Conan Doyle originally intended to call his literary icon Sheringford Holmes but, for reasons unknown, crossed it out at the last minute on the manuscript and replaced it with the rather catchier Sherlock. Curiously, the name Sherlock actually means blonde, despite the character being described as dark haired.
The real Holmes
The fictional character of Sherlock Holmes is based on the real-life Joseph Bell, an eminent lecturer at Edinburgh University for whom Conan Doyle worked as a clerk in the 1870s. Bell was a big believer in observation as means of diagnosis, and to illustrate this he would pick on members of his class and deduce facts about them from their appearance – a skill that Sherlock became famed for. Bell was also a pioneer in the use of forensic medicine in crime investigation and worked on the infamous Jack the Ripper case.
Although Holmes is typically portrayed sporting a check-patterned deerstalker hat, there is actually only one mention of him wearing such headgear in the whole series of books and short stories. Conan Doyle described his crime-busting protagonist dressed in an “ear-flapped travelling cap” in The Adventure of the Silver Blaze. Sherlock’s much-loved hat and cape were actually introduced as a standard by Sidney Paget, the artist that illustrated some of Conan Doyle’s later Sherlock novels.
Return to sender
221B Baker Street, the famous address of Sherlock Holmes, did not actually exist at the time the books were written – the house numbers only went up to 100. However, in the 1930s, many of the streets in the area were renamed and renumbered, and 221 Baker Street became part of the head office of the Abbey National Building Society. In the decades that followed, Abbey National staff received and answered thousands of letters addressed to the fictional hero… right up until 1990, when the number was re-assigned, appropriately, to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on the same street.
Sherlock Holmes’ fictional Baker Street address is often used as an in-joke in other films and TV programmes. Most recently, it serves as the residence of the central character of the hit American medical series House, albeit with a little artistic license – this 221B Baker Street is located in New Jersey. The show’s creator, David Shore, is a massive fan of Conan Doyle’s detective and peppered the scripts of his popular drama with a mountain of other Sherlock references, including naming a crazed gunman character Moriarty after Holmes' nemesis.
Unbeknown to many, Sherlock's most famous line – Elementary, my dear Watson – was in fact never uttered in its entirety in any of the original Conan Doyle books. He sometimes used the word ‘elementary’ and occasionally refers to his friend as 'my dear', but the two expressions were united to coin a catchphrase for a radio series in the early 1940s, and stuck.
Armed and dangerous
Although best known for his dazzling intellect, Holmes was a bit of an action man too. Conan Doyle penned him as proficient in sword fighting, handy with a cane or cudgel, a talented bare-knuckle boxer and, most exotically, an expert at a fictional form of Japanese martial art wrestling called baritsu!
Often overlooked in screen adaptations, Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock as a recreational user of hard drugs, using them to relieve boredom between cases and keep his mind stimulated. He was penned as taking cocaine intravenously and occasionally using morphine too. Although drugs such as cocaine were legal during Victorian times, Dr Watson disapproved of their use… but he was more than happy to puff away at an almost endless supply of pipe tobacco, cigarettes and cigars.
The second coming
In 1893, Conan Doyle decided to concentrate on writing more serious historical novels and killed off Sherlock in a tussle with archenemy Moriarty, culminating in them both falling to their deaths over a waterfall. However, public demand (and the relative lack of success of his other books) forced the writer to bring his most famous character miraculously back to life with the revelation that Holmes had faked his own death to protect himself from Moriarty's henchmen. In the meantime, the actual scene of the partially fatal altercation – the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland – has become a mecca for Sherlock fans from around the world.
Mr and Mrs Holmes
Sherlock Holmes officially retired from his detective work in 1903 and moved to a farm in the Sussex Downs where he took up bee-keeping and wrote a not-so-snappily-titled book The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture With Some Observations on the Separation of the Queen. He was tempted out of retirement by Conan Doyle just one more time for a 1917 collection of short stories entitled His Last Bow, but went on to become a character in a series of crime novels by Laurie King. Sherlock becomes the mentor of King’s protagonist, Mary Russell, and the couple later fall in love and marry. Happy ever after Holmes!