Monday, October 3, 2011

Gather around the radio. . . .

The Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn do a different story from the Canon each month.
Andy B. has been doing a series of stories as they appeared in an old radio program.
What follows is his first one. They are always fun and interesting. So enjoy.

Radio Reminiscences
How One Dual Platter LP Led a Little Boy to Sherlock Holmes
Vol. 1: “The Woman”

In the late 1970s, my mother and I lived in O’Fallon, Missouri .  Having been frequent patrons of the library back in St. Louis County , we got connected with the local library in O’Fallon as well.  It was a little hole-in-the-wall operation in a strip mall between Highway M and Sonderen Street , not too far from I-70, but it did have a pretty good selection of materials to choose from.

            One summer night, as I was trying to go to sleep, I heard some strange, spooky sounds coming from my mother’s bedroom.  We had borrowed some old radio broadcast records that included some scary stuff from “Inner Sanctum” and I was hoping that wasn’t what she was listening to.  When I finally got the courage to investigate, I discovered she was listening to another old radio show featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the great detective/biographer team Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson (strangely enough, I had never heard of them prior to this point; I was only familiar with one of Holmes’ many parody characters: a Sesame Street Muppet named Sherlock Hemlock!).

The name of the album to which she was listening was Sherlock Holmes Adventures, published by Murray Hill Records (Picture courtesy of “Traders of the Lost Art,” New Hampshire, found at  The album contains four adventures: “The Woman,” originally broadcast December 10, 1945, based on “A Scandal in Bohemia;” “The Night Before Christmas,” originally broadcast December 24, 1945, suggested by an incident in “The Blue Carbuncle” (this was the adventure I was listening to that sounded so spooky from the next room); “The Bruce Partington Plans,” originally broadcast November 6, 1939, based on its namesake; and “The Accidental Murderess,” originally broadcast November 26, 1945, suggested by an incident in “The Adventure of Black Peter.”

The next day I began listening to some of the adventures on my own, starting with the first adventure, “The Woman,” and found them to be rather fascinating.  As time went on, I was introduced to the written works of Dr. Watson.  I remember borrowing one book from a library (I can’t remember whether it was from St Louis County or O’Fallon) that featured some stories, edited for juvenile reading, including “The Speckled Band” and “The Red Headed League.”  One Christmas shortly after we had moved back to St Louis County, my grandparents gave me a copy of a Sherlock Holmes collection; it was not a complete cannon, since it only had stories from The Adventures- and The Memoirs- of Sherlock Holmes and also featured The Hounds of the Baskervilles complete with original artwork from the Strand magazine publications.

It was through this book that I could reminisce about the old adventure, “The Woman,” and became better acquainted with the short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia .”  As I no longer had access to the O’Fallon library (and the album was not available in the St. Louis County system), I had to base all my recollections from having listened to “The Woman” several times (perhaps several hundred times [?]) in my youth.  You see, what astounded me so much about “A Scandal in Bohemia” was how closely it resembled the radio broadcast I had listened to a couple of years earlier (obviously a backwards view of everything, since the book pre-dated the radio broadcast by more than 50 years!).

Through this thesis, I will attempt to give A) a brief synopsis and history of both “A Scandal in Bohemia,” as told by Watson, as well as the 1945 radio broadcast “The Woman” as adapted by Denis Green and Anthony Boucher, B) a brief comparison of the two, and C) introduce the sequel to this story as it was broadcast a week later (17Dec1945).

To briefly recap, in “A Scandal in Bohemia” (and also “The Woman”, for the most part), Watson sits in on a case with his old flat mate Sherlock Holmes where the Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and hereditary King of Bohemia, Herr Willhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, recounts his story of how his past romantic indiscretions with Miss Irene Adler would jeopardize his pending wedding to the daughter of the King of Scandinavia.  Apparently, among some of his other passionate indiscretions with her, he had been photographed five years previously with Miss Adler and she intended to use that photographic evidence to blackmail the Grand Duke and ruin his chances of marrying the young lady of Scandinavia, a woman whose family’s principles were so strict that “[any] shadow of doubt as to [his] conduct would bring the [engagement] to an end.”

