Mycroft Holmes

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Mycroft Holmes
Sherlock Holmes character
Mycroft Holmes.jpg
First appearance"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter"
Created bySir Arthur Conan Doyle
Information
GenderMale
OccupationGovernment official
RelativesSherlock Holmes (brother)
NationalityBritish

Mycroft Holmes is a fictional character appearing in stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He is the elder brother (by seven years) of detective Sherlock Holmes. He is described as having abilities of deduction and knowledge exceeding even those of his brother, though their practical use is limited by his poor physique and dislike of fieldwork.

The character has been adapted in various pieces of literature and media, including television series, movies, radio, and comics. He is also popular in culture, being mentioned by many works, which mostly reference his job, personality, or his relationship with Sherlock Holmes.

Profile[edit]

Possessing deductive powers exceeding even those of his younger brother, Mycroft is nevertheless incapable of performing detective work similar to that of Sherlock as he is unwilling to put in the physical effort necessary to bring cases to their conclusions. In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" Sherlock Holmes says:

...he has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points...

Though Sherlock initially tells Watson that Mycroft audits books for some government departments, he later reveals that Mycroft's true role is more substantial. While Conan Doyle's stories leave unclear what Mycroft Holmes' exact position is in the British government, Sherlock Holmes says that "Occasionally he is the British government [...] the most indispensable man in the country." He apparently serves as a sort of human computer, as stated in "The Bruce-Partington Plans":

He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living. The same great powers which I have turned to the detection of crime he has used for this particular business. The conclusions of every department are passed to him, and he is the central exchange, the clearinghouse, which makes out the balance. All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience. We will suppose that a minister needs information as to a point which involves the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question; he could get his separate advices from various departments upon each, but only Mycroft can focus them all, and say offhand how each factor would affect the other. They began by using him as a short-cut, a convenience; now he has made himself an essential. In that great brain of his everything is pigeon-holed and can be handed out in an instant.

Mycroft appears or is mentioned in four stories by Doyle: "The Greek Interpreter", "The Final Problem", "The Empty House" and "The Bruce-Partington Plans". While he does occasionally exert himself in these stories on behalf of his brother, he on the whole remains a sedentary problem-solver, providing solutions based on seemingly no evidence and trusting Sherlock to handle any of the practical details. In fact, Mycroft's own lack of practicality is a severe handicap despite his inductive talents: in "The Greek Interpreter", his blundering approach to the case nearly costs the client his life.

Mycroft resembles Sherlock, but is described in "The Greek Interpreter" as being "a much larger and stouter man". In "The Bruce-Partington Plans", the following description is given:

Heavily built and massive, there was a suggestion of uncouth physical inertia in the figure, but above this unwieldy frame there was perched a head so masterful in its brow, so alert in its steel-grey, deep-set eyes, so firm in its lips, and so subtle in its play of expression, that after the first glance one forgot the gross body and remembered only the dominant mind.

Mycroft spends most of his time at the Diogenes Club, which he co-founded.

He is the only character to refer to Sherlock exclusively by his first name.

In other media[edit]

Mycroft Holmes has been portrayed many times in film, television, and radio adaptations of the Holmes stories.

Radio[edit]

  • Mycroft appeared In the episodes "The Bruce-Partington Plans" (November 6, 1939) and "The Greek Interpreter" (January 15, 1940) in the radio series starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson; unfortunately, no cast listing currently exists to show who portrayed him. In the same series, "The Greek Interpreter" was adapted again on July 23, 1943 and "The Bruce-Partington Plans" on September 10, 1943; it is currently unknown whether the same scripts and same actor for Mycroft were used.
  • In the 1950s radio series starring John Gielgud as Sherlock Holmes, Gielgud's own brother, Val Gielgud, played the part in "The Bruce-Partington Plans".
  • In the BBC radio dramatisations with Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley, Mycroft was played at various times by Malcolm Graeme, Keith Williams, Felix Felton and – in "The Empty House" – by Carleton Hobbs himself.
  • In the BBC Radio adaptations starring Clive Merrison as Sherlock and Michael Williams as Watson, John Hartley played Mycroft in "The Greek Interpreter" on 21 October 1992, "The Bruce-Partington Plans" on 24 January 1994 and "The Retired Colourman" on 29 March 1995.

