On Boxing Day on BBC-TV they showed a Sherlock Holmes adventure called The Case of the Silk Stocking, starring Rupert Everett as the great detective. If you are puzzled not to recognise the name of this Holmes story, puzzle no longer. It was written by Alan Cubitt, and although my wife and I thought Everett very good in the role, and enjoyed some of the goings on, the story was shaping up quite preposterously by the time some visitors rang our door bell, and we missed the final five minutes and never found out what happened.
What I was not shocked by was the fact that anyone should attempt to concoct a new story based on 221b Baker Street, even if it did involve inventing a completely new fiancée for Dr Watson. Because although it may seem to be sacrilege to imagine you can do the job as well as Conan Doyle, it must also be one of the most universal instincts among writers.
Even Bert Coules has done it. Hehas adapted all the Holmes stories and the four novels for Radio 4, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes. That's 50 stories or more. And when Mr Coules had no more Holmes yarns to adapt, how did he use the skill and knowledge he had gained from vicariously living in Baker Street for so long? Why, he overcame his respect for Conan Doyle and concocted a clutch of brand-new Holmes stories of his own. I heard some of them on Radio 4, and they weren't bad, even if they were slightly far-fetched and over-wrought.
But then, some of Conan Doyle's own stories are pretty far-fetched and odd themselves. The later ones depend more on recondite knowledge and stage machinery than anything else. There are far fewer good touches of character. Some, like The Lion's Mane, need a knowledge of poisonous jellyfish more than of human nature. It is almost as if Conan Doyle was doing his own pastiche of himself.
Well, if he was, he was in good company. It is quite extraordinary how many people have tried to add to the Holmes canon. I cannot imagine anyone writing a new Maigret or Poirot mystery, but the lure of Holmes is quite different. There was a whole series of wartime black-and-white films featuring Holmes in new, lurid, generally anti-Nazi, plots. Billy Wilder did it. Frank Richards, author of the Billy Bunter stories, did it. (In a spirit of healthy mockery, mark you. He wrote a series of knockabout yarns featuring a madcap detective called "Herlock Sholmes".)
I admit to having succumbed to the temptation myself. When the Royal Shakespeare Company first revived the original stage version of Sherlock Holmes, I thought it was a shame not to have staged a Shakespearean version, and I waded out into blank verse with a Bardic transformation of Hamlet, The Case of The Danish Prince. Much later, I collaborated with actor/ musician Simon Gilman to do an hour-long show for the Edinburgh Fringe entitled The Death of Tchaikovsky: a Sherlock Holmes Mystery, which, though I say it myself, was as convincing an explanation of Tchaikovsky's mysterious death as any I have read.
In fact, if anyone out there saw the Sherlock Holmes film with Rupert Everett last Boxing Day, and can remember the ending which we missed, I would be very happy for them to write to me and tell me, in return for which I will tell you how Tchaikovsky happened to be on holiday by the Reichenbach Falls and what he witnessed as Moriarty and Holmes grappled on the edge of the void.
A reader writes: Dear Mr Kington, do you mean to tell me this whole piece was just a pathetic attempt to find out something you missed on the TV?
Miles Kington writes: Well, yes. But it's not so much for me as for the wife.
A reader writes: It is still disgraceful. Wait till the editor reads this!
Miles Kington writes: No danger of that, old chap. He has far better things to do.