every one of the authors who contributed to the series, and also The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2019), a three-volume set containing all the Holmes scripts written by Imagination Theater founder Jim French:



Additionally, some further Imagination Theatre scripts by Matthew J. Elliott have been published in Sherlock Holmes on the Air (2016), and more by Mr. Elliott and Steven Philip Jones appear in Sherlock Holmes on the Air! (2016 - Nearly the same title, but two completely different books). Both have also provided scripts or text adaptations of their Imagination Theatre scripts for volumes of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.



The only other pair of actors who have portrayed Holmes and Watson in every adapation of the Canonical stories were Clive Merrison and the late Michael Williams. The Merrison and Williams broadcasts for the BBC were supervised and partly written by Bert Coules, and were absolutely brilliant. As I’ve said many times – to Bert and others – Merrison and Williams’ voices were how I always heard Holmes and Watson in my head, years before they were actually cast in this series. Bert Coules has written a brilliant volume, 221 BBC (1998, Revised 2014), telling the behind-the-scenes story of those productions.



There have been a number of associational books published in connection with specific film projects. These include The Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson Annual (1979) to go with the short-lived 1979 television series starring Geoffrey Whitehead and Donald Pickering – itself something of a remake of the Ronald Howard and C. Marion Crawford series of 1954-1955. In 1979, the previously mentioned Murder by Decree entered my life with a thunderclap, and I was thrilled to find not long after that there was a novelization by Robert Weverka – and in some ways it’s better than the film. Then there's D.R. Bensen's novelization of Alvin Sapinsley’s film script of 1976’s Sherlock Holmes in New York, starring Roger Moore and Patrick Macnee. I’ve always especially enjoyed this book and film – although I didn’t read or see either until many years after they’d first appeared – because of Holmes’s encounter with Irene Adler and her very important son . . . .



For more about Irene's son, see this entry from my blog, "Re-reading the Nero Wolfe Adventures":

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2016/01/re-reading-nero-wolfe-adventures-visit.html

A good spin-off novel of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was written by Michael and Mollie Hardiwck (1971). Here's the hardcover Ian Henry edition:



There were two spin-off novels for the television mini-series Young Sherlock (1982), the first (shown below with the DVD’s of the show) being a novelization of the television story, Young Sherlock: The Mystery of the Manor House (1982) and a second novel which was rumored to be based on the script for the un-filmed second series, Young Sherlock: The Adventure at Ferryman’s Creek (1984).



In 1983, The Baker Street Boys was also a short-lived television mini-series with a companion book. The book series was later reinstated with seven more volumes (so far . . . .)



As mentioned above, I saw Young Sherlock Holmes when it premiered in 1985, and soon after found the paperback novelization. It’s shown here (bottom right) along with the DVD (top right), the children’s storybook version (top left) and the hardcover edition of the novelization (bottom left).



For more about these type of Holmes adventures, see my blog entry, "A Consideration of Children in the World of Sherlock Holmes":

http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/2019/03/a-consideration-of-children-in-world-of.html" target="_blank

Finally, the last example I’ll provide of film-related books is for 1965’s A Study in Terror, the movie mentioned at the beginning of this essay that prompted me to get up as a ten-year-old and find my only Holmes book and start down this incredibly rewarding Sherlockian Path. Shown here with the DVD of the film are three editions of the novelization, including the yellow hardcover with the alternate British title Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper. What’s especially important to me about this book, in addition to its connection to the film, is that it was written by Ellery Queen who, in additon to Holmes, is one of my all-time favorite heroes. In the book version, Ellery receives Watson’s old manuscript of the case, and in alternating chapters he begins his own investigation. When Watson’s tale is told, Ellery continues, only to find a second unknown solution in addition to Holmes’s from 1888. It’s a brilliant idea, and the combinatoin of two of my heroes working together, even if decades apart, thrills me as much now as when I first read it while still a teenager.



This is only a fraction of what’s available regarding Holmes and film. There are numerous other books and articles – some of which I have, and others I don’t. (There are much better experts than me in this aspect of The World of Holmes – for example, Charles Prepolec, BSI, springs to mind.) And as mentioned, there is a massive amount of biographical information about the actors who have played Holmes, but I limit my interest to Holmes himself, rather than his portrayers.

