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Clubland Lecture

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Well, since you ask me for a story of strange doppelgangers and gratuitous crossovers, I can do little more than tell you of the time I was recruited by the world’s greatest detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes, and an Oxfordshire police officer, Inspector Thursday. We were accompanied by the retired journalist Diana Trent for reasons that it would be interesting to recount, but which I sadly cannot recall at this precise moment. But they were definitely real, and not just for the sake of the gag.

 In any event, I quickly learned that we needed to travel abroad, and for this reason we had chartered an aeroplane. It was at this point that Mr Holmes made a brief fourth-wall breaking criticism.

 “I mean,” he said, “This story looks very much as if it’s set in modern times, and not your usual vague early 20th century. But if so, how do you explain Thursday, who’s from a different period again, namely the sixties?”

 I stared at him. “Am I being questioned on anachronistic storytelling by a Sherlock Holmes who has a mobile phone?” He conceded the point with bad grace, and we continued to the airfield.

 As we arrived at the plane, we were greeted by the steward, a young lad of middle years, if I was any judge. And since that description is completely meaningless, I clearly wasn’t. Whatever his age, I quickly developed a liking for the boy, who seemed enthusiastic and full of can-do-ness. He also had a tendency to make up words which I found had a comfortifying familiaritude, although I was unable to say why, exactly.

 “I couldn’t help observing,” said Holmes, as we reached our seats, “that the twit in the steward’s uniform looks a lot like you. Only even more of a twit, which is something of an achievement.”

 “Why, exactly!” I cried, as to my relief I discovered I was able to say it after all.

 But this was but the beginning of the surprises, and I’ll wager you would be quite unable to guess how things would develop, unless you were paying the slightest bit of attention when I set out the principles of the story and the rather contrived identities of my companions.

 As I pondered the similarities between myself and the lad who had introduced himself as Arthur Shappey, presumably because that was his name, I became aware of an altercation  in the seat behind me. Turning, I found that Miss Trent was in heated argument with a woman who I later learned was the airline’s owner, Carolyn Knapp-Shappey. But what struck me at the time was, again, that they looked precisely alike!

 “I’m sorry,” said Miss Trent, “I must have forgotten to tick the box that indicated I still retained my legs, and therefore needed somewhere to put them.”

 “I do apologise,” replied Mrs Knapp-Shappey, “We usually have a special service for cantankerous old bats, but there seems to have been an error with the paperwork.”

 Since they had both apologised, I assume the matter was settled and they became firm friends.

 “I can’t help noticing,” commented DI Thursday, “that I don’t have many lines in this.”

 “Yes,” I explained, “I’m afraid the author doesn’t actually watch Endeavour and has only a vague idea what you’re like. But he couldn’t get ‘the narrator of Sarah & Duck’ to work.”

 Thursday gave me a look that was difficult to define. “I might be offended by that,” he said, “If I was the sort of person who got offended by things like that, which it’s entirely possible I am.”

 Luckily, before we could drift too far into an ITV detective version of the Archers sketch, the pilots arrived. Well, you know how it goes now, they looked like Holmes and Thursday, blah-blah-blah, all very surprised.  And so on.

 Once the plane took off and we were able to unfasten our seatbelts, I indicated I wished to talk to everyone surreptitiously. So we huddled together in the aisle, which I’m reasonably sure was the most surreptitious thing we could possibly have done.

 “I don’t know if anyone else has observed this,” I told my companions, “but there is a strange coincidence among this air crew.”

 The seasoned photojournalist, the police inspector and the world’s greatest detective mind gave me a look that suggested it was possible they had noticed it after all.

 “Yes, Finnemore, we were wondering when you were going to catch up,” said Holmes.

 I gave a self-deprecating laugh. “I suppose it is obvious once you notice it,” I admitted, “But it’s such a strange coincidence the mind positively rebels against it being the case.” I leaned forward as I told them what I had observed.

 “What are the chances of the plane’s owner and the steward having the same last name?”

 And, for once, I had the pleasure of seeing all three of them totally struck speechless by my insight. Goodnight!