The Real Sherlock Holmes by Cenarth Fox
Arthur Conan Doyle [ACD] an author
Sherlock Holmes [SH] a consulting detective
THE MA'M mother of ACD
[Shortly before the play begins you could play some music popular
tunes of the late 19th century or some solo violin music a la Sherlock
Holmes. House lights and music coming down cross fade with FX of
modern day traffic, sounds of Baker Street London. Not too loud.
Lights up on bright summer's day
Crowd [the Ma'm as tourist] admire a statue covered with a cloth
A woman in Victorian dress watches
ACD, as a sort of MC/storyteller, calls for attention and addresses crowd]
ACD [As MC] Ladies and gentleman. In Victorian England, here in Baker
Street, London lived a truly, great man. Today, in 1999, [Reaches for
cloth] I have much pleasure in unveiling this statue of the world's
most famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.
[Cloth removed in single movement - it is only on the front of the
statue - to reveal "living" statue of Sherlock Holmes played by
SH. He is in traditional garb holding pipe. He stands on small
box/stand giving him extra height. He is frozen. Woman in crowd
WOMAN [Played by the Ma'm - polite but definite] Booo. [Could
ACD [Still MC. Surprised] Booing? Madam how could you object to so
fine a resemblance?
[Woman moves forward so she and ACD are either side of the statue]
WOMAN [American accent] Listen Mister, I haven't come from America
to have my hero insulted.
ACD Madam, we adore this man.
WOMAN The word used was "fictional".
ACD [Thrown] It's a wonderful likeness.
WOMAN [Anger rising] I definitely heard you say "fictional!"
SH [Without moving] You'll never win.
ACD [Shocked. Looks up at SH. Now as ACD] Holmes!? [Tourist
SH [Breaking out of freeze and stepping down] Sherlockians, sir, are
true believers. [To woman] You would agree with that, Mrs. Hudson?
WOMAN [Collecting cloth. Now Mrs. Hudson] Oh indeed Mr. Holmes. And
there's a gentlemen waiting to see you. "Most important," he
SH [Picks up statue base, preparing to exit] Then come dear lady, the
game is afoot.
[Mrs. Hudson picks up cloth and exits with Holmes. FX of traffic
fades. Bright outdoors becomes ACD's study. Concentrate lighting on
ACD [Moves to desk and handles items speaking as he does so.
Throughout play, ACD could place certain items in tea chest which is
upstage of his desk. He handles a black armband, pith helmet,
stethoscope, old boxing-gloves, ancient cricket bat, etc. ACD is now
ACD] I believe every septuagenarian male has an obligation to sort his
belongings before he passes over. I'm doing just that. [He sorts] My
name is Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. I passed to the spirit world in
1930 and being a spiritualist, can communicate with loved ones here on
Earth. [Ma'am enters carrying book]
THE MA'M I found that book, Arthur, the one you loved as a child.
[She sits and searches book for part to read] Come on, I haven't got
all day. [ACD moves to his mother]
ACD My mother gave me my love of books. She always read to her
children, [copies Ma'am's approach to reading] dropping her voice
to a horror-stricken whisper.
[ACD beside her. The atmosphere is charged as she reads to her son]
THE MA'M "The brave knight rode forward. He believed in honour,
justice and chivalry. [Softer] A hush fell over the crowd; the dogs
and horses were still. [Gradual crescendo] Then suddenly the spectacle
exploded. Swords flashed in the sun steel true, blade straight -
and with a ferocious roar, the battle began!" [She hops upstage to
ACD Books were my passion. I devoured them. I read so much the local
library introduced a Conan Doyle rule.
THE MA'M [Quotes rule] "Books may not be changed more than twice a
day." [Mimes stirring pot]
ACD My remarkable mother had her nose in a book while stirring the
supper when, as a wee laddie, I'd come home from fighting some
snotty-nosed, rich kid.
