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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sherlock Homes - II

Purely informational (courtesy BBC)

Such is the enduring popularity of Sherlock Homes, that the character and the image have entered popular culture and have been used and re-used in many different ways, while Baker Street has become almost a place of pilgrimage for devotees of the detective from around the world.

Holmes on Radio, Film and Television

Over the years, Sherlock Holmes has been played by an enormous number of actors. Some in serious adaptations of the original stories, some in pastiches or parodies. Holmes has been portrayed in his original turn of the century setting, as an up-to-date character, and as a 19th-Century man in a modern world. The combination of the strong character and the vagueness of his background have given writers and actors almost complete licence to create their own interpretations.

A full, or even partial, list of Sherlock Holmes broadcasts is far beyond the scope of this Entry, so a few selected highlights will have to suffice.


BBC radio is the only medium to have ever produced the entire canon of Holmes stories with the same actors in the leads. With Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, the project started on 3 November, 1989, with the broadcast of the first part of 'A Study in Scarlet'. The series is very true to the original stories. Merrison and Williams bring the pair to life and show how their partnership grows and develops through all the mysteries, with scenes in stories such as 'The Dying Detective' and 'The Empty House' being very emotive. The last one to be made was 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'.

An earlier radio series was broadcast by the BBC in 1974, starring Barry Foster1 as Holmes and David Buck as Watson.


The character of Sherlock Holmes has appeared in an enormous range of television dramas, many of them single stories rather than a series. The earliest was a production of 'The Three Garridebs', which was broadcast by NBC in the USA in 1937.

The BBC brought us Peter Cushing's interpretation of the great detective in a 1968 BBC1 series. Cushing had already played the role for Hammer films back in 1959. The run included a loose adaptation of A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Cushing's portrayal, accompanied by Nigel Stock as Watson, gave audiences an enthusiastic, if somewhat smug, Holmes. At the time of writing, selected episodes form this series are available on DVD in the UK.

The most famous Time Lord of all, Tom Baker, gave us his interpretation of the role in a 1982 adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Filmed the year after he left Doctor Who, the most note-worthy thing about his performance was that it was the first time audiences had seen him without his trademark wild brown curls; his hair, cropped very short, was now grey.

As might be obvious, The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most regularly adapted of Conan Doyles' Sherlock Holmes stories, having enjoyed at least 18 different screen versions. The most recent of which, broadcast on BBC1 at Christmas 2003, starred Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson.

Some might consider the casting of John Cleese as either brilliant or odd, depending on your point of view. Cleese did indeed play Sherlock Holmes, with Willie Rushton as his Watson, for 'Elementary, My Dear Watson', a 1973 episode of Comedy Playhouse in which Holmes investigated the tenuous thread that links five dead solicitors with Fu Manchu and the panel of Call My Bluff.

The most famous, and possibly the best, of the television portrayals was that of Jeremy Brett, who played Holmes in 42 of Conan Doyle's stories, from 1984 until Brett's death in 1995. Brett presented Holmes, not as a caricature in deerstalker, but a bit more as an out-of-place eccentric, given to arm waving explanations and rapid changes of mood. The depressions Holmes felt during inactivity were also given real weight in Brett's characterisation, rather than just skimmed over as a slight frustration. He also found a way to make his explanations matter of fact as if he was saying 'well this is obvious', but without irritating the audience - quite a tricky act to pull off.

At the time of writing, the latest television incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is to be Stephen Fry - a big fan of the detective - with his comedy partner Hugh Laurie as Dr Watson.

Murder Rooms: The Dark Origins of Sherlock Holmes was an interesting take on the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon, depicting the investigations of Dr Joseph Bell, a Victorian pathologist played by Ian Richardson. Dr Bell befriends the young Conan Doyle, who in turn learns the secrets of pathology that informed his later novels. While not directly related to the Holmes stories, much of the inspiration for the plots can be traced back to details in Conan Doyle's novels.


Sherlock Holmes is listed in the Guinness Book of Records (2004 edition) as the most filmed character in cinema history, narrowly beating Count Dracula to that accolade.

