Not Another Day at the Office
Naomi Roper is a partner in a city law firm in London and in her spare time runs Benedict Cumberbatch’s fansite Cumberbatchweb.
Picture the scene. It’s an unexciting Sunday afternoon in late summer 2010, and I’m in the midst of my weekly phone call to my mother. We’ve covered my father’s latest ailment (slight twinge-left ankle), the weather (not great), what we had for lunch (so uninspiring I can’t remember), and having exhausted all other topics of conversation, we turn to that age old complaint. Why oh why is there never anything good on the telly?
But wait… My mother points out that actually there is something new on the TV that very evening. A modern day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes on the BBC, written by that bloke who wrote all the episodes of Doctor Who we really loved. Starring Tim from The Office and that guy we’d quite liked in The Last Enemy even though the series depressed us horribly. Tim! We’d always loved Tim. He was funny, sweet, and adorable. It sounded intriguing.
Of course, we both instantly agreed that it couldn’t possibly be any good. A modern day adaptation of Sherlock Holmes? What a dreadful idea. Sherlock wasn’t a modern beast at all we agreed (despite neither of us having picked up a Conan Doyle book in over a decade). No, no, it couldn’t possibly be any good. After all, there didn’t seem to have been any publicity for it (never a good sign), or if there was, we had both completely missed it. And it was being aired in the summer. Everyone knows you don’t air good telly in the summer. That’s the rule. Perceived wisdom is that Brits are either on holiday or outdoors trying to avoid rain, wasp attacks, and food poisoning at barbecues in the summer — not inside watching the television. The summer television schedules are traditionally a barren wasteland of repeats, cheap as chips reality shows, and all the tv shows which didn’t really work out as well as the stations who commissioned them had hoped dumped on the schedules at odd hours in the hope that no one pays much attention to the finished product.
So we agreed that there was absolutely no way that Sherlock could be any good. But we decided we’d watch because we really really really liked Tim from The Office and, well, there was nothing else on.
So that evening, I settled down in front of the television with the lowest of low expectations to watch Sherlock. And within five minutes, I found myself absolutely blown away by the sheer quality of what I was watching. From the extraordinary cinematic visuals by vastly underrated director Paul McGuigan, to the sparkling, witty script by Steven Moffat, to the wonderful, nuanced performances of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, “Sherlock: A Study in Pink” was an instant classic. I could write reams about what a truly superb piece of drama it is. Even the smallest roles like fan favourite Anthea were cast and performed brilliantly. It was, simply put, an amazing piece of television.
Ninety minutes, later things had changed. Tim from The Office was Tim from The Office no more. That would be Mr. Martin Freeman to you and me (John Watson from Sherlock if you must – mentions of subsequent BAFTA winning optional). And everyone became aware of an intriguingly named actor called Benedict Cumberbatch who went from being someone you vaguely remembered from that BBC serial you watched that time to a star in 90 minutes flat.
To say that Sherlock changed my life would be an overstatement, but certainly since that random Sunday back in 2010, things in my life have changed in ways I never would have anticipated. A few days after “The Blind Banker” aired, I somehow found myself shivering on the cold pavement outside the National Theatre at the crack of dawn (and I am not a morning person), getting steadily soaked from miserable, drizzly rain, queuing for day tickets for the very sold out After the Dance in which Benedict was appearing (it closed the day after “The Great Game” aired). The discomfort was worth it as that evening, my friend and I watched the show from the cheap seats, way up in the gods, and were absolutely spellbound by the amazing acting. The next day, I raved to friends and colleagues about how wonderful Benedict’s portrayal of David Scott-Fowler had been and was met with bitter laments about how they hadn’t realised the show was on and that they now couldn’t get tickets. Why wasn’t there anywhere online providing up to date info on Benedict and where he was appearing they asked? So, with my (non existent) web design skills, I knocked up a website about Benedict, anticipating that its audience would never extend beyond a tiny handful of friends. Eighteen months later, the website gets over 600,000 hits a month and looking after it is practically a full time job. At the time I started, I would have laughed myself silly if someone had suggested it would be seen by a 1,000 people in a year!
I’ve made new and amazing friends through my love of Sherlock, and I know that so many people discovered a love for the theatre from seeing Benedict Cumberbatch’s appearance in Frankenstein the following year, which is just wonderful.
But there is one thing that I truly have to thank Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss for. And that’s for allowing me to rediscover the wonderful world of Sherlock Holmes through Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s original stories. I had read some of them as a child, but for whatever reason, they never grabbed me and were bypassed in favour of Enid Blyton and her tales of brave children defeating smugglers or other dastardly sorts in exotic locations in her “Secret of” books, Aslan and his struggles against the White Witch, the feisty Nancy Drew (always quite the role model), Roald Dahl’s delightful menagerie of grotesques, and any horror book I could sneak out of the Young Adult section in the school library. Poor old Sherlock Holmes never featured hugely in my childhood at all. My main points of reference were Basil,The Great Mouse Detective, and theYoung Sherlock Holmes film.
But after Sherlock aired, I picked up a lovely set of the complete novels for under a tenner and started to re-read them. And I was immediately taken aback. The characters in the book didn’t fit the mental image I had created of Holmes as a musty middle aged sort rather lacking in humour and Watson as his fat bumbling sidekick at all. Sherlock Holmes was young and funny and pretty much an action hero. Watson was brave and loyal and someone you really did not want to mess with. The books were so much more modern and relevant than I had appreciated. The dialogue was zippy and fun, the deductions fiendishly clever, and the lightning speed pace made for stories that you didn’t want to put down. In Conan Doyle’s hands, London came alive as the vibrant backdrop for a series of marvelously entertaining capers. Conan Doyle’s stories were simply wonderful, and I was so delighted to be able to discover them anew.
Once I’d finished reading the canon, I was a little bereft, but then I discovered the seemingly endless array of Sherlock Holmes pastiches that are available. From Neil Gaiman’s unsettling A Study in Emerald to Sherlock Holmes in the Wild West, there is something for everyone to enjoy. So thank you, Messrs Moffat and Gatiss, for introducing me to a world of Sherlockiana which continues to delight, for without your Sherlock, it’s a world I would never have discovered.