MY WEEKEND WITH WATSON…

.. and with Sherlock, of course. The Times recently ran a piece of mine on Sherlock’s London. In fact, I wrote two versions of the story, the published piece and a second more prescriptive one on how to plan a weekend around the splendid Sherlock Holmes Exhibition at the Museum of London at the Barbican (www.museumoflondon.org.uk). Given the global popularity of the series, a significant percentage of visitors are expected to come from outside London – so the idea was to help those not familiar with the city find other Sherlock sites. It does have some different recommendations from The Times piece, so I thought I’d reproduce it here.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” (A Study in Scarlet)

With the game afoot, your first port of call on arriving in London is to proceed at once to the Henry VIII Gate of St Bartholomew’s Hospital at Smithfields and its small museum (bartshealth.nhs.uk), which closes at 4pm. As well as a history of the hospital – where Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) spent some time – the museum contains a plaque commemorating the first meeting of Holmes and Watson in the building, donated in 1953 by the Baker St Irregulars, a venerable conglomerate of Holmes aficionados.

The original Reichenbach fall

The original Reichenbach fall

But, of course, this was also the location for Sherlock’s dramatic fall from the roof in the BBC’s Reichenbach Fall episode, which led to the red phone box near the gate being plastered in “Believe in Sherlock” post-it notes. Also check the website of the spectacular glass-roofed triple-tiered Pathology Museum (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/bartspathology/) in the same complex, a gruesome yet fascinating insight into medicine in ACD’s day – he is rumoured to have penned some of his stories in the curator’s office. Sadly, it is only open to the public for special evening events and some afternoons but the website makes clear the Sherlock connection.
From St Bart’s it’s but a short stroll to The Museum of London (150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN) for “The Man Who Never lived And Will Never Die” (£12/£10) exhibition, which runs until April 2015.

Checking the famous Cumberbatch Belstaff, which is on display at the Museum of London

Checking the famous Cumberbatch Belstaff, which is on display at the Museum of London

FRIDAY EVENING: “I think that something nutritious at Simpson’s would not be out of place.” (The Dying Detective)

Where to eat like Sherlock? Try Simpson’s-In-The Strand (100 Strand, 7836 9112, 020 7836 9112, simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk) one of London’s most traditional and sumptuous dining rooms, pretty much unchanged since ACD’s time, when it was mention in the Dying Detective and The Illustrious Client. Famed for its carved roasts, the closest thing approaching a bargain here is the Fixed Price menu, served early evening until 7pm (not Saturdays or Sundays), £25.75 plus service. Ask for a window seat to emulate Watson ‘looking down at the rushing stream of life in the Strand’ and wear your best bib and tucker.

SATURDAY MORNING: ”It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London” (The Red-Headed League)

An early start at Speedy’s Sandwich Bar and Café (187 N Gower St, 020 7383 3485, speedyscafe.co.uk) near Euston, a humble caff that has, thanks to its new incarnation as 221b Baker Street’s neighbour in the Cumberbatch/Freeman series, become an unlikely tourist attraction. Here you can dine on a Sherlock (chicken and cheese) or a Watson (veggie, both £4.10) wrap or just fill up on a traditional breakfast (it opens 6.30am weekdays, 7.30am Saturdays). From there, travel to Piccadilly and the Criterion Restaurant, where Watson first heard from Stamford the name of the man who would change his world forever. This is the meeting point for Britmovie’s “In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes” walking tour (11am, britmovietours.com, £12). It concentrates mostly on the BBC series and recent Guy Ritchie movies, although it does include the site of the Strand magazine, as well as the memorabilia-packed Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Avenue (sherlockholmespub.com), with its Hound of the Baskervilles association and recreation of the sitting room of 221b Baker St upstairs. It’s a good spot for a pint of Watson’s Wallop or Sherlock Holmes Ale after the tour ends at Somerset House (a Robert Downey Jr. location). London Walks (walks.com) also offers a two-hour Sherlock tour on Friday afternoons at 2pm (£9), which concentrates a little more on the ‘canon’ of ACD stories and finishes up at the same pub.

"It is a curious thing," remarked Holmes, "that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man's handwriting.."

“It is a curious thing,” remarked Holmes, “that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting..”

