Tag Archives: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hammer’s “Hound of the Baskervilles”

Very slight spoiler alert, but I suspect most readers will be familiar with the tale – so here goes.

Hammer film’s 1959 film version of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles, has all the hallmarks of Hammer productions during its gory days (pun intended!)The Hound of the Baskervilles [Blu-ray]

We watched it again the other day. Like most Hammer productions based on novels, it takes considerable liberties with the plot. That being said, it is terrific fun and has the great merit of really good portrayals of Sherlock Holmes and Watson, with the wonderful Peter Cushing as the detective and Andre Morell as Watson.

Peter Cushing, of course, did another version of this classic “tail” for the BBC several years later – probably the most faithful version yet filmed, actually using real Dartmoor locations. I saw portions of that one being filmed during my Dartmoor rambles at the time.

Apart from a couple of stock-shots, Hammer went nowhere near Dartmoor. Dartmoor in this production comes courtesy of Surrey’s Chobham Common and Frensham Ponds, plus a lot of studio exteriors. None of the locations look much like Dartmoor. But then Hammer’s Dracula film sets probably only bear a passing resemblance to Transylvania.

This Hammer version might be slightly hammy, but is saved by the lead actors, who also include Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville, John Le Mesurier (best known as Sergeant Wilson in the classic Dad’s Army) as the butler Barrymore, Ewen Solon as Stapleton and Miles Malleson, doing his familiar doddery old fool act, as Frankland – elevated to a bishopric in this telling.

As with most Hammer films there is a voluptuous leading lady, in this case Marla Landi as Beryl Stapleton. Miss Landi (who went on in real life to marry the baronet Sir Francis Dashwood, descendant of that famous gent in history with Hellfire Club connections), plays the role with her own very strong Italian accent, though her father, Stapleton, is clearly English. And in the film she is Stapleton’s daughter, rather than his wife (posing as a sister) as she does in the book.

Normally I’d quibble a bit at this bit of casting, but Miss Landi is great fun as Baskerville’s femme fatale. And a Hammer film without a bit of sex appeal wouldn’t be a Hammer film.

The film, as I’ve suggested, does take considerable liberties with the plot of the novel: enter a tarantula spider, a ruined abbey, Holmes trapped down a Dartmoor tin mine, ritual sacrifice, Frankland as the collector of butterflies rather than Stapleton, Sir Henry Baskerville with a serious heart condition, a malevolent Miss Stapleton – the list goes on.

But then, if you want a more faithful rendition seek out Peter Cushing’s BBC version. The Hammer version is not one for the Holmesian purist, but if you want a bit of escapist fun then Hammer’s attempt passes an amusing couple of hours.

And the Hammer brand is now in itself iconic. During their heyday they produced great entertainment. This Hound, for all the liberties it takes, does give a real flavour of the book and it probably introduced new readers to the Sherlock Holmes canon. Its absurdities are no worse than those taken in the recent modern day Sherlock and similar re-tellings.

Archive blog: “The Country of the Hound of the Baskervilles” May 2015.

 

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Guest Post by T.G. Campbell, Author of the Bow Street Society Mysteries

We’re delighted to have a guest post this week by crime novelist T.G. Campbell, author of the wonderful Bow Street Society mysteries.

We love the two books in the series so far, The Case of The Curious Client and The Case of The Lonesome Lushington. They bring an engagingly fresh approach to historical detective novels with a collaborative sleuthing team of vividly-drawn, lovable characters. The cases are intriguing page-turners with Conan Doyle-style twists and the rich setting of 1890s Victorian London is lovingly evoked –

MURDER OF THE LONE DETECTIVE

Admirers of the World’s Greatest Detective would agree there is only one Sherlock Holmes. Purveyors of the English Golden Age of Crime Fiction would admit there can be only one Belgian solving crime with his “little grey cells”. Skip over the pond to the mean streets of 1940s Los Angeles and the likelihood is you’ll think of Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe. What do all these detectives have in common? They stand alone in their respective worlds as the pinnacle of deductive reasoning. They also have the tendency to keep their thoughts to themselves while the readers, like Doctor Watson and Captain Hastings, scramble to make any sense of things. Yes, we, as readers, are shown precisely what Holmes, Poirot, and Marlowe see & hear but we are often left awestruck by not only a mystery’s solution but also the ingenuity of the Detective’s deductive reasoning. The Case of the Curious Client: A Bow Street Society Mystery by [Campbell, T.G.]

