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The secret history of Sherlockology * 11 May 2015


Left To Right: Leif, Emma, Jules & David relaxing in 221B - actually in Cardiff.

Sherlockology is four years old today!

The following article detailing the creation of this website was originally written at the request of Showmasters/Massive Events for inclusion in the souvenir programme for the recent Sherlocked Convention, but was cut due to a reduced page count. To mark our anniversary, we've presented the original text and images we supplied for the programme below.

If you're a Sherlock fan, SHERLOCKOLOGY hopefully needs no introduction. As the website exists today, it's the go-to place for major news and spoiler-free information on the BBC series as new episodes go into production, as well as a reference source about many of the props, places and people that you see onscreen.

It's run by four friends - Jules, David, Emma and Leif - and how the website came into being is one of those stories of a little idea that grew into something much bigger than ever intended.

And in truth, it all started with a mouse.

Now you've probably heard that once before, and SHERLOCKOLOGY isn't exactly Disney, as this little mouse wasn't called Mickey, but Basil, and involved a Christmas Eve trip to the cinema in 1984 when Jules was smuggled in while recovering from a bout of Chicken Pox to watch Basil, The Great Mouse Detective. Coincidentally, this was the same year the Sherlock Holmes Granada series starring Jeremy Brett first aired on British TV and unbeknown to this four-year-old little girl, her life-long love affair with the World's only Consulting Detective had begun.


Jules on the 221B set in Cardiff

Fast-forward twenty-six years and several big and small screen Sherlock Holmes adaptations later; the trailer for Sherlock literally exploded onto BBC One in July 2010 accompanied by a soundtrack of Muse's song Uprising and starring that bloke from The Office. It was impossible not to have it immediately catch your attention. Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century? What a brilliant idea! But it would all hinge on who would play the great detective himself, as Jeremy Brett in Jules' eyes was the perfect incarnation of the literary genius made flesh. "Oh no, it's that creepy guy from Atonement. That'll never work!" was Jules' initial reaction and her first lesson in being taught that when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, Hartswood Films never get it wrong.

David meanwhile came to watch the series from his love of Doctor Who (aided by the fact he possesses a noticeable resemblance to David Tennant; something that has been remarked upon since by people who know the man himself), thanks to the presence of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss behind the scenes. On Sunday July 25 2010, we unknowingly sat down to watch A Study in Pink with excitement and intrigue, without the slightest comprehension of what was to come - it's obviously a trite statement, but if you'd told us then everything that lay ahead we would have laughed. To say the very least.

From those opening scenes of that first episode, showing flashbacks of John Watson serving in Afghanistan to the introduction of Sherlock Holmes beating a corpse with a riding crop in the morgue, it was obvious that the tone and casting of this adaptation was right on the money. As someone who was a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast or simply a casual viewer, it was impossible to deny that this was something very,very special. David absolutely loved it, and the first thing Jules did after that iconic last scene in the episode, that saw one of the greatest pairings of all time walk away together to begin their adventures in one of the cleverest and most accurate adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creation, was to go straight to her bookshelf and dust down her old copy of A Study In Scarlet, which she began re-reading that very night.

Emma and Leif, however, did not come to see Sherlock until several months later, when we all sat down together to watch The Social Network at Emma's suggestion due to her passionate enthusiasm for social media. With Jesse Eisenberg's high functioning, smart talking portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg there were obvious parallels to Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes and so a viewing of Sherlock commenced, and after only seeing the first episode Emma immediately ordered a copy of the series for herself. Now with Emma and Leif instant fans too, mutual agreement was reached that this was a great show, which was all over far too soon with an extraordinarily frustrating cliffhanger at the close of The Great Game. (Again, little did we know…)

The four of us had been friends for years, but the idea for SHERLOCKOLOGY actually germinated from Jules and David taking many walking trips around London, initially tracing locations from Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. About a month after the airing of Sherlock an inevitable trip to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and a hunt for Speedy's Café ensued - the latter made a little harder, as on our first ever visit, that famous red awning was hidden underneath scaffolding. Pictures in front of the not-actually iconic front door of the flat took place, as at the time the 221B door wasn't permanently in situ. Instead a non-descript black door was there instead, lacking the familiar doorknocker and letterbox that you see if you wander over today. Despite that, our enthusiasm and enjoyment of the place was undiminished, although we were still a long way from actually even thinking about starting anything that might resemble a Twitter account!


David on a location shoot

In April 2011, a few weeks before we went ahead, David and Jules saw Mark Gatiss at a panel at Kapow!, a small comic convention in London, where he publicly announced the original stories that would form the episodes of the second series of Sherlock for the first time. We realised we had an exclusive on our hands, but were frustrated with our lack of knowledge of who to present the news to in the media - David actually fired an email to Harry Knowles of, to no avail. In the evening that same day, Jules and David saw Benedict Cumberbatch perform in Frankenstein at the National Theatre. Our first experience of the play had Benedict as Victor Frankenstein, ferocious and bellowing and morally misguided, distinctly different from the TV detective but carrying elements of his manner - another little bit of kindling in our imagination, goading us on.