So Mr. Holmes is charged with finding this photograph, a task that the Grand Duke’s own men have been quite unsuccessful at accomplishing.  Between his covert escapades as an out-of-work groomsman where he becomes a make-shift best man for Mr. Godfrey Norton (a barrister who is discovered to secretly be Miss Adler’s fiancé as they try to wed before noon so as to keep everything legal under English marriage law) and his teamwork with the good Doctor staging the alleged “incendiary incident” at Brionny Lodge (where Watson throws a plumber’s smoke rocket into the house and yells “Fire!”), he discovers where Miss Adler (now Mrs. Norton) has stashed the incriminating photograph.  They quietly and inconspicuously make their return to Baker Street where, as Holmes fumbles for his keys (still in costume as a Nonconformist clergyman), he is greeted from the streets with a “Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes,” apparently from some slim youth in an overcoat.

They wire the Grand Duke and, the next morning, the three of them go to Brionny Lodge to clandestinely procure the photograph.  However, upon reaching the lady’s home, they discover that she and her husband have left England for the Continent, permanently!  Quickly they rush to where the photograph was to have been hidden before, hoping that the evidence may have been inadvertently left behind.  They find, on the other hand, a new photograph of the lady alone, with a note to Holmes, complimenting him on his good job at fooling her… at first.  Later on, as she realized she had betrayed herself by revealing where the photograph was, she also remembered being warned that the Grand Duke would be most likely to employ the services of Mr. Holmes.  Both she and her husband thought that flight was the most prudent course of action, being pursued by so formidable an antagonist.  However she keeps the evidence (in case it is ever needed again to secure her safety) and leaves His Majesty with the souvenir that was left in place of the original photograph.  Holmes requests the new photograph as final payment for his services to the Grand Duke, as a reminder (as Holmes explains in the radio show) that he was once tricked by a woman… “a woman that I shall never forget.”

“A Scandal in Bohemia ” was published in the Strand magazine in July of 1891, with the New York edition being published the next month.  Interestingly enough (as you may remember from reading in the Klinger edition), this story was also sold by a syndicate to newspapers across the United States, appearing in at least seven of them before being published in the New York Strand.  It was also published under different titles by different papers, including “Woman’s Wit,” and “The King’s Sweetheart.”  Apparently this was a common practice, since other stories from Dr. Watson fared similar fates (“The Strange Tale of a Beggar” and “The Christmas Goose that Swallowed a Diamond” being the variant titles for the stories we know today as “The Man with the Twisted Lip” and “The Blue Carbuncle,” respectively).

“The Woman” was originally broadcast under the program name The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by the Mutual Broadcasting System on December 10, 1945, sponsored by Petri Wine (ugh!).  It was adapted by Denis Green and Anthony Boucher from “A Scandal in Bohemia ”.  In my opinion, they did an admirable job staying very close to the original story.  Even in places where they did not stay completely true to the original tale, their embellishment is worthy of praise.

For example, in the original “Scandal,” Holmes went alone on his quest for information about Miss Adler in his guise as an out-of-work groomsman.  In “The Woman,” both Holmes and Watson go to the pub to gather their data, and both observe Mr. Norton and Miss Adler hopping into their separate cabs to go to the church of St. Monica .  Both take a Hansom as well to get there in twenty minutes or less, but when they arrive, the good doctor is left to guard the outside while Holmes goes in to see what’s going on, thus returning somewhat to the original story.

Also in “Scandal,” during the incendiary incident as I referred to it earlier, Holmes makes arrangements with Watson to meet again inconspicuously at the corner where they will make their way back to Baker Street .  As they make it home and are ready to enter their lodgings at 221B, someone passes by with a simple “Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes.”  The person who makes that call is lost in the group of people already milling about the street.  In “The Woman,” however, they appear to rendezvous at Baker Street immediately after their escapades at Briony Lodge.  No mention is made of contact with any other person from the time they leave Mrs. Norton’s house till they make their return with the Grand Duke of Bohemia.