THE MA'M [Distressed, goes to him] Oh Arthur. Mother of Mercy. [She
examines his bruises]
ACD Ah, never mind, Ma'am [They speak together, happy
ACD/Ma'm you should see the other boy. [They enjoy the memory
then she breaks off]
THE MA'M Pack your bag, Arthur, we're moving again.
ACD We moved seven times before I was ten. My father was poorly and
with Irish Catholic parents, I joined the Jesuits at boarding-school
THE MA'M Now don't forget to write.
ACD [To her] In my lifetime, I wrote to my small, short-sighted, Irish
mother, more than one thousand, five hundred letters.
THE MA'M [She nods] You did indeed. That's a lot of stamps and a
lot of love. [They could embrace or kiss then she breaks off to help
him tidy his belongings] Now enough of that. You're off to
ACD You know we were watched day and night by the Jesuits? They made
cracks in the walls so biting winds would keep us alert. Lessons were
boring and it was you, Ma'am, who gave me my love of history. You
were a huge influence on my life.
THE MA'M [Repeating the advice she gave long ago] You can do
anything, Arthur. Believe in yourself and greatness is yours for the
taking. [Almost an aside] Just behave for those Jesuits.
ACD [Picks up strap] Alas I failed Good Behaviour.
THE MA'M [Worried] Oh Arthur! Not the tolley!
ACD The Jesuits used a thick piece of India rubber. [ACD hits hand or
desk] One whack on a freezing February morning and your hand would
double its size.
THE MA'M [Distressed] God in heaven!
ACD [Whacks desk again] The minimum was nine.
THE MA'M Nine! Stop belting me boy!
ACD [Whacks desk again] And with nine on both hands, apart from the
incredible pain, your main problem was opening the master's door.
THE MA'M [Collecting scarf from hat-stand, happy memories]] Ah, now
this you wore on your first visit to London.
ACD [Likewise happy] Oh yes, to see my aunt and uncle.
THE MA'M You saw the Tower, St Paul's, the Abbey and at the
theatre Sir Henry Irving in Hamlet.
ACD And to think that one day I would write for the great man.
THE MA'M You loved the hansom cabs and those gas lit streets with
villains and history on every corner.
ACD [Sniffs] And don't forget that certain fragrance from two
hundred thousand horses.
THE MA'M You went to Madam Tussaud's in Baker Street with all
those gruesome murderers.
ACD I did. [Picks up bible] And would you look at this. My first
communion. [Concerned, remembers] I nearly became a priest.
THE MA'M The Jesuits offered a fee reduction if I'd let you take
ACD I was horrified when a wild Irish priest thundered, [Imitates
Irish priest] "Anyone who is not a Roman Catholic will surely go to
THE MA'M You made the right decision, Arthur. Medicine at Edinburgh
University and you could live at home. [Starting to exit] My advice
was simple. "Wear flannel next to your skin and never believe in
eternal punishment". [She exits]
ACD I couldn't bear to think of great men of letters writhing in
flames. Surely a God of love would not allow that. Darwinian ideas
were new and my faith was under threat. But I was lucky. My university
teachers were inspirational.
[SH enters as Bell and prepares to address the students]
Professor Joseph Bell made the greatest impression. He was brilliant
BELL [Played by SH using Scottish accent] Gentlemen, observe if you
will. [Bell produces vial. This could be mimed] Here is a foul liquid.
[Bell sniffs and recoils] You know I never ask my students to do
something I myself have not done. [Bell places finger in vial then
finger in mouth. He grimaces. Holds vial so ACD can taste liquid]
Kindly copy gentlemen.
[ACD tests liquid by cautiously placing index finger in vial then in
his mouth. It is revolting. ACD in distress]
Gentlemen, not one of you observed that while I placed my index finger
[indicating] in the awful brew, it was my middle finger I placed in my
mouth. [Quick demonstration]
ACD [Groaning at his mistake but recovering] Later I became his clerk
and would usher his patients. [ACD becomes visitor and sidles
centre-stage unsure of situation]
BELL This man is a left-handed cobbler. You'll observe, gentlemen,
the worn places on his corduroy breeks where a cobbler rests his lap
stone. The right-hand side is far more worn than the left ergo he
hammers with his left hand.
