Mycroft Holmes

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Mycroft Holmes
Sherlock Holmes character
Gree-02.jpg
as depicted by Sidney Paget
in the Strand Magazine in 1893
First appearance"The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" (1893)
Last appearance"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" (1908)
Created byArthur Conan Doyle
In-universe information
GenderMale
OccupationGovernment official
FamilySherlock Holmes (brother)
NationalityBritish

Mycroft Holmes is a fictional character appearing in stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from 1893 to 1908.[1] The elder brother (by seven years) of detective Sherlock Holmes, he is a government official and a founding member of the Diogenes Club. Mycroft is described as having abilities of deduction and knowledge exceeding even those of his brother, though their practical use is limited by his dislike of fieldwork.[2]

The character has been adapted many times in literature and media, including television series, films, radio, and comics. He is popular in culture, being mentioned by many works, referencing his job, personality, or his relationship with Sherlock Holmes.

Fictional character biography[edit]

History and occupation[edit]

Mycroft Holmes is Sherlock Holmes's older brother. He mainly appears in two stories by Doyle, "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter"[3] and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans".[4] He also appears briefly in "The Final Problem",[3] and is mentioned in "The Adventure of the Empty House".[5]

He first appears in "The Greek Interpreter", in which he brings Sherlock a case involving one of his neighbours. Sherlock Holmes tells Dr. Watson that Mycroft has powers of observation and deduction superior to his own, but is not energetic or ambitious. He also comments that some of his most interesting cases have come to him through Mycroft. In the story, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson visit Mycroft at the Diogenes Club, which Mycroft co-founded. Also, Mycroft visits 221B Baker Street.[3]

Mycroft makes a brief appearance in "The Final Problem". Sherlock Holmes gives Dr. Watson instructions to take a certain route to leave London to avoid Moriarty's gang, and part of this plan involves a ride in a brougham driven by a cloaked driver. Watson sees the coachman and does not recognise him. Sherlock later tells Watson that the driver was Mycroft. Near the end of the story after Sherlock's supposed death, Watson reads a letter left by Sherlock, which includes the statement, "I made every disposition of my property before leaving England, and handed it to my brother Mycroft."[3]

In "The Empty House", it is revealed that Sherlock Holmes faked his death in "The Final Problem" and subsequently went abroad. His only confidant during this time was Mycroft, who provided him with the money he needed. When Sherlock returned to London, he found that Mycroft had preserved his Baker Street rooms and his papers "exactly as they had always been".[5]

In "The Bruce-Partington Plans", Mycroft goes to Baker Street to speak with his brother about recovering missing submarine plans for the government. Sherlock Holmes says in this story that Mycroft only visited 221B Baker Street once before. Though Sherlock initially told Watson in "The Greek Interpreter" that Mycroft audits books for the British government, he reveals to Watson in "The Bruce-Partington Plans" that Mycroft's true role is more substantial:

"I did not know you quite so well in those days. One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state. You are right in thinking that he is under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British government."[4]

Mycroft has a unique position in the government, which is not named in the stories. Sherlock comments regarding Mycroft's role that there "has never been anything like it before, nor will be again" and that Mycroft "has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts, of any man living". He describes Mycroft's position:

"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."[4]

He adds to this that Mycroft thinks of nothing other than government policy, except when he asks Mycroft to advise him on one of his cases.[2]

Several Holmesian scholars have proposed theories about Mycroft, though none of these are confirmed in the stories. In "The Adventure of Black Peter", Dr. Watson records that Sherlock Holmes could assume various disguises in "at least five small refuges" which he had in different parts of London; Vincent Starrett wrote that Mycroft's residence "would certainly be one of them".[6] Ronald A. Knox suggested that Mycroft was a double agent who assisted both Sherlock and Professor Moriarty, with the goal of ultimately betraying Moriarty and members of his gang, including Colonel Moran.[7] June Thomson theorised that Mycroft nominated Sherlock to infiltrate the German spy ring in "His Last Bow" (set in 1914) and might have persuaded Sherlock to come out of retirement. Thomson calculated that Mycroft would have retired himself in 1912 at the age of sixty-five years old, but would have maintained his connections with former colleagues in the government.[8]

Personality and habits[edit]

Possessing deductive powers exceeding even those of his younger brother, Mycroft is nevertheless unsuitable for performing detective work as he is unwilling to put in the physical effort necessary to bring cases to their conclusions.[1] 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..."[3]

Mycroft does not have ambitions of any kind, according to Sherlock.[2] Despite being "the most indispensable man in the country", as Sherlock says, Mycroft remains a subordinate, will receive "neither honour nor title", and his relatively modest annual salary in "The Bruce-Partington Plans" (which takes place in 1895) is £450[4] (equivalent to £55,299 in 2021[9]).

