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Sherlock Holmes Annual Dinner 2012 * 02 February 2012

Sherlock Annual Dinner 1

The Society's 60th Annual Dinner was held in the Members' Dining Room at the House of Commons in London, on Saturday 7th January 2012 with guest speaker Steven Moffat. We were lucky enough to attend, and what follows is a write up of the night, and transcript of Steven's speech, which was performed without any notes.

It was a black tie event, and having made our way through the high security at the House of Commons, the evening kicked off at 6:30pm with drinks and a chance for new and old Holmesian acquaintances to catch up with one another. There were Society members from all around the world, some on their honeymoon, some who made Sherlock Holmes their profession as authors or actors, and just some devoted fans like ourselves, who gather together once a year for this special event in the Sherlock Holmes calendar.

Once we had moved into the packed out dining room, dinner had been served and the coffee was being poured, it was time for the announcements and speeches.

Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue and Mark Gatiss were of course seated on the head table. The speeches began, and this year of course huge emphasis was on the television series 'Sherlock', which was in the middle of the its second series broadcast in the UK at the time.

The Holmesian contingencies were recognized and thanked individually by the Speaker, especially, "Sue Vertue, the producer of the brilliant TV series Sherlock" which was received with a resounding cheer and applause, accompanied by "Hear, hear" by many Society members.

"Sherlock has been taking the world by storm, and quite rightly so," the Speaker continued, "It has outstripped [ITV's] Christmas special with 10 million viewers plus; what an achievement!

"And just as exciting we have Mr. Mark Gatiss" - which the speaker pronounced incorrectly, drawing a comedic roar of "GATISS!" from Mark, who threw his napkin at the speaker to much hilarity. He then went on to say, "It has been recorded and Mark has confirmed to me that the idea for this series came when he was a guest speaker in this very room back in 2006." Sue and Mark were then presented with pens inscribed with the Society as keepsakes.

After the announcements, time was pressing on and the Speaker announced: "Our special honour this evening is Mr. Steven Moffat. As you may know in his early days as a writer, Arthur Conan Doyle submitted a story to be published in Flatwoods magazine. You may know it was published without a description of author, no one had any idea that this was the work of Arthur Conan Doyle, and so we are to assume or enquire is this the work of Robert Lee Stevenson. I believe if the Radio Times didn't tell us otherwise, we might be sitting there on a Sunday evening wondering,'IS this the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?'mysteriously brought back to life, it is so perfect in every facet and prism. As Mycroft said, 'I hear of Sherlock everywhere' and Steven has ensured that Mycroft's words have come amazingly true. The point's been made to the BBC as to which nations havenotseen 'The Moffat Show' and the answer came back; none. What an amazing achievement. How much more this has exceeded the expectations of Mycroft. Well done to all of the team." 

The Speaker then announced, "Ladies and gentlemen Mr. Steven Moffat." 

The moment Steven spoke his opening line, you instantly knew this was going to be one of the most entertaining speeches spoken on the subject of Sherlock Holmes that anyone would be lucky enough to hear. He did not just speak it, but performed it from the very start, with a bellow of  "Oh shut up!Seriously, I'm not going to tell you what happens at 'The Reichenbach Fall'. I've had so many questions this evening and so has Sue and so has Mark, and no, it's a complete secret." This was received with an enormous roar of laughter and applause from the room who had obviously been thinking those questions to themselves at the very least, even if they hadn't been asking them out loud to one of the members of the 'Sherlock' team earlier in the evening.