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: “The name’s Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221b Baker Street.” (Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s Sherlock)
One of the most famous addresses in the world has had a complex history – suffice it to say there was no 221 when ACD wrote his stories. Most people know that the subsequently designated 221 was once the Abbey National HQ, but no longer. The Sherlock Holmes Museum (020 7224 3688, sherlock-holmes.co.uk, £10/£8) bills itself as at 221b, although it is actually at 239, but the townhouse is very similar to the one described in the stories. Some visitors find the museum’s exhibits to be authentically and atmospherically Victorian and Holmesian, others think shabby and careworn nearer the mark, but it certainly has a well-stocked gift shop. Be warned, there can be long queues – you might want to save it for early Sunday (9.30am opening). There is also a ‘talking’ statue of Holmes (see talkingstatues.co.uk) outside Baker St Station, with a script by Anthony Horowitz (House of Silk, Moriarty) and voiced by Ed Stoppard – you’ll need a smartphone to activate the call from Sherlock.

SATURDAY EVENING: “You don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet – perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion.” (A Study in Scarlet)
Back to the lavishly ceilinged Criterion on Piccadilly Circus for an early evening drink – the bar is a better bet than the dining room – and its plaque commemorating Watson first being told of Holmes and his eccentricities.

Ernest Dudley Heath, Piccadilly Circus at Night, 1893

The Long Bar stills serves a couple of cocktail recipes created here by barman Leo Engel in the late 19th century. Try a Reviver – American whiskey, angostura bitters, lemon juice, soda (£8). Then take a leaf from Benedict Cumberbatch’s book and choose one of his Soho faves – Viet (34 Greek St, 020 7494 9888) for a steaming bowl of pho, Yalla Yalla (1 Green’s Court, 020 7287 7663, yall-yalla.co.uk) for Lebanese or Tapas Brindisa (46 Broadwick St, 020 7534 1690, brindisa.com), which featured in the first Sherlock episode A Study in Pink.

SUNDAY: “I have a box for ‘Les Huguenots.’ Have you heard the De Reszkes?” (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

The Covent Garden area features in several Holmes stories – the Christmas goose at the heart of the Blue Carbuncle is bought in the market and Holmes solves the mystery of The Man With The Twisted Lip at Bow Street Magistrates. Holmes and Watson attend a performance of Wagner in The Red Circle at The Royal Opera House (020-7304 4000, roh.org.uk), where he would also have seen the Polish tenor Jean de Reske mentioned above. On selected Sunday morning, the House offers tours at 10.30am (75 mins, £12) of the beautiful auditorium and its backstage areas.

A Violin made by Duke of London, era-appropriate for Sherlock, but not the Strad he picked up for a song along Tottenham Court Road.

A Violin made by Duke of London, era-appropriate for Sherlock, but not the Strad he picked up for a song along Tottenham Court Road.

Alternatively, see a live performance of the German music Holmes loved. Sadly, St James Hall on Regent St, Sherlock’s other favourite music venue, no longer exists, but he (and ACD) would have been to the Renaissance-styled Bechstein Hall on Wigmore St, which was a showcase for the piano company, but during WW1 was renamed as the less Germanic Wigmore Hall. It puts on Sunday Morning recitals of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven etc for £12.50, including coffee or sherry. You can stroll afterwards to Upper Wimpole St where, at No2, a plaque indicates the ophthalmic practice that ACD set up in 1891, the year the first six Strand Holmes stories were published, and afterwards visit Marylebone Farmer’s Market (lfm.org.uk/markets/marylebone/) – another Cumberbatch favourite.

WHERE TO STAY: The Park Plaza chain, which includes the Sherlock Holmes Hotel at 108 Baker St – which is not, despite the name, especially themed – has a London Museum Sherlock Exhibition Package at all its properties in the capital. It costs from £188 per room per night, including B&B, two exhibition tickets with exclusive fast track anytime entry, a souvenir book and 10% discount on purchases in the Museum’s gift shop. Details: 0800-169 6128, parkplaza.com.

The Sign of Four , Australian Film Poster 1923

The Langham, opposite the BBC on Portland Place, is an important hotel in Holmes lore (it was where ACD was commissioned to write The Sign of Four, Sherlock’s second adventure, when he dined with Oscar Wilde in 1889) and features in A Scandal in Bohemia, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax and The Sign of Four. It also has a package with two tickets, from £329 B&B per night (020 636 1000, london.langhamhotels.co.uk).

