Billiards with: Uno Studio in Holmes
An Interview with Michele Lopez, President, JHWS “Reggie” and
Stefano Guerra, founder, past President, JHWS “Lucas”, BSI “Count Negretto Sylvius”
Is Uno Studio in Holmes the one society that encompasses all of the Sherlockians who live in Italy?
Uno Studio in Holmes was founded in 1987, to celebrate the first centenary of the publication of A Study in Scarlet. The first historical meeting was held in Florence, as the only city in Italy where we know for sure, from the Canon, that Sherlock Holmes visited (see EMPT).
As far as we know, we are the only nationwide Sherlockian society. There is a small society in Verona, The Assorted and Stradivarious of Verona, led by Patricia Guy, BSI, an American who has lived in Verona for many years. We worked together on some projects, recently for our spring meeting in June 2015, “Holmes and Watson: the Two Gentlemen of Verona”, during which we explored the literary connections between the Canon and the works of authors such as Shakespeare, Emilio Salgari (a native of Verona, widely popular in the late 19th century in Italy for his adventure stories), and others.
There are no other strictly Sherlockian societies, but we cooperate with other associations whose sphere of interests touches our own. We have often had as guests at our meetings members of the “Pipa Club Italia”, the national association of pipe smokers. We are in touch with “Proiezioni mentali eventi”, a group of young TV series fans based in Rome, who are interested in Sherlock Holmes (mainly in the BBC version, but they organize readings of the Canon, too) as well as Doctor Who, Star Wars, and others.
What was the Sleuths in Venice event? What other events have Italian Sherlockians held in recent years?
In 2012 we held our General Annual Meeting in Venice. The name of the event was “Sherlock and Shylock: The Sleuths of Venice”. The meeting had a double significance: it was our 25th Anniversary and it was the second “No Fog Countries Meeting”, the latter being an idea by Thierry Saint-Joannis, BSI, to join together the Sherlockian societies of France, Italy and Spain, as the Latin countries without fog to which Holmes refers to in “The Bruce-Partington Plans” (the first such meeting was held in Barcelona in 2010, hosted by our friends of “Círculo Holmes”). We were joined in the beautiful city of Venice by more than 90 Sherlockians from “many countries and four separate continents”: we had friends coming from Spain, France, Switzerland, Japan, U.S.A. and Australia. As we usually do, we had presentations on various Holmesian scholarship subjects, the presentation of our book on Conan Doyle’s travels in Italy during his honeymoon, a violin concert, a night tour of the magical canals of Venice in historical boats, a dinner, and other things.
We usually meet twice a year: a short meeting in spring, usually of one day, and a long meeting in late autumn, of three or more days. In recent years we were in Pistoia, Tuscany, in June 2013 for a “night at the library” dedicated to the visit that Holmes probably made to this historical town during the Great Hiatus; in November 2013 we had a big meeting in Empoli, Tuscany, where we showcased pieces from the immense collection of our member and past president Gabriele Mazzoni, and we saw the issue of the first Italian official postmark with a Holmesian theme. In May 2014 we organized the first society trip to England, where we dined at the Criterion Restaurant, visited Portsmouth and the Richard Lancelyn Green collection at the local library, paid homage at the grave of the Literary Agent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the New Forest and did a small tour of Holmesian locations in London, from Baker Street to the Sherlock Holmes Pub. In November 2014 we held our meeting in Porto Venere, Liguria, about “The Sea and Seamen in the Canon”. In June 2015 we had the aforementioned meeting in Verona and the General Annual Meeting in Naples, about the theme “When you don’t eliminate the impossible”, dealing with impossible or unlikely connections in the Canon.
For 2016 we have already planned the spring meeting in Tivoli, near Rome, for next May, 14th, while the organization for the autumn meeting is underway.
We have also participated in other events, book presentations, art exhibitions and so forth. Two of our youngest members have organized a Sherlockian stand at Lucca Comics and Games (the biggest comic convention of Europe and the second in the world after the San Diego ComicCon), in 2014 and 2015 and plans are underway to renew and expand the Sherlockian presence at this important event.
We have been publishing continuously our twice-yearly magazine, The Strand Magazine (in Italian only), since 1996. The past editors are Enrico Solito (1996-2005) and Enrico Formicola (2006-2008). The current editor is Stefano Guerra (BSI “Count Negretto Sylvius”, JHWS “Lucas”). Since 2008 the magazine is published in book form and averages 130-150 pages per issue. The articles published are mostly scholarship studies and apocryphal stories.
Since 2012 we also publish a bulletin in electronic form, The Saffron Hill Gazette, where we collect reviews of books (in Italian and in English), magazines (including The Watsonian, of course!), movies, TV shows, theatrical plays, comic books, videogames, etc. We also have news of Holmesian interest and about the activities of our and other Sherlockian societies, and occasionally also short apocryphal stories. The bulletin is sent by e-mail to the members of the society and is later published on the Society’s website (www.unostudioinholmes.org).