"However on behalf of my wife Sue Vertue and I, and my other wife Mark Gatiss (drowned out by cheers) it was an almighty heresy to take Sherlock Holmes and put him into the present day and I remember in 2006, Mark Gatiss took me as his date to this very occasion and announced our intention to update Sherlock Holmes. I felt confident that he would be lynched! I was ready to stand shoulder to shoulder and say,"HIM, not me!"  To our surprise and my relief and his survival, this did not occur and [the Society] was surprisingly okay with it. I changed sides instantly and said I believed in the idea all along. It was the positive response of this Society, who made us think this was a good idea. So if you like Sherlock and enjoy Sherlock, really and truly, [the Society] can take a little bit, just a LITTLE, of the credit. A little of the credit does go to this Society, and the extraordinary and warm reception to the idea, when Mark proposed it in such an incendiary way in 2006.

"What I want to talk about [tonight] is my own journey into the heresy, because I was just about as fundamentalist a Sherlock Holmes fan as you could feasibly be. The journey from being so strict about it, to being part of the team that updated it, went as such journeys often do, via a Mevagissey post office and with the spiritual advice of that greatest of all Sherlock Holmes actors.

Yes Nigel Bruce.

I'd like to explain for me how we got there.

"I was sent to my grandfather and grandmas for the weekend. I was bored and my dad gave me a book and that book was 'A Study in Scarlett.' I read that book, and I think may be one of the few people who got to read Sherlock Holmes in exactly the right order. As I started with that, I thought it was the best and most exciting thing I had ever read, I couldn't quite believe it, because there was this moment where Sherlock Holmes deduces the guy had a bit of a red face who committed this murder and I was thinking how did he deduce that? How is that possible? Were there particle of red face still hanging in the air? I was gobbling up the pages and then my gran came in and put me to bed and took the book away! It took me the whole day to find out how he did it. 

"I then read 'The Sign of Four' and remember sitting with my father and I was reading it, so excited to find out there was not just one Sherlock Holmes book, but there turned out there were two. And on the first page - how shocking is this - he was taking drugs. I said,"Dad, he's taking drugs on the first page and now he's deducing a whole mans life from a pocket watch!"

"I made my way through the rest of those incredible stories with pretty much no foreknowledge of any of them and of course like any geeky, lonely, socially challenged child, I adored them. I was an absolute convert and asserted the ground truth,'He never actually said, 'Elementary my dear Watson.' But an awaking of times awaited me at Mevagissey, which is a fishing village in Cornwall much frequented by tourists in the 1970s. I was there on holiday and I went into the Mevagissey Post Office and there was a single bookrack there, and I saw a Sherlock Holmes book I hadn't read. It was, as it turned out, a novelisation of 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' and there was among other things on the cover, a naked woman and I knew beyond doubt one thing; there were NO naked women in Sherlock Holmes! " Steven left a pregnant pause at this point as guests began to catch on to the joke, finally stating, "Funny how things work out isn't it?!!"

"What is this book that I had not read that featured a naked woman? It looks like a James Bond film poster, it's a novelisation of a film. Eventually that film came on television surprisingly enough and I made particular care to see this film and for the first time I saw Sherlock Holmes on television dramatized. And I was shocked to death. There was a scene that implied the merest possibility of a gay relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. I was as shocked as only the future writer of 'A Study in Pink' could be." Again, this generated a great roar of laughter from the listening guests. "There were other horrors such as Mycroft not being fat. Mycroft having a frosty and difficult relationship with his brother. Who would do that?" In jokes and sarcasm heavy with every sentence.

"I then asked my father, who was a source of information useful to me,"Are there any other Sherlock Holmes films?"Because this one, and I had a strange feeling about it, I thought this one is quite good, but it's not right, it's taking liberties, it's sort of naughty. It's got a naked woman in it and it's funny. I was at that age of seriousness where a naked woman and funniness was a bad thing. And my dad, who as I say, was a frequent source of information and to his credit was completely willing to make most of it up, said yes there were many other Sherlock Holmes films; seven or eight at least! I think the best one he said has the actor Basil Rathbone playing the lead. Well obviously knowing my Father's propensity with making stuff up, I said,"Dad, Basil? Basil Rath-Bone? What are the chances of the part of Sherlock Holmes being played by an actor with an EVEN funnier name?"The room at this point shared some low chuckles as Steven continued, "Again, FUNNY how things work out?!!"

