♥ introduction written by Benedict Cumberbatch:
“Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
Hang on, you want me to write an entire INTRODUCTION to Hound?
(If this was to be a musical that’s how we’d talk of it. “Hound!” A musical… Now there’s an idea… CONCENTRATE, Cumberbatch!)
Is this a ploy by Martin Freeman – who is determined that the series will be renamed “John” before long? After all, this is the most popular and horrific of all the original stories and yet Holmes is notoriously absent for six of its fifteen chapters. Why?
Because it’s obviously a dog! Sorry, I suppose that was a spoiler…
But Sherlock would get it too quickly by snooping about for the biggest dog in the neighbourhood and we’d be back at 221B in time to crack open the tantalus and slip another cigar from the coal scuttle. And anyway, shouldn’t Mark Gatiss be doing this? He wrote our version, and he has a dog! Bunsen! Though to be fair to Mark (and Bunsen), fire does not “burst from its open mouth” (unless he’s had some foul kippers the night before) nor do his eyes glow “with a smouldering glare” nor are his “hackles and dewlap” outlined “in flickering flame”. He does drool as he rolls over and lets you tickle his tummy…
I came late to Sherlock Holmes. I arrived about three years ago and am still arriving. I have read them all now, but at the beginning I was a beginner and I had to trust the two biggest Holmes fanatics I know – Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. I let them guide my instinct for playing the world’s greatest (consulting, but I think all-round) detective. Luckily for me, they weren’t bluffing and happen to be two of our country’s best writers. I began at the beginning, and in A Study in Scarlet I realised the books are a blueprint for any characterisation and make playing Sherlock a gift.
Dr Watson is, as his occupation would require, a very observant person. (Well, he sees but does not always observe, as Holmes frequently reminds him.) But as someone who brings Holmes to life on the page, Watson is brilliant. So my reading as research gained pace. As did my love for all things related to these amazing stories. It’s a joyous thing to be able to say reading the Holmes canon was homework. Ah, an actor’s life for me!
Watson provides a wonderful early description of Holmes’s physicality: As I watched him I was irresistibly reminded of a pure-blooded, well-trained foxhound as it dashes backwards and forwards through the covert, whining in its eagerness, until it comes across the lost scent. Holmes later describes himself as “one of the hounds and not the wolf” and, while like an overexcited hunting dog when on the trail of a scent, he sometimes exhibits the other side of canine behaviour in his lethargic, depressed dreaminess by the hearth of 221B. Unlike man’s best friend, though, he often gets there with the help of injecting a seven per cent solution of cocaine.
There are many canines in the Holmes canon. Dogs that bark in the night and those that don’t. In “ The Gloria Scott” it is revealed that, while at university, Holmes was bitten by a bull terrier and it took him ten days to recover! Then there is the curious mixed-breed Toby, the trusty half-spaniel, half-lurcher (which makes that last half one-quarter greyhound and one-quarter Irish wolfhound, doesn’t it? CONCENTRATE, Cumberbatch!). Anyway, think less of the prospect of a spaniel being impregnated by a lurcher (presuming that it was that way round… I think size does prevail in this instance) and think instead that Holmes would “rather have his help than that of the whole detective force of London”.
But there is only really one important dog in the Holmes canon. And it pads balefully through the mists of Dartmoor – the ancient curse visited upon the Baskerville family!
I remember this ripping tale first as being read to me. Either by a teacher or my brilliantly entertaining father. I remember being genuinely scared at the ghost-story element but feeling reassured that our hero would blow away the cobwebs of superstition with his tireless pursuit of logic. But wait! Dr Watson is sent down to Dartmoor… alone! In our recent version for the BBC’s Sherlock, we spent several days on location, escaping London to find the other lead character in the story: Dartmoor. It’s a stunning landscape. Rolling hills and valleys breaking into the open majesty of the moors, and views that went on and on in the dying sunlight. Once the sun set, though, it got cold pretty fast and the landscape was somehow transformed, becoming utterly alien and deserted. This is the bleakly beautiful place that Conan Doyle masterfully turns into a nightmare landscape of rocky tors and fog. Noises sound closer. Your chest tightens as you fear what may lie beyond the distance of your outstretched hand. And then a faraway howl… Spine-chilling in it’s pain and despair. The cry of a hungry, vengeful beast!
So if it is your first time, welcome, and I envy you the thrill that awaits you in these pages. If you are returning to an old friend, forgive me for taking up your time! Ladies and gentlemen, the most famous, beloved, scary and atmospheric of Sherlock Holmes’s cases, The Hound of the Bakervilles.
Was that all right? Can I do it again? What do you mean it’s not like filming…?