Deer Stalkers

“SHERLOCK IS BACK AGAIN” said the sign this morning at the corner of the Everyman Baker Street cinema.  Of course he is.  I mean the other one.  The one with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, which is apparently a sequel to their first one.  I feel I have to explain this because no one in this country cares a bean for the film because they are still going nuts for our Sherlock.   Sherlock is everywhere.  Twitter users are being #Sherlocked (apparently a type of pleasant televisual paralysis ones emotions and glands go into when exposed to Benedict Cumberbatch on Sunday nights)  Mid-market dailies are crushed full of Benny Cumberbund staring meaningfully at photographers lenses, sucking his cheeks in and raising his coat collar up against a dastardly detective plot.  We sit, curtained windows against the dark, January evenings, watching Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman sit around their moodily-designed Baker Street bachelor pad in its olive greens and murky browns, as Sherlock unblinkingly assesses another case with his usual blend of psychotic detachment and illuminating pragmatism.  The New Year schedules, normally a three week rickety drawbridge between the excesses of Christmas and the sharp, desperate launch of the January season, have had Sherlock as its crowning glory.  Every Sunday for three weeks at 8.30pm, BBC1’s ratings shoot through the roof, hitting Morecambe & Wise-esque proportions.  Of course we can’t follow the plots.  That’s not the point.  I can barely work out how the tumble dryer works, let alone understand how an enigmatic lady has given me the code to her safe by walking about naked whilst emitting her vital statistics.  The point is, we are stunned – stunned by the quality of visual presentation, stunned by the deducting skills of this nation’s favourite detective, and stunned by Martin Freeman’s tasteful range of Marks and Spencers pullovers. Are we getting Sherlocked out?  Is it all a bit, well, too much?

Of course, we adore Sherlock over here at the London Bluebird.  Last year’s post proved that (see  Una Stubbs looks terrific.  Martin Freeman gets to play our endearing and reliable blogger / narrator and Cumberbatch is a delight.  But it is wise that the current series format is only three episodes.  It’s too rich to digest in bigger numbers.  Barely forty minutes had gone by of the last episode, and I was lost.  There was something about a rabbit that glowed in the dark?  And a pub in rural somewhere-or-othershire, and Martin Freeman looking woefully underwritten and Sherlock having some sort of meltdown by a pub fire?  When people started seeing imaginary dogs I sort of left my own head for a bit.  But this Sherlock over-exposure is an ordinary thing if you ever take a bus down Baker Street.  You would think, for example, that no one had ever lived in Baker Street other than Sherlock Holmes, which is ironic when you take into account he is fictional.  One of the endearing things about Holmes fans is that they treat the Sherlock Holmes Museum with the same sense of devotion and idolatry which Dickensians would give to the Dickens Museum, without ever really coming to terms with the fact that Sherlock Holmes is made up.  When the Everyman Baker Street announces that “Sherlock is back again” the truth is he hasn’t gone anywhere, not when there is that eerie, enormous statue terrifying commuters at the exit from Baker Street tube station.  Conan Doyle killed Holmes off in his tale The Final Problem.   But the demand for Sherlock was so intense, and the sense of the man in the public consciousness was so strong that he, quite simply, refused to die.  Conan Doyle ressurrected him in The Return of Sherlock Holmes to sate the appetite of a passionate Holmesian public.  Sherlock has never rested easy.  And you, too, can own a bit of Sherlockian magic in your own life : The Sherlock Holmes Museum Shop even sells a pen that looks exactly like a syringe (“A blood-curdling pen shaped like a hypodermic syringe! Thankfully there is only ink inside!”  screeches the website) so you can write cheques and Tesco shopping lists whilst looking like Sherlock Holmes just before he shoots up.  And all for £3.

Over on Twitter, the Cumberbitches are a faithful, deeply loving breed.  “Seen Benedict getting out of car!”  “Seen Benedict OMG in Asda CUMBERBITCH!”  They warn Steven Moffat over the Twittersphere that they will hunt him down if this series of Sherlock is the last.  One of them has acquired the character of Mycroft Holmes as their Twitter identity.  Reality and fiction are intertwined so closely that no one knows where one ends and the other begins – which is part of the fun, after all.  The Cumberbitch limps from Sunday night to Sunday night, exuding undying romantic love in 140 characters or less, dribbling over the telly and chomping at the bit for their Cumberbatch fix.  After the third episode of Sherlock this coming Sunday, they will be bereft on a sea of nothingness – until War Horse opens and the sight of a moustachioed Cumberbund on a rearing steed going into battle renders them dizzy with Sherlock-esque carnal desire once more.  Cumberbatch would be wise to head for the hills.  He spoke out recently about a disturbing incident in South Africa in 2005 where his scuba diving holiday was rudely interrupted by vagabonds intent on kidnap.  This they did, tying him up and putting him in the boot of a car with his fellow diver, an actress who was apparently once in Coronation Street.  Cumberbatch pretended that he had a dual brain/heart disorder and that he would surely die in an imminent seizure.  When hearing of such bravery and heroism every Cumberbitch in Britain fainted.  So brave and convincing and lovely was he that the kidnappers released him.  Is this incident anything compared to what the Cumberbitches would do to him if they got their mitts on him? Would he be taken off to a laboratory somewhere to be cloned, in order for a whole batch of mini-Bitches to be released on an unsuspecting and ill-prepared world?  This is not helped by the fact that Cumberbatch has spoken out in public about the fact that he is not yet a father, but that he hopes to become one immediately.  Like, now.  The Cumberbitches excitement has now transcended anything we can possibly imagine, and they are forming a (dis)orderly queue.  Trust me – I’ve seen ’em.  I only hope our Benedict likes his women to be currently studying for Sociology AS Level, and to be wearing nothing but a unsettling grin and a deerstalker.