Probably the most famous portrayal of Holmes on film was that by Basil Rathbone, who starred in 15 films in the 1930s and 40s, beginning with The Hound of the Baskervilles. Dr Watson was played by Nigel Bruce, and it is perhaps his portrayal that led to the general perception of Watson as an incompetent bumbler.

Although some of the films featured Conan Doyle's stories, several of the Rathbone films used new material, taking only minor details from the original works. For example, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) is a classic piece of World War II propaganda, featuring Homes battling Moriarty and the Nazis. The secret code used by the enemy is similar to that used in the Conan Doyle story 'The Adventure of the Dancing Men' (1903).

Moriarty was a common foe in the Rathbone films, and was played by three different actors: Lionel Atwill, George Zucco and Henry Daniel. The latter is possibly the best of the three, with a sneakier appearance by the villain.

Other actors to play Holmes on film include:

  • Maurice Costello
  • Buster Keaton
  • Christopher Lee
  • Peter Cushing
  • George C Scott
  • Michael Caine
  • Christopher Plummer
  • Matt Frewer
  • John Neville
  • Roger Moore
  • Peter Cook
  • Leonard Nimoy

Sherlock Holmes for Children

There have been several children's TV series and films based on Holmes. Here is a selection:

  • The Young Sherlock Holmes. Directed by Barry Levinson and written by Chris Columbus, this adventure saw a young Holmes - who had just met Watson at boarding school - facing a cult enacting revenge for the desecration of an Egyptian site.
  • The Adventures of Shirley Holmes. A teenage descendant of Holmes finds a trunk of his with a puzzling lock. She uses her deductive powers to work out how to unlock it and inside finds Holmes's detecting equipment and a message saying that if she has managed to open it she is the inheritor of his detecting abilities. Hence lots of foiling crime associated with her school and home town.
  • Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. A defrosted Holmes, with a robotic Watson, and a female Lestrade try to foil a Moriarty clone.
  • Basil the Great Mouse Detective. A Disney film centring on Basil, a detective mouse, who has learned everything he knows from Mr Holmes2. Basil and assistant Dr. Dawson are determined to stop the evil Professor Ratigan.
  • One of the more imaginative related TV projects was an eight-part 1983 drama series,The Baker Street Boys. The series was inspired by recurring characters from Conan Doyles' novels - 'The Baker Street Irregulars' - who were a band of homeless street urchins that Holmes sometimes employed to do the footwork for some of his investigations. The series provided an early TV role for a young Adam Woodyatt, who, two years later, would join the cast of fledgling soap opera EastEnders as Ian Beale3.

Holmes and the Next Generation

In Star Trek - the Next Generation, Data (Brent Spiner) is an android who loves all things Holmes. He created many encounters and stories on the ship's Holodeck4 with himself in the starring role.

In the episode 'Elementary, Dear Data', his friend Geordie la Forge suggested that simply re-creating Conan Doyle's stories offered no challenge, and asked the computer to generate a more worthy opponent. The computer created a version of Moriarty, but unfortunately Geordie made the mistake of asking the computer to give Moriaty the power to 'defeat Data' instead of the fictional Holmes. The undefeatable Moriaty took control of the Enterprise, and only capitulated to Captain Picard when he agreed to try and find a way to make Moriarty fully sentient with the ability to leave the Holodeck.

In a later episode - 'Ship in a Bottle' - Moriarty is accidentally freed from the memory file where he had been stored and once again takes over the ship. This time, he is tricked into believing that he has left the Holodeck, thus fulfilling his dream. In the artificial world created by the crew of the Enterprise, Moriarty sets off to explore the Universe.

Outside of science fiction, Holmes also has a presence in 'real space': one of the lunar craters near the Apollo 17 landing site was named 'Sherlock' by geologist-astronaut Jack Schmitt.

Holmes and the Marx Brothers

In the 1900s, cartoonist Don Mager began a series of cartoons in the New York World, featuring various monkeys named after their main character trait, such as Braggo or Tightwaddo. This adding of 'o' at the end of names became a brief-lived fad, during which the Marx brothers - Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo - took their names. The most famous of Mager's cartoon creations was Sherlocko, a monkey detective, and his sidekick Watso. The names were so similar to Conan Doyle's creations, that Conan Doyle threatened to sue. To avoid legal action, Mager changed the name of his monkey detective to Hawkshaw.