ACD [Shaking his head and moving to other side of Bell] We were
amazed. Then another chap arrived. [ACD becomes new arrival]
BELL This man is a French-polisher. [Pause] Oh come now. Can you no'
ACD Joe Bell was an inspiration. His lectures were packed. One day a
woman appeared with a small child and carrying a coat.
BELL I observe Madam you come from Burntisland, you walked along
Inverleith Row, you left home this morning with two children and you
work in the linoleum factory.
ACD All true. The woman was shocked and so were we. But how did Bell
BELL You have a Fife accent and the nearest town is Burntisland. The
red clay on your shoes is found only in the Botanical Gardens by
Inverleith Row. The coat you carry is too big for your present child
meaning it's for another you have presumably left with family or
friends. And the dermatitis on your right hand is common to linoleum
workers in Burntisland.
ACD My university professor was the model for my famous detective,
Sherlock Holmes. In one story I introduced a red-headed chap called
Wilson and had him say .
SH [Bell is now Holmes. No longer Scottish] Do you mind?
ACD [Awkward pause] I was going to mention my words in the story about
SH Your words? Come now, Doyle. We must be accurate.
ACD [Challenges him] I hope you're not going to be difficult.
SH [Takes over] It was my scene, my character, my dialogue in my room.
Now pray be seated.
ACD [Angry] But damn it, Holmes, this is my life story.
SH [Anger rising] Sit! [ACD sits in chair as Wilson. SH observes him]
WILSON [Unhappy but too polite to refuse. Still ACD] I presume I'm
the red-headed man?
SH [Ignores ACD. Assumes control] Beyond the obvious fact that you
have at some time done manual labour, that you take snuff, are a
freemason, have been to China and written a considerable amount, I can
deduce very little.
WILSON [The red-headed man rises shocked. No longer Scottish] Mr.
Holmes! How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that?
SH Your right-hand is quite a size larger than your left and your
muscles more developed.
WILSON Yes, I once worked as a carpenter.
SH There are snuff marks on your person and you affect an
WILSON My freemasonry. But the writing?
SH Your right cuff is very shiny and the smooth patch near your left
elbow is where you rest it upon the desk.
WILSON Amazing. But China?
SH The fish tattooed above your right wrist has the scales stained a
very delicate pink that is quite peculiar to China. Plus there's
a Chinese coin on your watch-chain. [Slight pause] I think I've made
my point. [Sweeping Sherlockian exit. At door as Bell] Do not simply
look at a patient, Doyle, but feel him, probe him, listen to him and
smell him. Observe. [Exits]
ACD [Picks up or spies item from his whaling trip. Could be woollen
hat] Ah, my own ripping yarn. I was studying to be a doctor when a
fellow student quit his job as ship's surgeon. Would I go in his
place? [Putting on scarf and/or cap] Would I ever?
THE MA'M [From offstage. Fiery] Arthur! [Enters] You're doing
ACD [Excited] I'm off to hunt seals and whales in the Arctic.
THE MA'M [Angry, shocked] For seven months!
ACD I'll make a fortune, Ma'am.
THE MA'M But I have plans for you, my boy, big plans. [Despairing]
ACD [To audience] Killing helpless seals seemed callous and cruel and
at sea I could hear the Ma'am calling.
THE MA'M And for God's sake don't be adventurous.
ACD I tried seal hunting. I killed the animal then made a fatal error.
I stepped backwards [Enacts the scene] and slipped into the icy water.
THE MA'M Arthur!
