Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective
On Arts and Entertainment Channel (A&E)
Review by Margaret Whitmer (MEW)
I recently had the pleasure of viewing an hour-long documentary called “Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective.” It was produced in 1995 as part of the popular Biography series that runs on the Arts & Entertainment and History channels.
It amused me, to start with, that the Biography series would include this, as it rarely recounts the lives of “fictional” characters. But then, we all know that Sherlock Holmes is not fictional, don’t we?
This reverent recounting of Holmes’ life endeavors to explain his monumental influence on both reality and fiction from many viewpoints, including criminal, historical, social, literary and psychological.
It includes interviews with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and references to Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyle’s medical professor who served as Holmes’ model.
Doyle himself is quoted as saying, “Many people are perfectly convinced that he is a living human being.”
The documentary opens on Jan. 6 – the purported birthday of our beloved hero. Members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London have gathered in the Northumberland Hotel (where Sir Henry Baskerville once stayed) in Holmes’ honor.
Their special guest is none other than Dr. John Watson himself (David Burke, who played Watson opposite Jeremy Brett in the BBC TV Granada series of the 1980s).
From him, and also from the narrator, we learn dozens of delightful tidbits. I can only include a fraction, but here are a few:
In the room in St. Bartholomew’s Hospital where Holmes and Watson first met is a large brass plaque honoring this legendary event, which occurred on New Year’s Day 1881.
Holmes was born on Jan. 6, 1854, so he was a 27-year-old student when he and Watson met.
The Strand Magazine’s famous illustrator, Sidney Paget, used his brother Walter’s aquiline profile as his model for Holmes.
Doyle composed many early Holmes stories in his medical office on Montague Street, where Holmes told Watson he lived for awhile before they met.
Holmes and Freud were exact contemporaries.
McMurdo’s Campers take note! The Alan Pinkerton National Detective Agency was founded in Chicago in 1852, was internationally respected and considered superior to Scotland Yard at the time.
Scotland Yard in Holmes’ time had only 15 detectives for the whole of London’s three-million-plus citizens, which probably contributed to Holmes’ low opinion of their abilities.
Doyle, through Holmes, dispelled the popular myth that only poor people committed crimes. Holmes proved wrongdoing was the privilege of all classes.
Holmes was not alone among the famous to occasionally use cocaine. Even Queen Victoria was known to indulge.
These biographers theorize that Holmes’ oft-noted arrogance reflected that of his era, when one-third of the globe was under British rule.
After Holmes plunged to his death over the Reichenbach Falls with Moriarity in 1893, the news media of the day reported his death
as if he was a real person with headlines like, “Murderous Attack on Sherlock Holmes!”*
William Gillette wrote the first stage production based on Sherlock Holmes and played the part for 36 years – virtually a lifetime!
Gillette’s English equivalent played the stage role for 20 years and one of the children who played Billy the Page was none other than Charles Chaplin.
To this day, real Scotland Yard detectives are encouraged to read the stories as part of their training in observation, inference and deduction.
These are only a few of the fascinating facts this documentary contains. It is available for viewing on You Tube in four parts. Here are links: It also may be purchased at Amazon and other outlets, sometimes in combination with other shows, sometimes not. URL’s from Youtube. Four segments make up the whole (cut & paste to view):
*editor’s note: We believe this was a “stretch” made by the A&E production. The illustration of the one-legged newsboy and the “Murderous Attack” headline was in the TV show at a point they were discussing the Reichenbach business, but it is actually a Howard K. Elcock illustration that was published in The Adventure of the Illustrious Client (ILLU).