Interview with Bill Barnes

I'm pleased to present my latest interview with Bill Barnes - President (or Captain) of The Sydney Passengers.

What got you interested in Sherlock Holmes and when?

I read all the “Sherlock Holmes books”, i.e. the 60 Canonical tales, when I was a teenager.  They were the Pan paperback editions (I still have them).  I was a voracious reader in my youth and often had two, three, four books “going” at once.  I inherited my love of books and reading from my mother.  The Holmes stories were good but it wasn’t until 1982 when I was in my early 30s that I caught the bug.

I’d been working in Papua New Guinea and when my term there finished a friend and I decided to take some long service leave and travel around Europe by camper van.  We were driving through Switzerland and saw a sign saying “Reichenbach” and it all came to me in a flash, “That’s where Sherlock Holmes went over the falls!  Let’s go!”  We drove up this long, windy mountain road and arrived at a village which seemed deserted.  We found someone to ask where the falls were but received a negative reply, “No falls around here”, so dejectedly made our way back down to the highway and continued our journey.

About 50 km further on we saw another sign, “Reichenbachfall”, we took this turn-off and came to the car park at the foot of the funicular railway up to the falls.  But by now we had run out of time and had to keep going in order to reach our destination for the night. I can tell you categorically that the village of Reichenbach im Kandertal (to give it its full name, which I found out later) is nowhere near those famous falls. Back home in Sydney four months later I still had the bug. It took five years to find a local Sherlockian society and I joined The Sydney Passengers which had only started two years previously.  I made it back to the Reichenbach Falls in 2008 and was able to explore them properly.

Did you get encouragement from friends and family? Did anyone question your interest?

Friends were a little bemused, couldn’t figure out the attraction.  Family just took it all in and went along with it.  Some friends and family have also become a little bit hooked on Holmes too.

Who is your favourite screen Holmes and why?

Ian Richardson was an early favourite.  He had the right amount of haughtiness, intelligence and straightforward no-nonsense that appealed to me.  Douglas Wilmer was another who I love in the role. He showed a frankness and a can-do attitude, coupled with obvious intelligence and great people skills, the latter something I believe Holmes had but not too many performers bring out.
When did you first decide to write a book in the field and why?

I don’t think I have the imagination to successfully produce a fictional work.  I do believe I have something to offer in an editorial capacity and as a reviewer of a work prior to publication and I have done a bit of this.  Starting in 1996 I compiled, edited and published the ten volumes of The Hounds’ Collection, a yearly anthology from members of the internet discussion group The Hounds of the Internet.  In 2008 I co-edited Australia and Sherlock Holmes for the BSI’s International Series. I write the occasional article for The Passengers’ Log, the journal of The Sydney Passengers society.

How do you find the Sherlock Holmes community, any really positive or negative experiences?

I think being a Sherlockian is a wonderful global experience.  You can visit another country, arrange to meet a local Sherlockian or two and have instant friends there.  I keep in touch in some fashion or other with Sherlockians in about 15 countries.

Written by Bill Barnes

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