Friday, November 30, 2012

"For All That Love Them Well" -Mycroft & Sherlock Holmes.

"The Beeswing from Two Glasses".

(An Altamont/Malpaso/Studio Canal/Penthouse Production.)

Contrary to popular perception (not to mention Natural Law) the Brothers Holmes are still alive today.

Well into their second centuries by now (and happy as sandboys) they occupy a penthouse suite added atop the Diogenes Club upon the cessation of hostilities in 1945.

 From this vantage point (as of old) Mycroft can look across at his former rooms and both may observe the workaday World's ebb and flow far below. "To anyone who wishes to study mankind this is the spot," the elder is wont to repeat for the umpteenth time since 1888.
Jeremy Brett & Charles Grey in Granada's 'The Greek Interpreter'                                  (from the Holmes Family Album).

Sherlock wearied of bee-keeping after the  
Von Bork affair but still maintains enough hives on the roof-garden above (Brownie point Jonny Lee Miller!) to harvest the Royal Jelly to which their longevity is indebted.

These precious secretions of the worker bees (prepared  by Sherlock alone) not only prolong their lives: both men enjoy as yet undimmed powers of reasoning, deduction and observation.

An unforeseen side-effect (experienced thus far by Mycroft since turning 160) is a novel, late  flowing of the libido. Mycroft is as a magnificent Merlin engine suddenly (in his case for the first time) roaring into throbbing life on Nature's factory floor.  

One of Sherlock's myriad memory-sticks is devoted to charting the onset and progress of his priapic, centenarian brother's  libidinal levels - purely in the interests of Science (he insists). Privately, there can be little doubt the younger brother savours with anticipation his next but one birthday (Another Brownie point, Mr. Miller!).

Dr. Watson calls in from time to time to check on their (robust) health,  consume the Club's dwindling cellar of Imperial Tokay and wonder anew at some penetrating passage of observation conducted by the old men from their perches above the city.
Once Upon A Time.

This is not THE Watson, of course. John H. Watson M.D. lived out his allotted span with modest content. Not for him the artificial stimulant: "Who Wants To Live Forever" would have been the good doctor's choice of ring-tone had he owned a mobile phone. Martin does.

After a baptism of fire on the occasion of his first visit to the Diogenes (caught here on Club-Cam and gleefully replayed to his embarrassment on every visit), Martin has been taken under the wing of his forebear's intimates.
In the family tradition, Martin is a doctor in private practice, specialising in war injuries. He is as yet unmarried, but Mycroft is working on this through his own select circle of "cuties" , as he chooses to describe all ladies of  his newly-acquired acquaintance. "Hobbit-like, but a good soul!" is Mycroft's view of "Doc Martin".

Good soul that he is, young Martin has of late sought to dissuade "S & M" (his endearingly naive collective term) from future roof-top exploits.

Earlier this year, glancing up from the street on his way to a case, he watched in helpless horror as Mycroft clung and leapt, traversed and trapezed across the crumbling stone of the Club's facade - "Doing my Quasimodo!"

More precarious still seemed the gaunt silhouette of Sherlock poised at the roof's very edge, arms aloft outspread.

'Had the Great Detective wearied of life at last?' mused the frozen Hobbit far below.

"You know my methods, Watters. I simply put myself in the position of Mr. Cumberbatch. Consequently I now know precisely how IT was done!"  ( Altamont's note: no spoiler here).

To his credit, M appears to have taken the hint and is submitting a proposal to the Members' Committee for  'a small observatory' from a design unearthed amongst Google Images.

"See that Steampunk Cameron Cutie, Sherlock?" M is gesturing right now away down Pall Mall, with an eye lasering in like a hovering hawk surveying terrain.

S glances up from the drawer he is currently ransacking for THE long-misplaced Cabinet Photograph - a daily hunt ( 'The matter grows ever more urgent.' he opines.)

"You mean the one cycling past the BBC scriptwriters holding an al fresco panic meeting? You can surely descry the tell-tale words 'Rat. Wedding. Bow'  scribbled upon that august Corporation's crested post-it notes, friend Martin?"

"No. She's an M.P. all right, I give you that. (House of Commons pass pinned to her chezzy). Green Party, though: symbol for On-The-Go Air-Quality Checking  decorating the mobile phone case (breast pock'). Always look at a Cutie's chezzy first, Sherlock. Observe and learn!"

"Cameron Cuties!" sniffs S. "How are the mighty fallen! Gladstone would never have countenanced a 'party cutie'. Nor can one imagine such a species as 'the Rosebery or Balfour Cutie!'.  Ahh! I see her now -recently returned from the Antipodes (Walkabout tan...designer khakis...Croc' Dundee hat..."
Nadine Dorries M.P. down under.