ACD [On his knees in the water] Death closed in. [Mimes the story] My
limbs were numb. I grasped the ice. My hands slipped. Panic. I clawed
frantically but failed. The world would never hear of Sherlock
THE MA'M [Can't stay in Scotland a minute longer. Rushes forward
offering hand] Arthur! Quick now! Give me your hand!
ACD [Ignores her but calls as if she is "God"] Oh Ma'm. I'm
drowning in the Arctic Ocean.
THE MA'M [Invoking heavenly help] Save him, God. Have mercy on a
poor Catholic woman. [Retreats]
ACD I grabbed the dead seal's flipper and inch by inch dragged
myself from the sea. Then, as if to punish me for taking its life, the
seal began sliding towards me. I was being driven into the ocean by
the very creature I'd slaughtered.
THE MA'M [Begging the Almighty] Oh please, God. Help me darling
ACD I got an elbow on the ice and hauled myself free.
THE MA'M [Crossing herself] Thank you, Lord. Thank you.
ACD [He stands shivering] My clothes were like armour but the Ma'am
still had her son.
THE MA'M And remember, Arthur. The ship's doctor has nothing to do
with hunting whales.
ACD [Excited] I joined the whale hunt. [Ma'm despairs] Six men in a
boat. [Sits in reading chair and mimes holding an oar] The harpooned
monster towered above our tiny craft. [Frozen with fear looks up at
whale] It raised a massive flapper. We froze waiting for death. The
whale paused and [rowing] we rowed for our lives.
THE MA'M [Back to normality] There's a clean towel in your room,
ACD [Happy] Back home I hid fifty gold coins and loved watching the
Ma'am discover them.
THE MA'M [Ma'am mimes finding gold] Oh Arthur. This is wonderful.
ACD During summer I took part-time work and wrote letters to friends
THE MA'M And your letters were so vivid. People suggested you should
write for money.
ACD I did and was thrilled when I sold my first short story.
THE MA'M Three guineas! The Mystery of the Sassassa Valley.
ACD [Mock-serious] About this time the Ma'am, God bless her, took me
aside for a serious chat.
THE MA'M Arthur, it's time you learnt about sex.
ACD [Gentle mocking] Boy was I lucky; sex-education from an Irish,
THE MA'M It's a fact of life, Arthur; some women use their sex to
ACD I was once in love with five women, simultaneously.
THE MA'M You idjit.
ACD And I was deadly serious about a Miss Elmore Welden.
THE MA'M Dump her.
ACD I took my medical degree and became the doctor on a ship bound for
THE MA'M [Stronger] Dump her.
ACD Miss Welden was mortified and I literally sailed out of her life.
THE MA'M [Proud] I was so proud of you, Arthur. My boy is a doctor.
ACD [Sweating] And in the steamy, tropical heat with the ship at
anchor, I dived into the cool sea.
THE MA'M [Rushes forward and looks into the sea and gives warning]
Arthur, look out! Behind you!
ACD I hurried back on board then saw the circling shark. [Peers
THE MA'M I forbid you to go anywhere near water.
ACD Three times I could have died at sea.
THE MA'M But you survived and returned to Edinburgh where times were
tough. Remember? [He nods. Sombre, serious] Your father had a real
problem with the drink and epilepsy. [Pause] I had no choice but to
send him to the asylum.
ACD [Distressed] That should not have happened! My father was not
THE MA'M [Equally distressed] I know that. And yes, it was terrible.
But sometimes, whatever you do, the pain is unbearable. [Pause. Refers
to letter] There's a letter from London. [Ma'm could collect
letter] Now you face a tough choice. [ACD reads letter] Your wealthy
uncles want to give you a medical practice.
ACD [Staggered] In London?
THE MA'M They'll tell their Catholic friends to become your
ACD This is incredible.
THE MA'M It's the chance of a lifetime.
ACD I've no money, no job, no prospects and now this.
THE MA'M You can become a successful London doctor.
ACD [He wants her advice] What am I going to do?