It’s very sad that – except for a very few stand-alone television films – there has been absolutely nothing whatsoever about Sherlock Holmes on television since the Granada version ended in 1994. Theatrical releases have also been sparse, with only a couple of action-oriented outings starring Robert Downey Jr. And yet, Holmes will certainly return, and when he does, the old reference books will need to be updated, and new ones written.

I’m looking forward to reading them!





©David Marcum 2021 – All Rights Reserved

*************************

David Marcum plays The Game with deadly seriousness. He first discovered Sherlock Holmes in 1975 at the age of ten, and since that time, he has collected, read, and chronologicized literally thousands of traditional Holmes pastiches in the form of novels, short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, comics, fan-fiction, and unpublished manuscripts. He is the author of nearly eighty Sherlockian pastiches, some published in anthologies and magazines such as The Strand, and others collected in his own books, The Papers of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes and A Quantity of Debt, and Sherlock Holmes – Tangled Skeins. He has edited over fifty books, including several dozen traditional Sherlockian anthologies, such as the ongoing series The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, which he created in 2015. This collection is now up to 27 volumes, with several more in preparation. He was responsible for bringing back August Derleth’s Solar Pons for a new generation, first with his collection of authorized Pons stories, The Papers of Solar Pons, and then by editing the reissued authorized versions of the original Pons books, and subsequently additional volumes of new Pons tales. He has done the same for the Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke. He has contributed numerous essays to various publications, and is a member of a number of Sherlockian groups and Scions. His irregular Sherlockian blog, A Seventeen Step Program, addresses various topics related to his favorite book friends (as his son used to call them when he was small), and can be found at http://17stepprogram.blogspot.com/ Since the age of nineteen, he has worn a deerstalker as his regular-and-only hat. He is a licensed Civil Engineer, living in Tennessee with his wife and son. In 2013, he and his deerstalker were finally able make his first trip-of-a-lifetime Holmes Pilgrimage to England, with return Pilgrimages in 2015 and 2016, where you may have spotted him. If you ever run into him and his deerstalker out and about, feel free to say hello!

His Amazon Author Page can be found at:

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B00K1IKA92?_encoding=UTF8&node=283155&offset=0&pageSize=12&searchAlias=stripbooks&sort=author-sidecar-rank&page=1&langFilter=default#formatSelectorHeader


and at MX Publishing:

https://mxpublishing.com/search?type=product&q=marcum&fbclid=IwAR12tH4SUvE9nmEnnuqeI5GC7Tv69-NagPgmAZlxcz0vr2Ihza5_6jP-fXM







Friday, September 25, 2020

How I Came to Appreciate Undershaw

[A version of this essay originally appeared on the Undershaw website, August 23, 2017]



I have to warn you: This is written from the perspective of a Sherlockian. I’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was ten years old, in the mid-1970’s. In the forty-five-plus years since then, I’ve collected literally thousands of traditional Holmes adventures in the form of novels and short stories, radio and television episodes, movies and scripts, comics and unpublished manuscripts and fan fiction. And I play The Game with deadly seriousness.

You haven’t heard of The Game? That’s where Holmes and Watson are recognized as historical figures, born in the 1850’s, and living to ripe old ages before passing away in the twentieth century. As such, Watson was the chronicler of Holmes’s adventures, which he later published with the help of his Literary Agent, Dr. – and later Sir – Arthur Conan Doyle.

I’m not the only person who approaches Sherlock Holmes in this manner. Yet, even if one firmly looks at Holmes through this perspective, there’s no getting away from his being intertwined with Conan Doyle every once in a while.

But make no mistake: I’m a fan of Holmes and Watson.

Holmes Pilgrimages

In 2013, I was able to visit England on the first (of what has turned out to be three, so far) Holmes Pilgrimages. My wife and son stayed home, both recognizing that this was almost a religious experience for me. I’ve worn a deerstalker as my only hat since I was nineteen, and it went with me throughout the entire trip. I’d been planning the journey for years, making extensive use of over two-dozen Holmes travel books in my collection. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and if it didn’t concern The Great Detective in some form or fashion, I pretty much didn’t do it. For instance, I refused to ride the London Eye, as it’s a modern contrivance that has nothing to do with my heroes. But I did explore The Tower of London – not for its historic or tourist value, mind you, but because it features in so many Holmes stories . . .

