Lena Annette Jean Conan Doyle

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Lena Annette Jean Conan Doyle (1963)

Lena Annette Jean Conan Doyle aka Dame Jean Conan Doyle aka Lady Bromet aka Billie (21 december 1912 - 18 november 1997) is the fifth child of Arthur Conan Doyle (third child of second marriage). She had two direct older brothers Adrian and Denis, and two older half-siblings, sister Mary and brother Kingsley from the first marriage of his father.


Dame Jean Conan Doyle, last child of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his second wife (née Jean Leckie), was born at Crowborough, Sussex, on December 21, 1912.

As a child she struggled with eyesight problems, but grew up as a tomboy nicknamed "Billy," with her older brothers Denis and Adrian, at the family's home "Windlesham" in Crowborough, and at their New Forest holiday house.

Her schooling then came at the Granville House boarding school for girls in Eastbourne that was run by her aunt Ida, one of her father's younger sisters.

When her father was writing his Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes stories in the 1920s, he often read to her and her brothers at lunch what he'd written that morning, acquainting her with the creative process behind his most famous literary characters — though in her adult life she said she liked his Professor Challenger and Brigadier Gerard characters even more.

In the same 1920s, when her father was a leading spokesman for Spiritualism, she and her brothers accompanied their parents on a number of his speaking tours in the United States, sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia, expanding her horizons considerably.

In 1938, as Britain underwent the series of international crises leading to World War II breaking out in 1939, she joined the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) at age 26. When the war came, she served as an intelligence officer. In particular, she was involved in the interception and translation of transmissions between German bomber and fighter pilots and their controllers. When the war ended she remained in the WRAF, rising through its ranks to become its Director in 1963. She was made a Dame in that year and also served as an honorary Aide-de-Camp to the Queen. She retired in 1966 as Air Commandant.

In 1965 she had married retired Air Vice Marshal Sir Geoffrey Rhodes Bromet, deputy commander of RAF Coastal Command in World War II and later Governor of the Isle of Man, who had been widowed in 1961. In retirement they divided their time between their home in Cadogan Square, London, and a country house at Littlestone-on-Sea, Kent. Sir Geoffrey Bromet died in November 1983 at age 92.

In her retirement years Dame Jean was a member of the RAF Club and the Naval & Military Club ("the In and Out") in Piccadilly, and was active in charitable work with organizations like the Royal Star and Garter Home (of which she was governor for 14 years) and the "Not Forgotten" Association (serving as president for 10 years).

During her Service career she had refrained from becoming directly involved with her father's literary legacy. Perhaps her principal action of that sort had been her appearing at the opening of the famous Sherlock Holmes Pub in Northumberland Street in 1958, with the reconstructed 221B Baker Street sitting-room from the 1953 Festival of Britain.

But upon Adrian's death in 1970 (Denis had died in 1955), she found herself becoming involved with her father's literary legacy nonetheless. She and Adrian's widow, Anna, wished the rights to be managed by an agency, but Denis's widow, her remarried sister-in-law Nina, wanted to manage them herself, and sued Anna and Dame Jean when they declined to let her do so, fearing Nina would not make a success of it. They won the first round in court, but Nina won on appeal, taking out a large loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland to finance the acquisition, and creating a company called Baskerville Investments to manage the rights.

Within only a few years, Nina's Baskerville Investments proved the failure Dame Jean and Anna had expected, forcing her to sell the rights in order to pay off the pressing bank loan. The buyers were American television producer Sheldon Reynolds and his Swiss-born wife Andrea, who proceeded to exploit the rights to the extent possible before the works passed into the public domain in Britain in 1980.

Conan Doyle rights in the United States did not expire in 1980, due to its different laws, and the new Copyright Act of 1976 (going into effect in 1978) that extended subsisting U.S. copyrights and empowered Dame Jean, as the author's sole living descendant, to recapture his U.S. rights by going through certain procedures. With the aid of a U.S. copyright lawyer, Dame Jean a bit reluctantly did so in 1978.

After a statutory two-year waiting period, she came into her father's U.S. rights in 1981. With her top priority being protection and advancement of her father's literary reputation, she exercised the rights with the assistance of a small group of U.S. Baker Street Irregulars calling themselves The Friends of Dame Jean Conan Doyle.

In the 1980s Dame Jean publicly associated herself with Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the Granada Television series, and attended the opening night of the 1988 motion picture Without a Clue saying "My father would have loved the joke!" — that Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley) was the brains behind the crime-solving, and Sherlock Holmes actually a washed-up actor (Michael Caine) hired to be the venture's public face. In 1991, when the U.S. Baker Street Irregulars society opened itself to women, she was one of the first six selected, with the investiture of "A Certain Gracious Lady." Later that year she took part in the Sherlock Holmes Society of London's expedition to Switzerland, opening the Sherlock Holmes Museum in the village of Meiringen, scene of the 1993 story "The Final Problem."

In her late years Dame Jean suffered from Parkinson's, and then was diagnosed in 1997 with terminal cancer. She spent the remainder of her time before dying on November 18, 1997 clearing up estate matters, including freeing her father's papers from legal sequestration which had kept them unavailable to scholars for several decades.

A memorial service for her took place in January 1998 at the RAF's Service church in London, St. Clement Danes in the Strand, with a reception for the attendees afterwards at the RAF Club in Piccadilly.

She left the three Sherlock Holmes manuscripts she owned to the Portsmouth Central Library (The Adventure of the Creeping Man), the National Library of Scotland (The Adventure of the Illustrious Client), and the British Library (The Adventure of the Retired Colourman). She also left the British Library decades of her father's family correspondence, which became the 2007 book Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower & Charles Foley, editors). She left the U.S. Conan Doyle copyrights to the National Institute for the Blind, but it did not want to manage such a property for the years they had left, and sold them back to her Estate. They are now managed by a family entity, Conan Doyle Estate Ltd.


The following movie footages from 1920s show Lena Jean aged from 10 to 15 years-old.


Interview with Dame Jean Conan Doyle in radio show "Fathers & Daughters", 1987, by BBC Radio

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Interview with Dame Jean Conan Doyle during the Sherlock Holmes Centenary, 1987, by BBC Radio

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Interview with Dame Jean Conan Doyle at her home in Cadogan Square, London, october 1988, by John C. Tibbetts

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Birth certificate (21 december 1912). GRO Ref. : 1913/Mar/UCKFIELD/02B/187.

  • Acknowledgments: Jon Lellenberg, Richard Pooley, John C. Tibbets. 2021.