"Got her Out of There, they did. See? Still itching. No wonder. She's illegally imported at least two visible species of creepy-crawly hitherto unknown in our Hemisphere. And to think I voted her out!"

"Only because you wanted to keep in the one with the...err...unmissable mammaries."

"So? So? Wait till you're my age, Number Two. Number One Son see more of World!  Oh, there goes that Canadian banker chappy. Spring in HIS step, I should coco! Heading for The Old Lady and a peerage."

Martin Watson quietly helps himself to another glass of Tokay.

"Nor could one fail to recognise... (don't shake up the beeswing,Watters!)...Lord Justice Sir Brian Henry Leveson weaving betwixt the November traffic beneath that precarious column of dossiers destined for the current Queen's Centre, no doubt," murmured S, resuming his search.  

I had better explain the esoteric reference just encountered.

Such is their formidable vitality and unquenchable curiosity the brothers are characteristically engaged on multiple research projects. This week the topics are as diverse as Tantric sex ( with Mycroft at the helm); The New Mentalism (Sherlock's focus) and A Filmography of Charlie Chan to which both are equally addicted.

Charlie with Number One Son.
   Life-long mimics, they have osmotically absorbed the cadences and idioms of Earl Biggers' characters via Youtube classics, taking schoolboy delight in dramatising their own conversation with 'Chan-Speak'.  Mycroft has even taken up the electronic pen, tweeting a suggestion that Moffet and Gatiss abandon all else in favour of writing a Chan for the 21st Century.

In a Private Message tweet, he also offers to 'guest' in Sherlock Series 3 and/or Dr. Who (should the leads be unavailable), as long as THE Woman ( Lara Pulver) plays the Cutie.
Lara reads Mycroft's Love-Tweet.
Speaking of is time to introduce Mrs. Hudson. (Stay with me. All will be clear.)

Since the earliest days in Baker Street  a Mrs. Hudson has 'done for' Sherlock Holmes. Except that is for the Great Hiatus years of '45 to '07. It was, as we have learned, in the latter year that Mycroft attained his 16oth birthday and began to display tumescent sexual stirrings.

An emergency meeting of all Members was called which resulted in a revolution. Quite in the grip of what he called his 'little fads and fancies', founder Member Mycroft single-handedly dragged the Diogenes into the 21st Century, gaining permission to receive lady guests in his penthouse suite.

Forestalling any protests on the grounds of impropriety, it was Sherlock who suggested the employment of a mature female to cook and clean for the aging brothers, one who would be a respectable presence as chaperone to Mycroft's cuties.   
Una Stubbs aka Mrs. Hudson.

The Club acquiesced,  stunned by the seismic change in Mycroft and the brothers fairly took the field having it enshrined in a revised constitution that:

a) The appointee must ever bear the name 'Hudson'.

b) That (as with Highlander & Dr. Who)"There Can Only Be One" Mrs. Hudson.

c) That no other female may cross the Diogenes threshold except she be a 'Violet', a 'Mary', a 'Lara' or 'Esmeralda'. (In a sub-section Sherlock's foresight leads to the addition of 'Irene' & 'Molly'.)

d) The words 'of any known sex' were to be added to the long-standing bar against redheads.

So! They still live for all that love them well in an increasingly romantic penthouse, keeping vigil over our great Metropolis.

And! "Perhaps our lives are not wholly in vain,"  muses Number Two Son, "if we can fill the brief hiatus before Sherlock Season 3 with occasional observations from Two Sons of Note which may be of some slight interest and diversion to an international Fandom momentarily deprived of Holmesian pleasures."

Thus philosphises S, the one and only living, breathing, Baker-Streeting Holmes.

"There's cuties in this, Sherlock, if nothing else!" adds Mycroft, licking 165 year old lascivious lips.

"The Game's Afoot!" they chime in cackling fraternity. "We've Only Just Begun!" They launch upon a word perfect rendition of The Carpenters' classic (imagine, if you will, the singing voices of Old Testament prophets).

"That Karen! There was a cutie!" Mycroft ejaculates as he jigs away merrily to more private activities through the great oaken door labelled "Number One Son". 


                               (More Private Activity)

('Esmeralda' is reading "Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen" (first, signed, limited, illustrated edition.).





Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sherlock's Motto in "The Creeping Man".


"We will go out together and see what we can do" (NORW)
"We can but try - the motto of the firm." (CREE)

Not a bad motto to live by.

Simply, modestly it speaks of everyday perseverance - realism in English words of one syllable.

The identical unassuming tone is sounded at a low moment for Holmes in The Norwood Builder when 'It's... all as wrong as it can go.' And is set against 'Lestrade's little cock-a-doodle of victory.' 

Granada TV give to Watson the line Doyle has Holmes speak in the scene illustrated, in recognition of ''The Firm's" equal partnership. Holmes is lost indeed without his Boswell's moral support.