New Stories

Ever since Conan Doyle stopped writing, many other writers have taken it upon themselves to extend the lifespan of Holmes and Watson. Numerous collections of new short stories have been published. Some, such as The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventuresfeature many different authors5, while others are by a single author. Familiar characters occasionally make an appearance, such as the reference to Moriarty in The Beekeepers' Apprentice, by Laurie R King, in which Moriarty's daughter takes her revenge on Holmes for the death of her father.

Holmes has also provided a less direct inspiration for other characters and stories. For example, the gentleman-thief Raffles was created by Conan Doyle's brother-in-law EW Hornung. The preface to Raffles: the Amateur Cracksman contains the legend 'To ACD. This form of flattery'.

'Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?' 'To the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.' 'The dog did nothing in the nighttime.' 'That was the curious incident,' remarked Sherlock Holmes. 'Silver Blaze' (1892), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

A more recent story inspired by the works of Conan Doyle is the award-winning6The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. This tells the story of a boy withAsperger's Syndrome who is a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and uses his methods to work out who killed his neighbour's dog.

Holmes and Jack the Ripper

Michael Dibdin wrote a book called The Last Sherlock Holmes Story in which Holmes is bored with common criminals so he invents a supercriminal - namely himself - and tries to track himself down. This criminal is Jack the Ripper.

Two other Ripper-related Holmes products are the films A Study in Terror and Murder by Decree, both having Holmes battling the Ripper. Holmes is played by John Neville in the former and by Christopher Plummer in the latter.

Holmes and Dracula

Holmes has also faced less-human foes... In The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count Loren D Estleman tells the story of Holmes's encounter with Dracula.

Holmes and the English Language

'Excellent!' I cried 'Elementary, said he.' 'The Crooked Man' (1893), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Through the Holmes stories, Conan Doyle has added a number of phrases and sayings to the English language. However, the most famous 'quotation' - 'Elementary, my dear Watson' - never appeared in any of Conan Doyle's stories7.

Sayings or pseudo-sayings that have come into the English language, directly or indirectly, from the stories include:

  • Come, Watson, the game is afoot ('The Abbey Grange', 1904)
  • Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth (several stories)
  • The dog that didn't bark ('Silver Blaze', 1893)

It's unlikely that Conan Doyle would approve, but the expression 'No sh*t, Sherlock' is also in common parlance, to express an opinion that what has just been said was blindingly obvious.

Baker Street Today

The address '221b Baker Street' did not exist in Conan Doyle's day, as what is now the northern end of Baker St had another name. Today, 221b Baker Street is the home of the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The museum is like a mini-Madame Tussaud's, with waxworks of Holmes and Watson in Victorian getup and surroundings. There is also a souvenir shop and a display of letters from children to Sherlock Homes ('My cat keeps disappearing... can you tell me where it goes every night?').

Before the museum was opened, the Abbey National Building society - which runs from 215-229 Baker Street - used to be so inundated with letters to Sherlock Homes that a secretary was employed to handle them. A letter was sent out to everyone who had written to Holmes:

Dear 'writer' Thank you for your letter, which Mr Holmes was delighted to receive. He has asked me as his secretary to reply on his behalf. Mr Holmes has now retired to the Sussex countryside and no longer undertakes investigative work. He prefers to pursue his hobby of beekeeping these days. He is however pleased to know that there is continuing interest in his cases. Letters arrive from all over the world addressed to the great detective. He is clearly alive and well in many people's minds. Mr Holmes has asked me to pass on to you his kind regards. Yours sincerely Secretary to Sherlock Holmes.

Baker Street today also boasts a statue of Holmes, and the walls at Baker Street Tube station have images of the classic Holmes profile, with deerstalker and pipe. The Jubilee Line platforms also have panels illustrating scenes from some of the Holmes stories.

