Friday, February 9, 2007

Doyle Digs Dissed

From London today comes news that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has rejected pleas from the Victorian Society and Sherlock Holmes aficionados to safeguard the future of Undershaw, the house that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle built near Hindhead in Surrey. In refusing to give the house Grade I status, which would make it eligible for certain repair and refurbishing funds, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell asserted that Doyle lacks a "significant enough position in the nation's consciousness."


Last August, a government-funded project called Icons readily enough added Sherlock Holmes to its list of things that capture the essence of English culture. In fact, Icons was commissioned by Culture Online, which is part of Jowell's own department.

The Guardian notes that it was at Undershaw that Doyle "wrote the Hound of the Baskervilles and a patriot defence of Britain's Boer war; resurrected Sherlock Holmes, having previously thrown him off the Reichenbach Falls; campaigned for justice for the falsely accused solicitor George Edalji, and attempted to learn the banjo." Anyone who has read Julian Barnes's magnificent novel Arthur & George will feel that they know every inch of this house (shown here). Perhaps the worldwide network of societies devoted to Doyle and his immortal creation, Holmes, will be able to rally private support to rescue the house from developers who wish to carve it up into flats. Further details are provided by the BBC and by MSNBC.

On a tangentially related note, I'd like to mark the death last night of the great actor Ian Richardson, who portrayed Sherlock Holmes in television versions of both The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four. He also portrayed Dr. Joseph Bell, the pioneering forensic detective who served as Doyle's model for Holmes, in the television series The Murder Rooms. Also on his impressive résumé: roles in television adaptations of Bleak House and The Woman in White, and in the film adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, From Hell. Was he one of Britain's most distinguished actors in Victorian-period films? You may very well think that ... I couldn't possibly comment.


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