Please tell us about the Comitato Culturale Holmesiano (C.C.H.).
We have among our members several University professors and researchers and one of our goals is to widen academic recognition for the Canon and for the characters of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. In the past our General Annual Meetings have occasionally been hosted by Italian universities (University of Rome La Sapienza in 2008 and 2010; University of L’Aquila in 2009; University of Urbino in 2011). The “Comitato Culturale Holmesiano” (the meaning in English is “Holmesian Cultural Committee”) was established in 2012 to coordinate the relationships of our society with the academic world. The name has been purposely – tongue-in-cheek – chosen so that the acronym would echo the quotation of the “C.C.H.” from the Canon [HOUN]. The committee consists of 6 members. The current director is Professor Alessandra Calanchi (JHWS “Bianca”); other members are Enrico Solito (BSI “Enrico Lucca”, JHWS “Devon”), Gabriele Mazzoni, Stella Mattioli, Professor Caterina Marrone and Professor Valerio Viviani. The committee has the goal to create an archive of all the graduation theses (or dissertations) about Holmesian subjects published in Italy and to make them available online; to encourage and assist students who want to write a thesis on a Holmesian subject; to advertise and discuss about any cultural event in Italy involving Holmes and Watson. More on the C.C.H. can be found on the page of our website http://www.unostudioinholmes.org/cch.htm (in Italian only).
What are some interesting connections that exist between Sherlock Holmes or Dr Watson and Italy?
Well, we know that Holmes visited Italy during the Great Hiatus, since in “The Empty House” he says that “one week later” after the events at the Reichenbach Falls he was in Florence [EMPT]. So a lot of work has been done in the past by some of our members to reconstruct the travels of Sherlock Holmes in Italy in 1891. This work was the main subject of our double meeting in the year 2000, “A week later”, held in Milan and in Sesto Fiorentino. A good deal of the relevant discussions and papers are available in English in the volume Italy and Sherlock Holmes edited by the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010.
Of course there are many other interesting connections. Italian characters appear and have a starring role in “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” and in “The Adventure of the Red Circle”. Twice Holmes mentions that he’s been doing work for the Vatican, and it is just possible that he visited Rome on these occasions. The detective shows an interest for Italian literature and culture more than once: he reads Petrarch on a railway journey [BOSC], is an enthusiastic admirer of Paganini [CARD], must have a more than skin-deep knowledge of the Italian language, since he was successfully disguised as an Italian priest [FINA] and identifies Italian words in a sequence of flash-lights [REDC]. He likes Italian restaurants and dines there at least twice (Goldini’s, BRUC and Marcini’s, HOUN).
In previous years we have also explored the connections between the Canon and other literary works, such as Pinocchio, or between Holmes and other great figures, e.g. Dante Alighieri. On one of the first numbers of our magazine we also featured a piece of “apocryphal scholarship” about the involvement of Mycroft and of a young Sherlock Holmes in the search for the grave of the great Italian poet Ugo Foscolo, who died in exile in London in 1827 and whose remains were found in 1871 and sent back to Italy.
There are, apparently, fewer connections between Watson and Italy. The Doctor does not seem to have a particular inclination for our country such as his friend Holmes has. But we know that he spoke at least a little Italian [FINA] and the matter of how and where he acquired this knowledge deserves further research, which may perhaps be pursued in the future.
Are there popular Italian adaptions of Sherlock Holmes in the media, such as TV or the movies?
Unfortunately there are no Italian movies starring Sherlock Holmes. There is only a small TV series in two episodes, made and broadcasted by RAI, the State television, in 1968. It is doubtless a high quality work for the standards of those times, though today it is a bit outdated because of the differences between the taste of today’s TV viewers and those of the 1960s.
Two stories were adapted, each divided in three one-hour episodes: The Valley of Fear and The Hound of the Baskervilles (translated, respectively, “La valle della paura” and “L’ultimo dei Baskerville”). The adaptations were quite faithful to the originals and were edited by Edoardo Anton, a screenwriter, playwright and journalist. They were directed by Guglielmo Morandi, a director with a long experience of TV and radio plays.
The main actors were Nando Gazzolo and Gianni Bonagura, in the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, respectively.
The media in which Holmes was most present in Italy was the radio. Since 1951 several series were produced by RAI. Six stories were broadcasted in 1951, adapted by Beppe Costa and directed by Guglielmo Morandi (see above), with Sandro Ruffini as Holmes and Adolfo Geri as Watson. Further six stories came in 1953, under the direction of Anton Giulio Majano, with Sandro Ruffini again as Holmes and Angelo Calabrese as Watson. Finally, in 1958, we had thirteen more episodes directed by Marco Visconti, with Ubaldo Lay as Holmes and Renato Cominetti as Watson.
