Who Was Sherlock Holmes?

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Sherlock Holmes is a character in books. But today, he is one of the most famous characters in the world. And he has influenced real methods of crime scene investigation. Liz Waid and Bruce Gulland look at how Sherlock Holmes has changed the world.

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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

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And I’m Bruce Gulland. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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In the 1800s in England, there were frightening stories. The stories told of a huge dog that hunted the Baskerville family. It was not a normal dog. The dog was cursed. The stories said it glowed with a kind of light. And it could disappear like a ghost. They said the dog killed Charles Baskerville.

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But detective Sherlock Holmes did not believe these stories. He was a man of science. He went to the Baskerville home with his friend, Dr. Watson. Holmes examined the place where Charles Baskerville died. It seemed like there was no answer – until Holmes found the pawprint. It was the marking of a very real, solid dog. And around it was a pale green paint that glowed in the dark.

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Holmes took some of the paint and put it between his fingers. He sniffed it and smiled. “The game is afoot, Watson,” he said. With this one clue, he already knew how to solve the crime.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum – 221b Baker” (CC BY 2.0) by ell brown
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This is from one of the most famous stories of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes was not a real detective – he was a character in books. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a famous writer from Scotland. He created Sherlock Holmes in 1887. But Sherlock Holmes is more than just any character in a book. He is one of the most popular characters in the history of the world. People are still writing about Sherlock Holmes. And he changed the way that detectives solve crimes. Today’s Spotlight is on Sherlock Holmes.

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Sherlock Holmes is a complicated character. Holmes is a detective – he solves crimes like murders and burglaries. He notices very small details that other people do not see. He makes quick decisions. And he can remember very complicated things very easily. He is very intelligent, but he is also very messy. Holmes solved almost every mystery he ever faced. He also has a very good friend called Dr. Watson who is always part of the story.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote where Sherlock Holmes was born. But the idea for Holmes came from two places. The first was Conan Doyle’s professor, Joseph Bell. Joseph Bell was a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh. Like Holmes, he noticed small details. He could discover what happened to a person just by looking at their injuries. But other books also helped Conan Doyle invent Sherlock Holmes. The most important was called The Murders in the Rue Morgue. It was by a man named Edgar Allan Poe. The Murders in the Rue Morgue was one of the first detective stories. It follows a man named Auguste Dupin as he solves two murders. He is much like Holmes in the way he solves the case!

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loved The Murder in the Rue Morgue. But he felt that there were problems with the story. Auguste Dupin solved the murders with a lot of skill. But the way he solved his crimes was not based on evidence. Conan Doyle wanted to create a detective who solved crimes by carefully looking around him. The detective would do what Joseph Bell did with injuries. But Conan Doyle’s detective would do it with crime scenes. He would use the latest science. And he would use his wits and intelligence, instead of relying on chance.

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In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes story. It was called A Study in Scarlet. It is a murder mystery that happens when Sherlock Holmes is young. In it, Conan Doyle describes Holmes as a very strange person. He is alone most of the time. And he is not good in social situations. But he is brilliant in his deductions. This is what he calls it when he examines all evidence in great detail. Then, he imagines how the crime could have happened. This method of crime solving works extremely well. Holmes captures the murderer in three days!

A Study in Scarlet (Beeton’s Christmas A” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Toronto Public Library Special Collections
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A Study in Scarlet did not sell extremely well. But Conan Doyle kept writing Sherlock Holmes stories. Soon, his stories were some of the most popular of his time. And Sherlock Holmes became one of the most well-respected characters in the English-speaking world. This is partly because of Holmes’ special way of solving crime. No one had ever seen anything like it!

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One of his most popular stories was called The Adventure of Silver Blaze. In this story, detectives from the government approach Holmes. They ask him to solve two crimes. The first to find a stolen racehorse called Silver Blaze. The second is to solve the murder of the man who took care of the horse, the groom. The police believe that they have the murderer. He is a stranger who bet money against Silver Blaze. But the police cannot prove it. They are hoping Holmes will help support their theory.