. . . but not in original sixty stories, referred to as The Canon. Holmes and Watson don’t visit The Tower in any of those, although they do see it from across the Thames while riding in a boat in The Sign of the Four. However, they have business at The Tower one way or another in quite a few of those post-Canon stories, "pastiches", as brought to us by later Holmes enthusiasts, after Conan Doyle. He was the first “Literary Agent”, serving in that capacity in fits and starts from the mid-1880’s, when A Study in Scarlet was written and then published in December 1887, all the way through the last Canonical adventure, “Shoscombe Old Place”, which appeared in The Strand in 1927. In between, Conan Doyle decided that he didn’t like Holmes very much, and was very happy to assist in reporting in “The Final Problem” that Holmes had supposedly died at the hands of Professor Moriarty atop the Reichenbach Falls on May 4th, 1891. It took years before new chronicles appeared in The Strand magazine to explain just how Holmes had survived that encounter.

So even though Conan Doyle only associated himself with five-dozen “official” stories about Holmes and Watson, there have been thousands of them since then, filling in the gaps within and around and through the originals, and attempting to answer the many questions that were left hanging. Thus, my first Holmes Pilgrimage in 2013 visited not only sites mentioned in the Canonical narratives, but a great many other Holmes-sites as well.

David Marcum and his deerstalker at 221b Baker Street

An amazing thing about London is that, wherever you go to see something on your list – especially if it’s a Holmes List – you’ll likely find two other things that you also wanted to see right next door or across the street from the first place. After having read for decades about Holmes from my own corner of the United States, specifically in eastern Tennessee, it was amazing to see the real London. It was nothing like I’d pictured in my head for all of those years, proving to me yet again that whatever you expect or imagine is nothing like seeing the real thing.

So as I traipsed around London, that place at the top of wish list for most of my life, going from Holmes Site to Holmes Site, I couldn’t help but find myself occasionally passing sites related to Conan Doyle as well. They weren’t intended stops on their own. Rather, they were buildings on the way from here to there. Conan Doyle had several homes in London. There was a house in Montague Place, just behind the British Museum – now long gone. Not far away is No. 2 Upper Wimpole Street, where a Green Plaque commemorates his residence there . . .

At No. 2 Upper Wimpole Street

. . . and just a block or so from there is No. 2 Devonshire Place, which has a fanlight proclaiming it to be “Conan Doyle House”:

No. 2 Devonshire Place

Here I am at No. 2 Devonshire Place on the Second Pilgrimage, when it was covered up in scaffolding for repairs:

Another Shot of No. 2 Devonshire Place

Apparently there is some disagreement as to which of these two houses – in Upper Wimpole or Devonshire – are the legitimate residences.

I passed by all of these Conan Doyle homes multiple times as I criss-crossed Marylebone and Bloomsbury and points in between. I even took photos and “selfies” at each of them, but it wasn’t for the historical aspect or the Doyle-ness of them. Rather, as I played The Game, I pictured Watson stopping by to discuss the latest project with The Literary Agent – or perhaps even Holmes himself crossing the threshold for a visit . . . or possibly to plead that the narratives be treated in a more scientific and less dramatic fashion.

I also happened to visit another Conan Doyle house during that first 2013 Pilgrimage. As part of my overall exploration, I wanted to go to Scotland, and where else to dip in for a limited amount of time than Edinburgh? While there, I ate at the Conan Doyle Pub, just across the square from ACD's birthplace. And the best part – to me, anyway, and worth the trip up there – was visiting the Holmes statue that has been erected just in front of it:

At the Holmes Statue in front of Conan Doyle’s birthplace, Edinburgh

After my first Holmes Pilgrimage in 2013, I didn’t know if I’d ever get back to England. However, was able to make further Holmes Pilgrimages in 2015 and 2016, and again saw many wonderful Holmes sites, as well as once again repeatedly passing by Conan Doyle’s London houses. On each of my trips, I went to many places, and I was glad enough to have passed by The Literary Agent’s former houses as part of that, even though they weren’t my goal. Having seen them, I didn’t feel the need to travel to any of the others – Conan Doyle’s Southsea residence in Portsmouth, for instance, or Crowborough, where he lived out his later years, or even Undershaw, about which I’d heard quite a bit.

