Interview of Richard Doyle about his Great Uncle (2014)

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Interview of Richard Doyle, the grand-son of Innes Doyle (the brother of Arthur Conan Doyle) conducted in 2014 at the Portsmouth Museum. He talks about his great uncle, Arthur.



My great uncle Arthur comes from an artistic family many generations before him. And since, what Arthur took was his artistic talent married with his medical education and his determination to discover the world around him, and turn that into the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, he could never have imagined that the character would have such force such a parent life energy that he would leap from the page and millions of people would think he was a real person. When he first wrote the story and he killed Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, people wore black, people wore armbands a nation mourned it was extraordinary and then of course he had to resurrect it. The fact that he was able to create a character that meant so much to so many people that they mourned as if a member of their own family had died it's just the most remarkable thing.

I think something many visitors at the museum would be surprised to hear is Sir Arthur wasn't born into money. He came from a very poor family that had fallen on hard times lived in Edinburgh is a tough city and he really pulled himself up by his bootstraps. And he went a medical university at Edinburgh because that was his local university their specialty was medicine and he got into medicine as a way to feed his family. But something I've got at home which is a plaque that I think he made a very long time ago was a saying of his which is : « No such thing as luck, it is hard work, courage and pluck. » People think Arthur possibly had it all, he didn't everything he achieved he made just share hard work and determination and not everything worked being a doctor didn't work so he carried on being a doctor worked at his writing and the writing did work. He was a real man he dealt with a real life and he dealt with it well. He was a good kind straightforward guy who respected his fellow man. My grandfather (Innes Doyle) stayed with Arthur when he was struggling doctor in Southsea and would have been living with him when he first started writing his stories and they shared many adventures together Arthur was a keen motorist motor car and motorcycle but one of his first cars he rolled it when turning into his house in Hindhead and both he and his younger brother were trapped underneath the car and the truth is if the good people of Hindhead hadn't lifted the car off them both perhaps I wouldn't be here to tell the story.

Before he was a doctor in Southsea he worked as a ship's doctor on a whaling ship. And when the ship was moored in in an ice floe they were out on the ice and in one day he fell through the ice several times so the mere fact he survived bearing in mind these are days when they wore natural clothing none of this modern flotation aids the fact that he even lived through the day he managed to get back on the ship get dry to get back on the ice to fall in the ice again is just remarkable he never let anything stop him at all. We think he fitted about five lifetimes enter into the one.

He really enjoyed sport and he was the first goalkeeper for Portsmouth town football club which was a professional football club all that gentleman paid it in those days and I don't think he was paid for his efforts so enjoyed football and Americans that would be soccer when holidaying in Switzerland he regularly went Switzerland with his first wife because she had consumption and the doctors had advised that the the high cold Swissair was good for her illness he met to some Swiss gentlemen who were skiing near Davos and they lent him some skis and he enjoyed it so much that when he got home he wrote an article about it and some people say that's that was one of the real cornerstones of skiing in Switzerland.

A lot of people don't know that Arthur used to take tea whether it was tea we don't really know with Winston Churchill during the Great War that's the first war not the second one. And he was probably one of the first people to really propose put forward to the government that soldier should have body armor and he actually sent plans for armor to the Ministry of War in the First World War because he saw the senseless death that the new machine gun was causing and he wanted to save the common soldier.

There's a wonderful story about a dinner he had in London with the publisher of Lippincott's Magazine that his early stories had been published in in America and he was with the publisher and an Irish MP and another interesting gentleman and the results of this dinner was that Conan Doyle came away and wrote a great story The Sign of the Four which I'd always wondered if that the name came from the four people sat at that table because it should be noted that the fourth person at that table was Oscar Wilde who as a result of the same meeting wrote the story Dorian Gray.

Something perhaps Arthur didn't think about at the time but something has happened since is the interesting and inspirational nature of his stories encourage people to start thinking for themselves and the exhibition really takes this. And I think it's something that Arthur would really appreciate he was keen on people being well educated, being able to communicate and making that absolute most of themselves. And I think something that runs through all of his stories is he was very keen on people thinking for themselves making their own decisions.

It takes his original introduction to people about science and the practical application of science and it brings it to a new completely new audience. So it's been covered in print, that's being covered on the screen, but now there is an interactive hands-on exhibition where people get a real chance to try and keep up with a consulting detective as you solve another crime.

I think it's excellent. Makes people think.