Statues of Holmes can also be found in Karuizawa, Japan and Meringen, Switzerland, while in Edinburgh - Conan Doyle's birthplace - there's a statue of Sherlock Holmes at Picardy Place, a short walk from the east end of Princes Street towards Leith Walk, with a pub near it called 'The Conan Doyle' on York Place.

A Little About the Author

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859 at Picardy Place, Edinburgh. His parents were Charles Altamont Doyle, a civil servant in the Edinburgh Office of Works, and Mary Doyle (nee Foley).

Conan Doyle based Holmes closely on one of his teachers at Edinburgh University Medical School - Professor Bell. The BBC produced a television series calledMurder Rooms: the Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes in which Bell (played by Ian Richardson8) and the young Conan Doyle (as a Watson-type character) solved mysteries, many of which resembled stories that later became Holmes' adventures. It has also been said Conan Doyle drew upon Edgar Allen Poe'sMurder on the Rue Morgue in creating Sherlock Holmes.

With the success of Holmes, Conan Doyle began to resent the character he had created, and wrote his death in 'The Final Problem'. In particular Conan Doyle wanted time to work on other characters, and he remained bitterly disappointed that he was forced to resurrect Holmes, when he was much more keen on writing about other characters such as the remarkable Professor Challenger, who may have been the first ecologically conscious hero in British fiction.

Away from writing, Conan Doyle firmly believed in fairies, perhaps looking for a way to console himself after the death of his wife. He spent more than a million dollars trying to prove their existence and he also backed the infamous 'fairy photographs'. He died at his home in Sussex in 1930 from heart disease.

Summing Up

Perhaps the main reason Sherlock Holmes continues to delight generation after generation is because he was in many ways the first of his kind. He was extremely forward thinking and unbelievably intelligent compared with everyone he met, but was also a typical Victorian, very patriotic and right wing. Not only that, but Sherlock Holmes offers a valuable insight into the minds of the people who lived through one of the most significant times in British history. It's also helped by the fact that so many great actors have helped to make the books more 'accessible'. That and the fact that, although the stories may twist and turn, they still come back to fact, they don't just spring the solution on people without explanation.

Sherlock Homes - I

A huge Sherlock Holmes fan, I wish to share this with all:

Purely informational (courtesy BBC)

Disclaimer: Read only if you are a die-hard Sherlock Homes fan, or are looking out for information on Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes Part I - the Character

In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.

A Study in Scarlet1 (1887), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Known the world over as the greatest living detective, he's one of literature's most popular characters. Popular iconography depicts him in a deerstalker hat and checked cape, though fans and experts of the detective will recall that he was more often depicted as wearing a smart suit and a top hat. He was a noted violinist and there was more than a suggestion that he used opium, making him possibly the most widely-respected and best-loved drug-addict in British fiction. But it is his clinical, analytical mind for which he is most famous, able to detect a person's previous whereabouts or general situation by the subtlest of clues and minute evidence.

The Man Himself

According to the stories, Sherlock Holmes was born on 6 January, 1854. He was the son of a country squire and grandson of the sister of the artist Vernet. In appearance, Holmes is tall - over 6ft - and thin. He has black hair and grey eyes, thin lips and a 'hawk-like' nose. Holmes is scrupulously clean and is always dressed neatly. Although he has never exercised for the fun of it, he is always fit and ready for action; he is adept at boxing and the martial art Baritsu, and is also proficient at single-stick and fencing. Another of Holmes's specialities is his wonderful disguises: from groom to priest, clergyman to opium smoker, all of which have been much needed to gain information or as a way to escape from the criminals. He is a music-lover who attends concerts and operas, and is also a violinist, preferring German music.

A highly knowledgeable individual, Holmes is also clearly an avid reader and learner throughout his life. For example, in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes appears to be ignorant of the Solar System, but by the time of 'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter' he has a very good astronomical knowledge. Like many highly intelligent people, however, Holmes can be a little absent minded and lacking in common sense. An experiment with some fluids caused the apartment to be full of smoke, with Mrs Hudson in a panic, a fire-coach rumbling up the street, and Holmes and Watson hanging out of the window with Watson asking, 'did it go wrong?' Holmes answered, laughing, 'no, it was just what I expected'. For all his intelligence, he neglected to think about doing the experiment outdoors.