* Robert Ryan is the author of the novel The Dead Can Wait, which features Dr. Watson (Simon & Schuster, £7.99). Thanks to The Museum of London for the images.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AT THE MUSEUM OF LONDON

By early morning four-wheeler to the Museum of London, for the media preview of Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die, the museum’s major exhibition of all things Sherlockian with opens tomorrow (17th). You might think, given the continuing appetite for Holmes, this would be a shoo-in as a blockbuster event. But, as lead curator Alex Werner has said: ‘We found ourselves having to think hard about how you create an exhibition about a fictional character.’
That sentiment alone will raise some hackles. Werner does not subscribe to playing ‘The Great Game’, popular with many Sherlock Holmes societies around the world, in which all pretend that Watson, not Conan Doyle, wrote the stories and that Holmes was flesh and blood (albeit capable of Whovian-like regeneration). So you won’t find a reproduction of the sitting room at 212b Baker St, like the one at the Northumberland Arms near Charing Cross, complete with Persian slipper, violin and a copy of Bradshaw, claiming this was where Holmes tackled his three-pipe problems. Instead, the curators have assembled cabinets of the sort of artefacts Holmes might have come into contact with, without claiming the great man actually handled them (and so you will find an 18th century violin, a selection of service revolvers of the sort Watson and Holmes might have carried, and a case of drug paraphernalia of the correct period).

 

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Then there is question of which Holmes do you concentrate on when creating a show about the world’s only Consulting Detective? There will be some visitors who will be disappointed to find this is not a Cumberfest, although he does appear on screens and his Belstaff ‘Milford’ coat and his dressing gown (originally used by Conan Doyle to suggest Holmes’ “bohemian” qualities) are on display. But it is not a celebration of the BBC version of the Great Detective. In fact, nearly all the Holmes are represented, from the well-known (Brett, Cumberbatch, Rathbone) to the half-remembered (Ian Richardson, Christopher Plummer, Richard Roxburgh), the point being to demonstrate that no matter how many times he is re-imagined, re-located and re-booted, the immutable essence of Holmes lies within Conan Doyle’s 56 short stories and four novels (rare examples of which are on display under glass). And, of course, it lies with the city where Holmes lived and so often worked.Unknown

This being the Museum of London it should come as no surprise that a large part of the show concentrates on the city that fed both Holmes and Conan Doyle, and it is very effective at conjuring up the gaslit, fog-bound streets that the author wrote about. Maps show Holmes and Watson’s movements about the city in several of the tales, and contemporary paintings of a hansom cab stand, the Strand, Piccadilly and “The Bayswater Omnibus” – shown above, as mentioned in The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter – give visual life to the architectural and cultural backdrop to many of the stories.
So Werner and his team have done an exemplary job of touching all the Holmes bases while maintaining a focus on the city that helped gave life to this remarkably resilient creation. Criticisms? Yes. Not enough Watson. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Dead can Wait PBB front cover

* Sherlock: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die” costs £12/£10 concessions (020 7001 9844, museumoflondon.org.uk/sherlock).

MY LUNCH WITH SHERLOCK

There are many sites of pilgrimage for Sherlock fans in London (The Criterion, St Bart’s, Baker St), but one that is often overlooked is The Langham Hotel, which sits in splendid grandeur opposite the BBC in Portland Place. A regular haunt of Arthur Conan Doyle, not only does it feature in A Scandal in Bohemia, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax and The Sign of Four, it was also the venue for a memorable dinner which, arguably, ensured Sherlock became the iconic character he is today.

9. The Sign of Four

       It was on 30th August, 1889, that Conan Doyle accepted an invitation to dine with Joseph Marshall Stoddart, Managing Editor of Lippincott’s Magazine, who was in town looking for UK writers for the US publication, and Oscar Wilde. It was, Conan Doyle, later said, ‘a magical evening’, and from it came The Sign of Four, Holmes’s second outing, and, from Wilde, the not inconsiderable The Picture of Dorian Gray. (There are those who claim the playfulness in some of the Holmes stories was a direct result of Conan Doyle meeting the legendarily witty Wilde.)

7. The Sign of Four

       As Nicholas Utechin, historian for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, points out, at this juncture Holmes was a moribund character. He had appeared in A Study in Scarlet in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887, but it garnered scant attention, and it was by no means certain he would appear again. ‘The Langham dinner revived a career that was all but comatose,’ says Utechin.

