FOLLOW US ON: follow us in feedly
The strange case of the lovely sketchbooks by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s father

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the celebrated author of detective fiction who created the immortal (and highly adaptable) character Sherlock Holmes, was the product of an artistically gifted family. An uncle, the marvelously-named Dicky Doyle, became quite famous as an illustrator during a noteworthy tenure at Punch. Other uncles James and Henry Doyle were also artists of some repute.

And then there was his father, Charles Altamont Doyle. Charles was also an artist, but he achieved no prominence in his lifetime. He was employed as a civil servant in Edinburgh, an assistant surveyor in the Scottish Office of Works. Though as a young man he was cheerful and curious, he retired at the improbable age of 46, suffering from headaches, alcoholism and depression. He spent the last dozen years of his life involuntarily committed to various asylums, and his 1893 death certificate lists his cause of death as epilepsy.

But during his period of commitment, Doyle père continued to make art, and even illustrated for his son an 1888 edition of A Study in Scarlet, the very first Sherlock Holmes story. But the depth of Charles’ talent only really emerged decades after his death, in the most improbable of ways:

Doyle’s book came to light in early 1977. It belonged to an Englishwoman who had been given it more than twenty years before by a friend who had in turn bought it in a job lot of books at a house sale in New Forest. This was probably Bignell House, Conan Doyle’s country retreat near Minstead, which was sold by the Doyle family in 1955. For years the book lay undisturbed, stored with other items in a children’s playroom.But finally, on the recommendation of a painter friend, its owner approached the Maas Gallery with it. The Maas Gallery, one of the leading dealers in Victorian art in London, quickly realized that the Doyle book was a major find. Richard or “Dicky” Doyle, Charles’ brother, had long been familiar to art historians as a talented and successful Victorian illustrator, but only in the previous ten years had there been any awareness of Charles—and even then only through rare original works. Here, however, was evidence for the first time of a more systematic output which, in its scope and originality, entitled Charles to artistic status in his own right.

The foregoing comes from Michael Baker’s exhaustively researched biography of Charles Altamont Doyle, which served as the introduction to his lovely book The Doyle Diary, which reproduced the unearthed sketchbook/journal. Doyle’s drawings reproduced therein reveal a melancholic soul—hardly surprising as all the works are dated during his lengthy confinement—with a naturalist’s flair for rendering birds and flora, plus an interest in the Victorian vogue for fairies. It’s a volume of escapist work, heavy on spiritualist and fantasy themes, and it opens with the inscription “Keep steadily in view that this Book is ascribed wholly to the produce of a MADMAN. Whereabouts would you say was the deficiency of Intellect? Or depraved taste? If in the whole Book you can find a single evidence of either, mark it and record it against me.” Doyle clearly bristled strongly against his internment, and found in art an escape.

The Doyle Diary, published in 1978, is long out of print, though curiously, someone seems to believe there’s a demand for housewares emblazoned with Doyle’s fairy paintings. We’ve selected some favorite sketchbook images to show you. Clicking an image spawns an enlargement.


More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch
08:49 am
‘The Hound of Baskerville’: German pop duo cover Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ as a Sherlock Holmes tribute
02:20 am

Jutta Gusenberger and Norbert Berger were a married couple from the western border of the BRD (West Germany) who were staples of the German pop scene in the 1970s. They went by Cindy und Bert, representing West Germany in the Eurovision Pop Contest in 1974 with “Die Sommermelodie.” In a strong year that included Olivia Newton-John and ABBA as competitors, Cindy und Bert finished 14th. Oh well.

They had a run of charting singles from 1972 to 1979 on the German Top 40 but before all that, in 1971, they turned in a delirious cover of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath with completely different German lyrics that were all about the hellhound invented by Arthur Conan Doyle in one of his few long-form Sherlock Holmes narratives, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

More on the strange case of Cindy und Bert, after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider
02:20 am
The Original CSI: Crime scene photos from the early 1900s

The French detective and biometrics researcher Alphonse Bertillon was the father of modern crime scene investigation. Among his major contributions were the mugshot and the crime scene photograph.

Before Bertillon pioneered the use of the mugshot criminals were identified by verbal description and artist sketches—which were not always reliable as eyewitness often gave confusing and contradictory descriptions. The mugshot obviously made it easier for police to identify and apprehend criminals and to disseminate posters of the most wanted across the country.

Bertillon was the first to recognize the importance of using photography to document a crime scene—the position of the body, the murder weapon, the footprints or personal artifacts left behind, the disarray of the scene. While some at first doubted the relevance of photographing murder victims—considering it ghoulish and highly disrespectful to the deceased—it became quickly apparent how such photographs helped solve innumerable murders.

Now, before anyone jumps in with a “Yeah, but they wuz taking photos of crime scenes before then…” Well, yes, they were, but in a disorganized and arbitrary manner—for example, those depicting Jack the Ripper’s victims. These and other early photographs were taken primarily as a useful “aide-memoire” or “descriptive record” of the event—not as a means for forensic investigation. Bertillon codified crime scene photography and organized the process into a structured system, whereby the position of the body was always photographed from the same set of angles. Similarly, the murder weapon or any blood splatter or artifacts left by the possible culprit. This is why Bertillon was the “father of modern crime scene investigation.”

Bertillon also devised a system of anthropometry by which criminals could be identified. The system, called “Bertillonage,” classified criminals by identifiable physical characteristics–eyes, length of nose, shape of ear, measurements of head, etc. From the late 1800s until around the end of the First World War Bertillonage was the main system for identifying criminals as used across Europe and America. It was eventually replaced by fingerprinting.
His success as a detective led Bertillon to be described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the greatest detective in Europe—rivalling his very own creation Sherlock Holmes who was only the “second highest expert in Europe.”