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Instead, when Holmes arrives, he quickly proves that the police are wrong. He examines the crime scene and realizes Silver Blaze was not stolen. After the murder no one led the horse back to its stable. Instead, the horse wandered off. This meant that the groom was the only person with the horse when he died. Holmes also realizes that a stranger could not steal Silver Blaze. There was a dog that guarded the horses. It would have barked at a stranger. But it did not make a sound.

Images from Silver Blaze; By Sidney Paget (1860-1908) – http://www.sshf.com/encyclopedia/index.php/The_Adventure_of_Silver_Blaze, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29997895
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Holmes understands that no person killed the groom. Instead, the horse was the murderer! The groom was trying to hurt the horse. He wanted to win a bet where Silver Blaze lost. But the horse kicked its leg when it felt pain. It crushed the groom’s skull, then ran away.

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For many people, this was a new kind of story. It changed the way people wrote about crime. Even today, people are writing and making films about Sherlock Holmes. Current television shows like Sherlock, House (M.D.), and Elementary are inspired by Holmes. In fact, Sherlock Holmes has a record in the Guinness Book of World Records. He is the most portrayed human character in film and television history!

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But Sherlock Holmes changed more than just literature. He changed the way people investigated crimes! Dr. Ian Burney is a historian who studies crime scene investigation. He also studies Sherlock Holmes. He says:

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“During that time, there were people who investigated crime scenes. But they did not have a system. They were not scientific in the way they went about their work. These stories showed new ways of investigating crimes. In them, Holmes protects the crime scene. He records everything. He looks at everything, even the very small evidence, with science. It is surprising, but clear. Sherlock Holmes was a major influence on the crime scene as we know it today.”

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In this way, Holmes was just as important as a living detective. He helped people understand how detectives investigate crimes. He used real methods, like fingerprinting. And he explained every step he took. He made crime scene investigation make sense. And he helped make crime scene investigation something people use all over the world. Laura J. Snyder is a professor at St. John’s University. She wrote in the Journal Endeavor:

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“By creating a ‘scientific detective’, Conan Doyle gave the public a criminal catcher they could trust. Sherlock Holmes did not invent criminal science. But he did more than any other person to show it as a valuable tool in criminal investigation.”

Image by Eric Neil Vázquez from Pixabay
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Have you ever read any Sherlock Holmes stories? What is your favorite? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at contact@spotlightenglish.com. You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.spotlightenglish.com. This program is called: Who Was Sherlock Holmes?

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Visit our website to download our free official app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


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  • I was very pleased to read the Sherlock Holmes program, because some time ago I bought a list of five books including Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Red”, but which I have not yet read and which I believe I will read in midsummer, because the reading proceeds very slowly and I am still busy with the first on the list which is “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann. Then there are the other three which are “Memoirs of Hadrian” by Marguerite Yourcenar, “Narciso and Boccadoro” by Hermann Hesse and “Sentimental Education” by Gustave Flaubert.

  • Actually in my childhood I used to watch Sherlock Holmes series it was wander full time that I explored Sherlock Holmes I thought he was a real character thanks spotlight for this amazing podcasts

  • No , Actually this is my first story I’ve heard about sherllok holmes and its really nice and i like it , I’m gonna read more about this program. Than you

  • The postcast sounds really good, actually the first time i have ever heard about sherlock homes since i watched a japanese cartoon called detective conan, and after that i also researched and got some information about him on the internet, and i read one story of the sherlock stories’s series. I have to recognize that this man is really talented, he can solve all the crime without feeling confused or fear even if it’s very difficult to solve. That’s why many people all arround the world admire him.

  • I knowed Sherlock Holmes when I watched cartoons film on the TV. He was very intelligent and I liked him too much. I really don’t know Sherlock Holmes was not a real detective, he was a character in book. After many years he is still the most famous character in film and television.

  • To be honest, I’m more impressed by Conan than Holmes because the former created the latter. We should give credit where it’s due.

  • Thank you for your sharing about Sherlock Holmes. I used to watch anime series of Sherlock Holmes . But it’s been a long time. I don’t remember much.I only know that it is very interesting.

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