Undershaw and The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories

Several years ago, a lot of people that I “knew” (in this modern sense of knowing someone electronically) through various Sherlockian connections were beginning to write about visiting the ruins of Undershaw, and more often about how they were interested in “saving” Undershaw from decay, or from being turned into condominiums. I vaguely noticed when I’d see something about it, but it never really affected me. I did purchase a couple of books produced by MX Publishing whose author royalties were donated to the Undershaw Preservation Trust (UPT), an organization founded to save the house – but my interest was in the Holmes stories they contained, and not the charity.

But eventually I began to be educated about Undershaw, by way of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

In early 2015, I woke up early from a dream. If I’d rolled over and gone back to sleep, I might have forgotten it, but instead, I got up. I went in to look at my shelves of Holmes books, wondering whom I might ask – for my dream was about editing a book of new, traditional Holmes short stories, written by my Sherlockian friends, or by some of the authors that I didn’t know, but whose works I admired.

I emailed a couple of good friends about it, and they liked the idea. Then I emailed Steve Emecz of MX Publishing, which had previously published my own Holmes books. He was supportive, and I started emailing other people. And they liked the idea, and wanted to participate.

Originally, I’d first and foremost thought of editing and producing this new book as a way to have more new Holmes stories set in the correct time period, and featuring the true and heroic Sherlock Holmes. This was initially very much a push-back against a certain television show at that time that I really despise which sets Holmes in the modern era, and makes him into a sociopathic murderer, Watson into a psychosomatic lump, Irene Adler into a dominatrix, Mrs. Hudson a drug dealer’s widow, and Mycroft and Moriarty . . . whatever disasters they’re supposed to be. I firmly believe and argue wherever I have a forum (including here) that this show does incredible damage to Sherlock Holmes.

And many people agreed with me. More and more authors started signing up to be in this new anthology, happy to follow the conditions that I laid down: Stories had to be set in the correct time period, with no “mind palaces”, and absolutely no “Sherlock” and “John”. Early in the process, we realized that with so many people participating, paying royalties would be a nightmare. What to do? And then I remembered MX’s earlier efforts to raise money for the UPT. We decided that the funds raised by the new anthology would be donated to that organization.

Many people continued to sign up to write stories for that initial book, to be called The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. It was originally planned as a single volume with possibly two-dozen stories, but it became so big that it had to be split into two books. And then those two became three. By the time it was published in October 2015, it had turned into three simultaneous volumes, containing 63 new stories, as well as forewords and poems. They were arranged chronologically, and titled, Part I: 1881-1889, Part II: 1890-1895, and Part III: 1896-1929. There was a Kickstarter that raised nearly £15,000 – all from people who wanted more traditional Holmes stories. But all of that happened at the end of the process. While we were still in the middle of working it all out, it was determined that the author royalties would be shifted in a different direction.

Somewhere in the middle of 2015, while the stories were coming in and being edited, and decisions were being made about book sizes and hardcover versus paperback and cover illustrations and so on, Steve Emecz pointed out that our target recipient for the funds, the Undershaw Preservation Trust, was essentially finished – they had been set up to save Undershaw, and Undershaw had now been saved. The property had been purchased by the DFN Foundation to be converted into the Stepping Stones School for special needs children. The royalties from the books would instead go to support the school, which planned to move from their current location into the renovated building. In a long Skype call, Steve Emecz explained to me much of what had gone one over the past few years in terms of what threatened the building, what groups and personalities had worked to save it, and what the current plans were. Still not knowing much about Undershaw, I was as happy with this new direction for the royalties as I had been with the old, and preparation for the books continued.

With the publication of the books in October 2015, a grand event was planned in London. I was very fortunate to be able to attend – Holmes Pilgrimage No. 2. While there, I revisited many of the Holmes sites I’d seen two years earlier, and a lot of new ones as well. And on the night of the big party, October 1st, 2015, I was able to meet many of the wonderful and generous authors who had graciously contributed their time and efforts, along with Conan Doyle’s great-niece, Cathy Beggs.

