Interview of Adrian Conan Doyle at Lucens Castle

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Interview of Adrian Malcolm Conan Doyle, the 4th child of Arthur Conan Doyle at the Lucens Castle on 8 april 1969. He presented the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Lucens and talked about his father, Sherlock Holmes and Spiritualism.

Interviewer is Joan Bakewell for the Late Night Line-Up show (BBC2).

Interview of Adrian Conan Doyle


Chateau de Lucens, in the Vaud Canton of Switzerland, a remote medieval castle once visited by Emperors and Popes. For some years now, it's the home of an Englishman, Adrian Conan Doyle, son of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and the world's best selling of all time after the Bible and Shakespeare. Adrian Conan Doyle devoted his life to sustain his father's memory and reputation. At the Chateau Conan Doyle Foundation, he has created the famous Sherlock Holmes room.

Joan Bakewell: It's the famous room?

Adrian Conan Doyle: Yes, It's the famous room, 221b Baker Street. The fog outside the window and so on... The most important thing about this room is that everything is genuine. The tobacco, the whisky... everything is from 1890 (I should speak to Mrs. Hudson about this). 1890, it's more difficult to find tobacco of that period than to find another De Vinci today. And all England helped us to find these things. Everything in the room is named in the stories. There is no single object here which is not named in one or other of the stories.

JB: Every object?

ACD: Yes every object.

JB: Hard to imagine. It's amazing!

ACD: Take these books for instance. Now theses books had to be with the side of the date of 1894, all those books have to be previous to 1894. If we found, for instance, a Clark Russel of 1895, no good. We searched England, we got them. All the chemicals gear is all of the period, with very kind incentives of the Stark Museum. And you find all these relics of Holmes' personal characteristics of idiosyncrasy. For instance, you have the famous syringe over there.

JB: Why did your father make him an drug addict? It's rather often in the story...

ACD: At that period, a certain feel came up in the early Victorian authors and to make a man outstanding you have to give him certain peculiar vices of his own. And you have it coming through Stendhal and through De Quincy and others like that you see... And so, he made him a drug addict. Now, not as an addict, because he was always the master of the drug. Holmes was always a master of cocaine, never was cocaine a master of Holmes. But now the medical profession came to the conclusion that he was never a drug addict at all. He did it to annoy Watson.

JB: He pretended it?

ACD: He pretended it. There was only water in the syringe.

JB: Oh what a shame!

ACD: No, I'm with you, I agree. I think he was a cocaine taker, but he was not addict. He was the master.

JB: What are the letters?

ACD: Ah, Holmes has the habit of screwing his letters of correspondence to the mantelpiece with a jack-knife. There, this is cigars in the coal scuttle, and tobacco in the Persian slipper. All these sticks of course connected with The Hound of the Baskervilles or with the Poison Belt, two famous cases. Those are chemical formulas.

JB: they are all contemporary?

ACD: Oh yes everything is contemporary, everything single thing. And even these books contains... the famous index do contains reports on crime cases. We have a violin of the period. Unfortunately, it's not a Strad(ivarius). But...

JB: What's this? On chemicals...

ACD: A contemporary book on chemicals. That's right. The microscope of the period of course... Low power microscope. Here are blood samples. Obviously, Holmes has been taking some experiments on blood. His boxing gloves, he was a big boxing member. And over here, you have other famous relics... Oh I'm very sorry that I didn't greet you out, but you see there is some cold weed in the middle of that tea. These small objects were extracted from the body of a murdered man. Scotland yard gave them to Holmes.

JB: Some pretend that Watson and Holmes are still alive, do you play along with that?

ACD: They are not alive, Heavens. I would never be low like that, Watson. Here is the gazogene, the famous gazogene. And that's where Watson used to keep the Brandy, I think it was in there, or it might be in there, I think it was here to be caught more easily. he was always rushing to give clients Brandy in lots of his publications.

JB: I love the bullets in the wall?

ACD: Ah the V.R., Victoria Regina. And that's the mark of the air-gun slug, you remember, in the Empty House, The Adventure of the Empty House, when that noisome guy, Sebastian Moran, tried to kill Holmes. He went through up the shadow of Holmes which was a plaster bust and ended there.

JB: You play along very much with the myth of Sherlock Holmes but in fact your father rather resented that his reputation depends on Holmes rather than the rest of his work?

ACD: Well, reputation, no. I wouldn't put it that way. I would say that he was fond of Holmes. Say he disliked Holmes is non-sense. But he took the view, and I totally agree that view, that Holmes obscured his finer writings. The White Company, Sir Nigel, The Gerard's stories, and so on... They have been on print after 80 years... In the case of The White Company, it never been out of print. Which to my way, it's a proof of immortality in a book of literature. And he thought rightly that the Holmes' obscured his more important works.

JB: There is a good deal of speculations about who is the original for Sherlock Holmes. Who was the person on whom Sherlock Holmes was based ?

