Sherlock Holmes is one of literature's most famous characters. The detective of 221b Baker Street, who smokes a pipe, plays violin, occasionally dabbles in illicit substances and whose adventures were made famous by his friend and ever-present biographer Dr Watson, is the stuff of legend. Holmes has been immortalised in film, parodied and respected, and his creator Arthur Conan Doyle knighted. Indeed, letters are still written to the great detective from people, asking for their sometimes small, sometimes sad, and always personal mysteries to be solved.
A 'New' Adventure?
Being the man he is, Sherlock Holmes seems to pop up in the strangest of places. Alongside time-travellers, in children's cartoons, and even adult comedy shows, forever having new adventures (even though, if he were a real man he'd be long dead). Holmes has a flair for the dramatic and a good sense of humour, so it made sense that his adventures would at times take a very comic turn. Thus, the publication of The Silly Side of Sherlock Holmes - A Brand New Adventure Using A Bunch Of Old Pictures in 2005.
Picture, if you will, an old black and white print of our hero Sherlock Holmes running towards his friend Dr Watson, butterfly net in hand1. And then try not to guffaw as you read the caption in which Watson remarks,
If you intend to catch criminals with that, you'll need to make it somewhat larger.
This is, to all intents and purposes, the crux of the new adventure: the addition of humorous captions to old prints of Holmes and the other characters from the stories to tell a rather silly tale.
Philip Ardagh2 was born on 11 September, 1961 and soon grew to over two metres in height with a rather large beard. A regular contributor to the Guardian newspaper and BBC Radio 4, he came to fame with his children's books about a boy called Eddie Dickens. He has produced works about dinosaurs, castles and hieroglyphs, plus an archaeologist's handbook, also aimed at the children's market. He co-wrote a story with Paul McCartney called High In the Clouds and has written a book called The Not-So-Very-Nice Goings On at Victoria Lodge for adults. On his interest in Holmes he remarks:
I have been a Sherlock Holmes fan since I was a small boy, as was my father before me and his father before him. If there was one of my heroes I could meet - fictitious or otherwise - it would be Holmes.
The book contains original pictures used in The Strand Magazine from the period 1891 through to 1927, which accompanied the published Holmes stories. In the main, artist Sidney Paget produced the artwork that helped readers envisage what Holmes was up to in his daring escapades. It is his illustrations that form the bulk of the new adventure, and the eagle-eyed reader will spot his simple signature, an almost childlike 'SP' in the frames of the prints. In The Silly Side of Sherlock Holmes, true Holmes-o-philes can even try to name the story from which each picture is taken. The book is a light read, and as such a perfect time for leafing through it is while sitting on the loo.
The concept of putting different stories to pictures is not a new one by any means, and Ardagh owes some of his idea to Edward Verrall Lucas and George Morrow's 1911 book What A Life! - which is based on a Whiteley's store catalogue, of all things. Punch magazine also has a long history of altering captions to illustrations, and filmmakers followed suit with Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily?, Steve Martin's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and the Australian production Hercules Returns, which used different dialogue (and sometimes added footage) to alter the original film and plot, resulting in uproarious results.