Sherlock Holmes

A look at the life of the shooting capped, pipe smoking, ultimate sleuth who has been immortalised on page, stage and screen.


Sherlock Holmes was a fictional detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle, a medical doctor who preferred writing to attending his patients.

The eccentric pipe smoking resident of 221b Baker Street, London, first appeared in print late in 1887, in the novel 'A Study in Scarlet'. The idea of the detective story was in its infancy and Sherlock Holmes was immediately popular, helping to unleash a passion for mystery and detection stories that persists over a century later.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes antics with his sidekick, the bumbling and ever patient, Dr Watson' and Holmes’ arch-enemy' Professor James Moriarty' were then serialized in 'A Scandal in Bohemia', published in 1891 in The Strand magazine.

Holmes was a Bohemian. He alternated between days or weeks of listless lassitude and similar periods of intense engagement, with a challenging case or with his hobby, experimental chemistry, or with his violin. He was an occasional user of cocaine, though Watson describes this as Holmes' "only vice”, bar, of course, his pipe, that was forever between his lips, as well as his tendency to bend the truth and break the law, when it suited his purposes.

Doyle loosely modelled the character of Holmes on his lecturer at Edinburgh medical school, Joseph Bell, who was a pioneer in the new science of forensics.

The nature of the stories, chronicled by Watson as though they are reports of actual crimes, has caused considerable confusion over the years. Many readers have finished the stories uncertain of whether they have read fiction or fact. To confuse matters further, a whole body of academics entered into the game, pretending that Holmes and Watson were real, and Doyle was merely Watson’s literary agent. Their game was to apply Holmes’ own methods to analyzing the stories and trying to explain the inconsistencies. Journals then published their research, with their editors under the impression that Holmes and Watson were actual people.


The Guinness Book of Records states that Holmes is the 'most portrayed character in film', with over 75 actors playing him in over 211 films.

'Sherlock Holmes Baffled' in 1900 was the first time the detective appeared in a film albeit in a barley-recognisable form.

William Gillette wrote a play in 1899 using elements of 'A Scandal in Bohemia' and 'A Study in Scarlet'. This play formed the basis of his 1916 film 'Sherlock Holmes'.

In 1929, the first film with sound was made starring Clive Dean as the detective in 'The Return of Sherlock Holmes'. This was the first time the iconic phrase' Elementary, my dear Watson,' was uttered.

Between 1939 and 1946, Basil Rathbone portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 14 US feature films. The next film in which Sherlock Holmes was the star was the 1970 'Private Life of Sherlock Holmes', with Robert Stephens in the main role.

Jeremy Brett is considered the definitive Holmes as he portrayed the character for four seasons of 'Sherlock Holmes' between 1984 and 1994.

In recent years, Guy Ritchie has made two Sherlock Holmes films, with Robert Downey JR playing Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. The first one was released in 2009 and the second on 16 December 2011.

The BBC created a TV drama called 'Sherlock' starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the detective in modern times The first season premiered on 25 July 2011 and they are currently at work on the fourth season.