What does it do to an actor’s mind to encounter this kind of flattering, but unhinged, love?  I imagine it’s all fun and Benny Cumberbund is chortling his way to the BAFTAs.  He is an unexpected, unorthodox looking sex bomb.  But it is a trifle unhinged.   Of course, they aren’t in love with him, they’re in love with Sherlock and his devastatingly appealing mind.  It would be unsettling if his character in Atonement  or Starter for Ten exhibited such fiendish, loyal sexual devotion.   Attendances at the Sherlock Holmes Museum have risen vastly since Sherlock was first aired on the BBC last summer, and many afternoons on the bus home, I pass the museum, and see the visitors troop in.  They are all sixteen year old girls.  Perhaps I am too old to really understand the lure of love here, but it seems Sherlock has become the Morrisey of the late-noughties, the late adolescent poster boy for the young adult female, as he hovers about her consciousness as a misunderstood, gothic intellectual.  This series has spawned a whole riot of dear stalkers, intent on finding Benedict Cumberbatch and grabbing him and kissing him.  Who are they in love with?  The enigmatic and characterful Benedict Cumberbatch for his remarkable acting?   Or are they truly in love with his creator – with the great mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his marvellous invention of Sherlock Holmes?   One thing is certain:  it is no coincidence that the only human who truly and utterly bamboozled Holmes was a woman, aka, “The Woman” – Irene Adler.  Although many things may be easily deduced when we follow Holmes’s advice of observation, clarification and the removal of the impossible to see what remains, even he would balk when faced with a adolescent girl mushed into Cumberbitch-land and tweeting pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch between her friends.  But whilst a male detective is confused and his concentration flustered by the arrival of the woman, to a young woman the male detective is the man she needs to rescue, the keeper of a sentimental heart she knows truly beats somewhere within him, the object on which the redemptive powers of both emotional nurture and copious sex are pinned.   It is not Cumberbatch, but Sherlock Holmes they are all in love with.  Cumberbatch’s achievement is that Sherlock is made so remarkably real to them.  Holmes’s mode of emotional detachment and mental control is ripe for the daydreams of an Upper Sixth Former, desperate to unleash him, whilst he gets to explain the science of deduction in a fruity voice all through the lovely unleashing, and they get to reveal the emotional damaged soul underneath the brilliant, scientific facade.      Elementary, my dear Watson.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.


The Hour Has Come

As London slakes its thirst on the first of many summer spritzers, don’t you think our cool, balmy evenings suit the outrageously sexy The Hour on Beeb 2?  I do.  Essentially, The Hour had me with it’s era-faithful hairstyles, structured 1950s and air of noble broadcasting intent, and I even managed to get away from the fact that Dominic West has a neck that makes him look like a toad.  For Mr West is aware – exuberantly aware – that he is rather Hot Stuff.  He minces his eyebrows about quizzically, looks out of that oddly craggy face and leers out of the television as if to say “Ladies – Get a load of what I’ve got, you lucky lucky minxes.”  Strangely, I cannot find him attractive.  I think he’s borderline sinister, but in a way that suits The Hour.  His is the public face of this fictional news show set in the late 1950s and broadcast from the imitation White City building of “Lime Grove”.   In this week’s instalment he had Romola Garai in her vintage seamed stockings on what looked like an extremely uncomfortable settee.  In fact, Romola Garai’s flat in The Hour doesn’t so much look like a flat as a annex book lock-up round the back of Senate House Library.  Still, there was Mr D West, smirking and slurping his way through the scene in order to distract us from the dreary municipal – looking surroundings.  But we know, don’t we, that D West’s character is Bad News.  He’s probably going to break Romola Garai’s post war, rationed little heart by Week 5 and leave her weeping in a 1950s headscarf whilst nursing the very first English cappucino.