Whenever we read a mystery featuring any of these Detectives we bring to it the subconscious expectation that it will be they who will lift the veil of confusion and resolve the conflict caused by the murder. They, and Detectives like them, may be assisted by others along the way but, generally, the sidekick doesn’t step in at the last moment to announce the correct identity of the murderer. This rule applies even in novels where the Detective openly airs his internal musings to a trusted colleague or friend. In short, these lone Detectives are put on a plinth as masters of their craft by us as readers – and there isn’t anything wrong with that. In fact, it is this consistent element within these stories which serves to reassure us that all will be well in the end. We have seen the Detective work his/her magic previously which makes us confident he/she will do so again.

What if there was more than one Detective, though? Furthermore, what if there were several Detectives who stepped into a mystery series only when they were required? No longer would you have this omnipotent Detective who always kept his cards close to his chest. Instead you would have a collective whose very success relied on their relying upon one another’s abilities. The Detective’s plinth would be lowered and we, as readers, would feel equal to the Detectives we were reading about rather than to their bumbling sidekick.

This is the idea I wanted to explore when I created the Bow Street Society. Every one of its members has been recruited, from the public, because they hold a great deal of knowledge in a particular field and/or are adept at a specific skill. For example, the first book, The Case of The Curious Client, features a Magician, Architect, and Veterinary Surgeon among the Detectives investigating the central mystery. They are not hard-boiled Private Detectives, retired police officers, or incredibly scientifically minded. They are, in short, average. Yet it is their averageness, and passion for their chosen occupation, which makes them perfect for solving crime. For example, an autopsy performed by the Veterinary Surgeon on a dead cat in The Case of The Curious Client helps the collective reach the final solution. I consciously made the decision that there wouldn’t be one, lone member of the Society who would deduce the solution. That is why, when it is given, they have all played a part in reaching the truth.

When it came to the Society’s next book, The Case of The Lonesome Lushington, I wanted to go one step further. The Architect, Lawyer, and Veterinary Surgeon who’d appeared in the first mystery were not included or even mentioned in the second. For the plain and simple reason their skills were not applicable to the case so they weren’t asked to investigate it. In the first book I’d stepped away from the idea of the lone, omnipotent Detective but in the second I’d stepped away from the idea of a static, rigid collective of Detectives, too.

One could argue that connections with characters can’t be formed if they’re not included in every book. I would beg to differ. Who is assigned to a case is decided upon by the Society’s Clerk, Miss Rebecca Trent. The reader doesn’t know who she’ll choose until the case has been accepted. Therefore part of the intrigue is discovering if your favourite character will be selected or not – this time. I fully intend to have reappearances of the Lawyer, Architect, and Veterinary Surgeon in future Bow Street Society books. Any connection the reader makes with particular characters would therefore never be in vain. The Case of The Lonesome Lushington: A Bow Street Society Mystery by [Campbell, T.G.]

There are, within this fluid collective, core characters that’ll always be featured to safeguard the reassurance of order, however. Miss Trent is one (she being the only person who knows the name of every Society member) and Mr Samuel Snyder, the Society’s Driver, is another. It must be pointed out that, though Miss Trent is the Society’s Clerk, she isn’t a Detective. Instead she organises and disciplines the members whenever necessary but otherwise keeps to the side-lines. Mr Snyder, on the other hand, is a Detective who works with the other members in addition to driving them around.

The Bow Street Society is designed as a reflection of us all. Within its universe the mundane becomes pivotal and we discover we all have the potential to solve the most baffling of crimes. The lone detective, or rather the idea of it, is murdered and we are all, quite simply, the ones whodunnit. Not because we despise the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Phillip Marlowe but because we all, deep down, want to be as brilliant as they are. In the 1896 London of the Bow Street Society, you now can be. The only question that remains therefore is this: what would be your field of expertise as a Bow Street Society member?

