Sherlock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

The new film - will it be a case of Downey and out or a Holme run? Or Watson the other side? Will Holmes' sidekick be a Law unto himself?

According to The Dreaming Arm the Holy Trinity of iconic characters in popular fiction (at least in the English-speaking world anyway) consists of James Bond, Doctor Who (and if any pedantic anoraks are reading this – before you write in to complain, yes I know his name is actually “The Doctor” and not “Dr Who” – so please self-copulate), and Sherlock Holmes. I can’t speak for the French-speaking world, but their Holy Trinity could be something like Tintin, Maigret and Asterix – ironically the former two are not of France, but of its trilingual neighbour to the north-east, whose other contributions to civilisation include fine chocolates, several hundred varieties of beer of multitudinous colours and flavours, quality lace, a dubious colonial legacy in the Congo, whose effects are still being felt today – and a statue of a urinating boy.
But as a certain diminutive bespectacled golf-playing entertainer and former star of a long-forgotten 1980s sitcom which gave the catchphrase “Language Timothy!” to a dysfunctional generation used to say – “I digress”. Anyway I’ve already written about Who and Bond in this blog, so to coincide with the imminent cinematic release of a new eponymously-titled motion picture this is The Dreaming Arm’s take on Sherlock Holmes.

The Great Triumvirate: Definitive Who?

I  remember having an argument when aged 8 or 9 with a schoolfriend by the name of Paul McGrade over whether Sherlock Holmes had been a real life character. I contended that he was purely a work of fiction, but young McGrade insisted that there had been a real Holmes at some point in time. In an attempt to settle the argument he advised me to pop down to the local police station and ask them to verify the past existence or otherwise of the great detective. I was confident in my assertion, so didn’t bother to take him up on this. But over a quarter of a century later I often wonder what the duty sergeants at the heavily fortified Omagh RUC station would have made of a 9-year old making such an enquiry. The image of a tall ruddy-faced moustached man sternly dismissing me with words to the effect of “Fuck away off, son and don’t be wasting my time!” provides many an amusing moment on these cold dark lonely winter nights.  In fact it’s becoming a rather tiresome running joke – as certain nameless individuals will be able to testify.

The Great Triumvirate: Premium Bond?

However to his credit some 5 or 6 years later the redoubtable Mr McGrade was to pen an excellent parody of a Holmes short story which captured the essence of Conan Doyle’s writing, yet sent it in up brilliant satirical style. To this day I think he could have been a great comedy writer (he also scripted an excellent monologue featuring the Hary Enfield character “Loadsamoney” for a 5th year school assembly, in which the cash-flashing tradesman was played by the present author), but I believe he’s now based in Westminster and doing rather well in the civil service.

I first became seriously interested in Sherlock Holmes at the age of 14 or 15 in 1988 or 1989 I think when the centenary of Conan Doyle’s character was being celebrated through various TV and radio documentaries, newspaper articles and the like. My unhealthy anorak-like obsession with Doctor Who was coming to a natural end (after all this was during the era of Sylvester McCoy when the show was at all-time low point) and the more mature and rational Holmes became the natural replacement. I devoured Silver Blaze, The Yellow Face, The Solitary Cyclist, The Engineer’s Thumb and The Hound of the Baskervilles with relish.

When I heard that the ex-Mr Madonna Guy Ritchie, he of the East End gangster film was making a new version of Holmes I was somewhat skeptical. I haven’t seen any of Ritichie’s previous works as the mockney hard bastard genre of film doesn’t generally butter my bread. Plus anyone who marries Madonna needs their head examined.. Although having said that it hasn’t done Sean Penn’s career any harm.
On hearing that Holmes was to be played by the high profile Hollywood actor and rehabilitated hell-raising former jailbird and ex-junkie Robert Downey Jr I had my concerns. Although Jude Law as Dr Watson seems like a safe choice, Downey marks a notable break in tradition considering that Holmes has traditionally been played by old school English character actors from the theatrical tradition. The most memorable is arguably Jeremy Brett who played the great detective in the Granada TV series during the 1980s and early ’90s. The Dreaming Arm’s occasional contributor Phil “the Austro-Hungarian empre got all the best cities” Larkin has described him as the definitive Holmes. I can see his point here as Brett’s interpretation of Holmes as a brooding misanthropic, asexual character with a brilliant mind, suggesting he’s autistic is remarkably close to the perfection of Doyle’s creation. Brett as the genuine article could thus be to Holmes what Sean Connery is to James Bond and what Tom Baker is to Dr Who – although the chances are that anyone 25 reading this will argue that the latter accolade should go to David Tennant. Nah – Tennant’s a great actor, but his Who couldn’t hold a candle to Baker’s Who.

The Great Triumvirate: Ideal Holmes?

