THE GAME'S AFOOT, WATSON, OR POSSIBLY THIRTEEN INCHES.
Just as every film fan has their preferred James Bond or Doctor Who actor, everyone has a favourite Sherlock Holmes. Although Jeremy Brett was definitely the best and most accurate portrayal of Conan Doyle's character, I’ve always had a huge love for Basil Rathbone. With the brilliant Nigel Bruce as Watson (anyone else would be unthinkable) he played Holmes fourteen times onscreen between 1939 and 1946 and every film is still a nostalgic treat.
It was also one of the few times Rathbone got to play the hero. In most dramas he was cast as the suave, handsome villain, often dying in a final sword fight, most memorably at the hands of Tyrone Power in the Mark of Zorro and Errol Flynn in the Adventures of Robin Hood.
Only the first two Sherlock Holmes films with Rathbone are set in Victorian England. With the war raging all around, Universal Studios decided to use the detective as a propaganda tool and the Conan Doyle stories were rewritten and brought into the modern day, where Holmes could foil Nazi spy plots and keep England and America safe. It isn't difficult to guess which side Moriarty was fighting for.
Nigel Bruce's Doctor Watson grows progressively dafter during the film series, and quite why the genius Holmes would have him as an assistant is a greater mystery than the cryptic puzzles he attempts to solve. This Watson would be the ideal guest to invite over at Christmas - a lovely, kindly old uncle, all bumbling and silly - but he probably wouldn’t be your first choice as an ally when going up against evil masterminds or hell hounds on Dartmoor. Thankfully, Rathbone doesn’t share these doubts and the inseparable pair are absolutely wonderful together.
Captain Kirk never said ‘Beam me up, Scotty,’ and most people are also aware that Holmes never said ‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ in any of the books or films. Over the past few months, however, I’ve been playing on this line with a series of Facebook posts to promote my novel Cat Flap. These follow at the end of the blog.
Published by MX Publishing in February, Cat Flap is the first in a series of humorous detective novels chronicling the exploits of eccentric private investigator Bernie Quist.
Based in the English city of York, Quist is a contemporary Sherlock Holmes. His methods and personality are remarkably similar to the celebrated Victorian sleuth and his assistant is named Watson, although this Watson is a black youth from the notorious Grimpen housing estate and he's definitely no doctor. The pair tackle bizarre cases which invariably lead into the murky realms of the supernatural, a world the secretive Quist is only too familiar with.
Christmas is days away and once again the reclusive sleuth will be quietly celebrating alone. His assistant Watson has other ideas, mostly involving parties, girls and beer. Yuletide plans are halted when three chemists die and the fiancé of one hires them to look into her apparent suicide. After discovering the chemist wasn’t engaged, they’re drawn into the mystery when their employer is killed. Added to this, Watson has a puzzle of his own - Quist is clearly hiding something and he’s curious to know what. The investigation leads to a shady cartel of northern businessmen, a forgotten Egyptian cult and an ancient evil lurking in the medieval alleyways of York. Quist’s secret is also revealed, and Watson doesn’t know what terrifies him the most.
The Music of Sound is the next in the series. Not exactly a sequel, but another story with the same characters. Rex Grant has vanished from a hotel without paying the bill, but the police seem more concerned with the murdered girl in his room. Investigating their friend’s disappearance, Quist and Watson are intrigued by his connection to the superstar singer Ligeia and the lethal mercenary soldiers who act as her management team. Irana Adler heads the squad - a female Colonel who doesn’t take kindly to intrusion - and Quist is amazed to discover that Laurel and Hardy are part of the singer’s entourage, something which is not only surprising, but pretty much impossible. A dark and very peculiar game is afoot, and Ligeia’s musical voice may not be as sweet as it sounds…
The Music of Sound is published by MX in September and more stories will follow.
Here are a few of the plays on Elementary, my dear Watson...