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New BBC series features famous pioneer Spiritualist


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HISTORIAN Lucy Worsley is fulfilling a dream in presenting a new BBC series about Spiritualist pioneer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of super sleuth Sherlock Holmes.

LUCY WORSLEY: “I have had a life-long crush on Sherlock Holmes.” (Photo: BBC Studios)
     LUCY WORSLEY: “I have had a life-long crush on
Sherlock Holmes.” (Photo: BBC Studios)

The three-part documentary Killing Sherlock Lucy Worsley on the Case of Conan Doyle gave her the chance to explore the dual biography of the writer and his famous fictional character.

“I have had a life-long crush on Sherlock Holmes,” said Ms Worsley, “so it was the biggest pleasure imaginable to explore his life, death and resurrection.”

The title alludes to the fact that Sir Arthur came to dislike Holmes and wrote an apparent death scene for him in 1893. Such was the outcry that he had to bring him back to life ten years later.

A BBC press statement said that over the course of three episodes, “Lucy Worsley investigates the extraordinary love-hate relationship between Holmes and Doyle, detective and author, in a unique parallel biography of Sherlock Holmes and the complex man who created him.”

Ms Worsley added that while researching the series, “I also got a real and sometimes troubling insight into manliness, Empire and Victorian values.

“I find his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, to be a complex, contradictory and endlessly fascinating character.”

For the new programmes, Ms Worsley “weaves historical context with personal history, setting Doyle and his creation against the seismic world events and changes happening around them.”

No biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is complete without a study of his interest in Spiritualism.

Initially fascinated by the possibility of telepathy, he spent years investigating Spiritualism, wrote many books on the subject and lectured abroad about it extensively.

SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE said that Spiritualism “absolutely removes all fear of death.”    
Spiritualism “absolutely removes
all fear of death.”

Sir Arthur concluded that Spiritualism “absolutely removes all fear of death. Secondly it bridges death for those dear ones we may lose.”

The author’s legacy was marred by his conviction that a series of photographs taken between 1917 and 1920 by Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright in Cottingley, West Yorkshire, depicted fairies.

The local Telegraph and Argus revealed that Ms Worsley has included this part of Sir Arthur’s story.

Journalist Emma Clayton wrote that the third episode includes Ms Worsley “exploring Doyle’s fascination with the Cottingley fairies photographs.

“He was convinced they were genuine, so much so that he gave the girls a camera to capture more fairy images.”

Emma Clayton said the story “started as a childish prank, down at Cottingley Beck, and turned into one of the great mysteries of the twentieth century.

“Armed with some paper fairies and a handful of hatpins, cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright created what became one of the world’s most famous photographic hoaxes, fooling scientists, academics, photography experts – and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.”

The mystery was finally solved 60 years later when Frances Griffiths admitted their pictures were faked.

Speaking to the BBC in 1983, Frances said “I never even thought of it being a fraud. It was just Elsie and me having a bit of fun.

“I can’t understand to this day why people were taken in. They wanted to be taken in.

“People often say to me ‘Don’t you feel ashamed that you have made all these poor people look like fools They believed in you.’ I do not because they wanted to believe.”

ACTOR Kit Harington will star in an adaptation of Sir Arthur’s short horror story “Lot No 249.” (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
     ACTOR Kit Harington will star in an adaptation
of Sir Arthur’s short horror story “Lot No 249.”
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

When the camera was acquired by the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford in 2019, head curator Dr Geoff Belknap said the period after the First World War “was a time of great sadness and recovery. The story of these images is a big part of that.

“The Cottingley fairies story is one of the most enduring in photographic history. To this day, it’s shrouded in mystery and speculation.

“Objects relating to it remain some of the most enquired about in our collection and continue to capture the public imagination as they did over 100 years ago.”

Killing Sherlock Lucy Worsley on the Case of Conan Doyle is a BBC Studios Specialist Factual production for BBC Two, BBC iPlayer and PBS.

To accompany the series, writer and director Mark Gatiss has adapted Sir Arthur’s short horror story Lot No 249.

Starring Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington and Freddie Fox, the half-hour drama will air on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer this Christmas.


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