Film and television[edit]

  • The first film appearance of Mycroft Holmes was in the 1922 film The Bruce Partington Plans, where he was played by Lewis Gilbert.
  • Mycroft was supposed to appear in the 1943 film Sherlock Holmes in Washington but was replaced by Mr Ahrens.
  • The BBC broadcast two Sherlock Holmes series in 1965 and 1968 which starred Douglas Wilmer (1965) and Peter Cushing (1968) as Sherlock and Nigel Stock as Watson. Mycroft appeared twice, once in 1965 in The Bruce-Partington Plans and played by Derek Francis and in 1968 in The Greek Interpreter and played by Ronald Adam.
  • In the 1965 film A Study in Terror, Mycroft is played by Robert Morley.
  • In the Billy Wilder-directed film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), which starred Robert Stephens as Sherlock, Mycroft was played by Christopher Lee (who also played Sherlock Holmes in other productions before and since). In this film, which purports to show the 'real' people behind Watson's dramatised accounts, Mycroft is nearly unrecognisable: whippet-thin and not notably indolent. He is also depicted as either the head or at least a senior operative of the British secret service, for which the Diogenes Club is a front.
  • Charles Gray assumed the character in both the 1976 film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and four episodes of Granada Television's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Gray's first two television appearances were adaptations of the two stories in which Mycroft actually appears (The Greek Interpreter and The Bruce-Partington Plans). In the two other appearances, the character was used to replace another for various reasons:
    • The Golden Pince-Nez – Mycroft was used in place of Watson due to Edward Hardwicke being unavailable.
    • The Mazarin Stone – Mycroft was used in place of Sherlock owing to Jeremy Brett's ill health.
  • The 1975 film The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, starring Gene Wilder as Holmes' younger brother "Sigerson Holmes," was inspired by Mycroft, who is mentioned, but does not appear except in a photograph of the three brothers as children.
  • Boris Klyuyev played Mycroft Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, a Soviet TV series. Klyuyev was nine years younger than Vasily Livanov, who played Sherlock Holmes. According to Sherlock, Mycroft is married and has a son.
  • He is also briefly mentioned in the 1985 film, Young Sherlock Holmes; when Sherlock is expelled from boarding school, he tells Watson that he plans to stay at his brother Mycroft's for a few days.
  • Peter Jeffrey played Mycroft in the 1990 film Hands of a Murderer which starred Edward Woodward as Sherlock, John Hillerman as Watson and Anthony Andrews as Professor Moriarty.
  • Jerome Willis played Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, a 1992 made-for-TV film which starred Christopher Lee as Holmes and Patrick Macnee as Watson.
  • R.H. Thomson played Mycroft in the 2001 made-for-TV film The Royal Scandal opposite Matt Frewer's Sherlock.
  • Richard E. Grant played him as a semi-crippled young man – following a bad trip after he was injected with drugs by Moriarty – in Sherlock: Case of Evil (2002).
  • Mark Gatiss plays Mycroft in the 2010 BBC television series Sherlock of which he is the co-creator. In this contemporary version, Sherlock and Mycroft exhibit smouldering animosity toward each other (which Dr. Watson characterises as "sibling rivalry" and Mycroft himself refers to as a "childish feud"). Mycroft is part of the Cabinet Office and is so powerful that he can use mass surveillance to track Sherlock. In keeping with the books, Mycroft describes himself as "occupying a small position in the British government", but more accurately, "he is the British government". While Sherlock reveals that Mycroft essentially bullied him as a child and has made him feel stupid throughout his life, going so far as to suggest that they would both be willing to arrange the death of the other, Mycroft gradually reveals a well-hidden deep familial love for his brother, something Sherlock, in time, begins to reciprocate. In the 2015 Christmas Special "The Abominable Bride", he is portrayed by Gatiss in heavy makeup as morbidly obese, more in keeping with the original stories.
  • Stephen Fry played Mycroft in the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, released in December 2011.[1]
  • Rhys Ifans played Mycroft Holmes in another modern adaptation, Elementary.[2] In this series, Mycroft is introduced as a London restaurateur who later turns out to work for MI6 as a source due to his restaurants being used as a front for various crime organisations. Mycroft goes into hiding at the end of the second season when he exposed his ties to MI6 to help Sherlock with a case, which Holmes feels reflected a lack of trust in him to find another solution. In the sixth season episode "Nobody Lives Forever", it is revealed that Mycroft died ten months prior to the events of that episode of a brain haemorrhage, which Sherlock was never informed about until he started digging.
  • In the Russian TV adaptation from 2013, Igor Petrenko played Mycroft Holmes, as a twin brother of Sherlock, who is serving The Queen.
  • In the NHK puppetry Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft is a fat young man who is in the sixth grade of Beeton School. He is in the position of managing the pupils of Dealer house in which he lives, the head of the pupil council and member of Diogenes Club in his house. Though he has deductive powers superior to Sherlock, he is more calculating than his younger brother.
  • In the 2015 film Mr. Holmes, set in 1947, though it is revealed that Mycroft died a year or so earlier, he appears briefly, played by John Sessions.
  • In the Japanese television series, Miss Sherlock, which premiered in 2018, Yukiyoshi Ozawa plays Kento Futaba, who is modeled on Mycroft. He is the older brother of Yuko Takeuchi's Sherlock, who respects his intelligence, and he holds a prominent position in the government's Intelligence Agency.

