~ Posted by Robert Butler, December 22nd 2011
A TV producer told me about his 16-year-old niece coming round to his house. When he mentioned something to her about Sherlock Holmes, she asked, "Who?" The niece had never heard of Holmes. That was five years ago and, even back then, the TV producer was amazed. But if you were born in 1990, you would have been too young for Jeremy Brett in the long-running Granada series (1984-1994). If you didn't read the books, you would have grown up in something of a Holmes vacuum.
Today it would be near-impossible for a teenager to ask that question. In a startling act of reinvention the Holmes character has almost bounded free of the 56 short stories that Conan Doyle wrote. Over the Christmas period, Holmes now appears in a new movie, a new TV series and a new book: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" with Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law was the highest-grossing movie in the weeks it opened in America and Britain; the BBC's 21st-century version "Sherlock", with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, returns to a prime slot on New Year's Day; and the children's writer Anthony Horowitz has written a new Holmes novel "The House of Silk" (see Six Good Books), which is in the bestsellers list.
The Daily Telegraph says we are living in a golden age of Sherlockiana. The Guardian says he is the man of the moment. Holmes is as famous as he's ever been. But fame is never fair and Holmes is, in effect, only one half of a double-act. Bee Wilson points out in Notes on a Voice in our September/October issue that Holmes provides the excitement, Dr Watson provides the voice. And when Watson's name is mentioned, there's probably still plenty of people saying, "Who?"