It is much more difficult, due to the lack of sources, to make a complete list of the innumerable theatre plays that have been produced in Italy both by big and small companies in the course of time. They range from the first Italian translation of Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes (that, we know, Doyle himself watched in Rome) in the early 1900s, to the periodical reprises of Canonical stories by the “Compagnia Stabile del Giallo” in Rome today.
Could you tell us about notable Italian actors who have taken up the roles of Holmes or Watson?
We already talked about Nando Gazzolo (1928-2015) and Gianni Bonagura (b. 1925), the only Italian actors who had the good luck to impersonate Holmes and Watson on the TV screen. Both theatre actors, they took painstaking care in their performance, with results much appreciated at the time and still valid today.
Nando Gazzolo, recently deceased, came from a family of actors and was very famous both as a theatre actor and a voice actor. He was helped in this latter role by his warm and deep voice. Some small roles in the cinema (not very fortunate) and a bigger presence on the TV screen made him widely popular among the great public.
His Sherlock Holmes was perhaps slightly affected by the stereotype image of the British Gentleman in the Italian collective imagination, but he was good in depicting the shades and the Canonical contradictions that are typical of the true nature of the famous detective. It was his idea to give Holmes a certain sense of humour, so mitigating any excessive stiffness.
Gianni Bonagura had a long career as well, in the theatre, cinema, radio and TV. His Doctor Watson is a true surprise: ironic and smart, he goes maybe a little beyond the intentions of the author, but he gives a valid contribution towards making the dialogues more brilliant and witty and to give some rhythm to an acting that, according to the style of the era, was a bit too theatrical and academic.
Some short biographical notes about the actors in the above-mentioned radio plays:
Alessandro (Sandro) Ruffini (1889-1954). A theatre actor, he had a wonderful voice and he worked as a voice dubber until the early 1950s. He was part of the first radio drama company in Italy and acted in more than thirty movies.
Adolfo Geri (1912-1988), theater and cinema actor and voice dubber, he was part of the national radio drama company.
Angelo Calabrese, screen name of Carmelo d’Angeli (1888-1959) worked in the theatre, radio and cinema and he, too, was part of the national radio drama company.
Ubaldo Lay (1917-1984) began his career on the theatrical stage in dramatic roles, playing many roles in the cinema as a character actor, usually in “hard-boiled” parts. He played many starring roles on the radio due to his unmistakable voice and he became extremely popular in the role of American police Lt. Sheridan in several TV series and TV films produced in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s; he came to be identified with the character for the rest of his life.
Renato Cominetti (1915-2005) began his career as a theatre actor and subsequently specialized in voice dubbing and radio plays. In around thirty years of a career as a radio actor, he played in several hundreds of comedies and radio dramas.
What are some notable Sherlockian publications created in Italian? (For example, I’ve seen that the book “Viaggio in Italia” details the journey that Dr Watson’s Literary Agent took through Italy, which I think is fascinating.)
We are in fact a bit proud of that work, which took a long time researching and was the product of a multi-national cooperation, with Richard Sveum, BSI, kindly making available the reproduction of the photographs and postcards from ACD’s honeymoon photo album, and our members and friends Enrico Solito, Stefano Guerra, Ivo Lombardo and Philip Weller gathering information about the various stages of ACD’s journey in our country (more info on the book can be found at http://www.unostudioinholmes.org/inglese/acdjourney.htm).
We have, in the course of time, edited several booklets in a small collection called “Studies in Scarlet”. Subjects varied from the reproduction and analysis of a letter written by ACD to William Gillette (from the collection of our member and past President, Gabriele Mazzoni), to a translation of “The Red Circle” in Neapolitan dialect, to a reportage from Khartoum by our past President Enrico Solito (an English translation of this work can be found in The Watsonian, Vol. 3 No. 1, Spring 2015).
Several critical texts on Sherlock Holmes have been edited and published in Italy, mostly by academic researchers. One of the most important is Il segno dei tre: Holmes, Dupin, Peirce, a collection of essays about Holmes’ scientific method edited by Umberto Eco and Th. A. Sebeok (published in English under the title The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce (Advances in Semiotics) in 1983.)
Our past Presidents Stefano Guerra and Enrico Solito have edited a Sherlockian encyclopedia in Italian, I diciassette scalini (The Seventeen Steps). A second revised and extended version has been published under the title Il diciottesimo scalino (The Eighteenth Step). A third edition is in preparation.
Other significant works are:
Elementare, Wittgenstein! by Renato Giovannoli
Holmes House by Alessia Martalò
Karl Popper e Sherlock Holmes by Massimo Baldini
I segreti di Sherlock Holmes edited by Massimo Centini
In viaggio con Sherlock Holmes by Marco Zatterin
Sherlock Holmes: Indagine su un mito centenario by Fabio Giovannini and Marco Zatterin
There is also an ever growing number of apocryphal novels and short stories, several of which written by our members.