(I have been asked a few times about my story about how I got my deerstalker. I finally put fingers to keys and tell the tale.)
It was the Christmas season back in 1994 (almost 20 years ago… I feel sooo ooolllldddd!). My family (parents, 2 sisters, and brother) had a chance to visit the UK. We went through England, Wales, and Scotland… all areas that my family is descended from (had a wonderful Christmas popping in on my Welsh cousins by surprise… but that’s another story).
When we were in London, I really wanted to visit the infamous 221b Baker Street, the famed (fictional) home of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. I had been a Sherlockian for about 7 years by that point, and with the aid of my mom (Dad and siblings split and went to Madame Tussauds) we waited in the line (or as the British say, queue). I had a lovely chat with a father and his young son who stood behind us. They had visited the set of the Granada’s Sherlock Holmes set and said how wonderful it was.
So we waited in line, paid the fee ( £5 I think it was, or £8), and entered. We went through the rooms, up all 17 steps (I counted, and yes there really were 17 steps). There were rooms that had dummies recreating some scenes from the stories, such as the King of Bohemia from “A Scandal in Bohemia”. We entered the revered study where Holmes and Watson would sit, talk to each other or to clients. Everything was a bit cramped, because, as our guide said, that was about how it would have looked in the late Victorian era. The reason why the rooms are bigger on tv is so they have room for the cameras and crew and other equipment.
The whole time I would remind myself that this place, this residence turned into a museum, was for fictional characters. They never existed. Sure they were partly based on real people, but those people did not live here. All the beautiful detail in books, dagger on the mantelpiece, the hanging Persian slipper, everything that was from the right period of history but yet still fictional. But I fell back into “playing the game” as I sat down carefully onto Holmes chair, picked up the deerstalker and put it on my head and carefully picked up the calabash pipe from the table by the chair. My mom took a picture (which has since been lost, drat!). and we went into Holmes’ bedroom, then upstairs to Watson’s room.
The last room was the gift shop where there were so many things to buy. I wanted one of everything, but my funds said otherwise. I had a wonderful conversation with the woman running the register, excitedly telling her how I was a fan from America and how I had wanted to visited Baker Street ever since becoming a fan. I did manage to buy a few things (all which I still have, amazingly after several moves), and we went downstairs and across the street to another Sherlock Holmes memorabilia store directly across the street from 221b (From what I understand, it is no longer there).
So I’m wandering around this second store but not seeing anything near as good as what I got at 221b. Then my eye catches a hat rack of deerstalkers of all different colors and patterns. I never knew there were so many different looking ones, but there they sat. But none of them were what I would want to get. I wanted a traditional looking one, not crazy colored or weirdly patterned. I remembered seeing a hat rack over at 221b, and only remember seeing one hat there that I liked. I talked to mom about it and she said I should see about trying to go back over there. I still had the receipt from entering, and who knows if I would ever be in London again, so why not go for it?
So I crossed Baker Street once more (it seems so weird to type that, and that it actually happened!). Outside there was still a line, and also a middle aged man dressed up as a Victorian Bobby. I showed him my receipt and asked if I could enter again.
“Go ahead!” he said with a slight bow and a smile, lifting one arm towards the door. I excitedly thanked him and went up the steps (1, 2, 3,….17) to the shop. The same woman was still there, and seeing me she let out a laugh. I asked about the deerstalkers and she pointed to the hat rack. I quickly looked over them and spotted the one I had remembered seeing out of the corner of my eye.
And there it was. I picked it up, bought it and headed downstairs (17,16,15…1).
And there it is, sitting on my head a couple years ago. It’s one of my favorite Sherlockian possessions. And yes, I know that he was not explicitly described as wearing one, but it’s fun to wear (Sidney Paget illustrated Holmes as wearing one, and that’s good enough for me). When I went to see both Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, I wore it to the theater. No one had to ask what movie I was going to see. The answer was elementary.
[I had posted this earlier this year, but when rebuilding the blog in the last few days, I had somehow lost the backup. Thank goodness for Google’s cache!]
I have to thank my 8th grade English teacher for introducing me to the great detective and and his trusty companion.
