The more I study Sherlock Holmes and his identity as a cultural figure, the more I am convinced I cannot watch a single TV programme (UK or US) that doesn’t have a Sherlock Holmes reference somewhere. Even games and films do it! It happens so often I am tempted to start accumulating a list so I don’t forget where I saw it. (The only problem being it will inevitably reveal my taste in leisure-time watching).
But here’s a taster of my list so far and my comments on what it shows about Sherlock Holmes:
Only Fools and Horses: Season 1, Episode 5 (1981)
The comic situation is this: Del’s scheme is to launch ‘Trotters’ Ethnic Tours’: a scenic tour around Chingford and Croydon, taking in such ethnic sights as the Lea Valley Viaduct. Rodney is not convinced…
Rodney: ‘As a courier, what do you actually know about these obscure places you intend to drag ’em to?’
Del: ‘Nothing. Which is twice as much as they know. Don’t worry, I’ll just bluff them Rodney…I mean today I shall take ’em down to Shoreditch an’ show ’em where Sherlock ‘olmes was born’
Rodney: ‘Sherlock Holmes was fictional’
Del: ‘Was he? Oh well, I’ll just say his house got blown up in the war’
On a basic level the comedy is that Del is stupid to think that Sherlock Holmes is real and it’s amusing to imagine him convincing poor, unsuspecting tourists that he was. Unless you’re a Sherlock fan of course, and know he’s real, then the whole scene is ironic and it’s actually Rodney who’s the idiot for not ‘playing the game’. Then again, Del is still a wally- everyone knows Sherlock was born in Portsmouth.
Fable 3: Missing Play
Fable is the only Xbox game I have ever stuck with. I enjoy the storyline and how easy it is to work through; well imagine my delight when there was a quest in which I was sucked into a book to find the ‘lost play’ by Morley, and Sherlock Holmes turns up. He’s not actually called Sherlock Holmes, though he looks like him (see above – deerstalker and all). The man is called Ransom Locke, a mash up of Dr Ransom, a character by C.S Lewis and Sherlock Holmes. If you hadn’t guessed the Holmes reference from the hat he says:
‘It would seem my dear madame you have been apprehended by the ghost of Philip Morley, that makes us both his captives. I am Ransom Locke, if the name seems familiar it is because I was once a detective of some renown. And yet, here I am ready to live out the rest of my days trapped in a book. As far as I can deduce, we are currently in a scene from one of Morley’s greatest romantic plays…I believe if we are to escape we must act out the scene, but performing is not one of my talents’
In 5 sentences the writers of Fable 3 have crammed in a lot of references to Sherlock Holmes, despite the name: deduction and detection being the two most key elements needed to recognise the great detective. I find the comment ‘trapped in a book’ interesting too – does this point out the paradox of Sherlock Holmes being both a real person and a book character? I would love to think so. However, he’s not the true Holmes, after all, Holmes is a great actor. As Watson says in Scandal in Bohemia: ‘The stage lost a fine actor, just as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime.’
Outnumbered: Season 5 Episode 3 (2014)
Outnumbered is a comedy series about a ‘normal’ family. In this episode Jake (the oldest son) has asked if ‘Alex’ can stay, a person his parents assume is a boy. They find out she’s a girl and are less than happy about her staying in their son’s room. Jake cleverly invents a story that Alex has lost her keys, so can’t go home, but her mum is OK with it.
Pete, as cross-examiner: ‘Well, give me her number and I’ll give her mum a ring and check’
Jake: ‘she’s lost her mum’s number because it was a new number, and she lost her phone in the same bag as her keys’
Pete: ‘So how did she ring her mum?’
Jake: ‘She rung her mum before she lost her bag, Sherlock‘
Pete: ‘So, she rang her mum to ask if she could stay because she’d lost her key… before she lost her key, Moriarty‘
Jake: ‘No, she asked if she could stay before she had to, and then she lost her bag with her keys in it, so now she has to stay.’
Pete (to Sue, the mum): ‘He’s good. At least, we’ve produced an intelligent liar.’
This scene made me laugh (as it’s meant to). Jake referring to Pete as Sherlock shows just how ingrained it is into our speech that a person who can pick holes in an idea, can cross-examine effectively, and can deduce a liar, is called a Sherlock. What makes this even better is Pete (the Sherlock figure) sees his own son as his evil match: Moriarty. Moriarty is also intelligent, though a liar. It’s almost canonical, except it’s not.
Shanghai Knights (2003)
Not even Conan Doyle can escape being culturally referenced. To be fair, this film is full of cultural references from the late 1800s/early 1900s; but one of whom is ‘Artie Doyle’ a Scotland Yard detective (sounds familiar already), who is a very friendly man. He hugs the two main characters (Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan) for bringing down the Fleet Street Gang and returns Roy’s watch to him, saying, ‘I do hope your luck picks up.’
Roy: ‘What do you mean my luck?’
Artie: ‘Well, I deduced from your watch you’d hit rather a rough patch’
Chon: ‘He has! How do you know?’
Artie: ‘It’s an investigative technique I’ve developed. I can deduce intimate details about an individual through close scrutiny of their personal affairs.’
Chon: (much amused) ‘What else can you tell?’
Artie: ‘The owner of this watch is a bad gambler and a lousy shot. Although he’s cheated there several times he spends most of his life wandering in a rather pathetic and futile search for purpose and respect. Oh yes, he has a point chaud for loose women’
Chon: ‘wow! That’s amazing’
Roy: ‘I’m sure it’s a very popular party trick at birthdays for small children, but it doesn’t quite play with adults’
Firstly, I love that they have put in a scene which re-enacts Holmes and Watson in The Sign of Four, where Holmes deduces from Watson’s watch that he has an alcoholic elder brother, it entertains my geeky side being able to spot these references. I also love that Roy sees dismisses it as a ‘party-trick’, as if Sherlock Holmes’ superior intelligence is but a magic act for entertainment. There are levels here beyond comedy – we are supposed to side with Chon that the deduction is impressive, but actually, in the act of writing Holmes, Doyle is using deduction to entertain. It seems unethical to reduce Holmes to a kid’s party clown. However, we are rescued by the fact that this is not Holmes, this is Doyle and we can project the entertainer role onto him. But his ability to deduce does force us to ask the question are Holmes and Doyle one and the same? A question I have pondered before here.
So there you have a few examples. If you spot any more to add to my collection, feel free to comment. Sherlock Holmes is everywhere, you just need to stop looking and start observing.