ACD: The character, no. The methods, yes. My father had a professor Dr. Bell. He was certainly the model for the methods of Sherlock Holmes. The methods of observation and deduction. It began and ended there. The personality of Holmes and the way of putting those methods into practice in real life crime didn't belong to Bell at all, but belong to my father. And Bell himself was one of the first to see that, because he wrote to my father and said: « You are yourself Sherlock Holmes, and well you know it! »

JB: How your father fell about that?

ACD: He admitted it. At the very end of his life, when he knew he was dying, he gave one last interview to an American journalist. It was in 1930. And he said: « I confess now that if anybody watch Sherlock Holmes, it was myself. » Because all the criminologists knew straight away, that why the French name, for instance, the Sûreté police laboratories in Lyon, er, Laboratoires Conan Doyle, they recognized him at once and was continuously in correspondence with my father. For many famous cases. I have in my files an article, a leader from The Times, written about two years before my father created Holmes, pointing well that the results of Scotland Yard were pending entirely through chance. There was no methods. Absolutely all chance. And he invented a system whereby those like cigarette ashes, dusts and other things of that nature, should yield there own message, their own story. Up to then, nobody had done this. And that is why, you get a man like Locard, who is today recognised as the greatest criminologist, he with Lumbroso. If we are interested in dust today it's because of the idea which was imbibed from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He used the plaster of Paris for preserving delicate marks and so on... All this came though Holmes. Holmes was a puppet sitting on my father's knee. His ideas his words spoke through Holmes. And it's very difficult to differentiate one man from the other. They were bound to each other. There is a mass of contradictions which makes up Sherlock Holmes. And a lot of them belong to my father. Not the misogynist, but the rest of it, not the violin play and not the drugging, but all the rest of Holmes' habits belongs to my father. The boxing, the very untidy... you have this mind that was sometimes crystal clear, and another time is dreaming... There was a great deal of the self-portrait.

JB: You written Holmes stories yourself since your father's death?

ACD: Yes I did one book: The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes. The last 6 or 7 stories have been done by me alone because my old friend Dickson Carr fell unavailable. We collaborate for the first 4 or 5. The remaining stories were written entirely by myself alone.

JB: Do you find the stories easy to write?

ACD: No... Far more difficult than my father. Because I know that if I go outside the picture that was brought up in that period that was not, if I make one mistake, all the enthusiasts would be all over me... the Japs would be on my neck, the Russians would be on my neck, the Englishs, the Frenchs, everybody who read Holmes would say "Ah! he made an error!". And I made one. One only. The bell of the fire engine in the story was in 1894, and I think the bell was brought only in 1895. That was my only mistake.

JB: Could you tell me why you founded "The Arthur Conan Doyle Foundation"? What is its purpose?

ACD: Well, I have no children, and I wanted to leave a living Memorial to my father. And my father was a patriot, a very great patriot, as his life through, he was not a nationalist. He was an internationalist. I think today we are beginning to understand the meaning of the word "internationalist". I was determined. I made a foundation about my father that should not be in England. It should be abroad. An English foundation abroad. Everything here is English. Everything is from my house, my family house in England. The construction of the Sherlock Holmes room is an English room, from the Victorian period and so on. And I have made the only English Conan Doyle foundation outside of the Channel. And I think the wisdom of my decision has been proved by events because we have people coming from all over the world, all nationalities, to the Conan Doyle Foundation, this year.

JB: Because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has enormous signification with Switzerland, isn't he?

ACD: Yes, he did. They made Holmes a Honorary citizen of Meiringen, last year, which never happened before in history of Switzerland for a character out of a book. He should have made a member with voting rights of the Swiss state, which would be the beginning of a new tradition because nobody has done. They could see that Holmes lived here. We have the proof. There he existed. Voting License. He must have it. We never done this celebration.

JB: But you talk about Holmes again, all about Holmes...

ACD: Well I go forth because you're asking questions... (laughs)

JB: What was the writing he was the most proud of?

ACD: Oh, without doubt his historical novels. Because they really - they did hold up a mirror to English history. And at the same time they are fascinating and interesting. And he took a long time to write. That's it. He was a craftsman. And in The White Company he believes of a way of two or three years you know. Reading nothing but books on the 14th century, when his whole mind was so on that period. He picked up his pen and he wrote that immortal work. And I use the word "immortal" because since eighty years ago it never been out of print, never. And I got it will still be as long as people still like good books.

JB: Were you a close family you recall?

ACD: Oh very, extremely close. I think I have suggested the fact that my father was used to come read stories on evenings. We were very unique devoted family.

JB: You wrote that in your early years, you knew him closely.

ACD: Yes we did. It was a family where my mother and father were deeply in love for each other. And that gave light upon the whole family life.

JB: Did he take enormous interest to your education? Did he has any particular ideas about it?