"Much as I loved that idea, of there being another Sherlock Holmes film, it was years before I saw 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' and it was brilliant. I absolutely loved it, but as I laughed and chortled and was utterly charmed by the performance of Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson, I at the same time condemned it as far too funny and wrong as it was rewriting history and was unacceptable… although very funny and charming… and impossibly successful. But when I looked up and watched 'The Hound of the Baskervilles', finally it was the type of Sherlock Holmes film I wanted to see, authentic, no rewritten history here, no kinky bits, none of that naked women stuff. As I looked up at Basil Rathbone I thought,'Oh my God, he was so good, he hadn't just made one; he'd made fourteen!'I wept for joy. This was during the day when you couldn't just see them, you had to wait, and wait and wait until it turned up in the Radio Times. During that time, I simply longed, I bought every copy of the Radio Times in the hope of those films and eventually I found them. And there they were; fourteen Sherlock Holmes films, with proper stuff in them; Sherlock Holmes versus the Hound, Moriarty, Hitler…?" Steven expressed a heavy emphasis on the disappointment of the last word to great amusement. "If there was one thing other than naked women that I knew was unacceptable in Sherlock Holmes and that was you CANNOT update Sherlock Holmes!

"At the same time, there was part of me, that slightly worried, and forgive me, that it might have been just slightly more fun than those other ones and in a way it was if Nigel Bruce, the impossibly non authentic Doctor Watson, was whispering in my ear and saying.." At which point Steven does a highly entertaining bumbling noise to a great applause, continuing with, "There was part of me that thought, it's just a little bit more fun! And if there is more fun than you can get in fifty-five minutes than 'The Spider Woman' it probably involved the naked woman on the cover of 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes'.

"Over the years, I came to realize, that actually I liked 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' and the updated Basil Rathbone movies more than any of the others. I thought they were more fun and I thought that I was alone; how foolish I was. On a train to Cardiff, a train that in no way has a blue plaque on it commemorating our journey, I was talking to Mark Gatiss, a man who has all the same opinions as me. We started talking about Sherlock Holmes and we said,"Sherlock Holmes is great isn't it? Basil Rathbone was marvelous. Well Nigel Bruce was wrong wasn't he? The updated ones; how could they do that? They were better weren't they? They were more fun."'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' - imagine that! We recited all the dialogue, all of it on that train. The carriage by the end of the journey was mysteriously empty, and then we said - and I like to think it was an important moment in Sherlock Holmes history and if I'm wrong it is certainly an important moment in our history -"Someone should do that again. Somebody should bring back Sherlock Holmes but funny and Sherlock Holmes modern, and clear away all that Victoriana."Not that I don't love Victoriana, I love it and Mark almost IS Victoriana, but just to see those characters again has worth. We talked about this as the men of action we were… for several years… and did NOTHING. Except complain when somebody else has this idea we'd be really cross about it.

"I mentioned one night, to my T.V. producer wife - and I honestly did this obliviously. I said,"Do you know we've had this brilliant idea and someone else will have it first and we'll be really cross"and Sue said,"No, why don't YOU do it?!"What a light bulb moment, how extraordinary that somehow we could exploit our existing positions in television to make another television series and in the speed of nothing at all, we were making 'Sherlock' and here we are.

"I would like to speculate, on why it works. We've all been taken aback by it. It looks clever, I suppose it is clever, but none of us, not one of us thought it was going to be this level of success. What is it, that's so right about doing it this way? As Mark and I would always say, I think you have to go back to Doyle and look at what REALLY works. He doesn't get everything right, but he gets every single thing that matters right. There is not one single Sherlock Holmes story that doesn't have the best beginning in the world. I think you could make a collection of just the first three paragraphs of all the stories and they would be so brilliant, because he knew; 'get them in, pull them in.' But being honest, sometimes he just gave up at the end. I have this theory that sometimes people just came around his house:
"Do you want to come up for a game of cricket?"
"Hang on, I'll just finish 'The Greek Interpreter.'" 