The motto of the Firm is highlighted by Holmes in CREE at a less dramatic moment. The pair are in Camford improvising an excuse to call on the eccentric Professor Presbury. (The Granada version revises both the opening Sunday scene in Baker St, and that set the following morning at Camford; it omits the motto conversation and presents a more 'liverish' Watson than Doyle's).

Has Watson the 'effrontery', inquires Holmes, to pretend they have a non-existent appointment?

'We can but try' prompts one of those 'I THOUGHT I knew my Watson!' moments we savour.

“Excellent, Watson! Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try–the motto of the firm."

The good Doctor may not be as 'liverish' in the original but he has certainly been doubly inconvenienced. Holmes called him out (every Sherlockian knows how!) on a Sunday evening when his practice was especially busy and (unlike the rootless Holmes) Watson has  had to make 'frantic plans' to clear the decks on Monday.

Hence, while in Granada's NORW Holmes needs encouragement, here it is Watson's spirit to be raised. 

'Effrontery' is calculated to appeal to his capacity for bare-faced audacity and nerve. The word's Latin origin (effrons) translates literally as 'putting forth one's forehead''Excelsior' is Latin too: 'ever upward'.

I find no adequate explanation on the internet of Holmes's enigmatic, capitalised references to Busy Bee and Excelsior. Some commentators postulate contemporary business names. I initially thought they may refer to early motorbike or car manufacturers (shades of Palmer tyres).

I think rather that we have here an American connection. Moreover, the logic of Holmes's sentences applies the word 'compound' to the 'motto' rather than Bee & Excelsior standing for Holmes and Watson.

New York State's motto is 'Excelsior' and appears on that State's great seal.

Utah is 'The Beehive State' as indicated at the centre of its Coat of Arms.

That lovely State by State series for children 'Discover America' teaches through information presented as alphabetic elements. Each letter is accompanied by a little rhyme. Here is Letter B in the Utah book:
"Busy Bees, that's what we are--
Our symbol is the hive.
From mining to technology,
this helps our state survive."

The sidebar reads:
 "The state insect is the honeybee. On the flag, bees buzz around a yellow hive. An early name for the state was "Deseret," which meant honeybee. Utah's nickname is the "Beehive State." The state motto is "industry" which means hard work. In 1847 Mormon pioneer settled in Salt Lake City in an attempt to find religious freedom. They had to be resourceful and industrious in order to survive in the harsh desert. They grew their own food, produced as much as they could for themselves, and mined the nearby hills. They tried to be self-sufficient and at one point, they even wanted to be a separate country".

We are on familiar Mormon territory with Holmes here. Doyle. too. of course, writing CREE in 1923, has the benefit of several tours of the USA to draw on as well as a lifetime of passion for all matters American.

In the context, the detective's characteristic chemical compounding of two State motto(e)s is designed to dramatise and romanticise the friends' current enterprise and elevate the status of their partnership to a United Firm - a reminder to Watson of what they stand for... with Industry you move Forward. Best foot to the front, Watson!

And, yes, there is something of the Masonic about these references - the beehive is a central symbol there too. That is equally apt. re-inforcing the close bond of two who work for each other to bring home the honey. 
The workers awake...and the game's afoot!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

"His Last Bow" - An Ode of Remembrance.

Holmes at 60 by Dorr Steele 1917.

"As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain."

(The closing lines of For The Fallen by Lawrence Binyon, 1914.)

My Dad was born a couple of months before Binyon's famous poem appeared in The Times.

This Sunday, he will be reciting the better-known 4th stanza for the residents and staff at his care home: "They shall not grow old...", remembering especially his own 8th Army comrades from World War Two.

When I saw him yesterday he said "the trouble with living so long is there's too much to remember". He does very well, recently reeling off, without prompting, the names of his village schoolteachers in 1920.

Our history is not yet history to him.

The War Service of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Doyle Motto-Victory Through Strength.

While dad was blissfully unaware of the "East Wind coming", Sir Arthur was preparing to withstand its "blast". The War Office refused his application for a full commission (he was 55) but, by the end of 1914, had taken up his initiative to form volunteer forces and he enlisted as a private in the Crowborough Company.

This lowly Dad's Army status contrasts dramatically with Doyle's influence and significant contribution to the war effort. Any assessment of His Last Bow must take into account the context in which it was written.

David Lloyd George. Prime Minister 1916-22.

Surely Private Doyle, No. 184343, 4th Battalion, The Sixth Royal Sussex Volunteer Regiment must be the only Private to have lunched and breakfasted in Downing Street with Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. These meetings took place in early 1917, by which time Doyle had pretty well abandoned fiction to write (with regular input from 50 generals in the field) his history of the war (published in instalments as it happened).