Novels and short stories[edit]

The character has been used many times in works that are not adaptations of Holmes stories:

  • American former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse authored Mycroft Holmes, released September 2015.
  • In Jasper Fforde's series of books about Thursday Next, Mycroft is revealed to be Thursday's uncle, having escaped into fiction and taken up residence in the Sherlock Holmes series to escape the evil Goliath Corporation.
  • He was the main character in a series of mystery novels by the author Quinn Fawcett.
  • He was also the main character in a series of mystery novels by the author David Dickinson.
  • He is a recurring character in the Mary Russell mystery series by Laurie R. King, which feature a retired Sherlock Holmes as a major character. Mycroft is portrayed as a senior figure in the British Secret Service, who occasionally calls on Russell and Holmes for assistance in specific cases.
  • A young Mycroft Holmes is the protagonist of a mystery-adventure "edited" by Michael P. Hodel and Sean M. Wright, Enter the Lion: A Posthumous Memoir of Mycroft Holmes (published in hardcover by Hawthorn Books in 1979 in the U.S. and by JM Dent & Sons Ltd. in 1980 in London (ISBN 0-460-04483-4) and in paperback by Playboy Press in 1980). The action takes place in 1875, ten years after the end of the American Civil War, at the time when Mycroft Holmes was a minor official in the Foreign Office. Mycroft is aided by his younger brother Sherlock, Victor Trevor (who appears in Doyle's tale "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"), and an adventurer known as "Captain Jericho", a mysterious former slave. They band together in an effort to prevent an attempt by former Confederate officers to involve the British government in a scheme to overthrow the United States government. The story also provides an explanation as to the antagonism between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty.
  • Mycroft has a small but extremely important role in Ray Walsh's novel The Mycroft Memoranda, published in London by Andre Deutsch, 1984 (ISBN 0-233-97582-9), in which Sherlock Holmes, at the request of Major Henry Smith, Acting Commissioner for the City of London, becomes involved in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.
  • Mycroft and the Diogenes Club play an important part in Kim Newman's novel Anno Dracula.
  • The Doctor Who novel All-Consuming Fire featured Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, as well as the apocryphal Sherringford Holmes. The Doctor's companion Bernice Summerfield was then reunited with Mycroft in the 2008 audio play The Adventure of the Diogenes Damsel where he was voiced by David Warner.
  • The novel Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth suggests that Oscar Wilde's friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle led Doyle to create Mycroft as a caricature of Wilde: mentally brilliant, but indolent and lazy.
  • The short story "You See But You Do Not Observe", by Canadian writer Robert J. Sawyer, portrays Mycroft Holmes' namesake involved in pulling Sherlock and Watson into the year 2096 to solve a scientific mystery.
  • He appears in the novel The Italian Secretary (2005) by Caleb Carr.
  • In the Enola Holmes series, Mycroft is the official legal guardian of their much younger sister, Enola, after the mysterious departure of their mother on her daughter's 14th birthday. Rather than submit to his wish for her to be sent to boarding school to conform to contemporary feminine social mores, Enola instead runs away to secretly become a private detective in London while eluding her brothers. Through the series, Mycroft is steadfastly determined to capture her while Sherlock gradually grows to respect her considerable talents and begins to understand her reasons for her defiance. However, it is Mycroft who suspects that Enola may well be determined to become an adult colleague in his brother's profession, a notion Sherlock finds difficult to accept.
  • The Young Sherlock Holmes series by Andrew Lane features Mycroft Holmes.
  • In the story "Whitechapel Rose" by Lorelei Shannon, copntained in Jordan K. Weisman's Into the Shadows anthology of short stories set in the universe of the Shadowrun role-playing game, Mycroft is revealed to be legendary among deckers (an in game term for futuristic hackers).
  • He is a recurring character in the Amelia Watson series of novels and short stories by Michael Mallory, which recast him as a close confidant of King Edward VII and the head of England's fledgling secret service bureau.
  • When Mannie, the lead character and a computer engineer in the Robert Heinlein science fiction novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, realizes that the Holmes IV, the Lunar colony's super computer, has become self-aware, he names it Mike after Mycroft Holmes.