With Cathy Beggs at the launch event for The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories October 2015

I also met a couple of people involved with the school: Melissa Farnham (later Grigsby), Head Teacher of Stepping Stones, and Norman Stromsoy, CEO of the DFN Foundation. They both gave a presentation about the school’s mission, and how it was still located in its current facilities while waiting for the remodeling to be completed at Undershaw. It was during that presentation that I first learned exactly what they do at Stepping Stones, how committed they are to excellence, and why being able to move to the much better facilities at Undershaw was so important. I also realized then that this project, which to me had simply been about encouraging more traditional Holmes stories, was actually going to be able to accomplish a lot of good as well.

After that trip, I returned home, very happy with what had been accomplished. I received a lot of emails, including some from people who hadn’t been in the original books but wanted to be in future volumes. Future volumes?!? I’d thought of this as a one-time thing. But . . . the hard decisions and heavy lifting about designing the books had already been done. More people wanted to write stories, and it was certain that more people wanted to read about the TRUE Sherlock Holmes. So . . .

. . . I hadn’t been back home for more than a week or so before I sent out new invitations for the next book, planned for Spring 2016, to be called Part IV: 2016 Annual. It was explained that the original three-book one-time event was now going to be an ongoing series. The stories rolled in, so many that I decided we should do a second book in 2016. So I sent out invitations for that one too, and more stories arrived, but this time there was a specific theme. Later that year we published, Part V: Christmas Adventures.

But just before that book came out in the fall of 2016, I was thrilled to receive an unexpected email from London – Would I like to return there again, this time as a guest at the Grand Opening of Stepping Stones at the now-completed Undershaw? Of course, the answer was Yes.

The offer to bring me back to the Holmesland came from the DFN Foundation, the organization responsible for purchasing Undershaw for the school, and then reclaiming the terribly neglected and damaged building. I really had no idea how bad things had become. After standing empty for years, walls and floors had rotted. Original plaster was ruined and windows broken. The building had been a hotel for decades, and the former owners had made some terrible structural decisions, such as cutting through an entire row of floor joists, leaving one section of the building in serious real danger of simply breaking away. The building had been in much worse shape than anyone had realized when construction started. Additionally, there were a number of requirements involved in bringing it back to what it had been historically – repairs to items such as floors, windows, and plaster had to fit within very specific guidelines related to the restoration of historic buildings – all balanced against what would be required to make a functional site for a school for children with special needs.

The cost had been much greater than the DFN Foundation had anticipated, but the repairs and improvements were accomplished beautifully – and I saw it in person when I attended the Grand Opening on September 9th, 2016.

That was on the second full day of my Holmes Pilgrimage No. 3. I was led down to Hindhead, where Undershaw is located, by author Luke Kuhns. He and I had corresponded for several years, and I met him person back in 2013, during Holmes Pilgrimage No. 1, when he was very capably in charge of the release party and signing for one of my early books, held at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Baker Street. Back when I’d first had the idea of the MX anthologies, Luke was the very first person to send me a story – giving me an indication that this thing might work after all.

With Luke Kuhns at Undershaw with his book Welcome to Undershaw

When we arrived at Undershaw, there was a threat of rain. As we walked down the driveway, in the spot that I later learned Conan Doyle had wrecked the first automobile ever driven in that village, it all became much more real to me. We arrived early, long before the expected crowds, and were welcomed by Norman Stromsoy. He made us tea – I got to have tea at Undershaw! – and then led us on a very extensive tour of the building, which Conan Doyle had originally constructed to accommodate his first wife, Louisa, who was ill during the last years of her life. We saw specially designed shallow stairs, for instance, fit for passage by someone in poor health. The stained glass windows had been restored. We visited the adjoining bedrooms – Conan Doyle’s and his wife’s, that had now been repurposed. It was in Louisa’s room, with its beautiful bow window, that her husband had read to his sick wife. We were told that in those days, the view from the window would have been incredible, although now it’s blocked by a century’s growth of tall trees. It was a beautiful room, and now it’s set up as the school’s library.