The show has thrown me into a vintage quandary.  I was so disappointed to miss the Vintage event at the South Bank last weekend (a repeat of what happened at Goodwood last August) as it would have been an ideal opportunity to whip out the gravy browning, roll my hair into bangs and find out just what ladies did in the 1950s to make their tits look like missiles.  Unfortunately, I wound up in another country.  The Hour is an education.  Everything is bolstered and strapped and contained within clean lines.  The millinery is presented in beautifully classic style.   Set against a Egypt-tastic back drop of the Suez Crisis, it also features a grand performance by Anna Chancellor in mannish white shirts, who gets to smoke fags, look rueful, drink whisky out of beige coffee cups and sidle about pouting and barking out historically-vital pieces of information, such as “They’ve set fire to the central square!”  “We need you to radio in on Thursday – all day, do you hear?”, “The French are getting testy.”

Somewhere there is a spy.  A great big fat one.  This being the late 1950s it has to be a Russian.  Or a Czech.  Or Lucille Ball.  The phrase that sums up the 1950s is more You Never Felt More Paranoid, rather than You Never Had It So Good, although D West was having it rather good last night. The furtive World Service BBC worker of no particular Eastern European heritage who has been creepily oozing around the sidelines since Episode 1 played more of a central role last night.  Well, a central stairwell role, anyway, as he lost a peculiar struggle in a stairwell last night with a man who weighs about 8 stone.  His opponent was Featherweight Freddy Lyons, sidekick to Romola’s character, Bel, who is clearly daft in love with her and doomed to misery, as no one can ever overawe the potency of D “Toad” West once he gets himself going (poop poop).  Featherweight Freddy’s grammar school integrity and almost-innocent, wide-eyed application to his craft is partnered with a habit of using newspaper cut outs of gruesome going’s on as wallpaper in the house where he lives with his father in an unknown London suburb.

Personally, my money for the spy is on Anna Chancellor.  All that hanging around the Lime Grove studios on Saturdays in red lipliner?  Surely that could only mean an assignation with one of Russia’s fruitiest cunning villains.  Last night’s episode featured a really bad excuse – apparently old Duckface was at work as she was “early for supper with a dreadful Great Aunt…” and had nothing better to do.  You don’t allow Great Aunts to take you out for supper.  It’s too terrifying.  Anyway, most of my great aunts are now unavailable to dine as they are dead.

Someone else who is dead is Terence Rattigan.  But you wouldn’t know that he is dead because he is basically everywhere.  In one of those eerie zeitgeist moments, something in the upper-middle class pinched emotions of Rattigan’s world has struck a very loud chord with an entirely new generation of theatregoers in the last 18 months.  For about twenty years there were no Rattigan plays on at all, now the West End is swimming with them.  The tide shows no sign of going out either.  BBC4 hopped on this 1950s bandwagon this week by chucking Benedict Cumberbatch in a three quarter length coat and sending him moodily strolling about Soho (Why?) whilst telling us the story of Rattigan’s life and career, from nerve-wrenching opening nights at The Criterion through to money, adulation and fame, on to hosting grand parties at his Ascot manor, and out the other side into drunkenness, Rattigan a forgotten, maligned and sick man.   This was excellently told.  I knew very little about Rattigan, beyond the genuinely superb plays, and the nicest thing about Cumberbatch is that he is very personable, i.e. not at all like an actor.   He is also very articulate and modest,i.e. not like an actor.  Benny Cumberbund and T Rattigan were both Harrow alumni so it was dead glam.

What was noticeable was the archive trawl.  Televised plays of Rattigan’s work from the 1970s and 1980s, complete with bendy sets and 1980s pale brown Habitat sofas masquerading as 1930s Brighton chaise longues, were a real revelation, and a horrible reminder that the BBC doesn’t film plays anymore to televise them, because they’re a bunch of lily-livered pussies who think we are all too stupid to want to watch them.   The recent Old Vic production of Rattigan’s Cause Celebre was brilliantly done on Radio 4 (complete with resplendent gin and tonic ice chinks) but no one would be brave enough to put it on the television.  Oh, and please PLEASE can we have a full viewing of the version of Cause Celebre they did show a slither of, which seemed to come from the back end of the 1980s?  With Helen Mirren swooning over the young David Morrissey as if her eyes would fall out?  Something for gentlemen in that scene, and something for the ladies.  Double bubble.

Benny Bumbercund was of course in the recent NT production of After the Dance which could also be called After the Dance I did Frankenstein and stuff and SO much in demand I went to do Sherlock.  A televised version of that after the interesting Rattigan documentary would have been delightful.  Instead, we got this hackneyed 1985-ish version of it, with terribly sound editing, absolutely no David Morrissey, and Anton Rodgers playing a dipsomaniac fruitloop (I preferred him in that thing set in Pinner called May to December where he dated a gym mistress).  If BBC4 isn’t prepared to televise plays I don’t know who is.   The universality of Rattigan’s work means they continue to have resonance and ballast to engage with the modern televisual audience.  Systematically, television undermines and underestimates our intelligence, until, eventually, we shall all be forced to watch Teletubbies on a 24 hour loop.  We have some of the best plays ever written and no one televises them.  Something tells me that back at the fictional Lime Grove studios of The Hour of the late 1950s not filming our own plays would have been unthinkable.