Biography

T.G. Campbell (short for Tahnee Georgina) wrote her first crime fiction story at the age of sixteen as a gift for her best friend. At only 40 pages long it fell considerably short of a “novel” but it marked the beginning of a creative journey that would eventually spawn the first of the Bow Street Society mystery novels; The Case of the Curious Client.

In April 2017 The Case of The Curious Client won a Book Award with Fresh Lifestyle Magazine (http://www.freshlifestylemag.com/book-award-the-case-of-the-curious-client-a-bow-street-society-mystery.html ).

Website: www.bowstreetsociety.com

 

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Sherlock Holmes: The Man with the Twisted Lip

Spoiler alert: We usually try not to give away the plots of the stories we look at, but it’s next to impossible not to with Sherlock Holmes’ short stories. I suspect most of you will have read the story. 

The Man with the Twisted Lip is one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories. It has a very vivid London setting and lots of those elements that plunge you back into the Victorian world of Holmes and Watson – menacing alleys, disguises, the sinister banks of the River Thames, Opium Dens etc.Twis-05.jpg

Holmes and Watson are at their best too, though I always believe the great detective is having a bit of an off day in his field of expertise, given how long it takes him to work out the only obvious solution to the puzzle – that Neville St Clair is the beggar Hugh Boone.

Who cares? Just to plunge into the murky world of Victorian London in the company of Holmes and Watson is enough for me. There is the added bonus that you get a glimpse of Watson’s home life in the company of the first Mrs Watson, though – like everyone – I’m puzzled that she calls her husband James instead of John at one point. You might like to comment your thoughts on that – whole essays have been written on what most suspect is an authorial slip.

Doyle wrote these stories for the Strand at a fair speed and such slips are not uncommon when a deadline is looming.

There is a worse slip elsewhere in the story. When Holmes and Watson visit the Kent home of Mrs St Clair, she asks that the detective tells her the worst – “I am not hysterical or given to fainting”, she says. But earlier in the tale, she has told Holmes that she fainted on  seeing blood on the window of the opium den in Upper Swandam Lane.

The Man with the Twisted Lip is one of the earliest of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, first published in The Strand magazine in December 1891. It was Doyle’s sixteenth favourite of his personal top nineteen Holmes stories. Interesting too, that it doesn’t actually feature a crime, though I suspect in reality, Hugh Boone and his alias might have been prosecuted for wasting police time and probably for begging as well.

The opium den and Upper Swandam Lane are wonderfully drawn. I once spent a happy morning in London seeking the location from the geographical details given by Doyle. Of course there’s nothing resembling the place in existence now, though not far away is a set of steps set in Victorian or earlier London Brick leading down to the swirling waters of the Thames. On finding them, my imagination swirled as much as the river.

At some point, every Victorian crime novel series should feature an opium den, and Doyle’s is one of the best in literature, menacing but quite accurate. There are, going off at a tangent, a couple of other good ones in literature. Sax Rohmer gives us a glorious one in The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, and Charles Dickens opens The Mystery of Edwin Drood in just such a place. Opium was legal at the time – in fact the British Empire and its entrepreneurs made a fortune and fought a couple of wars out of the trade. Opium dens, which were often a front for other crimes, were perfectly lawful as well.

I like Doyle’s description of Upper Swandam Lane as a ‘vile alley’: so much atmosphere in two words. I confess to borrowing them to describe an alley in my own recent Victorian crime novel Deadly Quest. I put in an opium den for good measure as well!

Neville St Clair as Hugh Boone is not the only disguised person in the story. Holmes makes his first appearance in the Bar of Gold opium den as an addict, though he swears to Watson that he didn’t actually participate – hard though surely not to inhale in such a place.

London itself becomes almost a character in the story, the streets and alleys around the north side of the Thames vividly drawn. All the more remarkable when you recall that Doyle was a relative newcomer to the city when he penned these early Sherlock Holmes stories.

There was a silent film version of The Man with the Twisted Lip as early as 1921. More recent television versions include the BBC Douglas Wilmer version of 1964 – I almost certainly saw that as a child, as I was a fan, but I remember nothing about it.

