Monday, October 11, 2010
Sherlock Holmes is constantly interpreted and re-interpreted. I believe the character has been portrayed more times on film than any other fictional character. Like Hamlet, it can always be viewed in a different light. I've been lucky to see all of the best interpretations: Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Christopher Plummer, John Neville, Christopher Lee, and for most fans of the books, the work of Jeremy Brett. There have been many variations and transmutations: Robert Stephens in the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Nicol Williamson in the Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Spielberg's Young Sherlock Holmes, and now Robert Downey's. And let's not even start about the parodies: Gene Wilder, Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, John Cleese... Before Billy Wilder did the Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Stephens, it was announced that the film would be made with Peter O'Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson. Later, around Magic Christian time, this developed into being a project that Sellers would play Holmes and Ringo Starr would play Watson. Anyway, it's all too much.
So a year later in 1982, I'm in London to put together my Space Pirate Video pilot and continue work on my Peter Sellers documentary. Where shall I stay while I'm in this magnificent city? My parents had been to London previously and they were supposed to be booked into the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street, but they were given accommodations in another hotel in the Mayfair district. They liked the hotel they were in, but were kind of looking forward to being in the hotel named after the famous character. Remembering this, while booking my accommodations, I suggested to my travel agent friend, "howabout the Sherlock Holmes Hotel?" So it was done. Not a five star hotel, I still found the choice a pleasant one, the hotel conveniently located on upper Baker Street near Marylebone. With Marylebone station around the corner, transportation throughout London was fast and easy. I spent much time in the Marylebone station. Trains could take me out of the city to East Finchley and Golders Green Cemetery--places connected with Peter Sellers. The Underground would take me to Piccadilly or to the Thames Embankment. And Baker Street itself was an easy street to walk south into London, down to Hyde Park and King's Road. The hotel was at the north end of Baker Street near the famous lodgings at 221B which were, at the time, a bank that incorporated a small museum. True Sherlockians, however, throughout the years, have debated where the actual lodgings were. Supposedly at the time of the stories, 221B would have been at the south end of Baker Street--not the north. I wasn't obsessed. It was just nice to be on Baker Street. You know, the Gerry Rafferty song, flowing through your head. When I walked down the street, I failed to realize while passing number 94 that I was going by the former home of Apple House, the Beatles empire, as well as the old The Fool painted Apple boutique. But that's London. Every inch is history. And you can't help but miss it all without knowing it.
But back to Holmes. Or rather, his hotel. It was very hot and humid that July in '82. My rooms were located actually at the far end of the hotel, overlooking Baker Street. The proper entrance to the hotel was actually located on the side street. Looking at the other rooms, I would have been disappointed not seeing and hearing the life and action of the street itself. My view of the street below included a post office, I believe a Wimpy Burger, a street corner with signs denoting the direction of Hatfield and the North. Cool. I took this as a good sign for my love of progressive music. Now the irony. You would expect the Sherlock Holmes Hotel to be the epitome of true English-ness. It was, however, owned by some Middle Eastern group. All of the staff and bellhops were from Pakistan. Thank god I had the minibar, which, by the way, they would check each day to see how many tiny bottles of vodka and mini orange juice containers I had consumed the previous night. Now, seriously here, I'm not being racist. This is 1982 and I don't have any kind of Muslim stereotype going on here, right? I'm just in London at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel and I expect to be bathed in some Baskerville-like fog of mist and mood. Instead, my not-unfriendly bellhops speak little or no English and it's the England of the Raj. So instead of being in a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle store, I'm in E.M. Forester's A Passage To India. Near the end of my stay, I trundle down to the bar for another cool vodka tonic, and I discover the bartender is a woman and she has an English accent. Oh my god! I say to her, picking up my drink, "My god, you're the only English person working in this hotel." Her reply to me: "I'm actually from Australia." (For the record, I did actually meet an Irish maid working in a hotel on my trip. It was at the Munich Hilton. Go figure.)
But I digress. While at the hotel, from my room, on the phone, I am using the services of British Telecom. I am attempting to get the phone numbers of Peter Sellers's children, Sarah (who owns an antique shop) and Michael. I am hoping to speak to them in regards to the documentary I am making on their father. The young lady I am speaking to is very helpful. She is explaining to me which numbers are listed and unlisted. I tell her my desire to get these phone numbers for my film project, etc., etc. And it sort of dawns on me that this conversation is seeming to be longer than what would be a normal conversation with an American operator. As it turns out, I am speaking to a woman named Sue Caliburn, who happens to be married to an up-and-coming English actor named Nigel Caliburn, and she is being as helpful to me as she possibly can. The Seller's children's numbers are unlisted and unavailable to me through British Telecom. I can't get them for my project this way. I do, however, get to connect with the wife of a man who works for the BBC and is sympathetic to my overall project. Through this chance encounter I meet both of them during my stay in London at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel.
Funny how these things turn out. Almost like a blind date, I have the joy to meet this young couple in the lobby of the Sherlock Holmes Hotel. Nigel Caliburn, also known now as Nigel Carrington, is a talented young actor from Cheshire who shared my love of the Goon Show, Peter Sellers and his passion for Sir Laurence Olivier. It was a magical, solid friendship and made my trip to London very special. In regards to the Sherlock Holmes connections, Nigel, as an actor, appeared with Jeremy Brett in the Sherlock Holmes episode, The Dancing Men. Also, Nigel told me that he and Sue had their honeymoon at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel. I enjoyed my long friendship with Sue and Nigel. I am sure I will speak more about this later. Nigel has worked long and hard at his career. He has many credits on the BBC and has worked with many actors I have admired. He understudied for Timothy Dalton (who, by the way, he can do a perfect impression of) and played opposite Vanessa Redgrave in Anthony and Cleopatra while Dalton was off testing for James Bond. Nigel loved Olivier and I loved Sellers. I seriously suggested to him that we create a play called "Green Room," where both the spirits of Olivier and Sellers are in purgatory in a green room in the afterlife. It was my idea that this vehicle would give Nigel a chance to do all his best Larry impressions and I would do all my best Peters. That we could act out our favourite scenes and make a comment here and there. Perfect for the Edinburgh Fringe. I liked it. Another pipe dream. Ironically and sadly, I called Nigel and broke the news to him regarding Olivier's death. The last time I spoke to him was, sadly in the same vein, when I broke to him the news of the death of Princess Diana. This is one of the painful realities of west coast time versus British time. Despite this, I am happy to see that Nigel Carrington's career progresses. He does many books on tape and appeared in the uber-successful film, The Dark Knight.
Quick Watson, the needle! Needle Nardle Noo! Thinking back to those days at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, having a supper of filet of sole and white wine at the Ristorante Moriarty, getting a second wind, deciding to take a cab and head to Leicester Square...well, that does it for me. Although I never joined the official Sherlock Holmes society, the Baker Street Irregulars, it didn't matter. I always thought their problem was due to a lack of fiber.