THE MA'M [She's staying right out of it] Don't ask me. It's
ACD [Help me] Ma'am?
THE MA'M And whatever you decide, there will be consequences.
ACD [Decides] I can't accept it.
THE MA'M Can't? But what will you say?
ACD [Speaks his letter of reply] "Dear Aunt and Uncles. I cannot
accept your kind offer because I am agnostic."
THE MA'M You need to think about this, Arthur.
ACD There's nothing to think about.
THE MA'M Your aunt and uncles are devout Catholics. They're ageing
and childless. You're their professional nephew, their hope of the
Doyle dynasty. And now you're not only rejecting their sincere and
handsome offer but doing so on religious grounds. That's stupidity
ACD All right, I'll do the decent thing.
THE MA'M [Concerned] You mean, you will accept?
ACD I mean I will tell them in person. [Worried] Fancy facing my
father's three successful brothers.
THE MA'M Just be brave, Arthur.
ACD I'll be in the room where my grandfather, John Doyle,
entertained Thackeray, Scott, Disraeli, Wordsworth, Dickens and many
other great men of letters and world affairs.
THE MA'M Your father and I will be proud of you, Arthur.
ACD But not my uncles. They'll be angry, and so will I.
[Ferocious, ACD spins round to face his powerful relations] But if I
practised as a Catholic doctor, I'd be taking money for professing
to believe something I don't believe. I'd be the worst scoundrel
THE MA'M [Moves or has moved surreptitiously behind him to coach her
son. He's the doll, she's the vent] They'll say something like,
"If only you would have faith".
ACD [To uncles] That's what people keep telling me. They talk about
having faith as though it could be done by an act of will. Reason is
the highest gift we've got; we must use it.
THE MA'M Then they might ask something like, "And what does reason
ACD [Still angry] It tells me the evils of religion have all come from
accepting things that can't be proved. It tells me this Christianity
of yours contains a number of fine and noble things mixed up with a
lot of arrant rubbish.
[Pause. Ma'am moves to desk. The silence of the London room is very
THE MA'M [Almost a whisper] That's about when your Aunt will ring
for tea. [She rings small bell]
ACD The silence was deafening. Refreshments were consumed in a room
bristling with anger. Had I thrown away the chance of a lifetime? Was
I a complete fool?
[Atmosphere change. Back in Edinburgh]
THE MA'M You were when you took that job in Plymouth. Get out,
Arthur, and work on your own.
ACD I did get out of Plymouth and moved to Portsmouth as a solo GP. I
had ten pounds and a brass nameplate. I rented a house, bought
tenth-hand furniture and waited. [Dramatic pause] And of patients came
Ma'am Remember your uncle sent a letter of introduction to the
Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth.
ACD I burnt it.
THE MA'M Well, whatever you do, Arthur, don't neglect your
ACD In case I missed a patient, I did my shopping, housekeeping and
exercise at night. A few patients arrived, I kept writing short
stories and some were even published.
THE MA'M You must persevere.
ACD I was so poor I pawned my watch.
THE MA'M And don't be too proud to barter with your patients.
ACD [Remembers] The grocer paid me in butter and tea. He suffered fits
and I'd [demonstrates looking in shop window] peek in his shop
window to see if he was [twitches] twitching.
THE MA'M [Happy] But then along came the Cornhill Magazine and a
nice, fat cheque.
ACD Oh I really was a writer when I sold Habakuk Jephson's
Statement. Twenty-nine guineas.
THE MA'M One critic thought your story compared favourably with
ACD [Laughing] But only because they didn't publish authors'
THE MA'M And another said your story was probably written by Robert
Louis Stevenson. [The Ma'm and ACD laugh at the mix-up.
"Stevenson! Ha!" Holmes enters. The Ma'm sees Holmes and
suddenly stops laughing] Mister Holmes! You're too early. [Going to
usher him out] I'll come and fetch you when the time is right.