More recently there was a very good adaptation in the Granada Television series The Return of Sherlock Holmes, with Jeremy Brett as Holmes and Clive Francis (best known as Francis Poldark in the first and superior version of Poldark) as Neville St Clair/Hugh Boone.

The latter is a superb version, even if Mrs Watson was written out of the programme concept. Upper Swandam Lane is vividly depicted, as is the Bar of Gold opium den. The casting of the small parts is very well done and Alan Plater’s script gets a real feeling for the original story.

Clive Francis makes a splendid Hugh Boone, throwing out his beggar’s repartee at the police and showing the charm that made him such a successful beggar. His quotations from Shakespeare and other poets seem so integral that I’d forgotten that they’re not actually part of Boone’s repertoire in the story. I believe the idea of having Boone acquainted with literature in this way was first trialled in the Douglas Wilmer version.

The transformation of Boone into St Clair is done to great effect. The urbane and civilised St Clair in the interview with Holmes and the Bow Street police which follows, demonstrates the considerable range of Clive Francis’ acting ability – a masterful performance.

A great Sherlock Holmes story – one I never tire of reading. A masterpiece of short story writing.

 

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The Country of The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s longest Sherlock Holmes story is undoubtedly the most famous novel with a Dartmoor setting. It is well known, so I won’t look too closely at the plot. It was written by Doyle after he had “killed off” the famous detective at the Reichenbach Falls in ‘The Final Problem’ and before he brought Holmes back in ‘The Empty House’. It was said to be an episode from Holmes’ earlier career.

But here I want to talk about some of the settings of the Hound on Dartmoor. It’s a place I know rather well, having walked every inch of the Moor over forty years and having been a walks guide there, as well as spending nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association in the days when it was a proper campaigning organisation.

The murder of Sir Charles Baskerville takes place at his home of Baskerville Hall. In point of fact, Doyle took his inspiration for the legend of the giant hound from legends in the Welsh Marches and the Black Shuck in Norfolk. Though it has to be added that Dartmoor has a considerable number of hound legends.

In particular, Doyle was probably thinking of the legend of Richard Cabell of Brook Manor, near Buckfastleigh, who led – tradition relates – an evil life before his death in 1677. He was buried in a particularly ornate tomb in Buckfastleigh churchyard, a tomb within a tomb within a tomb. He was often said to be accompanied on his hunts by a very vicious hound. Some have suggested, with no real evidence, that the hound tore his throat out. A whole pack of hounds are said to have rampaged across the Moor on the night of his death. A local legend says that if you walk seven times around his tomb and then put your finger in the keyhole of the door, Cabell, now a vampire will bite you! Some say his hound does the chore for him. I have to say I’ve tried it. And nothing happened. Or if it did I didn’t notice.

Brook Manor certainly fits the description of Baskerville Hall, though the location is too far off the high moorland to correspond to Doyle’s description. I would personally set the house somewhere in the vicinity of Prince Hall, on the Dartmeet to Two Bridges road. Not far away are Bellever and Merripit – the home of Stapleton the naturalist – which are mentioned in the book. The convict prison at Princetown, from which the prisoner Seldon has escaped, is just a few miles away.

A few miles into the Moor from Prince Hall is Fox Tor Mire, undoubtedly the setting for the Great Grimpen Mire of the story. In reality Fox Tor Mire is nowhere near as treacherous as its fictional counterpart. I have crossed it more times than I can count, and suffered little more damage than muddy feet. Though, I should add, it is not a risk to be taken by the inexperienced moor-walker. The mire was partially drained by mining operations over a century ago and may have been more difficult to traverse in earlier times. There are now more treacherous valley mires on Dartmoor, such as Raybarrow Pool, above Chagford, where I once went in up to my chest.

The village of Coombe Tracey in the novel, where lives the mistreated Laura Lyons is based on Bovey Tracey on the eastern side of Dartmoor.