But everywhere else in “The Woman”, the adaptation remains very true to the original story by Watson.  Take, for example, the introduction by Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.  Compare it to the reading in the original story [from the Klinger edition, page 6, final paragraph; or the third complete paragraph into the story]:

Doctor Watson: One night – it was the twentieth of May in 1888 to be exact  
[in “Scandal” it occurred in March]– I was returning home from a visit to a patient when my steps led me through Baker Street .  Since my marriage I hadn’t seen much of Sherlock Holmes….

Announcer: And you couldn’t resist stopping by at 221B, I’m sure, Doctor.

Doctor Watson: Of course, I couldn’t.  As I stood outside the well remembered
door, I looked up at the lighted windows and saw the tall spare figure of my old friend pass twice in dark silhouette against the blind.  He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk on his chest and his hands clasped behind him.  To me who knew every mood of his and habit of his, his attitude and manner told their own story.  He was hot on the scent of some new problem.  I rang the bell, and a few moments later, found myself standing before him.”

            There are many other instances throughout the broadcast where dialog is almost in word-for-word agreement with the canon.  Most variations could very well simply be used to either keep the story understandable to the public at large (for example, the Grand Duke describing the photograph as being “quite large and… in a heavy frame” as opposed to how it is briefly described in the canon as a cabinet), or perhaps to allow for their being short for time, having only 29 minutes to recount the story (the enigmatic “Good Night, Mr. Sherlock Holmes” greeting at 221B is omitted, as an example).  For that matter, there’s also the sensibilities of the public to be kept in mind.  Nothing is mentioned of Holmes’ alleged drug habit in the broadcast, for instance (something Watson alludes to in the same paragraph compared earlier with the radio broadcast).  Since this was broadcast during prime time, I’m certain they didn’t want the kiddies catching on to something as malevolent as that!

            In today’s world, with regards to television shows and movies, we are constantly subjected to barrages of spin-offs and sequels, everything from Friday the 13th, Part 13: Another New Beginning to Torchwood, an actual spin-off program of the ever popular British science fiction series Doctor Who.  This practice was quite rare in the 1940’s, and it was especially rare for a single episode of a radio show to produce a follow up story of any kind.  But this is precisely what happened when the writing team of Green and Boucher decided to take “Scandal” and create a story that extends beyond the writings of Dr. Watson.  “What would happen,” they asked, “if Holmes was to meet the daughter of Irene Adler some twenty years later?”

            Unfortunately, “The Second Generation” falls into the trap that many spin-offs do.  What Home Alone 2 is to Home Alone, “The Second Generation” is to “The Woman.”  It is almost a rewrite of the original “Scandal” story with barely enough changes to meet the needs of the relatively new line of characters.  In fact, some of the characters are the only things that could be completely new, even if they simply do the same things as characters in the previous story did. 

Holmes, in 1908, having retired to his bee farm in Sussex , asks Dr. Watson to visit him to talk about old times.  The good doctor tells Holmes about a young woman, named Irene Norton, whom he met on the train on his way there and claims to have a problem that perhaps only Holmes could solve.  She asks him to make arrangements for her to see him and mentions that Holmes knew her mother quite well.  When Holmes puts the pieces together and realizes that this is the daughter of the former Miss Irene Adler, he accepts at once.

Miss Norton tells Holmes that a certain Mr. Litton Stanley has possession of some letters she had written to an old boyfriend back when she was seventeen.  As she is engaged to be married, these letters (almost “Scandal”-ous by 1908 standards) can be bought back from him for £5,000, otherwise they will be revealed to the fiancé (remind one of a certain Grand Duke we know?).  She asks Holmes to get them back from Mr. Stanley who keeps them in his desk in a filigree box.  Since Holmes has a score to settle with Mr. Stanley (who keeps posting letters to him complaining about the bees, even threatening to call the police), he agrees to take the case.