       Last Monday, the 29th of September, Chris King, Head Chef of Roux at the Landau restaurant in The Langham recreated (or rather re-booted) the type of menu the men would have enjoyed at dinner, using a Victorian menu from the archives as a template. I was fortunate enough to be invited. The lunch included a beautifully intense consommé with shaved turnips and seared foie gras; dover sole in vermouth, tarragon and shimeji (mushrooms possibly not on the original list); rib of beef from the trolley and cheese with straw, praline and dandelion (see below).

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Original Victorian Langham menu... with ads...

Original Victorian Langham menu… with ads…

Between the beef and the cheese was a surprise course – a chance to view the original first page of the manuscript of what was then called The Sign of The Four (the second definite article being dropped later). It, famously, opens with a description of Holmes and his notorious seven per cent solution:

The first manuscript page of ‘The Sign of Four’ by Arthur Co

       This precious relic has been loaned by the University of California Audrey Geisel University Library at the University of California in San Diego. Sadly, the rest of the m/s is in the hands of a private collector, but that one page of meticulous, very lightly corrected handwriting will be on display in the Museum of London’s “Sherlock: The Man Who Never lived And Will Never Die” (£12/£10) exhibition. This installation covers all aspects of Sherlock’s career, from the writings to Gillette on stage, silent films, right up to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Belstaff coat, and runs from October 17-until April 2015. See museumoflondon.org.uk. 

 10. The Sign of Four

 

 

 

 

 

MY LUNCH WITH JEFF – THE MUSICAL

On November 18 a piece of music will be premiered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall that owes its existence to a lunch I once had with Jeffrey Bernard (below).

jeffrey-bernard-2

A few months ago, I received two phone calls, a day apart, both concerning Soho. One was from the Groucho Club, asking if I had any anecdotes to contribute to a compendium it was compiling for its 30th anniversary. The other was from Guy Barker, saying he had a hankering to write a piece based on Soho for the BBC Concert Orchestra (he is Associate Composer there). However, he was staring at a blank page (well, actually a screen of the Sibelius programme) and needed a framework. Did I have any ideas for a skeleton he could flesh out with his music? We have done this before, with dZf, a re-working of the Magic Flute, and last year That Obscure Hurt, a Henry James/Britten-inspired piece. I give Guy a narrative; he builds his music around it.

Both phone calls, it seemed to me, could involve a story told to me by Jeff when, back in 1987, I interviewed him over a rather disastrous lunch at the back of the Groucho Club brasserie, when he fell asleep in the soup – the only time I have ever had to save a man from death by pea and ham. Anyway, he described an incident involving himself, the Colony Room, Francis Bacon & Co, a window cleaner’s ladder and more profanity than can be repeated here.

I wrote up the story for the Groucho and then met with Guy and said I would like to make that story at least part of the ‘Soho Symphony’ as we began to call it. I talked over other locations and tall tales we could include. I ended up with the task of combining Bar Italia, Mozart, Ronnie Scott’s, Archer St, a serial killer, the French, the Protestant church on Soho Square, Pizza Express, 20th Century Fox, ‘Fifis’ (the French and Belgian working girls of the 1950s), all-nighters at the Flamingo Club, late night drinking at Gerry’s, Harrison Marks, Paul Raymond, The Black Gardenia and, of course, that Groucho lunch, among many others.

And so, I wrote a short story that is (very, very loosely) inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses (but, you know, more readable), about a boy failing to meet a girl and spending 24 hours wandering around the streets of Soho, among its ghosts, its music and its memories, and meeting Jeff with his ladder. To paraphrase the producer/writer Kip Hanrahan, I gave this piece of pressed tin to Guy Barker who proceeded to turn it into rolled gold.

It will be played at an ‘orchestral jazz’ concert – although Guy’s piece does not feature his usual jazz band, it is for the BBC C.O. only – featuring the symphony, plus the excellent saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes, and the vocal legend that is Norma Winstone, at the QEH on November 18, as part of the London Jazz Festival (see http://tinyurl.com/mff9g6n).

FIRE IN THE SKY

In San Sebastian, you know things are about to kick off when Jesus goes out. I am just back from the firework contest there, which involves manufacturers from several countries (this year, Spain, Italy and Austria) setting off thousands of pounds’ worth of explosives every night at 22.45, an event signalled by the illuminated on the ‘Sacred Heart’ statue of Jesus that overlooks the town being switched off. I’ll write about it further nearer the time next year, no doubt, but it is spectacular and, although busy, a great time to be in one of the best seaside cities in Europe.

