CASSAVETES: THE JAZZ DETECTIVE

When Guy Barker and I were sketching out the idea for a piece called dZf – The Magic Flute relocated to Greenwich Village – one of our touchstones was a TV series called Johnny Staccato, which aired in the US from 1959-60. Starring John Cassavetes as a “jazz detective”, it was set in a Village jazz club called Waldo’s, and the title character was a pianist who moonlighted as a gumshoe. Or vice-versa.Unknown

The club setting (and the music played there) was crucial to us, but the only episode we managed to track down was one where the nightclub was temporarily shut down. Disappointing, to say the least. Now, though, if you have a multi-region DVD player you can enjoy all 27 episodes in the US re-issue below. And what a treat it is, from the opening credits on.

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The theme music is by Elmer Bernstein (‘The Magnificent Seven’), a punchy, braying wail of brass, a supercharged version of his work on The Sweet Smell of Success. The musicians playing at Waldo’s included Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne, Red Mitchell, Red Norvo, and pianist Johnny Williams (later John Williams, responsible for Star Wars, Jaws etc). Although set in the Village, nearly all the players were from the West Coast school of jazz, because, apart from a few exteriors, the series was actually filmed in LA.

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So how does it stand up? Well the scripts aren’t its strong point, but Cassavetes with his razor-sharp suits and matching cheek bones is excellent and there is something to savour in most episodes, not least Elizabeth Montgomery – Samantha in Bewitched – playing against type as a sexy femme fatale in Tempted. And the music is always great – Bernstein used three different ensembles- a big band of 25, a Birth of the Cool-sized 12-piece and an ensemble of six players  with vibes and trumpet to the fore. Listen out for a riff that sounds as if it could be a sketch for Lalo Schifrin’s later Mission Impossible theme.

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If you want to skip the visuals, the soundtrack is available on an 8-CD compilation called Jazz on Film: Crime Jazz, which also includes Lee Marvin’s M Squad, the Untouchables and, best of all, two CDs of Henry Mancini’s music from Peter Gunn.

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DR WATSON 3 – JUST A MONTH AWAY

The new cover for the next Dr Watson book, out in hardback on January 1, looks something like this:

Study in Murder HB

Those who have read The Dead Can Wait will know that towards the end the doctor found himself in a precarious situation. In A Study in Murder, he is in a German POW camp. It also sees the (un)welcome return of Miss Pillbody, the sadistic “She Wolf” and Von Bork, the German spy from His Last Bow, the Conan Doyle story that kickstarted this whole series. To pass the time while incarcerated, Watson writes a new Holmes story for the camp magazine, and that will be included at the end of the book.  I modified an existing non-canonical ACD tale. making Watson the narrator and placing Holmes in the action, so it is a new/old Sherlock tale, mostly using Conan Doyle’s original text. More on that nearer the time.

24 HOURS IN SOHO @BBCCO

 On Tuesday 18th November the BBC Concert Orchestra will be performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with Trish Clowes, Norma Winstone and Guy Barker as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. It is also being broadcast live on BBC3. My contribution was to produce a narrative for Guy’s new composition. An outline of that will appear in the concert programme, but this a more comprehensive version of what went into the creation of his Soho Symphony.

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Earlier this year, I received a phone call from Guy Barker, saying he had a hankering to write a new orchestral piece for the BBC Concert Orchestra (he is Associate Composer there). However, he was staring at a blank page and needed a framework. 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. This time all he had was ‘Soho’ as a theme.

Guy wanted to mention and somehow reference in the piece some of his formative and favourite places and people and we came up with a very long list, most of which involved alcohol (often at the much-lamented Black Gardenia, above) or music or frequently both. And so I wrote a short story that is (very, very loosely) inspired by James Joyce’s Ulysses, 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. Of course, once subjected to the alchemy of Guy Barker, where base stories become musically precious, things changed. So here is a guide to the thematic waymarkers in the piece, which consists of seven (part six is divided into two) sections.

  1. BACON & BOHEMIA

I opened the story with our hero living in Fitrovia and being disturbed by the smell of breakfast:

  “I am always woken early by the smell of bacon, climbing the stairs from the kitchen below, wafting under the door like a fog of temptation, tickling my nose. So I always awake with a craving for a bacon butty. But I don’t mind the premature start today. I have a date with a beautiful woman. 8am. Bar Italia.”

But it is well before the appointed hour and in this section Guy conjures up a stroll through the streets of Soho before sunrise. Bottles roll in the gutters, the garbage trucks patrol the alleys, many of the area’s characters are just waking up, others going to bed – some tired and happy, others reflecting on a night gone awry. The boy wanders down Wardour St, killing time, looking at film posters in the production houses, listening to the ‘dawn chorus’ chatter of stall-holders in Berwick St, until it is time for coffee on Frith St.

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  1. MOZART & MOCHA

The music here takes on a frantic quality. On the way to Bar Italia for his rendezvous he confronts the tide of workers rushing into the area, marching to their desks and workstations and shop floors, a mass of humanity on the move, blocking and knocking him, until he turns the corner sees Bar Italia (and the music takes on a touch of Fellini-esque romance).

A dominant 7th chord announces his sanctuary in this slice of La Dolce Vita, with cheeky Italian barmen serving him ‘the best espresso in town’. And serving it again. And again. No girl yet. More coffee? Why not?