There is an oft-quoted story that Bertillonage was discredited by the strange case of two men Will West and William West in 1903. The story goes that when Will West was arrested and sentenced to Leavenworth prison, his anthropometric measurements matched another prisoner who was also (quite unbelievably) called William West. Yet, according to Bertillon’s methodology both men were the very same person—which was of course impossible. 

Though it was claimed their measurements were identical—it is probably more correct to say these figures conformed within certain ratios which were similar but not exactly the same. The two men were later identified by fingerprinting—and it was this that gave lie to the claim that the confusion over Will West and William West led to the abandonment of the Bertillonage system. However, it should be pointed out that Bertillonage was used up as late as 1918 in America and Canada and around the time in Europe. What probably discredited this system of anthropometry more than anything else was its adoption by the Nazis prior to the Second World War as a means to identify non-Aryans.

The following photographs were taken by Alphonse Bertillon (or are credited to him) and depict some of the murder scenes he encountered during his work as a detective. They are among the very earliest crime scene photographs ever taken.
More of the earliest crime scene photographs ever taken, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:52 am
Sherlock Holmes recreated as police composite sketch
09:04 am

We all have a different image of Sherlock Holmes usually associated with the actor we first saw playing the great detective. For some it will be Bendedict Cumberbatch with his petulant manner and curly question-marked hair; or the intense white-faced Jeremy Brett and his quivering flared nostrils; or Peter Cushing forever toying with a prop; or better still the pipe-clenching good sportsmanship of Basil Rathbone, who was my celluloid introduction to Sherlock Holmes in the 1970s.

Of course, these are all variations on a theme and we have to go those timeless tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in particular the first full novel of Holmesian adventure A Study in Scarlet to find a description of the man himself:

His very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.

But how would Holmes look if we were to make a modern composite police sketch based on this description?

Well, this is exactly what Brian Joseph Davis has done over at his The Composites web page, where he uses police sketch software to create composite portraits of famous literary figures.
His Sherlock Holmes has a hint of Midge Ure from Ultravox circa early eighties mixed with thin lips of William S. Burroughs.
Here you’ll also find Emma Bovary from Madame Bovary, Rochester from Jane Eyre, and Keith Talent from Martin Amis’ Money, who looks uncannily like the comic Jimmy Clitheroe.
Even Humbert Humbert from Lolita (who looks a little like Alan Arkin meets an aging David Byrne).
And Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby—though she lacks the fatal beauty of the character in the book.

I guess that’s my problem with these images—they all begin to look the same after a while, and the uniformity of design makes them drab, lifeless, like formulae for a human equation. Anyway, here’s Peter Cushing to breathe some life into Sherlock Holmes in this BBC production of A Study in Scarlet.

H/T Nerdcore

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:04 am
Leaked footage of the wedding from the new series of ‘Sherlock’?

With news of a wedding in the next series of Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, that fine “purveyor of internet whimsy,” Red Scharlach has leaked some “exclusive footage” of the nuptials, as she explains on her Tumblr Blog:

OMG, I’ve discovered some EXCLUSIVE LEAKED FOOTAGE from season 3 of Sherlock! I know that some of you are technically avoiding spoilers, but I thought that this was IMPORTANT FANDOM NEWS and you’d want to know about it IMMEDIATELY. Just don’t let Moffat and Gatiss hear about it. They might get annoyed that we know their secret plan.

(Alternatively, the whole thing may just be a sloppily constructed fake based on a famous movie scene. I’ll let you make up your own minds…)

O, they do make such a lovely couple, and I wish them all happiness in their life together.
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Otters Who Look Like Benedict Cumberbatch

Via and with thanks to Red Scharlach
More “exclusive footage” of ‘Sherlock’ from Red Scharlach, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:38 pm
Holmes as Hamlet: Billy Wilder’s ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’

Billy Wilder spent seven years with his co-writer I. A. L. Diamond working on the script of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The finished film originally lasted over 3 hours, but the studios panicked over the failure of such long form films (Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison, and Star! with Julie Andrews and Michael Craig) and demanded cuts. The film was hacked down to an acceptable 93 minutes. Diamond didn’t speak to Wilder for almost a year

It was a terrible act of vandalism that robbed cinema of one of its greater Holmes, as portrayed by Robert Stephens. It was also bizarre that Wilder, who believed in the primacy of the word, allowed his script to be so drastically altered, turning what was an original meditation on Holmes into a mildly distracting caper. In the process we lost Wilder and Diamond’s analysis of Holmes not as just a fictional creation, but in comparison to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The clues are all there to be found. Let’s start with the casting, Stephens, who was one of the most gifted and brilliant actors of his generation - who sadly only graced the screen in a handful of films: scene-stealing in A Taste of Honey, adding flesh to the boney The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,  and as the BFI states, “sublime” in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Stephens was stage actor, the heir apparent to Laurence Olivier, indeed a far better actor than Olivier, who depended for success by flirting with the audience - Olivier could never be bad as he needed, demanded, the love of his audience.

When Wilder cast Stephens, the actor asked the great director:

‘“How do you want me to play it for the movie,” I asked Billy. “You must play it like Hamlet. And you must not put on one pound of weight. I want you to look like a pencil.” So, that’s the way we did The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.’


The game’s afoot on ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:54 pm