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Monday, 17th December 2007
Elementary my dear Dr Watson.

Sherlock Holmes is one of those people a lot of people would superficially like to be. A great genius with a talent for being right. However his caricature was deeply flawed and I am not sure he enjoyed being the person he was. Drug addiction, bouts of depression, heart-broken and despite all his efforts a total failure when it came to playing the violin were all parts of his make-up. Quite a price to pay really and his older brother Mycroft was brighter anyway.

Sherlock Holmes might not have enjoyed being himself but we do know Conan Doyle his creator could hardly stand to write another word on the subject.

They oftened turned him into a bumbling fool

I always equate this to the rock stars which become so misreable at the thought of having to play that one song they always have to play. They might have an endless stream of hits over a period of thirty years but there was that one song the lead-singer wrote on the back of a beer mat whilst waiting for the next order of drinks. They all laughed about it and went into the recording studio and did it in one take. Probably their first number one and thirty years later it just is not so funny anymore. The lead singer having died of a drugs overdose ten years previous. The drummer was not even born when the song was first a hit and the bass player plays the tune in his sleep. It now haunts them.

Sherlock Holmes is probably the most famous ficitional character the world has ever known. Indeed so real is he to many that they often believe he actually lived. People still write to him today with cases to solve (although few of them would have been 'three pipe problems' for the greatest detective the world has ever known.) So famous is he you almost would have had to come from a different planet not to equate a deerstalker, pipe and magnifting glass with anyone or thing other than Holmes.

As a smoker Sherlock would no doubt of had a passing interest in cigarette cards (his other drug abuses are not for this article.) He certainly solved a few crimes by careful analysis of the ash left behind by the perp. He wrote a monogrpah on the subject covering 140 different types of cigar, pipe and cigarette tobacco ash.

Sherlock Holmes holds the record for the greatest number of films on one character.
211 films by 1996 portrayed by 75 actors. (Not including Brent Spiner of Star Trek fame)
There are only 4 noveletes and 56 short stories in the canon of Holmes
Basil Rathbone, probably the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes, (although I am a Jeremy Brett fan.) appeared in 14 films.

Holmes and his companion Watson sprang from the furtile mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Born in Edinburgh 22 May 1859. He appears in Wills, Famous British Authors [1937]. Qualified as a doctor he practiced in Southsea 1882-1890. He practiced medicine in the South African War. There are parallels with his life and Dr Watson and given Dr Watson was given the task of commiting to paper all the Sherlock Holmes cases then it is not difficult to see Doyle as Watson. Apparently though it was based on the Edinburgh surgeon, Dr Joseph Bell (1837-1911) who taught Doyle.

The films always had a great deal of difficulty with Dr Watson. They could hardly admit the greatest mind in the world was drugged up to the eyeballs with so many problems a Doctor was a constant companion. They oftened turned him into a bumbling fool which is something Holmes would not have tolerated for one second and then there was the gay-subtext brought about in an effort to explain the relationship.

The first story was 'A study in Scarlet' appearing in Beeton's Christmas Annual, 1887. A copy of which made a record £18000 in an auction 1995. The actual story had been turned down on a number of occassions before being published.

The illustrations for The Strand magazine did much to set the image of Holmes; tall, lean, deep-set eyes with a deerstalker, pipe and magnifying glass.

Almost from the beginning Doyle tired of Holmes and was always looking at ways of finishing the tales. His first attempt to do this was to ask for wild sums of money from The Strand to write another. However The Strand had seem something of a revival in circulation due, in most part, to Sherlock Holmes. For this reason they paid the asking price.

In 1893 Doyle sought a more radical solution, 'The Final Problem' saw Holmes with his arch-enemy, 'Professor Moriarty, The Napoleon of crime.' Both were to fall into the Reichenbach Falls. Although presumably to the death only the fall was described not the impact. The reading public refused to believe this was the end of their hero.

Doyle could only keep his character dead until 1894 when (for more lavish monetary gain) Holmes re-appeared. Thanks to his knowledge of baritsu (Japanese Wrestling) he had succeeded in cheating death, which really puts to shame some of the wilder alien abduction plots used by a certain soap-opera to maintain some sort of control over pay increases.

Sherlock was to continue his case load until 1903 when he announced his offical retirement and was only tempted out of it once. By official request from the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Holmes solved one last case in August 1914. This time to capture Von Bork one of the German Kaisers more valuable secret agents.

Now Holmes well into his sixties decided that bee-keeping on the South Downs was to be his eternal vocation and the reading public were to lose contact with the greatest detective that ever existed. He probably dies in 1930 but nobody can be sure of that.

Although the stories remain relatively coherent the requirements of the movie industry were to have Sherlock Holmes in all manner of ludicrous situations. Many a film has him fighting the Nazi threat and looking quite limber for someone approaching 100 years of age.

Amazingly though despite Sherlock Holmes being an industry almost from the very moment the first words came into print there are relatively few cigarette cards dedicated to the great man, perhaps his addicition to the pipe was his downfall, although he was known to smoke the odd cigarette (and odd they were I suspect). It is a great shame the cigarette card world did not do this great man a better service really. Now the relatively few cards that deal with the subject are fairly highly priced and much sort after and even more elusive than the price suggests as people just keep them, simple as that.

The cards which most easily spring to mind are:

Alexander Boguslavsky Ltd, Conan Doyle Characters [1923] has Sherlock Holmes as the number one card. Dr Watson appears at No.3, a slightly odd decision having been made to split these two characters. Also got to be one of the most preposterous manufacturer's names going.

Players, Characters from ficition [1933] has Holmes at 21 where they introduce him as living at 221B Baker Street, now a building society with a department devoted to replying to fan-mail. (Although there is some debate as to where the original building stood.) This card also mentions the great detectives cocaine addiction (a fact which helps explain the continual presence of Dr Watson.