Sherlock Holmes - England's super hero


The pages of a Sherlock Holmes novel are filled with mystery. A brilliant detective and his trusted friend, solving crimes from one of the most famous addresses in London - a place that fans flock to see for themselves.

"This is 221b which is the address that the author Conan Doyle was writing about," said Rosie Gleave, the Sherlock Holmes Museum Assistant.

221b Baker Street is home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum where devoted "Sherlockians" tour the rooms featured in the books.

"Upstairs you follow the 17 steps that are written about in the stories. You go through and you see Sherlock Holmes' study, the bedroom, Dr. Watson's room, Mrs. Hudson's room and the top floor, you've got some scenarios, the Wadsworth figures from the stories," said Gleave.

Sherlock Holmes' popularity is viewed through souvenir sales and in fan mail that pours into the museum every day.

"I'm holding some of the mail that we may have got today. A fraction of the mail we got today. We look at the addresses and we see China, Japan, Spain. The appeal is international," said Gleave.

Gleave says the museum receives letters from all over the world seeking help from a fictional detective.

"We've had a few sad letters in the past about missing cats and that kind of thing. But more fictional crimes, maybe embellished crimes. Or something's been lost. That's the typical thing," said Gleave.

We ventured beyond the pages of the novels to learn what Sherlock Holmes truly means to the people in Britain.

"Holmes is probably as closely identified with London as the queen or red buses. So, it's probably our most famous literary character and something we take great pride in," said Alistair Duncan who has written two biographies about Arthur Conan Doyle and two books about Sherlock Holmes.

"The reason for writing the biographies was to shine a light on parts of Conan Doyle's life that were less well known than other parts of his life and to show there was more to Conan Doyle than Sherlock Holmes. People overlook Conan Doyle and ignore the creator and focus on the creation," said Duncan.

Duncan is one of several members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, in existence since 1951.

"You get together with like-minded friends. You don't necessarily talk about Sherlock Holmes. But, you know you're in the company of people who think along the same lines as you do," said Roger Johnson, a member for 43 years.

The organization celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. We met several members during our trip and learned, for some, the fascination with Sherlock Holmes began as a child.

"My first encounter with Sherlock Holmes was when I was a young girl. I had one of these big books of great English short stories, one of which was the 'Speckled Band.' I think I read it at night and I couldn't stop until I was finished and I thought that was terrifying. I'm not going to read any more of those. And, so I didn't," said Heather Owen who eventually rediscovered the Sherlock Holmes series through her husband.

"Some people say it's the characters, the characters are fantastic and have stood the test of time, said Owen. "Holmes is fascinating, amazing, astonishing man who you admire and revere. Actually probably, you wouldn't want him to come to dinner. Watson is you and me and everybody. It's Watson who we love. Some people think it's the ambiance. Nobody ever captured the feel of 19th century London as well as Conan Doyle did, almost because he wasn't trying," said Owen.

"He wrote his historical novels, he did lots of research, every rivet in the armor is exactly right. Every nuance is carefully researched, very scholarly, it's a bit dead to the honest," said Owen. "The Sherlock Holmes stories come fresh off the page because he's writing about his own world. It's just as if you were writing about what was happening on the street today," said Owen.

Robert Graham, another member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, says he is drawn to Holmes.

"He was very much a man of his times and yet he had eccentricities as well. Full of contradictions but that made him a believable person. And he really doesn't leap off the pages at you. He resonates with so many people and you see it through the eyes of Dr. Watson and you vicariously want to follow him in his adventures. People like adventures," said Graham.

On the 2nd floor of the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant in London, there is a replica room of 221b Baker Street that Johnson helps oversee.

"The idea always, is to give the impression that Holmes and Watson have just popped out and may be back at any minute," said Johnson. "It's cozy, its so atmospheric, its full of all the detail that tells you this is where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson live," said Johnson.

"It was created in 1951, at the Great Exhibition of Britain, built up by the public. Nearly everything in here is genuine Victorian artifacts," said Graham who describes various items. "There's a very small reference in the stories to Watson playing rugby for Black Heath and there's picture of the rugby team in that era. He's fixed his correspondence to the mantle piece with a jack knife. And there you've got the correspondence to a jack knife. (Holmes) was a very good violin player. So, that's his Stradivarius. He played the violin to recuperate, so he had this artistic side to him as well," said Graham.

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London is fascinated with the stories. They are drawn to the characters, especially the relationship between Holmes and Watson.

"They were completely lost without each other and they found each other and they had this amazing friendship and it spurned all of these stories and all these adventures. And without each other, its not the same," said Kristina Manente.

"You can strip away all the costumes, you can strip away all the Victorian bits and bobs, and it always comes down to the two men, Holmes and Watson," said Jean Upton.

It is that relationship that has spawned a new generation of Sherlock Holmes material. The films, a wildly popular BBC series and video games.

"In America, you have many super heroes. Superman, Batman, and many of them have super powers. And Sherlock Holmes, in many respects, is Britain's own super hero, but in many respects, I think we embrace him because many people, perhaps wrongly, believe they could possible emulate that ability because it's not something beyond possibility," said Duncan.

The story may have been born in the pages of a book but when you visit London and walk the streets, you begin to unravel the mystery and understand the fascination of England's greatest detective.

"You get to walk down these alleys and there's gas lit lamps, and you can visit all the places in the stories," said Manente.

"You can go around and visit these places and basically walk in the same footsteps as Holmes and Watson," said Upton.