Holmes stays up late and gets up just as late. He is a smoker, and when a great depression sweeps over him, usually when he is not involved in a case, he has been known to indulge in cocaine. As related in 'The Reigate Squires', he suffers a nervous breakdown, and possibly a second breakdown some time later ('The Devil's Foot).

Holmes seems to be an unemotional person at first glance, but he is not. He cares deeply about his friends and is often concerned for his great friend and biographer Watson.

His reward for his brilliant detective work is generally a simple fee, although he has been known on occasion to waive the charge for his services. Sometimes the rewards were very large: £1000 for a missing item to £12,000 in another case. Holmes has also received a gold snuffbox, a ring and was rewarded by Queen Victoria herself with an Emerald tie-pin in 'The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans'.

Holmes lives at 221b Baker Street with Dr Watson and his housekeeper Mrs Hudson. In 'The Adventure of Black Peter' we learn that he keeps five other locations in London aside from 221b, in case he needs to disguise himself.

In 'The Second Stain', Watson reveals that Holmes retired to keep bees on Sussex Downs, though he comes out of retirement in 'His Last Bow'.

The Holmes 'Look'

The distinctive appearance of Sherlock Holmes was created by artist Sydney Paget, who illustrated the original stories in Strand magazine. Paget's version of Holmes, in particular the legendary deerstalker hat, which is never mentioned by name in the stories, was sufficiently strong that it has survived over 100 years.

In the stories, Holmes is described as wearing various different outfits:

  • In A Study in Scarlet, he wears an Ulster (a loose overcoat).
  • In 'The Boscombe Valley Mystery' he wears a long, grey travelling cloak and a cloth cap, and later a set of waterproofs.
  • In 'The Adventure of Silver Blaze' he wears an ear-flapped travelling cap2.
  • In The Hound of the Baskervilles, he wears a tweed suit and cloth cap.

Holmes's other 'trademark' is his curved or 'calabash' pipe. Like the deerstalker, this is not mentioned specifically in the stories. The addition of this particular type of pipe is thought to be by actor William Gillette, who wanted a pipe that would not hinder his pronunciation of the lines.

Holmes and Drugs

Holmes quite openly takes both cocaine and morphine in several of the stories. In A Study in Scarlet, the first work featuring Holmes, there were hints that he might have been using drugs:

…for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.

Later it became quite clear that he was indeed using drugs. The Sign of Four opens with:

Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case. With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks. Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

A little later in the story Holmes states, 'It is cocaine, a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?' This comment was the basis for the film The Seven Percent Solution, in which Holmes and Watson meet Sigmund Freud.

By the time of 'The Missing Three-quarter', Holmes has given up drugs.

Holmes and Zen Buddhism

Sherlock Holmes is an iconic figure in the history of detective novels. He is a cult figure whose expertise in solving crimes gave birth to an entirely new genre of detective novels/crime thrillers. Not only that, professional investigation teams round the globe are also indebted to him for intelligence and inspiration. With much improved technology than Holmes had during that period of Victorian England in the 19th Century, crime detection becomes a much easier job now. But we still look back at works of Sherlock Holmes for flashes of inspiration and the kind of classical discipline that was necessary in those days when little aid was available in terms of technology. Holmes was eclectic. He drew from Zen Buddhism: the ability to concentrate on a single object without the slightest wavering of the mind. He worked like a magician, the puzzles of crime were under his hypnotic spell. There has been mention in his novels of Holmes's special interest in the study of Buddhism.

The search for spirituality in mystery stories is established fact. Holmes had interest in mystery/miracle plays, 15th-Century palimpsest, and Cornish language and its similarities with Chaldean tradition. The basic tenet that binds all spiritual stuff and the mind of the detective is the ultimate quest for truth that's hidden beneath the surface. It's like decoding a scripture or message (hermeneutics).

