It would be the perfect crime...

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories - Credit: Getty Images

Delving into the past with Chris Hallam.

Chris Hallam

Chris Hallam - Credit: Chris Hallam

The doctor had decided to kill Sherlock Holmes and he knew exactly how we was going to do it.

The great detective would be engaged in one final tussle with his greatest enemy, Professor Moriarty.

Locked in combat, both men would lose their footing and fall to their certain doom into the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland.

The year was 1893 and Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle was confident he would get away with it.

He was, of course, a writer and the creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories which had proven enormously successful.

In fact, they had become a bit too popular for his own liking. For many people they had become almost an obsession and Doyle was worried they were starting to overshadow the rest of his career.

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He wrote to his mother: "I think of slaying Holmes...and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things." (His mother responded: “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!”). Doyle would thus kill off his creation on the page in his latest story, The Final Problem and thus bring the whole thing to an end.

Doyle had been born in Edinburgh in 1859 and was already making a name for himself as a physician when the first Sherlock Holmes book was published in 1887.

The first two books, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four were not actually particularly successful.

The formula only really took off when Holmes and Watson’s adventures began appearing as short stories in The Strand Magazine in 1891.

Doyle had based the character of Holmes on his former tutor, Dr Joseph Bell.

He had not actually invented the modern detective story.

Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins had already produced early examples of the genre.

But Doyle had created the most popular version of the form to date.

Sherlock Holmes had become a sensation.

Readers were thrilled by his awesome powers of deduction. They also loved the stories’ narrator, Holmes’ friend and colleague, Dr. Watson.

Needless to say, Doyle’s plan to kill Holmes off after a mere 24 short stories didn’t work.

News of the character’s death provoked a public outcry.

So many people cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand Magazine in protest, that it almost went bankrupt as a result. Clearly, Doyle had created a giant of popular culture that was now beyond his own control.

Eight years after killing Holmes off, Doyle was forced to resurrect him. Holmes returned in his greatest tale of all, The Hound of the Baskervilles, a novel-length adventure which was serialised in The Strand Magazine in 1901 and 1902.

This story had been set before Holmes and Moriarty’s fateful fall. Two years later, Holmes returned again in a short story which explained how Holmes had survived the incident at Reichenbach. By 1927, when Doyle was an old man, he had produced four full-length novels and 56 short stories featuring Holmes.

Doyle always remained concerned that Holmes’ popularity would overshadow his other achievements.

In addition to the Sherlock Holmes stories, he wrote many other books and stories including the dinosaur-themed adventure, The Lost World.

He also enjoyed successes in the medical field as a doctor as well in the law, in politics and as an architect.

He was even an accomplished sportsman: he was a keen footballer and cricketer.

By the time of Doyle’s death in 1930, the very first Sherlock Holmes films had started to appear. Holmes would be portrayed on screen by (amongst others) Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett in the 20th century and by Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch n the 21st.

Sherlock Holmes remains hugely popular on both the page and the screen. Doyle’s fears have proven amply justified.

For all his other achievements, today, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is far more famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes than for anything else he ever did.