Podcaster and YouTube user Simon Whistler has cracked the case of Sherlock Holmes’s fan mail. In a recent episode of the web series Today I Found Out, Whistler explains how a bank ended up receiving, and responding to, fan mail addressed to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective for nearly six decades.
According to Whistler, the Abbey National Bank began receiving fan mail for Holmes in the 1930s. The detective’s residence at 221B Baker Street didn’t exist when Doyle was writing his mysteries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, by the 1930s, London’s street numbers had changed, and Abbey National’s headquarters were now located at the detective’s address.
Rather than simply throw away mail addressed to a fictional character, the bank decided to hire someone to answer Holmes’s mail—as his secretary. Until Abbey National moved its headquarters in the 2000s, the bank continuously employed a series of secretaries to respond to fans, letting them know that Holmes had retired to the countryside to raise bees, or even replying occasionally as Holmes himself, using quotes from Doyle’s books.
''Mr. Holmes has been asked to help with Watergate and Irangate, to solve the murder of Olaf Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister, and find lost homework to prove to the teacher that the student really did it,” Holmes’s secretary Nikki Caparn told The New York Times in 1989. “Many people know he's not real and write tongue in cheek. But some people haven't worked it out. The stories were written in the late 1800's and early 1900's and Mr. Holmes would be 136 years old now, so it's unlikely that he'd still be living here.''
Nowadays, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, located on Baker Street a few doors down from 221, responds to Holmes’s mail. In the video above, Whistler explains how Abbey National Bank embraced sharing their address with Sherlock Holmes, and how letter writing duties eventually shifted from the bank to the museum.
[h/t AV Club]
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