Comics[edit]

Video games[edit]

References in popular culture[edit]

  • The Mycroft AI is named after Mycroft Holmes.
  • Mycroft was parodied in the Solar Pons series with a character named Bancroft Stoneham Pons, who was also seven years older than the leading protagonist.
  • Mycroft Holmes was the inspiration for the name of the silent assistant quiz master of BBC Radio 4's programme Brain of Britain. The phrase "Mycroft is shaking his head" became well known to listeners. Ian Gillies (who was known as Mycroft) died in 2002 and was replaced by a character known as "Jorkins".
  • Mycroft was the inspiration for the name of a character in Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: "Mycroft" a.k.a. Mike, a H.O.L.M.E.S. ("High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor") Mark 4, a sentient computer. At one point in the story, Mike indicates Sherlock is indeed his brother.
  • First series of seaQuest DSV, in the episode "Photon Bullet", a reformed computer hacker used the handle "Mycroft" while at an underwater telecommunications node.
  • British writer Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse series of books, wrote a Sherlock Holmes short story "A Case of Mis-Identity", part of a collection of short stories published under the title "Morse's Greatest Mystery", in which Watson's practical knowledge of the circumstances of a case outwits both Sherlock and Mycroft.
  • In John Dickson Carr's "Sir Henry Merrivale" novels, the brilliant, overweight Military Intelligence chief is compared to Mycroft Holmes, much to his annoyance.
  • At one point it was planned for Gregory House (who is based on Sherlock Holmes and also lives at 221B) to have an elder brother who was based on Mycroft. Stephen Fry (who was the comedic partner of Hugh Laurie) was to play him but was unable, due to other commitments. Fry would later go on to portray Mycroft in the 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  • In the TV series Numb3rs episode "Angels and Devils", Larry Fleinhardt, played by Peter MacNicol, says: "I have rather always fancied myself more as a Mycroft than a Dr. Watson." He expands upon this reference in the series finale when he assumes the role of math/science expert for the FBI in place of Charlie Eppes saying, "...like Sherlock's brother Mycroft Holmes, I prefer to do the conceptualizing, leaving the grunt work to others."
  • In Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga series Embalming -The Another Tale of Frankenstein-, Asuhit Richter goes to the Diogenes Club in London to meet one of the club's founders and his client "Mike Roft", a play on Mycroft, who is also a high-standing government official. Mike remarks that "if you are looking for someone, my younger brother is quite good at that type of thing" and has him locate Dr. Peabody and Fury Flatliner. Only the younger brother's silhouette is shown, but it is obviously that of Sherlock Holmes.
  • In the Honor Harrington novel A Rising Thunder, the name Mycroft is used as the code designation for a new Manticoran missile fire control system to be deployed for system defence, based somewhat upon the Havenites' 'Moriarty' system (the name of which is a reference to Professor Moriarty).
  • In the American TV series Monk, Adrian Monk has an older brother called Ambrose Monk. Ambrose, like his brother Adrian, possesses uncanny powers of deduction and memory. Unfortunately, he suffers from a severe form of agoraphobia. As of 2003, he had not left the home he grew up in since 1971.

References[edit]

External links[edit]