Holmes and Watson then go over to the Stanley home disguised as Dr. Hamish and Reverend Appleby (right down to the Nonconformist clergy from last time) under the ruse of seeking donations for a charity hospital.  When they convince him to make a contribution, he opens his desk to get the checkbook out, whereupon they shove some chloroform into his face and knock him out.  However, as they find the box for which they are looking, they are held at gunpoint by Mr. Stanley’s servant, Mr. Deevers, who has been waiting for his master to open the desk and give him access to the filigree box, which houses the Kitmanjar Emerald.  He thanks them for giving him the access to the jewel for which he has been waiting for months and kindly informs them that he will have to kill them.  They have given him the perfect alibi, so when his master comes to, he will simply tell him that three men burgled the house, he shot and killed two of them and the third one got away “with the loot.”  This gives him the opportunity to make off with the emerald and anything else he can get his hands on.

Holmes, not to be outsmarted by a coward who would shoot them in the back if he hadn’t requested that they “face the firing squad,” tricks Deevers into shaking his hand, whereupon he uses his skill in Bari Tzu to take him out.  They leave Deevers unconscious with his master at the desk and take the filigree box back to Miss Norton.

As he hands the box over to Miss Norton, Holmes asks her to open it now.  It may not have love letters in it, but there is a note that will be of interest to her and she should read it aloud: “Let this be a warning, Miss Norton: crime does not pay.  If you don’t believe me, ask your mother.  Sincerely, Sherlock Holmes.”  It is then that she realizes that she has been duped and that Holmes will not be played for a sucker to help her possess the Kitmanjar Emerald illegally.  Holmes tells her that he will not call the police to arrest her (although he should) for two reasons: 1) She’s young and impressionable and may still learn from this experience (reminiscent of “The Blue Carbuncle”), and 2) because he has such a healthy respect for her mother.  She sees that she is beaten and asks, as a final request, that she be allowed to take the filigree box with the note inside of it: to remind her all her life of how she met Mr. Sherlock Holmes (aw!).  Mr. Holmes allows it and she is on her merry way.

Some time later, Holmes’ door is accosted by the knocking of Mr. Litton Stanley.  He knows they haven’t been friends, but he really does need his help.  Apparently, someone had stolen his Cellini.  As Holmes listens to the story, Stanley tells him how he was knocked out with chloroform by two thugs and, when he came to, he found his servant out cold and bloody.  But to top it all off, one of the thugs went into his desk and removed the Kitmanjar Emerald, and left it in the desk, but made off with the filigree box, a genuine Cellini filigree box, worth several thousand pounds!

[Author’s note: Apparently this refers to Benvenuto Cellini, an Italian goldsmith, painter, sculptor, soldier and musician of the Renaissance, who also wrote a famous autobiography.  Special thanks to Wikipedia for this information.]

As Holmes realizes he has been again tricked by a woman (and that investigating this larceny would likely expose him as the culprit), he declines the case, stating that he has retired and intends to remain in retirement (a variant on “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” or “The Master Blackmailer”).  As Stanley storms off back to his lodgings, Holmes and Watson discuss how they might be able to use Deevers to help in steeling the box back in return for their mutual silence about each others’ parts in the crime.

All in all, “The Second Generation” is not a bad story, per se.  However, so much of the dialog is rife with obvious and clichéd allusions to the previous episode that it is hard not to classify this story as a good candidate for a game I call “Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Recycled-Plot-Device.”

Works Cited

  • “A Scandal in Bohemia ,” Doyle, A. Conan.  Strand, New York .  August 1891.

  • The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1, Klinger, Leslie.  W. W. Norton & Company, New York .  2005.

  • “The Second Generation,” from The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, D. Boucher and A. Green. Mutual Broadcasting System.  December 17, 1945.

  • “The Woman,” from The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, D. Boucher and A. Green. Mutual Broadcasting System.  December 10, 1945.

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