Lloyd George clearly valued Conan Doyle's opinions (as did Winston Churchill with whom he corresponded). Their active association had begun in September of 1914 when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George took responsibilty for the new Propaganda Bureau. Along with other writers, such as H.G.Wells, Doyle was invited to join. The Board's literary agent was his own, A.P.Watt.

Doyle's influence and writings eventually brought about improvements in body armour for soldiers and (just as overdue) official appreciation of the clear and present danger of German submarine warfare. The latter had for long occupied Doyle: The Bruce-Partington Plans may be set in 1895 but the story was written in 1908, prefiguring Doyle's naval advice. Moreover, if Herr. Oberstein is in the market for secrets in '95, Von Bork has been in England under cover since 1910; Holmes (as Altamont) on the spy's trail since 1912 - details that reflect Doyle's own prescience.

The War Service of Sherlock Holmes.

Although Doyle wrote to Greenhough Smith at The Strand "I can't attune my mind to fiction", he made an exception with the story His Last Bow. It is written by May 31, 1917 when Doyle pleads with Smith in a letter not to let the illustrator give away the plot 'as is so constantly done'. It is two years since his last Holmes story, The Valley of Fear. 

When it appeared in Collier's and The Strand in September, 1917, the new story was sub-titled The War Service of Sherlock Holmes and had its origins in a question put to him by the French General Georges Humbert on a visit to the front line in The Argonne early in June, 1916. Asked what Sherlock Holmes was doing for the war effort, Doyle replied he was too old for active service.

Clearly, however, the remark had sparked his imagination and he produced a story unlike any other in the Canon.

I miss the narrative voice of John Watson in The Mazarin Stone, in The Blanched Soldier and The Lion's Mane. I do not miss it in the 3rd person narrative of His Last Bow.
Doyle's choice of narrative voice is artistic and not the result of failing imaginative powers. This story is, first, the closest Sherlock Holmes comes to real life events. The 3rd person is the voice of non-fiction and imparts to the tale much of its propaganda value.

The narrative is also able to proceed without reference to Holmes or Watson for some time - to be precise, for long enough to mirror the unfounded complacency of the two Germans and Holmes's undercover work as Altamont.

Most importantly, 3rd person narration elevates the war above mere fictions and characters. Conan Doyle can have his cake and eat it - on the one hand, though far from Baker Street, we still revisit the old friendship and sense dear Mrs. Hudson in old Martha (caught so sensitively by Dorr Steele in Collier's).

On the other hand, Doyle is freed to write with all the passion and pain he felt by then what amounts to a prose-poem as intense as The Great War poetry:

It was nine o'clock at night upon the second of August--the most terrible August in the history of the world. One might have thought already that God's curse hung heavy over a degenerate world, for there was an awesome hush and a feeling of vague expectancy in the sultry and stagnant air. The sun had long set, but one blood-red gash like an open wound lay low in the distant west. Above, the stars were shining brightly, and below, the lights of the shipping glimmered in the bay.

Into this description of 2nd August, 1914, Doyle pours blood from the open wound of three terrible years.

I doubt he thought any German likely to believe Sherlock Holmes was real, that Germany's spy network was compromised from day one of hostilities. (Though Nazi Germany fell for some amazing allied ops of misinformation in World War Two.)

This was not the point. Doyle realised the spirit of Sherlock Holmes raised morale at home and embodied for the enemy all it sought to destroy.

Of Epilogues.

When His Last Bow gave its name to the loose collection of stories John Murray published, its sub-title became "An Epilogue". This muted the propagandist intention, implying the literary and theatrical. Now it is, chronologically, the last act of Holmes's illustrious career. And, as in the epilogue to a play, traditionally spoken in character by the lead actor, writer, player and character seem to speak with one voice. 

Sherlock Holmes and The Voice of Terror, 1942.
The final paragraphs are themselves an epilogue, often quoted but very rarely experienced on film.

Eille Norwood's silent 1923 film of His Last Bow is lost. Jeremy Brett did not live long enough to grace our TV screens with his version. Ben Cumberbatch may provide ( I refer to the enigmatic Sherlock series 3 clue words: rat wedding bow.)

Thankfully, we have Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in the classic final scene of Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. This propaganda film made in the middle of another World War seems a fitting setting for those stirring words of faith and optimism with which Conan Doyle concluded His Last Bow.

Some may wonder whether it is possible to do justice to this story in time of peace. I hope the BBC attempt to do so - anything is possible if the writing is of high quality. Witness the astonishing final scene of another eloquent Ode of Remembrance, Blackadder Goes Forth.

This is Remembrance Day as I close.
I leave you with an image of the poppy crocheted by Sherlockian, Fiona-Jane Brown. You can buy one in memory of The Fallen.

Click the link to go to Fiona-Jane's Facebook page FIONA-JANE BROWN POPPY