We toured the new building as well, immediately adjacent to the original structure built by Conan Doyle, with its classrooms, small theater, and swimming pool. Even in that section, there are references to Holmes, with quotes from Canonical stories etched onto the hallway windows that look out upon the grounds.

But for me, the most important part of the tour, and the room to which I returned again and again, was Doyle’s study. It was there that he had a number of contemporary literary visitors, such as Bram Stoker, but more importantly, it was in this room that the first Holmes stories written since “The Final Problem” had been published in The Strand in 1893 were prepared. I say “prepared” because, still playing The Game, I maintain that Watson wrote those new stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles and those contained in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, but it was here that Doyle provided editing and other Literary Agent-related services.

I was in and out of the room multiple times during the day. I was able to have my picture made at the modern desk, placed in the exact same spot where Conan Doyle’s was over a century earlier, and I even brought a sheet of fancy paper with me from home in order to write the first line of a new story while my deerstalker and I are sitting there, as shown here:

In the same spot as Conan Doyle, while I work on preparing a new Holmes story

(Many thanks to head teacher Melissa Grigsby, the head teacher then, for taking time out of her crazy day to take the pictures of me there.)

Later, I was able to spend some time in the same room with my friends, eminent husband-and-wife Sherlockians Roger Johnson and Jean Upton – here’s a photo of Roger and me, taken by Jean, at Conan Doyle’s mantel. (I’m holding the deerstalker instead of wearing it for a change.)

With Roger Johnson in Conan Doyle’s study

I got to spend time in the study when several members of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London made a special presentation to the school. And as the building became more and more crowded with happy guests, the study became a place to slip away and enjoy the quiet for a few minutes.

Later, there was the official opening ceremony, a very crowded affair indeed. I wore my ever-present deerstalker – the only person there so attired – and sent messages across social media indicating that all of the writers of new Holmes tales around the world were being represented. The event was attended by the MP for the area, local officials, and Richard Doyle, great-nephew of Sir Arthur. Later in the day, I was able to meet him and his son . . . .

With Richard Doyle and his son at the Stepping Stones opening

. . . and then to give him a tour of parts that he hadn’t seen, since I’d learned my way around pretty well by that time, having arrived early that morning. That was a lot of fun – talking with him and trying to explain U.S. Presidential politics, which – at that point in history, September 2016 – was before anyone realized just how terribly dire the situation was about to become.

At some point during the crowded afternoon, I was able to speak with David Forbes-Nixon, whose son was attending Stepping Stones. It was his DFN Foundation that had purchased and renovated the building. We discussed the MX anthologies, and how they were of benefit by providing extra funds for the school. I was very glad to meet him in person, as well as his assistant Julie Owen, and to thank them both for making it possible for me to be able to attend the event.

Finally, it was time to return to London. As the sun set and we walked up the drive, I took one last look at the restored building, which has come so far from Conan Doyle’s original home . . .



. . . to the nearly destroyed and abandoned wreck that it was just a few years ago . . .



. . . to the amazingly beautiful restored building that now houses the Stepping Stones School, the way I saw it as I departed . . .



In the years since, I’ve seen more and more reports of how further improvements have occurred – the grounds have been finished since I saw them, and there's a Conan Doyle room, and there has been talk of having the covers of the various MX Anthology volumes blown up and placed in the building as artwork. I hope someday to get back there and see what the school looks like after it’s been lived-in for a bit, as the day I was there was just a few days after they had moved in.

In the meantime, there is more news about the MX anthologies. We're up to 24 volumes now (as I write this in September 2020), with over 500 new Holmes adventures from nearly 200 contributors around the world - and I'm already working on additional volumes - Part XXV and beyond. We've raised nearly $70,000 for the school, and no end in sight.



Enthusiasm for the books continues to grow, both with readers and contributors, and this benefits both Holmes fans like me who want more and more new traditional adventures, and also the school, both by generating funds and also additional awareness.

I’m so thankful for the contributors to the books, as well as everyone who buys them - Truly, Sherlockians are the best people! I can't believe the opportunity that this project has given to me personally – to meet new friends, to help encourage new authors and give them a place to be published, to promote the true Mr. Holmes, and to assist in the important work being done at Stepping Stones at Undershaw. And I can't wait to see what happens next!