Holmes started showing an interest in Buddhism during the unaccounted-for years between 'The Final Problem', when Doyle faked his detective's death, and 'The Adventure of the Empty House' where he resurrected Holmes. This move into Eastern Mysticism also eclipsed his cocaine habits. Holmes was looking for something far more refreshing than the hypodermic syringe, he was looking for symbols of wider meaning and depth. He 'added a touch of Zen to his life'. His powers of observation took a new height, the controlling of the five senses and the new add-on: the sixth sense, the inner eye; informed intuition and introspection without a tinge of psychedelia.

And Holmes commented to Watson, 'you see but you do not observe'. The implications here are profound. Sherlock Holmes becomes a 'larger than life' figure, a metaphysical detective whose 'bare attention' in decoding riddles is almost like a mystical way of decoding parables.

Sherlock Holmes is ahead of his times: he is the immortal Zen Master.

The Real Story

Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first appeared in the novel A Study In Scarlet in 1887. This was followed three years later by The Sign of Four. Two further Homes novels were later written by Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and The Valley of Fear (1915).

In 1891, the first of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories - 'A Scandal in Bohemia' - was published in Strand magazine. Between 1891 and 1927, Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories, which are collected into five volumes:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891 - 1892)
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1892 - 1893)
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903 - 1904)
  • His Last Bow (1908 - 1917)
  • The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (1921 - 1927)

The ten-year gap between The Memoirs... and The Return... is explained by Conan Doyle's decision to kill Holmes at the end of 'The Final Problem' so that he could concentrate on writing other things. The outcry from fans of the detective was so great that Conan Doyle eventually relented and wrote 'The Adventure of the Empty House', in which it is explained how Holmes cheated death and returned to detective work in London.

The Supporting Cast

Dr Watson

And here it is that I miss my Watson. By cunning questions and ejaculations of wonder he could elevate my simple art, which is but systematized common sense, into a prodigy.

'The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier' (1926), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

John H Watson3 is a few years younger than Holmes. When he first meets Holmes he's been invalided out of the army after being wounded while serving as a doctor in Afghanistan. He's looking for affordable lodgings, and a mutual acquaintance of the pair introduces them to each other, as Holmes needs to find someone to share rooms with him in 221b Baker Street.

In spite of Holmes's 'hobbies' - chemical experiments, collections, pipe smoking and the occasional spot of indoor revolver practice - the pair develop a friendship and Watson becomes interested in Holmes's work, first observing him in action in A Study in Scarlet.

Many of the portrayals of Watson show him as a bumbling idiot on television and film, yet he is an intelligent chap (even if this is sometimes overlooked because of Holmes's superior intellect). He's a good doctor, which comes in very useful for patching up Holmes and others after the events in some of the stories, and a good shot with a revolver.

Watson often proves himself invaluable to Holmes. Sometimes, however, he is an unwitting assistant, as Holmes sends him in as a distraction so that the real detective work can be done unnoticed, as in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes fully appreciates Watson's contribution and has a genuine affection for his friend. Nowhere is this more apparent than in 'The Three Garridebs', when Watson is shot in the thigh by 'Killer' Evans. Holmes helps Watson to a chair, crying, 'You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!' As soon as he is reassured that the wound is superficial, he turns to Evans with a face 'set like flint' and growls, 'By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive.' For Watson, this is the proudest moment of his long association with the detective.

One area in which Holmes and Watson don't quite see eye-to-eye is in Watson's chronicling of Holmes's deeds. While Watson wants to present the cases as he sees them, with Holmes's brilliant deductions, Holmes would rather tone them down. In 'The Red-headed League' Holmes goes so far as to accuse Watson of 'embellishing' his cases when he writes them up.

Eventually, Watson marries and moves out of Baker Street. His first wife, Mary Morston, dies in the period between Holmes's 'death' and his return. Watson later marries again, but will still drop everything to go on the chase with Holmes.


He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.

'The Final Problem' (1893), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Professor James Moriarty4 was Sherlock Holmes's greatest enemy, despite only appearing in one short story - 'The Final Problem' - and the novel 'The Valley of Fear'. As well as being a criminal genius, Moriarty was also a professor of mathematics who spent some time as a coach in the army. He does not get involved directly in crime himself, but is a master planner who allows nothing to be traced back to him. In The Valley of Fear, however, it is revealed that he has a small leak in his organisation, which is how Holmes becomes aware of a murder.