It wasn't until we all went away together on holiday to Rome later that same month, and saw walking tours of the locations for another of Dan Brown's film adaptations, Angels and Demons, that we effectively decided to go forward with something similar based on BBC Sherlock. We'd been frustrated with the lack of information to be found online on the first series, and Jules suggested that we create a small blog that would enable people to visit the locations from the series. When she presented this to Emma though, the idea became quite a bit bigger - how about a proper website instead of a mere blog? The gears started grinding from then on, with Leif beginning work on the framework of the site - rather than being built from a template, ours is a custom site created from scratch. That takes time of course, so we decided to start everything off by launching across social media.

First of all though, we had to decide upon a name.

There are numerous names that were quite rightly consigned to the mists of time; Desperately Seeking Sherlock, There's Something About Sherlock, The Sherlock Files - you name it, we thought of it, and then promptly threw them all in the rubbish bin - until one day, in the shower of all places, the name SHERLOCKOLOGY popped into Jules' head. Amazingly, the word did not appear to exist anywhere on the Internet, and apart from being stated once by Clive James, SHERLOCKOLOGY seemed to be unique. Better yet, it was short. And memorable. It also made us sound cleverer than we were. As Maureen Lipman so famously said in the British Telecom adverts from the 1980's, "You get an ology, you're a scientist." So we went with it.

As the one responsible for the initial idea of SHERLOCKOLOGY - or rather "The person whose fault it all is" - Jules Coomber also created the visual aspect of the site. As a professional graphic designer with extensive marketing and branding experience, everything you see on the website has flitted under her thumb. Aside from that, Jules handles a good chunk of organisation and PR for the site, back-and-forthing with the teams at Hartswood and BBC Worldwide.

David Mather is the photographer and writer on the team. Trained in video editing and photography, not to mention a talent in copywriting, he is responsible for most of the blogs and website news stories, as well as producing all of the non BBC photographic images on the site - and he even took one of the first shots anyone ever saw of Lara Pulver as 'The Woman', Irene Adler, during Series Two filming.

Emma Grigg has always been known as 'The Geek' and is the social media and marketing extraordinaire on the team. With a background in web development, online marketing and social media, she was responsible for the initial site development and on going growth of the social networks, as well as conceiving numerous campaigns and games that have run on the website over the years.

And finally, Leif Harstad is the genius technical wizard behind, not to mention the 'Sherlock' of the team! As a leading web developer, whose focus is on user experience and online marketing, he has been responsible for the technical development of the site from what you see up front to all the hidden bells and whistles behind the scenes. Basically if you can think it up, he can code it up.


Leif, the Sherlock of the team!

In May 2011 we felt ready to start this little idea, a fun hobby that would allow us to express our love for this British TV series. We started with zero expectations. Or, rather ironically, no clue of what was to come.

The SHERLOCKOLOGY Twitter account launched on 11th May 2011, a week before filming began on Sherlock Series Two - a piece of timing that was pure accidental luck on our part. Everything progressed very slowly at first, as we covered the filming of The Hounds of Baskerville over the course of four weeks - and stayed up all night for a week to cover the night shoots on that particular episode. At the same time, we made trips into London to pound the pavements and gather photos and information on locations - most memorably, an early morning visit to the Southbank to avoid the tides led to a unbelievably muddy stumble across the beach where one of the Golem's victims is found in The Great Game. By the end of that first month of operation we launched our first piece of written content on our Tumblr account, based around a screening of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that was hosted by Mark Gatiss, followed by a Q&A. As it turned out, Steven Moffat was also present, and following the screening we introduced ourselves to the pair, asking Steven - currently in the midst of completing the script forA Scandal in Belgravia - whether they'd actually decided on a solution to the Swimming Pool cliffhanger at the time of writing The Great Game. "Not a clue!" was his response.


Jules and Emma watching series 2 filming

We'd be lying if we said we weren't hugely excited after this initial encounter with Steven and Mark, and in the end it was the moment that really kicked everything off - a couple of days after posting the article we'd written about the screening, we rather incredulously discovered (read that as 'excitedly screaming from the rooftops') that despite not usually following fans, Steven Moffat had followed our little account on Twitter. Before he closed his account, Steven was the first of many members of the crew to actively retweet our content and information, and we always say that SHERLOCKOLOGY has grown into what it is today because of him.


