It’s now official and of course elementary – Dr Watson was a Dundee man! The model for the character it seems was an osteopath Dr William Smith who lived and practised in the West End of the city prior to the First World War. Dr Smith had been born in Jamaica and was a friend and colleague of Conan Doyle’s at my own alma mater Edinburgh University. Although I hasten to add I was of a rather later vintage than Sir Arthur – I’m not that old!
Now like most people I have over the years seen many versions of the stories on both film and television as well as having read most of them. And I seem to remember several scenes where Mrs Hudson is making tea for the er……..’boys’. But I don’t remember anybody ever being asked about their preference for milk or the lack of it. The sort of forensic detail from which Sherlock would have deduced my entire life history no doubt! Probably that of my second cousin twice removed too! I am of course willing to be corrected if someone can instance a two second exchange in the Basil Rathbone Peter Cushing or indeed Benedict Cumberbatch versions.
But I think it’s an “absolute wheeze” as they used to say in the Billy Bunter books that there is a Dundee connection to one of the most famous characters in literature. It means Holmes and Watson have joined a club which includes Rabbie Burns Mary Shelley Desperate Dan and more. Although the criteria for being a Dundee man or woman is sometimes a little flexible. It is alleged that when the Titanic sank the banner headline in the Dundee Courier was “Dundee Man’s Holiday Spoiled!”.
I’m left intrigued though by who delivered Dr. Smith’s milk to the address in the Perth Road. If he took milk with his tea that is. That’s partly down to Sherlock like boundless curiosity about obscure details. But it’s also down to the fact I’ve been reading Willie Robertson’s delightfully funny memoir “On the Milk” pictured above about coming of age in the city in the early sixties. Dr. Smith was gone by then but I wonder if there are any records? I’ll have to ask Sherlock. If I can find him!