Just when I thought Sherlockians - I'm sorry, Holmesians can't get any nicer, along comes this week's Interesting Interview subject, Nicholas Utechin. Since I first got into this hobby, Nick has been one of the names that I've seen time and time again. And every time it came up, I've always been impressed with the man's work, knowledge, and longevity in this hobby of ours. Well, let me tell you, those all pale in comparison to what a nice guy Nick is! Our email exchanges this week in preparation for tonight's interview have been a highlight every time I got something from him in my inbox.
If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance that you know Nick Utechin as the longtime editor of The Sherlock Holmes Journal, or author of a number of books such as Sherlock Holmes at Oxford or Sherlock Holmes: Amazing and Extraordinary Facts. And the man isn't stopping any time soon! He's just edited a new book celebrating the history of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in its 70th anniversary year, This August and Scholarly Body, he's been popping up in Zoom meetings all over the place for presentations, and he brought canonical insight to a Sherlockian puzzle that came out last year! And I think his knowledge, passion, and connections all come down to two things: he loves Sherlock Holmes and he's a great guy. So let's kick off the month of May with a true delight, Nicholas Utechin!
How do you define the word ‘Sherlockian’?
In the same way that I would the word ‘Holmesian’ – which we use more often over on this side of the Atlantic! Basically, anyone who wishes to take matters just that bit further than merely reading and enjoying the stories. You may want to dress up in Victorian clothing, you may be able to afford the odd Beeton’s Christmas Annual or Lippincott’s Monthly, you may adore Gillette, Saintsbury, Wontner or Wilmer, or you may enjoy playing “the game” – that is, the pseudo-scholarship.
Those who espouse “fandom” are not necessarily Sherlockians.
How did you become a Sherlockian?
I became a Holmesian in 1966, at the age of 14. My mother had tried me on The Hound of the Baskervilles some years earlier, but it was a touch too early and I was frightened. Then my great-aunt wisely gave me the John Murray Omnibus edition of the Short Stories when I was 12. The crucial breakthrough came when my mother took out of the public library the English edition of Baring-Gould’s Biography – and there at the back was an address for The Sherlock Holmes Journal, of which I had previously never heard. I wrote to the Editor, the Marquess of Donegall, and his assistant (an unsung heroine called Miss Cecelia Freeman) put me in touch with the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. It really all spiralled out of control from there.
The fact that I am a third cousin twice removed of Basil Rathbone (my middle name is Rathbone) may have helped.
What is your favo(u)rite canonical story?
“The Bruce-Partington Plans”. It has absolutely everything: dense fog, Mycroft, a proper mystery, a good murder and splendid deductions and denouement. It has the added benefit of being a chronologist’s nightmare: there is absolutely no work to be done on the dates of the case!
Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
This is an invidious question, for which, I fear, I cannot give an answer. I have been around for such a long time plying this great hobby and meeting or corresponding with so many other enthusiasts that to pluck one name simply is not on. I apologise!
What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
No single one. I was lucky enough to start collecting the classic works of scholarship when they were not yet too expensive. In more recent years, I have managed to put together a reasonable number of single issue Strand Magazines containing Holmes stories; I still need (please?!) one or two Collier’s Magazines with Steele covers, and have picked up a few Harper’s Weeklies.
Autographs of actors associated with Holmes are fun to accumulate.
It has long been apparent that I shall never be in a position to own an original Holmes drawing by Paget or Steele, so I have begun a little mini-collection of non-Sherlockian works by artists who have done Holmes illustrations: thus, I have an illustration Sidney Paget did for The Tragedy of the Korosko, an unpublished (I believe!) watercolour by his brother Walter, and a 1916 draft of a Collier’s cover by Dorr Steele, as well as works by other lesser-known artists.
|With Douglas Wilmer at his home to record an interview for the Baker Street Irregulars|
What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
I have been fairly eclectic. My first published article – back in 1969 – pointed out the lies Holmes told Watson at the outset of FINA: in later years, I have proved that Holmes murdered Moriarty at the Falls, discussed Moran’s shooting of Ronald Adair (indeed, I have written long mini-biographies of the Professor and the Colonel), and worked out Mycroft’s true role in EMPT. During the 30-years I edited The Sherlock Holmes Journal, I had quite enough to do without contributing to the scholarship; but since then I have hit upon the main reason for Holmes having gone to Montpellier during the Great Hiatus, worked out why Sherlock turned down a knighthood, and identified “Emsworth, the Crimean VC” (BLAN)…and lots more.
Back in 1977, I entered what has become known as the “Controversity” with my brochure Sherlock Holmes at Oxford; in 2018, Gasogene Books published my Complete Paget Portfolio.
So: a fairly broad spectrum – helped perhaps by being friends with editors and publishers!
|Launching my Paget book at the Bloomington SH conference in 2018|
As a long-time member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, what are some positive trends you've seen in our hobby over the years?
That’s a very broad question – and again not an easy one to answer. It goes without saying that the admitting of women to such groups as the Baker Street Irregulars and the Sons of the Copper Beeches was long overdue (although I freely admit that I was made a member of both when they were still men-only.) The way that younger people continue to be ensnared in the web of Sherlockiana in all sorts of ways is a triumph: the re-inventions in the BBC’s Sherlock and the two Guy Ritchie films were, as we all know, of paramount importance. While Enola Holmes was not a Sherlock film and and a decision has been made not to renew The Irregulars, Netflix has successfully continued the general media journey. Why there were so many (any?!) series of Elementary is utterly beyond me, but anything that manages to continue to spread the word 134 years after STUD first appeared is “a good thing”.
One of the best things I did during lockdown last year was The World of Sherlock Holmes puzzle and I was absolutely delighted to see your explanatory essay that identifies so many of the Easter eggs throughout the puzzle. How did you become involved with this project and what was your role in the development of the puzzle and its explanation?
I’m glad you enjoyed it (I can’t do jigsaw puzzles at all…let alone 1,000-piece ones!) This is an easy question to answer: I was approached by the producer/manufacturer and asked to come up with essential characters, essential objects, a few extra-canonical personages, and some locations to be hidden around the picture. I then had to write the accompanying text/crib accounting for who everyone/thing is. I had no contact with the artist whatsoever: he just had to work with the material I provided. The fact that he is primarily an architectural illustrator is fairly apparent. Ludicrously I forgot Scotland Yard – and sadly I was only paid a small buy-out fee and so am not on royalties!
They also want me to come up with some thoughts about a set of Sherlock Holmes playing cards – which is proving somewhat problematic.
What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
So, so difficult to come up with just one…Since you are compelling me to do so, I shall have to say D. Martin Dakin’s A Sherlock Holmes Commentary. The mixture of scholarship, clever writing, and humo(u)r is, I think, unparalleled in our field. I don’t know how many of your readers subscribe to The Baker Street Journal (they all should), but there is more on Dakin in an article I had published in Vol. 66 No. 1 (Spring 2016).
Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
I couldn’t begin to guess. The only thing I so hope for is that the printed page will still exist. I would say that, wouldn’t I, since I am the age I am, and chair the Publishing Sub-Committee of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Rude as it is to a blogger such as yourself, nothing beats hard copy.
That said, as mailing charges mount up grotesquely, who knows?
|With Val McDermid at the SHSL Annual Dinner, 2020|