University academic backs city’s bid for global Sherlock venue

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's family album, part of the collection held in Portsmouth  Picture: 
Habibur Rahman
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's family album, part of the collection held in Portsmouth Picture: Habibur Rahman

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A LITERARY expert has thrown his weight behind Portsmouth’s dream of creating a world-class visitor attraction celebrating the tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Doctor Christopher Pittard, a senior lecturer in English literature at the University of Portsmouth, has praised cultural leaders for wanting to showcase to the world how the city plays a key role in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his most famous character.

And Dr Pittard believes Sherlock is more relevant than ever.

Dr Pittard said: ‘An attraction like this enables us to view Doyle as a literary figure, as well as put the character of Sherlock Holmes into context.

‘For instance, in A Study in Scarlet Watson returns from Afghanistan and arrives at the Hard. References such as this show that Portsmouth lives within the stories and that the city also had a hold on Doyle.’

It comes after the city council revealed it wants to obtain planning permission in the coming months to build a tourist destination using the huge Sir Arthur Conan Doyle archive – described as Portsmouth’s hidden jewel – on land around the former Seafront Services Office on Avenue De Caen, in Southsea.

A council Sherlock strategy meeting is being held on Friday where Tory culture boss, Councillor Linda Symes, will outline plans to work on bids for funding to pay for associated planning costs.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has said it’s keen to work with the council on the funding applications it’s preparing to put forward.

Dr Pittard also believes that displaying the collection will help cement Portsmouth’s reputation as a literary city.

He said: ‘The Dickens bicentenary in 2012 showed that moments like these are an opportunity to strengthen the link between great writers and the city of Portsmouth.

‘Hopefully the Sherlock Holmes feature can do the same with Arthur Conan Doyle.’

Sherlock Holmes has remained a much-loved detective series since its first novel in 1887.

‘People think of Holmes as unchanging, but this is not true,’ Dr Pittard said.

‘Instead, the character reflects his wider culture.

‘For example, the Victorian Holmes is popular partly because he is able to make sense of the chaos of the urban sprawl around him.

‘He uses his intelligence to rise above the hustle and bustle of modern life and make sense of a city that has rapidly become much more confusing.’

‘The modern Sherlock, however, is more akin to a tech-savvy superhero.

‘He can navigate the internet and social media with ease and takes advantage of the information that is available to us all to make his famous deductions.

‘This, however, makes him a figure of suspicion among others; people often call him dangerous or a know-it-all.’

There is an extra drive this year as 2017 marks 130 years since the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, which was written in Portsmouth.