Basil Rathbone (left) and Nigel Bruce play the crime fighting duo
We were reading Hound of the Baskervilles (considered by many fans to be the best of the Holmes stories) and watched the 1939 film version starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce it in class. We had an assignment of pretending to be a news reporter covering the murder. I’ve never cared too much for mysteries. It was usually someone gets killed (kind of a downer). Detective investigates and usually solves case. Killer is usually hateful/jealous/mean streaked. Then justice is done. But the characters of Holmes and Watson really got my curiosity. Holmes was stand-offish and not social. He could tell you where you came from and what you do for a living within the first second of meeting you. But he was not a romantic, but rather preferred facts when dealing with people… or rather, people’s cases. Along with his cocaine addictions, violin playing, and pipe smoking. Watson was loyal. Ready to help his friend when needed. And wrote about the cases that he and Holmes took on. Handy with a revolver. If Holmes asked him to go off and do something, Watson went without question. I happened to mention about the story to my mom, telling her that I thought it was really interesting and not hard to follow the decades old story. So when I graduated the grade, my parents gave me a book that had several stories in it (most of the Holmes stories were short stories), including Hound. The book had the original illustrations by Sidney Paget, which were originally with the stories when they were originally published. Considered to have cemented the “look” of Holmes to the public. I read those stories. Inhaled them is a better way of putting it. The stories were also out of the ordinary. Some were murders, though the cause of death no always easy: an animal in self defense or the victim died out of terror or a guilty conscious. Or perhaps faked their own death. Or something was stolen. In addition to that, I watched more of the Rathbone/Bruce movies on the local tv channel. I believe it was every Sunday afternoon. Rathbone was my Holmes. Until…
Jeremy Brett as Holmes (left) , Rosalie Williams as Mrs. Hudson (center) and David Burke as Watson standing in front of the infamous 221B residence
I saw Jeremy Brett and David Burke. Oh. My. Gosh!!! (that’s right, I said gosh. Deal with it! 😉 ) The performances of those two men really shot the characters out of a canon and onto the small screen. Brett’s portrayal was spot on. He set a very high standard of how someone should play Holmes. And Burke’s Watson as well as Edward Hardwicke’s Watson was much more faithful to the Watson that Conan Doyle wrote about. And the rest of the cast: Rosalie Williams who played their landlady Mrs. Hudson, Colin Jeavons as Inspector Lestrade, and a bunch of others who appeared looking like what I had pictured in my head when I first read the stories. And shooting it out of a canon can be taken another way… it was almost 100% Canon (canon – meaning the original stories). The stories were as close to word-for-word as one could fit into less than a 60 minute program. Costumes were beautiful. Sets were marvelous. The Baker Street residence was not too ornate. Everything was so… well…. perfect! (Except for the last few episodes. Production got lazy, and Brett’s health got worse and passed away in September 1995 :'( ). Even when I watch them now, they do not look like they are 25 years old. I
Brett again as Holmes, and Edward Hardwicke picking up the role of Watson
am picky when it comes to period films and if there is too much 1980s in something that is supposed to be 1880s, then I’m not happy. But this was, as I already said, perfect. A few years later I became a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin. And to my delight, one of Chaplin’s early acting childhood gigs was that of Billy the Pageboy in the Sherlock Holmes play written by William Gillette. There were two men who played Holmes for the play, Gillette and H A Saintsbury, and Chaplin worked with both of them, commenting in “My Autobiography” that he thought Saintsbury was the better Holmes. Many years later when he was making Limelight, he brought on Nigel Bruce to play Mr Postant, largely due to his Watson role. Which is another reason why I have kept the name Calvero for so many years… it connects some of my favorites together :). And speaking of the Holmes/Chaplin crossover, there is the “Sherlock Holmes” movie to be released later this year starring Robert Downey, Jr. who playrf Charlie in the 1992 film “Chaplin”. Loved him in that! And now he’s playing Holmes. While I can’t think of anyone better to play Chaplin than him, it will be real tough to even equal Brett’s Holmes. But he can do a very good British accent (he did a couple different ones in Chaplin). Jude Law has a very very good look for Watson (He also had a small part in the Granada series, “The Disappearance of Lady Carfax”). The trailer looks good: I’ll just have to put Brett’s image to the side when I go to see the new movie.