With the BBC miniseries Sherlock all set to return this month and at hird Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr in the pipeline, KARISHMA UPADHYAY walks in the footsteps of the famous sleuth in Central London and makes interesting new discoveries.
About The Author
The utter failure of his medical practice gave Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, plenty of time to write about a consulting detective who solves crimes by applying deduction and logic. It is believed that Sir Arthur was inspired by Dr Joseph Bell, one of his tutors from medical school in Edinburgh, while creating the character. Dr Bell’s great grandfather— Benjamin Bell was credited with the invention of the science of deduction. In the early drafts of A Study of Scarlet, which was initially called A Tangled Skein, Sir Arthur described ‘Sherringford Holmes’ as someone who works in a chemical laboratory and collects rare violins.
However, he didn’t want Holmes to be the narrator of the story, so he created Ormond Sacker, who had seen military service in Sudan. In the story that finally got published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in August 1887, Sir Arthur changed Sacker to Dr John Watson, an invalid military doctor who was shot in the shoulder in Afghanistan. Since then, the duo has gone to enjoy stellar careers in books, on stage, in film, and on television.
Few characters in literature are as intrinsically linked to a city as Sherlock Holmes is to London. Victorian London’s fog-bound back alleys and shadowy quarters illuminated by gaslight are characters as distinctive as Holmes himself. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fi rst short story— A Study in Scarlet, where the murder victim is found on Brixton Road—to the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, that’s fi lmed across many busy Central London locations, including Trafalgar Square and Russell Square Garden, London has been consistent in the adventures of Holmes and Watson
On a chilly November morning, I joined a motley group of Sherlockians (as Holmes fans refer themselves as) to explore places in Central London featured in Sir Arthur’s original stories and locations that have featured in numerous film and television adaptations of the detective’s great adventures. Like the first original story, my Holmes adventure started at the Savini at Criterion, at Piccadilly Circus.
It was here at the Criterion Bar that Watson learns from an old friend about ‘a fellow who is working at the chemical laboratory up at the hospital (St Bartholomew’s)’, looking for someone to share lodgings with. This is also where I met my guide from Brit Movie Tours. “My name is Michael. If you haven’t enjoyed the tour for whatever reason, my name is James Moriarty,” he says in greeting.
For the next two hours, as we traipsed along Pall Mall and The Strand in the cold November rain, he kept us engaged with Holmesian trivia generously peppered with classic Conan Doyle Brit humour. In his stories, Sir Arthur never described Holmes wearing a deerstalker cap and the Inverness cape. Sidney Paget, an illustrator at The Strand Magazine that published most of the Holmes stories, added this detail.
The second stop on our walk is the Burlington House, home to the Royal Academy of Arts , of which Paget was a member. This was also a location in Murder by Decree (1979) that featured Christopher Plummer as Holmes. In this multi-award winning film, Holmes is investigating murders committed by Jack The Ripper. Plummer, who is best known as Captain Georg von Trapp from The Sound of Music 0(1965), had another Holmes connection.
His cousin Nigel Bruce played Watson in the Hollywood films of the 1930s and 40s. Only the first two of those films—The Hound of The Baskervilles (1939) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), were true to the time period they were set in. The rest were set during World War II and had Holmes pitted against Nazi spies. Tucked in a corner of St James’ Square is the unassuming London Library, one of the largest independent lending libraries in the world.
The author, who was one of the many eminent members of the library, featured it in The Adventures of the Illustrious Client, where Holmes asks Watson to go the library and learn as much as he can about Chinese pottery in 24 hours. The 150-year-old Charing Cross Hotel (now Amba Hotel Charing Cross) was a favourite of the author and appeared in multiple stories. In front of the Charing Cross Hotel, is where Holmes caught a spy in the Hound of the Baskervilles; where Watson banked (and kept his box of notes); where, just across the street, they sent off urgent telegrams. Irene Adler made her first appearance in the Holmes sagas as a resident of the Charing Cross Hotel in A Scandal in Bohemia.
The protagonist of the series was originally called ‘Sherrinford’, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle later changed it to ‘Sherlock’ after a cricketer he was a big fan of.
Near Charing Cross Hotel is the Sherlock Holmes Pub, a mecca of sorts for Sherlockians. “In 1951, there was a small exhibition of Sherlock Holmes paraphernalia. This included objects Sir Arthur Conan Doyle collected through his life. The exhibition is housed there, in what was originally called the Northumberland Arms, but subsequently renamed as the Sherlock Holmes Pub,” adds Michael. Exhibits inside the pub include a facsimile mounted head of the Hound of the Baskervilles, Watson’s newly framed portrait of General Gordon, and on the first floor is a reproduction of the sitting room of 221 Bakers Street complete with bullet holes on the wall. The pub is close to the ‘Turkish baths’ frequented by Holmes and Watson in the stories.
Gentlemen’s Clubs are an integral part of Holmes’ sagas and Doyle drew inspiration from many to create the fictional Diogenes Club that Holmes’ brother Mycroft belongs to. The Reform Club on the iconic Pall Mall was a location used in the first Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film. “There is such a strict dress code at most of these clubs that even the crew had to be dressed in suits,” says Michael.
The last stop of the day is the historic Somerset House on the south side of The Strand. A popular filming location, it’s exteriors have featured in multiple Sherlock Holmes fi lms including The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) and 2009 movie featuring Robert Downey Jr.
Most of the Cumberbatch-Freeman series is shot in Cardiff . “Steven Moff at, who is the producer of both Sherlock and Doctor Who decided to shoot in Cardiff . All the shots fi lmed indoors at 221 Baker Street are shot at a studio here. Most of the exterior locations are also within 20-30 miles of the studio in Cardiff because it’s just easier for the crew. They travel to London only if they need a very specific location,” says Michael.
In the original stories, Mycroft is meant to live on Pall Mall, just opposite the Reform Club. In the BBC series, the exterior of the Diogenes Club is shot at 10 Carlton House Terrace, which used to be the home of the British Prime Minister William Gladstone. For The Blind Banker, the second episode of the BBC series, the makers shot a few scenes in the very touristy Trafalgar Square. “It’s very expensive to close down the Square during the day so these scenes must have been shot very quickly and with a bare-minimum crew. The crowd in the scene would be the regular public. If you look closely at the scene where Cumberbatch and Freeman walk up the stairs of the National Gallery, you can see the faces of members of the public who have recognised the actors.
I doubt they can shoot like this with Cumberbatch anymore,” says Michael, looking pointedly at the group of Cumberbatch fans who are sporting badges and tees with his face. Almost 130 years after he was first created, various avatars of the world’s favourite private investigator are keeping that relationship well and alive.
“IT IS A HOBBY OF MINE TO HAVE AN EXACT KNOWLEDGE OF LONDON.” — Holmes to Watson, The Red-Headed League