Here are a few things that you might not know about everybody’s favourite fictional Victorian detective :-
Sherlock Holmes was the creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is said to have based him on Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon and teacher he had studied with at Edinburgh University. Dr. Bell had an amazing ability to work out a patient’s symptoms and even their occupation without them telling him anything. Sir Henry Littlejohn, who taught forensic medicine to Conan Doyle, also contributed to Holmes’s character.
Conan Doyle originally wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories – this is traditionally known as ‘The Canon Of Sherlock Holmes’ to distinguish it from later stories written by other authors. The novels are ‘A Study In Scarlet’, ‘The Sign Of Four’, ‘The Hound Of The Baskervilles’ and ‘The Valley Of Fear’, while the short stories are collected in five volumes – ‘The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes’, ‘The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes’, The Return Of Sherlock Holmes’, ‘His Last Bow’ and ‘The Case-Book Of Sherlock Holmes’. Other writers who have tried their hand at coming up with a Holmes story or two include Dorothy L. Sayers, Stephen King, Colin Dexter and Conan Doyle’s son Adrian.
Holmes used what he called ‘deductive reasoning’ to solve crime – as he himself said on more than one occasion, ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’.
The first Sherlock Holmes story was ‘A Study in Scarlet’, which appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. It was followed by ‘The Sign of the Four’ in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890 before the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine began with ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ in 1891. The next series of short stories and two serialised novels appeared between then and 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1880 up to 1914.
All but four of the tales are told by Holmes’s friend, assistant and sometime flatmate Dr. Watson. Conan Doyle had originally named him Ormond Sacker in early story drafts but later changed it to John H. Watson. Although sometimes portrayed on screen as a funny and bungling buffoon the original stories cast Watson as a war veteran who was a respected doctor, an excellent shot and the perfect foil for Holmes. Oh and in case you were wondering, the ‘H’ stands for Hamish.
The popular image of Holmes wearing a deerstalker hat and an Inverness cape while smoking a pipe never actually appears in any of Conan Doyle’s stories. The hat and cape were given to him by Sidney Paget who provided the illustrations for the stories in The Strand Magazine, while the pipe was added by actor William Gillette when he played the detective on stage and on film.
Contrary to popular belief Sherlock Holmes never says the often-quoted words ‘elementary my dear Watson’ in the original stories although he does use the phrase ‘exactly my dear Watson’ three times. It was first used by a character in the book ‘Psmith, Journalist’ by P.G. Woodhouse in 1915 (the Conan Doyle stories were still being published at this point in time, which shows just how well-known they had become) and has of course since been used in many stories and films.
Mycroft Holmes, who makes his first appearance in ‘The Adventure Of The Greek Interpreter’, is seven years older than his famous younger brother. He hold a high office in the British Government, (in ‘The Adventure Of Bruce-Partington Plans’ Holmes refers to him as ‘the most indispensable man in the country’) and although having even greater powers of deductive reasoning than his brother he lacks the ambition and energy for detective work. Nevertheless he is called upon to help Sherlock solve several cases. He is the co-founder of The Diogenes Club, a gentlemen’s club for, as the younger Holmes brother puts it, ‘the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in The Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed’.
Sherlock Holmes’s arch enemy is the criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty, described by Holmes as ‘the Napoleon of crime’. He and Holmes apparently fall to their death at The Reichenbach Falls in ‘The Adventure Of The Final Problem’ published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893. The public outcry was such that Conan Doyle was obliged to write ‘The Hound Of The Baskervilles’ (set before ‘The Final Problem’) before bringing Holmes back to life in ‘The Adventure Of The Empty House’. Aficionados refer to the time for which Holmes was presumed to be dead as ‘The Great Hiatus’.
Probably the most famous onscreen depiction of Holmes and Watson can be seen in the 1939-46 feature films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce; in more recent times Robert Downey Jnr. and Jude Law have played them in the cinema whilst in the U.S television series ‘Elementary’ Jonny Lee Miller plays Holmes with Lucy Liu playing Dr. Joan Watson. Over on this side of the Atlantic ‘Sherlock’ sees a modern-day ultra-cool Holmes played by Benedict Cumberbatch being joined by Martin Freeman as Watson. This series ran into controversy when a story in a newspaper being read by Holmes was seen by some to be ridiculing London mayor Boris Johnson – but with nearly 10 million people tuning in to the Christmas 2013 special episode ‘Many Happy Returns’ to see how Holmes faked his suicide it seems that the ‘consulting detective’ Sherlock Holmes and his ‘faithful friend and biographer’ Dr. John H. Watson are as popular as ever.