ACD: Yes he had. I mentionned at the beginning of our talk together that he was an internationalist. And for that reason I didn't follow my ... at Eton. I went to a tutors who was a famous tutors that didn't exists any longer, where he would only take 4 english students. All of the rest were French, German or Italian. And as a result, I had the corners rubbed of me, because at that stage I felt England and the other inferior races made up the world. But I learned differently. And the result is now that I have old school friend of mine all around the Europe, from different nationalities.

JB: Would you say you adopt his codes of morals and manners... ?

ACD: No, it was no question of morals. It was a question of a certain code of living. It's a different thing. He understood the word "Honour" to the full sense of the word. His sense of honour was as a medieval knight. I don't say mine is. I come padding along behind as around his squire, but I try my best.

JB: There are very many Sherlock Holmes societies throughtout the world. It's almost an incredible literary cult. What do you think of them?

ACD: Well, I'm glad you use the word "literary cult" because sometimes it seems a religious cult... a way these people behave. The rank and file are perfectly genuine students and scholars of Holmes. Normal sane people who love the books for what they are. Unfortunately, there is another much smaller strate which really comes into the abnormal. Where you have the most extraordinary laboured works to prove that Watson was a lesbian, or that Holmes was in fact Moriarty... I found this extremely offensive because my father was a pure writer and in his thinking he never made any great "mystère" about the psychological approach of Watson to Holmes and non-sense of that kind. They were two perfectly honest men working together...

JB: I was fascinated by your father's interest in spiritualism which he investigated, as you're telling me earlier, merely many years of his life. How much can you tell me about that?

ACD: Oh it's an enormous question, because you ask me to give a description of a man's investigation that cover with thirty-five years before he finds his first proof and to be all other the world. And the last part of his life was devoted entirely to giving his lecture tours. Because when it came to the end of the first world war, there was a tremendous question. We have lost millions of young men all other the world... What's happened to them? Are they sort of buckets of water which recover their body, or is there a life beyond the grave? And the Church was totally incapable of giving a reply. Totally incapable. And my father, and Sir Oliver Lodge and other men, who had this knowledge, considered that it was incumbent upon them to do this at ever risk. And many of these men sacrifice their scientific reputation. And everywhere they were absolutely muttered... without the physically but mentally in the same sense as the early Christian matters. They were simply ostracized.

JB: Was you father treated like that?

ACD: No, he was not. Because he was not dependent upon scientific societies and things like that. He could stand on his own feet and fight. And that's why some other men, whose names also has some words so bad had more to sacrifice than he. Nethertheless he sacrifices enormous amount of money. A fortune of money to be honest. And he spent the rest of his life going all other the world, in all the great cities, telling people: "yes they are still alive, and it is possible to communicate, and it's possible to get absolute proof. I don't ask you to believe. You got to get the knowledge yourself. So you know it's true. Never believe until you got the proof."

JB: This was prompted by the First World War, wasn't it?

ACD: The importance of the mission was prompted by that. The situation existed in there. It was a question of... it was an epidermic question. But that World War, that (frightforce) slaughter, changed the (perception) of the humanity. For the Second War we've been through pop by the Russians, but it was nothing compared to the First War. Where a whole generation of the world has been wiped out. And the Churches had no answer to anything.

JB: Did you father feel very much that religion impact had failed everyone at that time?

ACD: Very much, and my father, I think, was supported with majority of the world opinion. They could give no answer.

JB: Now the lecture tour that he went on were concerned with spiritualism entirely?

ACD: Yes. It's a word I hate...

JB: What would you use?

ACD: Survivalism. It's a question of individual survival after death.

JB: Did he offer the proof to the public?

ACD: Oh yes. But he always said: "You can only get proof yourself, never throught a third party. Got to go out and look for yourself." Taking every precaution against fraud and foley. They exists. They exists in banking, they exists in more, they are everywhere. Wherever the human comes in. And also the psychic. But we were talking a great deal about the religious aspect. The other side of my father which is even more interesting to me, was his incredible clear-minded, his services for England. This is a thing too overlooked in articles. This extraordinary man. I don't think there has any men who between the period of 1895 and the end of the First World War had a greater impact upon English... upon England and the modern history of England at that time.

JB: In what way?

ACD: Behind every major crisis of that time, my father was moving by the scene. He worked very closely with Churchill, and with many other oustanding public men. He was responsible for such diverse things like the introduction of the Court of Criminal Appeal into English law. This was after the Edalji case. He was directly responsible for such things as wound stripes, he made the first tests for the stell helmets for the army, the Mae West life jackets for the Navy... All this came out of this tremendously talented mind... with many facets working at full blast.

JB: What do you think is his greatest achievement?

ACD: What a question. His greatest achievement. I think his greatest literary achievement was "The White Company", and I think his greatest civic achievement was the result of the Edalji case. They vote in the Commons for the Court of Appeal. Because so many innocent people benefited through that.

JB: Adrian Conan Doyle. Thank you very much.