Sherlock Holmes, security, disclaimers, Ra Ra Rasputin, and releasing the Phoenix Files!

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or used fictitiously…” Every novelist knows that is the legal disclaimer that appears in the front of any published novel, and every movie lover will have seen something similar tagged to a film. But where does it actually come from?

Phoenix’s boss found out last year, when researching a private biography in the Paris National Archive. Those files had been kept closed under the seventy year rule, probably similar in time-period to the valuable protection of authorial copyright, namely a normal lifetime’s distance after an author’s death, and included a police dossier on the arrest of Adrian Conan Doyle, the rather dissolute son of Sir Arthur, creator of the great detective himself, Sherlock Holmes. Adrian and his brother, in very Sherlock Holmes vein, had been arrested at Bolougne-Sur-Mer in the 1930’s, for trying to smuggle weapons through customs, onto a Packet Boat. They would not have had a chance in today’s high security climate, because both were carrying sword sticks, of all swashbuckling things, revolvers, and several boxes of ammunition. 21 and 19 years old respectively, they were questioned, fined and released, though according to his biographer, Adrian would later develop an obsession with weapons, and Medieval torture instruments. Among some fascinating ‘secret’ records though, was another dossier on Prince Yusupov.

It was of course Felix Yusupov who was responsible for the origins of the above disclaimer, certainly in movie theatres, after he sued MGM, for its portrayal of him in the 1932 film ‘Rasputin and the Empress’, and their dramatisation of his involvement in Rasputin’s murder. He won the case, for libel and invasion of privacy, not over the murder, but for the fact the film had suggested Rasputin had seduced his wife, Princess Irina Alexandrova. One of the richest men in Russia, who fled to Europe after the Revolution, Yusupov founded a fashion house with her, and made rather a career out of suing people. He had already gone head to head with Karensky in London, who founded the exile newspaper, The Days, and specialised in attacks on ‘White Russian’ aristocrats like Yusupov. But the file we found was itself a little gem of mis-sleuthing, and historical translation. It involved their investigating an attempt to blackmail the Prince over a homosexual affair with the son of a French Count. Among decidedly loaded police remarks about Yusupov’s femininity, and fondness for the company of young men, it reveals the French police paid a ‘snitch’ to root through Yusupov’s clothes, left at his tailor, where they found a little parcel of cocaine in his pocket. Fictional Holmes would have loved such 1% solutions, because although Yusupov is said to have boasted on the boat leaving Russia, that he had murdered Rasputin, the language of all those police files so exposes the official prejudices of the time. Also the language of professional sleuthing emerging everywhere, which, with relatively new forensic techniques like Finger Printing, began to transform the landscape of investigations, and moved it out of the romantic domain of the ‘spy’ – there were several notes in those files scrawled on restaurant napkins – into the territory of the official policeman. In Conan Doyle’s take, who at been dead for eight months when his sons were arrested, often the territory of the bumbling Lestrade. Incidentally, after fighting battles against real injustice, Sir Arthur’s famous last words must have been some of the greatest of all time, to his second wife – ‘You are wonderful.’

It was one of many fascinating things that turned up, although supposedly not of interest to today’s serious, or even scandal hungry newspapers, and so the general public, (we tried), so over the next few weeks, that and other little discoveries will be added to our own blogged ‘Phoenix files’. Phoenix puts no such disclaimer in front of its blog, we’d rather the tag ‘this is a true, or based on a true story’. We naturally coda it to ‘excerpts’, and in the books we are trying to produce, when of course they are fictional. DCD

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