Steven Moffat at the Annual Dinner

The Society’s 59th Annual Dinner was held in the Members’ Dining Room at the House of Commons, London, on Saturday 7th January 2012.Steven Moffat, the television producer and writer, was the Guest of Honour. He was a revelation. He “performed” his speech and he was a great all round entertainer. I have never seen Steven perform before. He was loud, he was boisterous, he was funny. And he had … no notes. Brave decision!I did not take his speech down verbatim, and nor do I have a transcript, so these are just selected highlights:- Steven described the Society as “fundamentalists”. He had expected Mark to get lynched when Mark had suggested the idea of a updated Sherlock Holmes at the Society’s Dinner in 2006, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the Society really liked the idea. He had come to the Dinner fully prepared to have to stand shoulder to shoulder with Mark, in a fight to the death. He could not believe that Mark had survived- Steven joked that absolutely EVERYONE was asking him, Sue and Mark what happens at the Reichenbach Falls. He was not telling!- He referred to Mark as “his other wife” which made me laugh!- Steven said “A Study in Scarlet” was the first Sherlock Holmes story he had read and that it was the “best and most exciting thing I had ever read”- Like Mark, as a child, he was very shy, and most often alone. This was the fate of a Sherlock Holmes fan. “Loneliness was my friend”- The first Sherlock Holmes film he had seen was The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. When he had seen that, he wanted to see more. His father had said there were a number of films where an actor called Basil Rathbone played Holmes. Steven was not sure whether to believe his father as he could not believe that a real life actor had a name that was actually funnier than Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch anyone?!)- However, Steven was delighted to find that there were actually 14 Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films for him to explore and savour. He wanted films that stuck to Canon. They did to some extent, but then they introduced Hitler!- Initially, he had thought that it was a mortal sin to update Sherlock Holmes. But then he discovered that he liked the films that featured an updated Sherlock Holmes the best as they had a greater sense of fun, fun that was missing from the more traditional adaptations- He found a kindred spirit in Mark when they started talking about Sherlock Holmes on their train journeys to and from Cardiff. The favourite adaptations for both of them were The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and the updated Basil Rathbone films- Steven joked about how he and Mark felt that there should be a blue plaque on the train, the train where the idea of Sherlock originated- Steven teased Mark that it was strange that Mark was up for a modern adaptation when Mark was Victoriana personified – he had even arrived in a hansom cab! (you only had to look at Mark to know that, in saying this, Steven was bang on the money!)- The secret of Sherlock’s success was to go back to Conan Doyle and identify what works – one of the key things were the great beginnings. Conan Doyle knew he had to draw people in. Steven mentioned that sometimes the endings were weak, as though Conan Doyle had lost interest or had had to finish them off in a rush as he had a pressing social engagement- Another key was the specific address – 221B Baker Street. The fact that if you had a problem, or a difficulty, you could write to Sherlock Holmes or visit him, at a real and specific address in London- Steven said that the key thing was to follow the story-teller ie Conan Doyle- Sherlock Holmes was a modern man, the stories were modern for their time; it was important to preserve this modernity when adapting for the present day eg iPhones- Conan Doyle did not think that people had the stamina to read through a very long serialised story and they may miss a critical and key passage. But short stories which ended would not get punters to buy the next edition. So, the genius concept that Conan Doyle had, was to have a series of short stories bound together by the same lead character, running right through them. This was what we would now call a TV series!- He concluded by thanking the Society for backing Mark (and his) original concept of updating Sherlock Holmes for this century and for ensuring that Sherlock was alive and well for the next generation – the “idea” of Sherlock Holmes must live onAnd that, was Steven’s speech, given without notes, in a nutshell.I will end by saying that Mark looked the perfect Victorian gentleman in his attire, he looked very handsome and very dapper. In fact, he looked good enough to eat!Review kindly provided by Rakshita Patel

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