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On the trail of the origins of a chilling masterpiece

By This is Devon  |  Posted: January 06, 2011

  • MASTERPIECE: Bertram Fletcher Robinson, left, and Arthur Conan Doyle, above

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A NEWTON Abbot supersleuth investigating the influence of an Ipplepen author on Conan Doyle's masterpiece The Hound of the Baskervilles has unearthed intriguing new evidence.

Paul Spiring has discovered documentation showing that Doyle paid Bertram Fletcher Robinson the modern-day equivalent of £45,205 for the Baskerville idea.

Mr Spiring said Doyle wrote his classic chiller-thriller in 1901, having been introduced by Ipplepen writer Robinson to a similar Dartmoor folk myth.

This friendship between the two men has been the subject of extensive speculation in recent years, with some experts suggesting that it was Robinson who actually wrote the bestseller.

There have even been claims that Doyle had an affair with Robinson's wife and persuaded her to murder him.

But Mr Spiring said the speculation is pure fiction, although he believes that Doyle probably would not have written a word of the great book if he had never met Robinson.

Mr Spiring, who has co-written books about Doyle and Robinson, added: "It is documented that in 1901, Herbert Greenhough Smith, then editor of The Strand Magazine, agreed to pay Arthur Conan Doyle £100 per 1,000 words for the rights to The Hound of the Baskervilles.

"According to the historic inflation calculator at www.thisismoney.co.uk, the current value of that sum is approximately £9,000.

"Upon its completion, the story was some 60,000 words in length, meaning that Conan Doyle was due to receive approximately £542,460 at today's rates.

"Entries in Conan Doyle's account book show that he paid Bertram Fletcher Robinson, who acted as 'assistant plot producer' to the 'supreme adventure', more than £500 before the end of 1901, equivalent to £45,205 today.

"Previously, during July 1900, he reportedly paid Fletcher Robinson £50 — equivalent to £4,724 today — for an idea that was incorporated into another Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of The Norwood Builder, which first appeared in Collier's Weekly during 1903.

"Hence, between July 1900 and January 1902, Conan Doyle seemingly paid Fletcher Robinson around £550 — equivalent to £50,000 today — for the part he played in 'resurrecting' Sherlock Holmes."

Robinson was an English sportsman, journalist, author and Liberal Unionist Party campaigner.

Between 1893 and 1907, he wrote nearly 300 published items, including a series of short stories that feature a detective called Addington Peace.

Between 1882 and 1923, Arthur Conan Doyle visited Devon on 10 occasions and resided in the county, spending about four months here.

Between May 31 and June 2, 1901, it is documented that he visited Princetown with Robinson.

Mr Spiring added: "Together they undertook research which provided the setting for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

"It has gone on to form the basis for at least 26 full-length films in four different languages."

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