Benedict Cumberbatch on set filming The Reichenbach Fall

That was the first of many memorable highlights from our time running SHERLOCKOLOGY. Some may be obvious, like the privilege of watching the filming process on set or seeing episodes in advance of them airing on television. Others are smaller but hilarious, such as the sight of a Dominos Pizza driver frantically trying to deliver in North Gower Street in the midst of filming, bamboozled by the altered front door numbers and street names. And others are arguably quite extraordinary, whether it is attending press events alongside actual, professionally trained journalists to interview the cast and crew, or being invited to visit the 221B set for a private tour with production designer Arwel Wyn Jones. And that's not even mentioning winning the prestigious Shorty Award for Best Fansite in Social Media for two years running thanks to Sherlock fans, with Emma and Leif heading to New York to collect the awards in person. All of these moments share the quality of us never expecting them in our futures when we set out in May 2011 with that little germ of an idea for a website, which launched in October that same year.


Emma and Leif collecting our first Shorty Award

What started out as a hobby is really now more like a second job, going about our various day jobs as BBC Worldwide or Hartswood alert us to forthcoming Sherlocknews that will be launched at a certain time, that is more often than not later that same day. This also includes working with licensors of the series in promoting official Sherlock products from the soundtracks, tie-in books and the app, to the increasing number of officially branded merchandise from the annual calendar to mugs and t-shirts.

Our relationship with the production team is what ultimately made SHERLOCKOLOGY feel unexpectedly legitimate, with Sue Vertue in particular being hugely supportive of fan interest in Sherlock. Having introduced herself to the team in North Gower Street back in July 2011, she immediately put us in contact with numerous other sources throughout the BBC. Being seen as legitimate of course leads to other unexpected places, and we often find ourselves the interviewee as much as we are the interviewer, having been quoted in various media outlets about Sherlock such as The Telegraph and Wired Magazine to name but a few, and even speaking on various radio shows including BBC Radio 5. We have also written pieces for the Radio Times, have a blog for Metro, and was asked to hold a panel for BBC Worldwide on creating social media content for television series.


Filming on North Gower Street for A Scandal in Belgravia

The most important thing we can bring to Sherlock and its fandom, however, is being the bridge between the fans of the series and those who create it. What most people don't know is the work we do behind the scenes, which include consulting on official Sherlock merchandise and highlighting things we know fans really want, such as the blooper reel that eventually found its way as an extra on the Series Three discs. We in fact even initiated the talks for Sherlocked: The Official Sherlock Convention, after we received endless email requests from fans. Believe it or not, we had our first conversation with the guys at Showmasters about a Sherlock convention in April 2012 and then made the suggestion to Sue Vertue, so it had been in the works for a while! SHERLOCKOLOGY really does work on Sherlock 365 days a year and has done so for the last four years. It's hard work and there has been more all-nighters than we care to remember, but we do it for the series and most importantly the fans, because that is the most rewarding aspect of all.

Today, SHERLOCKOLOGY is a site that boasts over 1.5m followers across its social media accounts - including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest - and is one of the largest independent fansites in the world. It is also a brand in its own right, and in order to help fund the running costs of SHERLOCKOLOGY, we launched our online shop in May 2013. It stocks not only SHERLOCKOLOGY branded merchandise, but also exclusive Sherlock inspired jewellery by award winning British designer Sophie Honeybourne - in fact, Sue Vertue can often be seen wearing the original '221B Door' piece from this collection.


Benedict Cumberbatch in a reflective moment filming The Empty Hearse

We have no true ambitions to make SHERLOCKOLOGY go larger or bigger than it already is, just as we set out with no real ambitions to imagine it at the size it currently exists in. If we were to dream though, we would love to make the site form the basis of our daily jobs, although SHERLOCKOLOGY would end up as the bedrock of other sites, for other televisions shows, that would inform the visitor in the same way. We're always looking for another show that would attract the same level of fan devotion that Sherlock has, with the right set of circumstances, and having covered other productions cast and crew members have been involved in, have met and discussed possibilities with other producers and creators. Late last year we launched IN THE FLESHDOM, dedicated to the BAFTA winning BBC Three zombie drama In The Flesh, starring a previous Sherlock cast member Luke Newberry, as it shared many of the qualities that attracted us to Sherlock. In fact, the series creator, Dominic Mitchell, confessed to us he had become a huge fan of Sherlock through discovering SHERLOCKOLOGY.

Nothing in life stands still of course. Emma and Leif are now proud parents to a bouncing baby daughter - who rather fittingly shares the same birthday as a certain Mr Cumberbatch!  As it stands, SHERLOCKOLOGY has been a life changing website for us and we remain stunned at just how big it has grown. But has it ultimately changed how we view the show when a new episode arrives? Both yes and no.

We're much closer to the series than we ever could have imagined on July 25 2010, and the ride from watching that first ever episode, A Study In Pink, in our living rooms along with 7.5 million other viewers, to being intimately involved with it now, has been a once in a lifetime experience. Despite all the unexpected invitations, press days and trips to the set, there's no escaping the incredible thrill of watching a new ninety minutes of Sherlock for the first time. We are, first and foremost after all, Sherlock fans too!!