Nerves jangling from too much caffeine, he leaves the bar and looks up, noticing the blue plaque declaring that a young Mozart once lived on Frith St. Here, the orchestra gradually falls away to leave a string quartet, which plays 12 bars derived a short Mozart piano piece composed by Mozart when was four.

His limbs jerky from his espresso-overload, the boy struts up Frith, past Ronnie Scott’s, Garlic & Shots, the Dog & Duck, until he comes to Soho Square, and thinks of Fifis.

  1. FAITH & FIFIS

A ‘Fifi’ was the slang name for the working girls, often of French or Belgian extraction (or pretending to be), who inhabited Soho in the pre- and post-war years.

“I light a cigarette and lean against the railings outside Église Protestante Française de Londres, the last Huguenot church in London. Would the Fifis have worshipped here? Probably not, most of those girls who came over in the ‘30s, 40s and ‘50s would have been Catholic, I guess. I look across to St Patrick’s, where maybe the Fifis confessed their sins and along to the House of St Barnabas, once a charitable organization for émigrés run by nuns, then, post-WW2, a women’s hostel, where I am sure the odd Fifi would have fetched up.”

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These thoughts on religion are suggested by a brass chorale. But it moves on to something darker, for Soho in the thirties had its own version of Jack the Ripper or the Boston Strangler – a serial killer was at work, with victims in Archer, Lexington, Rupert, Old Compton and Wardour streets, all strangled with their own silk stockings. “Jack the Strangler” was never caught.

Musing on this, he sees the ghosts of the dead Fifis, grey, pale-faced corpses. As the instruction to the orchestra on the score has it: ‘Soho Square has become an open air charnel house’.

  1. RHYTHM, BLUES & BEYOND

What Guy calls a ‘psychedelic’ start signals a section where the boy is moving from Soho Square, considering drowning his sorrows at being stood up, and thinking of all the drinking and music clubs in Soho. But on his travels he comes across Jeffery Bernard, furious at just being barred from the Colony Room, who marches him to the Coach & Horses, where Norman, the rudest landlord in London, plies them with gin and insults. Further enraged by the drink, Jeff marches off (which you’ll hear clearly in the music) and ‘borrows’ a window cleaner’s ladder. He takes it to outside 41 Dean St and leans it against the first floor window. He scuttles up it. Bangs on the glass. When the window is open he addresses those (the Bacons and the Farsons) gathered within: ‘You are all a bunch of…’

And off Jeff goes, sliding down the ladder and marching off again, the young man in tow. Here, a bluesy 12/8 section suggests the other type of club in Soho, the music ones, especially the Flamingo, and Georgie Fame’s R&B all-nighters.

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They pass by Kettner’s, where two men dressed in black are at work – Kenny Clayton is playing stride piano, Bill Mitchell singing. From there Jeff doubles back, heading for Jerry’s, the other famous Soho haunt of the alcoholically adventurous, and when he reaches it, there is a slowing of the music, signalling his now weary descent down the stairs into the warm, crepuscular embrace of the drinking den.

  1. GIG & GIRLS

Later, much later, there is a head that needs clearing, and our boy walks towards Archer St, which he finds populated by musical ghosts. As it is explained in the story:

“From the twenties through to the sixties, jazz musicians would crowd this street. Wall to wall it was. The snooty London Orchestral Association had it headquarters there. And they wouldn’t allow dance band musicians in. Too populist, you see. But outside, in this street here, it was like a musicians’ Labour Exchange. You wanted a gig or to get paid or to hear the gossip, you came down here.”

 

Archer Street

Archer Street

So you will hear this in a section reminiscent of the bright, optimistic hustle and bustle of a Pathé News reel, as the musicians crowd the streets, shooting the breeze and a line, until.. hold the phone, what’s this? Romance – or at least sex – has raised its pretty head in the score.

Archer St, you see, intersects with Windmill St, and musicians always used for the doorways that allowed them to see the famous Windmill Girls come and go. There were other women there, too. As Ronnie Scott put it years later: “These days you’d call them groupies. Back then we just thought of them as jolly good sports.”

Fired up by such thoughts, the lad, still the worse for wear, hightails it back to Dean St and Sunset Strip, one of the few remaining original strip club for which the area was once notorious. What you might call “Music To Disrobe By” is a feature in this section, with appropriate – or perhaps inappropriate – contributions from the orchestra.

 

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  1. A GIRL, A GARDENIA & A GAGGIA

 a. A PEARL ON DEAN

Sobriety brings self-loathing. He doesn’t want to see girls, naked or otherwise he wants to see A particular girl.

Leaving the club, he sprints up Dean St, towards the Black Gardenia where he first met her, and BOOM! There she is, standing outside in all her tattooed glory. They speak, sweetly.

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And he discovers he has been an idiot. When she said she’d meet him ‘a week today’ for an early coffee, it was well after midnight – but he was thinking of the previous day, when he had started the evening. He had turned up at the Bar Italia 24 hours too early.

After a drink at the Gardenia, they go back to Frith St, where those cheeky barmen are still serving the best espresso in town.

b) ESPRESSO SUNRISE

And so, exactly 24 hours after he left his flat in Fitzrovia, they walk out of the Bar Italia together, into the promise of a Soho dawn. The day has come full circle, and so has the piece.

 

 

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).

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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).