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We stayed on the Gros side of town, near the Zurriola surf beach, which has a great selection of pintxos bars (Hidalgo 56, Bodega Donostiarra, Senra) and good value restaurants (especially along Calle Zabaleta) that don’t suffer from the scrum afflicting the Old Town. You can see the fireworks from the beach here, too. You also get very generous G&Ts hereabouts (these below at the Ondarra Bar almost opposite the Kursaal conference/arts centre), which help the evening go with a different kind of bang.

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BELGIAN INTERLUDE

Berlin InterRail will be along shortly; meanwhile, here is some music….

There was a moment during Melanie de Biasio’s performance at the Purcell Room on the Southbank the other night when, as a fan of light framed her uplifted face, I felt as if I was watching Ingrid Bergman playing Joan of Arc re-incarnated with the voice of Abbey Lincoln fronting a Belgian version of The Necks.

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Certainly anyone who popped along because of the tag ‘the Belgian Billie Holiday’ that she is often saddled with was in for a surprise. This was strange fruit all right, a cross pollination of jazz, blues, trip-hop, post-rock and late Talk Talk and it certainly wasn’t a singer showing off her chops with a succession of torch songs or standards. If anything, she used the power of her spine-tingly voice too sparingly, often simply breathing out phrases or single words to wrap around the repetitive, sometimes languorous patterns created by a band consisting of piano, keyboards (clavinet, synths) and drums. But that meant when she did let rip, it counted, and hairs stood up on necks.
In a short, intense, one-hour set she played most of new (also short) album No Deal (Play it Again Sam records) with parts of A Stomach Is Burning, her less minimal debut from a couple of years ago. It was effectively one single, stripped-down sixty-minute song, building to the wonderful I’m Gonna Leave You. The two keyboards players added mostly texture and a skeletal framework for the tunes – no long noodly jazz solos here – while drummer Dre Pallemaerts ably supplied the rhythmic heft (and the singer added smoky stabs of flute). It was an unsettling – on a good way – monochrome show, a little like the drawings that come with the album, and was brilliantly lit, creating a close, clubby atmosphere in the sometimes sterile Purcell Room.
It’s all too rare to come away from a gig thinking: well, I haven’t seen anything like that recently, but Melanie De Biasio (who is highly rated by Jamie Cullum and Gilles Peterson) will leave you scratching your head and producing weird combos of artists to explain her to those who don’t yet know her sound. Although possibly none as odd as Joan of Arc.

http://www.melaniedebiasio.

A BERLIN HIGH LINE?

I have a soft spot for Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, which was built between 1934-36 and mothballed seventy-odd years later. Yes, it is a symbol of Nazi Germany but, even though its pedigree is suspect, the audacious sweep of the curved building, the 50m-wide canopy to cover the aircraft and its intimidating scale – like all Nazi-era public buildings it was intended to make you feel very small indeed – was and is very impressive.

Souce: Berliner Flughäfen/Archiv

Souce: Berliner Flughäfen/Archiv

Sir Norman Foster called it the ‘mother of all airports’ – after all, the main terminal building is a stunning 1.2 kilometres long. It also featured in my novel about the Berlin Airlift of 1948, Dying Day, re-issued this week by Open Road as an e-book in the USA (see http://www.openroadmedia.com) and I spent a fair amount of time back in 2006-7 poking around the airport.

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So I thought it was a shame when Tempelhof closed to air traffic in 2008. Since then it has entered a twilight phase – the main runways have morphed into a popular public park, but the vast and iconic terminal buildings are only used for ad hoc fashion and music events. A recent conversation with Burkhard Kieker, CEO of Berlin Tourism, however, suggested that there might be an interesting future for the building.  ‘A long section of the roof was designed to support a hundred thousand people – so they could welcome Hitler when he landed and listen to his speeches. My vision is to turn that into something like the High Line in New York – an aerial park, with trees and shrubs and cafes.’

It’s a great idea. Much is being made by Berlin of the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down in November. 2018, though, is the 70th anniversary of the  Airlift, an almost equally important bookmark in the city’s history. It would be very apposite to have something opening on the roof of Tempelhof by then, overlooking the field where the constant flights saved the city from starvation.