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.