Other fine thespians who have darkened the doorstep of 221B Baker Street include Ian Richardson (probably best known for his role as machievellian politician Urquart in the BBC drama House of Cards), Hammer Horror veterans Peter “Dr Frankenstein/Prof Van Helsing” Cushing and Christopher “Dracula/Lord Summerisle” Lee and even a certain curly-haired, goggle-eyed toothy-grinned, long scarf-wearing, rich mellow chocolatey-voiced former Time Lord and occasional voiceover artist known as Tom Baker.

Nevertheless I’m prepared to make the trip to my local picture house at some point over the Christmas/New Year period with an open mind and give “Sherlock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” a chance.
So watch this space for the verdict!



  1. No, of course not Jeena! Both are classic characters of a gifted writer. Both have been played by fine actors over the years including David Suchet, Peter Ustinov, Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan.
    And Poirot along with Tintin and Maigret must be the three most famous Belgian fictional characters of all time!

  2. Crikey – I haven’t researched these characters much – but I always thought Tintin was French coz of the thingy on ‘e’ of Herge. 😀

  3. You mean the é? Hergé was the pen name of Georges Remi, a French-speaking Belgian comics writer and artist. “Hergé” is simply the French pronunciation of “RG”, his initials reversed.

  4. Funny you mention having a debate about whether Sherlock Holmes was a real person. We had a debate on this blog not so long ago on whether Stoffels du Plessis is real or not. I’m certainly real, but I’m not sure about that Phil Larkin you sometimes have on here. I think he’s just another one of your fanciful creations designed to make sound clever. He’s probably about as real as Sherlock Holmes.

    And by the way you forget to mention the greatest Holmes of all , Basil Rathbone who was born in South Africa, God’s own country. Or at least it was before the bloody ANC took it over.

  5. Ok, Stoffels I now believe that you are in fact a real person and not some made-up character designed to provoke controversy and subterfuge within the blogosphere. As for Phil Larkin, I’ll let him speak for himself and prove his own existence – that is if he does actually exist.
    As for crying over the “beloved country”, before you and Mr Terreblanche set up your own independent Afrikaner “Boeristan” homeland in the Transvaal, think about how things have improved in SA. Under the old system your boys would nver have had the chance to kick the arses of the England cricket team or trounce the touring Lions side in rugby (although we did beat your lot in Croke Park not so long ago – obviously the Boks couldn’t cope with the inhospitable Irish climate. And think of how your economy will benefit from the World Cup – even though I know that as a red-blooded heterosexual rugby man you’re not a big fan of ladyball. And you don’t get the piss taken out of you by left-wing comedians any more – so look on the bright side!

    Yes, Rathbone was a good Holmes, but my problem with his films is that they were taken out of their original context and set during WWII (cf the ones about Holmes fighting the Nazis – which meant he would have had to be about 80 years old at the time). And Nigel Bruce’s Watson was portrayed as something of a bumbling oaf, which went against the spirit of the Watson in the books. I hope Jude Law’s character in the film won’t be subject to this mistake.

  6. Well, Stoffels, I may assure you that I am very much a real person and alive in flesh and blood form (having just pinched myself hard to make sure that I am not fictional and/or a spectre). I won’t comment on the many views which you have expressed frequently on this website, but can only admire your straightforwardness, honesty, and forthright manner – all legendary characteristics of the volk from which you come from. I would advise you just to relax and enjoy these good qualities, and stop getting wound up about things that you can’t change.

    I have been reading the Sherlock Holmes stories since about the age of 12, and was familiar with the TV series with the great Jeremy Brett before this. As CW will verify, I have often commented that the very fact that some people believe that Sherlock Holmes was a real detective is a testament to what a brilliant creation he is, and how talented a storyteller Conan-Doyle was. They say that he was based on a real character, Dr Joseph Bell, a professor of Conan-Doyle’s at university, and one of his early career mentors. Some of the (almost perversely and excruciatingly logical) methods used by Holmes in the stories have been adopted by police departments around the world to solve crimes.

    No other character in British fiction has been portrayed by so many different actors, suggesting that his multi-faceted personality may be depicted in a myriad of different ways.

    I was never really a fan of Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, finding him too plodding and “neutral” a figure to do Holmes justice. Likewise Ian Richardson, who (like Cushing) was a very fine and talented actor, was too much an “establishment” character to bring out Holmes’ bohemianism and his frequent eccentricity. Much as I like Tom Baker, he perhaps overdid the eccentricity thing to the detriment of Holmes’ more academic and logical side.

    I still have to contend that the late, great, Jeremy Brett will always be Holmes in my mind. His ability to convey to the audience the full spectrum of Holmes multi-layered personality, his brooding genius, his drug induced languor between cases, and his essential humanity, will probably never be equalled.

    Nevertheless, I still look forward to seeing the new film!


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