Editor’s Note: The Strand Magazine is proud to present its faithful readers with this exclusive excerpt from My Life of Good Intentions, the autobiography of James Edward Moriarty, forthcoming from Sherringford & Sons Publishers Ltd. We hope you are entertained with the following reminisces of one of England’s greatest impresarios.
It was Holmes who started calling me “The Professor”. Having an alter ego is not unusual in the world of theatre. It’s almost part and parcel of the business, really, ie: theatre folk and their stage names. Holmes hung “The Professor” on me not long after I took him and his partner on as clients.
Now, to this day, I still have no clear idea why he started calling me “The Professor,” though maybe it was his idea of a joke. For such an intelligent sort, he did have a curious fondness for puns and spoonerisms and all that type of low humour. “The Professor” might have been his idea of a clever play-on-words with “impresario,” I suppose. But I do know for a fact during all of our encounters over the years that there was always a trace of a smirk when he addressed me as “Professor” and sometimes I was almost sure that I detected a hint of a sneer, not that I ever said aught.
Still and all, I had no regrets about adding the two of them to my clients list. I have always maintained, and will do so with my very last breath if needs be, that Holmes & Watson were and are the greatest comic duo to ever grace the English stage.
I recall my initial impression of them as being two sides of the same coin. You had Holmes, tall and slim, almost rail-thin really, with that high intellectual forehead towering over those piercing eyes and that hawklike nose. Then there was Watson, almost the human epitome of the British bulldog, who even seemed to emphasize his subservient stature on-stage with his drab choice of dress for his short and stocky frame and his dour way of speaking.
True, given their modest music hall origin, it would have been quite difficult for most people to have predicted their rapid rise to prominence. Myself, I attribute it all to a hitherto-unrealized public appreciation for their unique melding of the academic and the absurd which became characteristic of their on-stage routine, and even of their off-stage antics over the years.
I would call your attention to “I Spy Miss Scarlet in the Study” as a classic example of what became their stock-in-trademark sketch comedy style mixed with true drama. Holmes, of course, was cast as the clever comedic lead opposite of Watson in the role of the stodgy and surprised straight man.
We all know the story. Holmes and Watson portrayed two amateur investigators helping, and also hindering, the police with a mysterious case of murder. There are the usual assortment of real clues and red herrings, a beautiful girl caught up in tragic circumstances, a vile and vicious villain, and a blundering and buffoonish representative of the official constabulary. What raised Miss Scarlet in the Study above the usual run-of-the-mill sort of farce was the introduction of a true anti-hero type in the person of Jefferson Hope, portrayed as the stereotype of the frontier American, yet who proved to have great audience appeal and encouraged actual empathy for his character in spite of his final revelation as the murderer pretending to be an ordinary London cabman.
I do not think I am giving away anything for the reader, or even spoiling the future enjoyment of others who might some day see a re-enactment of Scarlet in the Study, if I cite the following selection from the dénouement in support of my prior assertions regarding the comedic character of a Holmes & Watson offering. This particular scene display the satirical mixture of fine art and farce, along with an excellent example of Holmes’ own genius at elevating cheap humour almost to the level of true wit.
WATSON: Egad, Holmes! You’ve done it again!
HOLMES: Tut tut, my dear Watson. It was, after all, only an elementary problem in philosophy.
WATSON: Philosophy, Holmes? How the devil do you reason that?
HOLMES: Watson, you’ve seen my methods and you know my background. Nothing to do with the workings of the mind, especially the criminal mind, escapes my notice. There is much use to be found in the ponderings of philosophers as applied to the art of ratiocination, you see.
WATSON: No, I’m afraid I don’t see. How in the world, Holmes, did you deduce that Jefferson Hope was the culprit?
HOLMES: Why, my dear Watson, it was just a simple matter of viewing the matter like the perpetrator himself. In philosophical terms, cogito ergo sum. In the end, old fellow, I merely placed Descartes before the horse.
And there you have Holmes & Watson in the proverbial nutshell. Really, other than having to endure his snide manner in addressing me as “The Professor”, the only actual problem in dealing with Mr. Sherlock Holmes was his ego. Watson was more than willing to “exit stage left” as it were at the end of a routine. The real challenge was to get Holmes to make his last bow really His Last Bow before it became necessary to use the hook.
Indeed, in the end, where Holmes was concerned, that was always The Final Problem.
Gregg Chamberlain has had work in Daily Science Fiction, and NonBinary Review, anthologies like 100 Great Fantasy Short-Short Stories and the Alternative Hilarities series from Strange Musings Press, and magazines like Apex and Weirdbook.