This was obviously a sentiment shared by many by the resounding applause and agreements. 

"But it doesn't matter," Steven continued, "He knew what mattered. The kind of absolute diamond, the brilliant precision, his story telling is so magnificent. And what I think that we do well, is nothing new, it's nothing clever, it's not following the stories perfectly, as God knows if Sir Arthur were here right now, he would be able to remember them properly, follow the story teller, follow those principles. Follow the idea that Sherlock Holmes IS funny, if you read those stories they ARE funny, and they're tarty and they draw you in and above all else - and this is the thing that we all lost for so long - they're terribly modern. They really seriously are. 

"Imagine those first bunch of stories, 'The Adventures' and 'The Memoirs', imagine reading them in Victorian England… or even Victorian Scotland. You had stories where, Sherlock Holmes lived somewhere you could go, a specific address you could go if you wanted to. Imagine reading those stories and realising at a certain point, Sherlock Holmes starts reviewing the stories he's in, negatively. That's one of the most audacious and brilliant bits of writing I've ever seen. It's extraordinary. But also look at the wider structure of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle looked at those magazines and realised they were all serialised novels and he didn't want to join in in the middle of a novel, but at the same time short stories didn't have the same appeal, so he invented the idea of a bunch of short stories with the same lead. 

"He actually invented the television series. So it is no surprise that he has such a hit in the modern world, as it's his idea. This whole idea as how to do a television story, serials that you can join in at any point, is in fact his. So I'd like to think that Sherlock Holmes being a hit on television is Sherlock Holmes coming home." A sentiment that was echoed by lots of "Hear, hear" throughout the hall.

"When William Gillett was going to make a Sherlock Holmes stage play, which at the end Sherlock Holmes got married to Alice, he wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle and said,"May I marry Sherlock Holmes?"An extraordinary question as Doyle may have responded with,"You realise he's not real?"but in fact he responded with,"You may marry, murder, MODERNISE or do what you like with him."Might have rewritten history a tiny but, but as Nigel Bruce would say," (more mumbles,) "which I take to mean,"that's fine."Rewriting history is a good thing at the possibility of a Sherlock Holmes in the present day. 

"So we have returned here to genuinely thank you for your support for the series. Not just today when it's easy to support it, but all that time ago in 2006, when we came here and proposed our insane idea. Thank you, 'The Sherlock Holmes Society', for keeping alive not merely the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, but you keep alive the idea, which is so much more important than the tradition. Thank you." 

And with that, and resounding applause, Steven led a toast - "To the immortal memory." And we all stood to raise a glass to the greatest detective that has ever been.

Out of all the 'Sherlock' related events we have been to - the thrill of watching them film series 2, the excitement of watching the finished result at the two screenings at the BFI and Cardiff - the greatest experience of all was listening to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat talk on the subject of Sherlock Holmes at the 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' screening at the Lexi Cinema back in May 2011, but listening to Steven's speech at the dinner was no less exceptional. To hear either man speak on the subject of which is so important to them, and knowing their enthusiasm on the subject has also made it so important to so many fans of their series, is a joy to behold, and quite an emotional one at that. Steven is a highly entertaining speaker and the transcript of his speech here really cannot do justice to the gift he gave us on the night. If only he had the time, it is a true waste he is only a genius behind the camera, instead of also in front of it.

If you wish to become a member of 'The Sherlock Holmes Society of London' the minimum age for full membership is 16 and associate membership is open to all. Guests of members, of any age, are usually welcome at their meetings and events and there are several categories of membership, to suit all needs and circumstances. Adult membership starts from £20 per annum and you can join now by clicking HERE

Sherlock Annual Dinner 2