SH [Having none of that] A word, sir, if you please.
ACD But Holmes, I'm not yet up to detective fiction.
SH Damn it Doyle. No-one's interested in your mediocre medical
career or your unknown, piffling prose. I'm your raison d'etre.
THE MA'M Don't be bullied, Arthur; and certainly not by an
Englishman speaking French.
SH [Caustic mimic] Ooooo, don't be bullied, Arthur. [Aside] Not even
by a pushy, Irish mother.
ACD [Angry] How dare you, sir!
THE MA'M [Changing the subject] What happened when you started
meeting people, Arthur?
SH [Sarcastic] Oh yes, social chit-chat. Fascinating.
ACD [Not pleased with SH] I joined the cricket and football clubs and
the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society. The minute secretary
was a Dr Watson.
SH [Annoyed] Yes but the Doctor Watson was then in Afghanistan.
ACD At this time a young man had meningitis and was near death. I
offered a spare room.
SH Very commendable, Doyle. Now, about me.
ACD He died a few days later.
SH Right. Funeral's over. Let's talk Holmes.
THE MA'M Arthur, I've decided. It's time you were married.
SH My God, she is a control-freak.
ACD And by helping the dying patient, I met his sister Louise. I
called her Touie.
THE MA'M She'll do, son.
ACD The Ma'am consented. Touie and I were wed and life was never
SH Never better? Your life hasn't even begun.
THE MA'M As a married man you were more acceptable to female
ACD And with Touie's small allowance we were perfectly content. But
more so than ever, I wanted to write.
ACD Short stories meant cash but literary greatness came from a novel.
I read some detective stories then tried writing one only I wanted
something fresh and different.
SH [Touch hammy] The greatest detective awaits his cue.
ACD [Moves to desk, puts pipe in mouth, picks up pen. Lighting
highlights desk. ACD thinks aloud and dips his pen in ink bottle
miming writing as he thinks. He ignores the others They are nearby to
prompt] I need a man with intellect Joe Bell! He used observation
to diagnose patients. Why not a detective using observation to solve
[Excited, he writes quickly pausing every so often to think]
SH Many say I'm confident with a dry wit and acerbic tongue.
ACD Confident with harsh tongue.
THE MA'M A detective who doesn't rely on the stupidity of the
ACD No guesswork. A detective using science.
SH When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
ACD A clever man living in London who triumphs over adversity.
SH [Pleased] I rather like myself.
THE MA'M Now remember the names of the characters are very
ACD So, narrator Ormond Sacker.
SH &MA'M [Ridicules] Ormond Sacker?
ACD No, pretentious. Something uncomplicated, friendly. [Gets idea]
Watson. Doctor James [crosses out] no, John. Doctor John H.
THE MA'M Ah, sure, it's easy to get confused with James and John.
ACD Now the detective. Hope. Sheridan Hope.
SH [Ridicules] Sheridan No-Hope.
ACD Not Hope, Holmes. Sherrinford Holmes.
THE MA'M Sherrinford?
SH I don't think so Ignatius.
ACD Not Sherrinford. Who was that Chief Inspector here in Portsmouth?
SH/Ma'm [a la Chinese whisper] Sherlock. Sherlock. Sherlock.
Sherlock. Sherlock. Sherlock .
ACD [Suddenly inspired] Sherlock! [Excited he writes] Sherlock
[Holmes and The Ma'm exchange smiles]
SH And now the real story begins. The protagonist, the leading man,
the hero stands ready.
ACD [Lighting returns to normal and the writer moves from his desk.
Excited] I wrote my first Sherlock Holmes novel in a few weeks. I was
full of hope. It was some of my best work.
SH The world discovered its greatest detective.
THE MA'M [Anxiously hopeful] We prayed it would bring literary
ACD I sent it to the Cornhill Magazine. [Sadder] But back it came.
SH [Shocked] It came back!?[end of extract]