The idea for the Hound was given to Doyle by his friend Fletcher Robinson of Ipplepen. Robinson took Doyle on tours of the Moor (his coachman’s name was Baskerville). Doyle also stayed at the Old Duchy Hotel at Princetown. Interestingly, the room he used became my office when I was chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, though the internal space had been somewhat adjusted by that point.

At one point in the story Holmes hides in a prehistoric hut on the Moor. This was based on the Bronze Age village of Grimspound, North-West of Widecombe, which Doyle visited during his moorland tour. Some of the huts in the old village were restored at around the same time. A few miles to the north is Fernworthy (not a village as suggested, but now a reservoir on the River Teign surrounded by some dull conifer forest and splendid antiquities). It is here that the litigious Mr Frankland is burned in effigy for closing a footpath.

Conan Doyle didn’t have a great knowledge of Dartmoor, despite being at one point a doctor in Plymouth. In fact in his Dartmoor short story “Silver Blaze” he puts Tavistock into the centre of Dartmoor, rather than on its western borders.
But there is no doubt that “The Hound of the Baskervilles” captures the spirit of Dartmoor, particularly the moorland of October. It is a story now completely associated with Dartmoor, though it is in only recent years that much has been made of it locally. Interestingly the only film version that was mostly filmed on Dartmoor was the version for BBC Television featuring Peter Cushing as the detective and Nigel Stock as Dr Watson – a fairly faithful adaptation.

The Hound is a good book to read if you are visiting the old Moor for the first time, even though the author does play fast and loose with Dartmoor geography.

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Arthur and George

Arthur and George is a three-part British television production based on the historical crime novel of the same name by Julian Barnes. Now I make all of my judgements from the television series as I haven’t read Mr Barnes’ novel.

Arthur and George is a fictionalised account of the successful attempt by Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to clear the name and criminal conviction of the Anglo-Indian George Edalji in 1906. Edalji had served a period of imprisonment following a conviction for animal mutilation. The case attracted the attention of Conan Doyle after he read about it in the newspapers.

In reality, Conan Doyle was successful in clearing Edalji’s name. Much like his creation Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle interviewed all parties concerned, visited the scenes of the crimes, sifted the evidence and, finally, was successful in exposing the folly of the original prosecution.

You can read some very good accounts of what actually happened in the better biographies of Conan Doyle. It was in many ways a most important case in the annals of British jurisprudence. It led to the creation of the Court of Criminal Appeal. In itself, it is a gripping yarn that might well have come from the pen of the master himself.
The television production is, I think, a bit of a mixed bag. It is extremely well acted, though I find – as a Black Country boy myself – some of the Midland accents rather on the dodgy side.

Martin Clunes makes an admirable Conan Doyle, catching something of the bluff and determined nature of the man himself.

(For collectors of TV trivia, this production has some interesting Doylesian and Sherlockian links: Martin Clunes is the cousin of Jeremy Brett who played, I think, the definitive Holmes on television in the 1980s; Charles Edwards – who plays Conan Doyle’s secretary Wood (almost his Watson) in this programme – portrayed a younger Conan Doyle in the wonderful TV series Murder Rooms; the Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes, alongside the late Ian Richardson as Dr Joseph Bell. Both series are well worth buying on DVD.)

There is a sub-plot in Arthur and George dealing with Conan Doyle’s guilt over his long relationship with Jean Leckie (later the second Lady Doyle) following the very recent death of his first wife Louise.

The production, certainly in the first episode, portrays the Edalji case more or less accurately. The second (the third is on this Monday night – you can see the first two on ITV catch-up TV) goes wildly astray from what actually happened, with chases, fights, and a good old-fashioned murder thrown in.

Now I know that fictionalising a real event is perfectly permissible, but in an account of the Edalji case it really wasn’t necessary. What actually happened to Edalji is gripping enough.
Despite these flaws the production has much to commend it. The acting (Midlands accents ignored) is generally very good. The set dressings and photography are quite superb. You really have the feeling that you are there. There have been some criticisms of Clunes’ Scottish accent. I thought it was rather good for an English actor.

It is worth seeing Arthur and George and it would be pleasing to see Martin Clunes play Conan Doyle again in some of the other real-life cases that the creator of Sherlock Holmes investigated.

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