Betram Fletcher Robinson
Sherlock Holmes Society of London, September 2008.
What we have is a well illustrated, handsomely presented, and very readable account of his life as journalist, novelist and sportsman, with, naturally, particular emphasis on his part in the genesis of The Hound of the Baskervilles. 'Bobbles', as his friends called him, seems to have been, as Conan Doyle said, a 'fine fellow', and it's no wonder that the two men liked each other.
Peter Blau, Scuttlebutt, Spermaceti Press, USA, September 2008.
Subtitled 'A Footnote to The Hound of the Baskervilles', but it's far more than a footnote: the authors offer detailed documentation of the life and career of Fletcher Robinson (who did much more than provide assistance to Conan Doyle with THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES), and a final chapter discussing the controversy over that assistance, plus a detailed bibliography of Fletcher Robinson's writings.
The Sherlock Holmes Society Journal (Vol. 29, No. 1, p. 37, Winter 2008):
Betram Fletcher Robinson. Until relatively recently he was an almost forgotten figure, except that is by the Doylean and Holmesian fraternity. Yet even among people like us knowledge of him has been patchy to say the least.
Fortunately a remedy is now to hand, and there can be no excuse for continuing ignorance on the subject. Fresh from their success with On the trail of Arthur Conan Doyle: An Illustrated Devon Tour, Brian Pugh and Paul Spiring have written a full-scale biography of Fletcher Robinson. Being first in their field allows the authors a virtual blank canvas for their word painting, and this they use to no little effect.
Family background, early years, schooling, university, amateur sporting prowess (e.g. a triple blue for rugby), all are extensively detailed. Then there are his considerable journalistic achievements, among them were editorships of well-known publications including Vanity Fair and the recently launched Daily Express. Robinson was no mean wordsmith either: three quarters of a million of them between 1892 and 1907, according to the book. His forte was short stories and two of his published collections were detective fiction, The Chronicles of Addington Peace being the better known.
But most readers will be inexorably drawn to chapter 6 and beyond. Without the authorship controversy (Chapter 11) surrounding what has become known as Doyle’s greatest literary legacy, I doubt if this biography would have been published. The ink was barely dry on the pages of The Hound of the Baskervilles when the accusations started to fly. These are succinctly dealt with in turn. The American literary magazine The Bookman was at the forefront of the controversy, claiming that “the story is almost entirely Mr Robinson’s and that Dr Doyle’s only important contribution to the partnership is the permission to use the character of Sherlock Holmes”.
However, the most serious allegations surfaced in recent times. In addition to the long-standing charges of plagiarism were added those of murder and adultery, with poor Fletcher Robinson portrayed as the victim and Conan Doyle as the perpetrator. This sort of outrageous stuff is manna from heaven for tabloid hacks, but Pugh and Spiring eschew any such sensationalist approach. These “new revelations” are given short shrift – which may come as a disappointment to anyone who wanted to gain a deeper insight into Rodger Garrick-Steele, the self-styled historian, whose long-running and vitriolic campaign has brought Robinson into the public domain again. It’s almost enough to make one wonder if there’s not another book in there, somewhere. To be fair, I think that both Pugh and Spiring in their determination to stay true to course, for what is in essence a serious no thrills historical study, have felt that an undue emphasis on the Garrick-Steele saga could only detract from the main aim of the book – to faithfully record the life of Bertram Fletcher Robinson.
Anne Jordon, The Scion: The Newsletter of The Musgraves, (Issue 11, Autumn 2008):
This book is long overdue and provides a fascinating insight into the life of the man who made such an important contribution to the writing of The Hound of the Baskervilles: Bertram Fletcher Robinson. After reading the book you will agree that Robinson's contribution was more than simply providing Doyle with an account of a West Country legend that suggested the plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). to ACD [Arthur Conan Doyle]. I feel sure that it is fitting that Robinson's name should appear above a facsimile of the cover of the first British book edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
This book is dedicated to Richard Lancelyn Green and I am confident that he would have been more than happy to lend his name to this work.
The book begins with a detailed biography of Robinson from his birth and early childhood in Lancashire, through his university and writing career, to his death five years after the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The book is well illustrated throughout and this adds to the interest, including a photograph of Ipplepen Cricket XI featuring a player with a very significant name: I will say no more other than there is a Hound connection. As you read the book you will that there are other links between Robinson's life and The Hound story that seem to me to be more than coincidence, and would suggest that Fletcher [sic] made a significant contribution to the writing of what Doyle described as a 'real creeper'. Robinson's contribution to the story appears to have been acknowledged by Doyle when he writes to his editor stating that Robinson's 'name must appear with mine'. As we all know this did not happen but Robinson's connection with the story continued as he willingly researched Dartmoor for his friend. The book contains a detailed account of the Dartmoor trips, including his travels with ACD.
The final section of the book examines the aftermath of Robinson's death, including events in ACD's life such as his marriage to Jean Leckie in 1907 and the suggestion by a writer called G. St Russell that Robinson's death may have had sinister connections worthy of The Hound legend. It is thought that it may have been Doyle's research into the link between BFR's death [Bertram Fletcher Robinson] and an Egyptian mummy that led him to write the short story Lot No. 249 [sic - this story was actually published 15 years before Robinson's death].
The book examines assertions that The Hound was not the only Sherlock Holmes story to which Robinson contributed, and the final chapter examines the authorship controversy surrounding The Hound of the Baskervilles but I will leave the conclusions of the authors for you to read for yourself.
This is a book that I think non-Sherlockians as well as Sherlockians will find a worthwhile read and I highly recommend it.
Alistair Duncan, author of 'Eliminate The Impossible', London, September 2008.
Bertram Fletcher Robinson was for many years only a name on the first pages of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Now this man has been made flesh by Brian Pugh and Paul Spiring. Behind every name is a person and behind every person is a story. Robinson's is demonstrated to be a highly eventful, although tragically short, one. We are shown a man who, after many successes at Cambridge, went on to edit many publications, write numerous articles and author a significant number of books. In short he was a literary generator whose legacy was unfortunately overshadowed by the most famous Sherlock Holmes story and the numerous debates as to his level of involvement in its creation.
Brian Pugh and Paul Spiring have gone a long way to redressing the balance. Robinson's many works are shown the light of day and we are given a much needed insight into his true level of involvement with The Hound and the reasons why he was content to limit his contribution.
This book should severely dent, if not destroy, the arguments of those people who suggest that more sinister reasons lay behind Robinson's reduced contribution to this famous novel. It also illustrates that this man is definitely worthy of being recognised as more than a mere footnote.