Holmes considered Moriarty him such a dangerous individual that he was willing to sacrifice himself - over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland - to take Moriarty with him. Even though the professor died at the hands of Homes, his character lives on in popular culture as the quintessential 'criminal mastermind'.

Scotland Yard's Finest

Gregson is the smartest of the Scotland Yarders. He and Lestrade are the pick of a bad lot.

A Study in Scarlet (1887), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

While clearing up the crimes that beset London, Holmes occasionally comes across the members of the city's police force. Most notable of these is Inspector Lestrade, whom Holmes describes as 'absolutely devoid of reason' but 'as tenacious as a bulldog'. Lestrade is actually rather good by the standards of the time; that he is always one step behind the great detective is not a reflection on him but on the methodologies employed by the police at the time. Lestrade's colleague Inspector Tobias Gregson is another regular character in the stories, in whom Holmes sees slightly more promise than in Lestrade. The only police officer who earns Holmes's genuine praise, however, is Inspector Baynes of the Surrey Constabulary, who appears in 'The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge' (1908) and succeeds in identifying and catching a murderer with little help from Homes.

Mycroft Holmes

I said that he was my superior in observation and deduction. If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an armchair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solution, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right.

'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter' (1893), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes's more intelligent - but lazier - older brother Mycroft first appeared in 'The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter'. In appearance he is portly, with fat hands 'like the flippers of a seal'. He frequents the Diogenes Club from quarter to five to twenty to eight, he works in Whitehall auditing some of the government's accounts due to possessing a remarkable faculty for figures, and he lives in Pall Mall. The most significant aspect of the Diogenes Club was that it was founded by, and still contains, the most unsociable and 'unclubbable' men. It is in fact part of the club rules that no member is allowed to take the least notice of any other, except for the Strangers room, and that no talking is permitted.

Colonel Moran

On the margin was written, in Holmes's precise hand: 'The second most dangerous man in London.'

'The Adventure of the Empty House' (1903), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Colonel Sebastian Moran was originally a distinguished army officer and big-game hunter until he was sought out by Professor Moriarty to be his right-hand man. Moran was so brave he once climbed into a drain after a wounded man-eating tiger, and so dastardly that he murdered a man who discovered him cheating at cards.

Irene Adler

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.

'A Scandal in Bohemia' (1891), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Irene Adler is always referred to by Holmes with the deepest respect as 'the woman'. She appeared in the first Holmes short story, 'A Scandal in Bohemia', in which she is a woman scorned. Dumped by the King of Bohemia, she doesn't want to let him off the hook too easily, so she keeps him dangling with a photograph of them together. Despite Holmes's best efforts, she escapes with the photograph, but promises never to reveal it; a promise that is accepted by the king. Holmes is presented with an emerald ring for his efforts but, struck by the quick wit and resolution of a mere woman, requests a second gift from the king: a photograph of Irene.

Mrs Hudson

...her remarkable lodger showed an eccentricity and irregularity in his life which must have sorely tried her patience. His incredible untidiness, his addiction to music at strange hours, his occasional revolver practice within doors, his weird and often malodorous scientific experiments, and the atmosphere of violence and danger which hung around him made him the very worst tenant in London

'The Adventure of the Dying Detective' (1913), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Mrs Hudson, the long suffering housekeeper at 221b Baker Street. It is implicit in the stories that it is her ability to withstand Holmes's unruly habits and rudeness that enables him to conduct his life as he does.

The Baker Street Irregulars

...there came a swift pattering of naked feet upon the stairs, a clatter of high voices, and in rushed a dozen dirty and ragged little street Arabs. There was some show of discipline among them, despite their tumultuous entry, for they instantly drew up in line and stood facing us with expectant faces.

The Sign of Four (1890), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The irregulars, led by Wiggins, are a collection of street urchins that Holmes employs from time to time as spies on the streets of London.


London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.

A Study in Scarlet (1887), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Perhaps the greatest character, at least in the first few collections, is the city of London itself.

More about Sherlock Holmes and the legacy that Conan Doyle left to popular culture can be found in Part II of this Entry.