BASC Preview: Meet Guests of Honor The Baker Street Irregulars

Since 1934, one of the leading organizations in the continued scholarship and publication of all things Sherlockian has been the Baker Street Irregulars. Through numerous scion societies all over the country, and publications including the The Baker Street Journal, BSI has kept the study of Holmes, Watson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thriving.

On August 17, Bay Area Sherlock Con will be welcoming Michael Kean, Randall Stock, and Marsha Pollak, three invested members of BSI. Nerdophiles (Amy and I) will be in attendance at BASC, and were able to get in touch with Kean and Stock and get to know a little about just how invested they are in the scholarship (and just plain enjoyment) of Sherlock Holmes.

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Every Sherlockian started somewhere. For Stock, it was at the library in fourth grade.

“My school librarian knew that I enjoyed reading mystery stories like Encyclopedia Brown, and thought I might like Sherlock Holmes,” he said. “While the school library didn’t have any Holmes books, she was able to get a copy of A Study in Scarlet through a school system interlibrary loan.”

Kean became absorbed in the world of Holmes later in his educational career, while strolling around the mall with his wife (then girlfriend), complaining that his MA research left no time for pleasure reading. His wife asked what he’d like to read, and as fate would have it, they came across a display of the complete Sherlock Holmes in a bookstore.

“I’d read some of them as a kid, but I’d never read them all,” Kean recalled. “And it must have been around my birthday, because two or three weeks later or so, I received a copy of that book as a birthday gift. I put it on the night table and read one of the stories every night, and got hooked.”

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Stock and Kean’s interest developed into long-time devotion that earned them invitations into the BSI. Stock has contributed writing to The Baker Street Journal and the BSI manuscript series, and manages the websites for The Baker Street Journal, BSI Trust, and his own site, The Best of Sherlock Holmes.

Kean’s main BSI involvement right now is in the publishing program, which is responsible for publishing about four books a year, including the manuscript series, word-by-word transcriptions of original manuscripts, collections of scholarly articles, and an international series. Early this year, Kean received the Two Shilling award, the highest award the BSI offer for long-time service. So what will they be bringing to BASC?

“We’re going to put together a little symposium where each of us gives a brief presentation providing an example of the kind of Sherlockian scholarship that the BSI engage in,” said Kean.

“My part of this will focus on Sherlockian rarities,” said Stock. “It will include photos of rare Holmes books, manuscripts, and drawings along with a very brief discussion of some of the history behind the Holmes stories.”

Feeling like you need to take a break from those Elementary reruns to brush up on the original stories? Never fear. When these guys say they’re invested, they mean it. They’ve read and seen it all, and quite enjoy the newest adaptations.

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“In recent years, there have been a small number of individuals who have created, at least in their minds, a split between the Sherlockian devotee: the scholar, if you will, and the Sherlockian fan,” said Kean. “And those individuals, I’m certainly not one of them.”

Kean is currently in the process of rewatching BBC’s Sherlock, inspired be the many detailed articles he’s read about the show since his first viewing.

“These articles have been written by some very knowledgeable television and film critics who have picked up pieces I’ve missed, so I’m rewatching them and I’m enjoying them more the second time,” he said.

“The BBC version comes closest to matching the spirit and style of the original stories even though it’s set in the present day,” said Stock. “Elementary draws less on the original tales and is more of a typical TV police show, but it has a strong cast and manages to pull in some nice bits from the originals.”

When BSI co-chaired with the UCLA School of Television, Film, and Theater at a conference called “Sherlock Holmes: Behind the Canonical Screen,” Kean got the opportunity to meet Elementary creator Robert Doherty, and see the pilot 10 days before it aired.

“The Jonny Lee Miller-Lucy Liu Elementary series did incredibly, incredibly well in the ratings and has, of course, been signed up for a second year,” said Kean. “I like both of those very, very much. I’m less enthusiastic about the Robert Downey Jr. films.”

It’s not that he dislikes the RDJ films. If anything, he’s just far more impressed with Jude Law’s portrayal of Watson than with RDJ’s Holmes. Stock enjoys the grand scale and the late-Victorian setting of those films as well.

The thing about Sherlock Holmes is that it has a tendency to resurge in popularity over generations, as it has with these recent adaptations. When Kean came into the world of Holmes in the late ‘70s, Nicholas Meyer’s book and film, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, was awakening a whole new batch of Sherlockians. Kean says this pattern of renewed interest over the years is fabulous.

“I think unquestionably, if you look at the longevity of the character, Holmes is truly one of the great, great characters in all of English literature,” he said. “Even though the first Holmes story was set in 1887, he’s as fresh today as a character as he was unique at the time.”

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So it’s no surprise that both Kean and Stock are really looking forward to meeting fans of all lengths of time and entry points at BASC.

“One of the things that’s so great about the Holmes stories is that people like different aspects of the stories and adaptations, so I always learn something new about them,” said Stock. “I’m looking forward to meeting Holmes fans and learning about their interests.”

As for the some of the lasting affects of Sherlockian study on the lives of these Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes has had a great deal of influence on Stock’s academic interests, as well as interest in studying Conan Doyle’s life and letters.

“I was impressed by how Holmes could use logic and a scientific approach to solve mysteries and puzzles,” said Stock. “That encouraged my focus in math and science, which eventually led to studying electrical engineering in college and my work in the tech industry today.”

Kean became a collector, boasting a collection of 6000 volumes of Holmes and other Conan Doyle material. He also brought a bit of his Sherlockian love into his family, who is supportive of his devotion to all things Holmes.

“Our son’s middle name is Conan,” said Kean. “I really wanted to name him Sherlock, but my wife put her foot down.”

Interested in the Baker Street Irregulars or finding out which scion societies are near you? Keep in mind that many of these are invitation-only, and some of them are still all male. (Women weren’t welcome in most of these organizations until the early ‘90s. As for the ones that still don’t, Kean confesses he’d like to “convince them to come kicking and screaming into the new millennium”).

But if you’re attending BASC and are interested in the scholarly aspects of Sherlock Holmes, these BSI reps would surely love to hear from you. Check out their panel at 11 a.m. in the theater. Need a conversation starter? Stock named “The Speckled Band” as his favorite Holmes story, while Kean chose The Hound of the Baskervilles.

See you at the con, Sherlockians!

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