He lives in rooms in Pall Mall. His regular routine is to walk around the corner each morning to Whitehall where he works, and in the evening, to walk back to Pall Mall. He then stays at the Diogenes Club, which is located across from his lodgings in Pall Mall, from quarter to five until twenty to eight.[10] He seldom breaks this routine or goes anywhere except these three locations.[1]

Mycroft reads Watson's accounts of Sherlock's adventures and takes an interest in Sherlock's cases.[11] In "The Greek Interpreter", he takes snuff from a tortoise-shell box while at the Diogenes Club, and brushes the grains from his coat with a large, red silk handkerchief. He is also seen "sitting smoking in the armchair" at Baker Street.[3] Mycroft is occasionally referred to by Sherlock Holmes as "Brother Mycroft" in "The Bruce-Partington Plans".[4] He is the only character to refer to Sherlock exclusively by his first name.

Appearance and age[edit]

Mycroft resembles his brother Sherlock Holmes, but is described in "The Greek Interpreter" as being "a much larger and stouter man". According to Watson, Mycroft's eyes are "a peculiarly light, watery grey" and always have "that far-away, introspective look" which Watson had only seen in Sherlock's when he exerted his full powers[3] (Sherlock also has grey eyes[12]). In "The Final Problem", Sherlock informs Watson that the driver of the brougham (later revealed to be Mycroft) will wear "a heavy black cloak tipped at the collar with red". When Watson sees the coachman, he describes him as "a very massive driver wrapped in a dark cloak".[3] In "The Bruce-Partington Plans", Watson states that Mycroft is "tall and portly", and gives the following description of him:

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.[4]

Mycroft is seven years older than Sherlock. According to Leslie S. Klinger, Mycroft was born in 1847.[13] A reference in the short story "His Last Bow", which takes place in 1914, suggests that Sherlock is sixty years old at the time the story takes place.[1] This would make the year of Sherlock's birth approximately 1854, and thus Mycroft's approximately 1847.

Adaptations[edit]

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

Radio[edit]

Film[edit]

Television[edit]

  • 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.[22]
  • Boris Klyuyev played Mycroft Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, a Soviet television film series.[20]: 139–140  Klyuyev was nine years younger than Vasily Livanov, who played Sherlock Holmes. According to Sherlock, Mycroft is married and has a son.
  • Charles Gray, who played Mycroft in the film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, also played the character in four episodes of Granada Television's 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. In "The Golden Pince-Nez", Mycroft was used in place of Watson, since Edward Hardwicke was unavailable due to a prior commitment to appear in Shadowlands. In "The Mazarin Stone", Mycroft was used in place of Sherlock owing to Jeremy Brett's ill health.[20]: 115–117 
  • A direct female descendant named Mycroft Holmes is introduced in the BraveStarr episode "Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century" as an agent of Scotland Yard and an ally of her ancestor.
  • Jerome Willis played Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, a 1991 made-for-TV film which starred Christopher Lee as Holmes and Patrick Macnee as Watson.[20]: 206–207 
  • R. H. Thomson played Mycroft in the 2001 made-for-TV film The Royal Scandal opposite Matt Frewer's Sherlock.[20]: 159 
  • Richard E. Grant played Mycroft in Sherlock: Case of Evil (2002). In the television film, Mycroft was injected with an unidentified substance by Moriarty many years before the film takes place, which left Mycroft disabled and dependent on leg braces and walking sticks. It is not explained further in the film why or how this occurred.[20]: 166–167 
  • In the 2010 BBC television series Sherlock, Mycroft is portrayed by series co-creator Mark Gatiss.[20]: 168  In this contemporary version, Sherlock and Mycroft exhibit smouldering animosity towards 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.
  • Rhys Ifans played Mycroft Holmes in another modern adaptation, Elementary.[23] 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.

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,[24] as well as two sequels entitled Mycroft and Sherlock released in 2018[24] and Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage released in 2019.[25]
  • He was the main character in a series of mystery novels by the author Quinn Fawcett beginning with Against the Brotherhood: A Mycroft Holmes Novel[26]
  • 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 and in paperback by Playboy Press in 1980).[27] 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 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.
  • The Dorking Gap Affair by Glen Petrie published February 1, 1990 [28] by Bantam (first published 1989) ISBN 9780593016961
  • The Monstrous Regiment by Glen Petrie published by Bantam.[29] Glen Petrie was commissioned by Transworld to publish a series of 10 books on Mycroft Holmes. He was paid but Transworld was sold and the books were not finished.

Comics[edit]

Video games[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Smith, Daniel (2014) [2009]. The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide (Updated ed.). Aurum Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-1-78131-404-3.
  2. ^ a b c Cawthorne, Nigel (2011). A Brief History of Sherlock Holmes. Running Press. pp. 202–203. ISBN 978-0762444083.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Gutenberg. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f His Last Bow: An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Gutenberg. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  5. ^ a b The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. Gutenberg. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  6. ^ Klinger, Leslie (ed.). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume II (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005). p. 979. ISBN 0-393-05916-2
  7. ^ Klinger, Leslie (ed.). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume II (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005). p. 801. ISBN 0-393-05916-2
  8. ^ Klinger, Leslie (ed.). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume II (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005). p. 1439. ISBN 0-393-05916-2
  9. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved June 11, 2022.
  10. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2011). A Brief History of Sherlock Holmes. Running Press. pp. 203–204. ISBN 978-0762444083.
  11. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2011). A Brief History of Sherlock Holmes. Running Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0762444083.
  12. ^ The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Gutenberg. Retrieved 26 June 2020. ...there he sat upon a stone outside, his grey eyes dancing with amusement...
  13. ^ Klinger, Leslie (ed.). The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume I (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005). p. 752. ISBN 0-393-05916-2
  14. ^ Dickerson, Ian (2019). Sherlock Holmes and His Adventures on American Radio. BearManor Media. pp. 27, 39, 88–89, 130–131, 181, 189. ISBN 978-1629335087.
  15. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. p. 137. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  16. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 385–390. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  17. ^ "The Empty House". BBC Genome: Radio Times. BBC. Retrieved 25 June 2020.
  18. ^ Coules, Bert. "Casts and Credits". Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  19. ^ Wright, Stewart (30 April 2019). "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Broadcast Log" (PDF). Old-Time Radio. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen: The Complete Film and TV History. Titan Books. ISBN 978-0-85768-776-0.
  21. ^ "Stephen Fry to play Sherlock Holmes' brother on film". BBC. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  22. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. p. 138. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  23. ^ "Rhys Ifans to Star in a Recurring Role as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes' Brother, on "Elementary", Premiering Thursday, Sept. 26" (Press release). CBS. 26 June 2003. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  24. ^ a b Sondheimer, S.W. (January 19, 2018). "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Dives Back Into Mystery with MYCROFT AND SHERLOCK". Bookriot. Retrieved December 14, 2018.
  25. ^ "Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage". Publishers Weekly. June 25, 2019. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  26. ^ "Embassy Row: A Mycroft Holmes Novel". Publishers Weekly. October 1, 1998. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  27. ^ Hodel, Michael P.; Wright, Sean M. (1980). Enter the Lion: A Posthumous Memoir of Mycroft Holmes. Dent. ISBN 978-0-460-04483-7.
  28. ^ goodreads.com[not specific enough to verify]
  29. ^ Petrie, Glen (1990). The Monstrous Regiment. Bantam. ISBN 978-0-593-01701-2.
  30. ^ Martin Mystère: The Return of Jack Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ Stories from Elsewhere: The creature from the fog
  32. ^ "Jon Severity, English, London". The Mandy Network. Retrieved 17 January 2022.