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The View from the East End (31)

By Inspector Hopkins

January 29, 2006

And now . . . the Envelope, please!

Newcomers to Sherlockiana may have wondered about all the fuss and excitement in New York City a few weeks ago.  Every year the big gathering takes place in honour of Sherlock Holmes’s birthday with get-togethers, receptions, and dinners, not the least of which is the Annual BSI Dinner.

Although I haven’t made it to NYC yet, I was glad to hear that two of my close friends, Paul Churchill and Regina Stinson, were inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars at this year’s Dinner. The other day, I was attempting to explain what the BSI Dinner was all about to a newer Sherlockian and, although I admittedly felt somewhat like the blind leading the blind, I did manage to get a few good points across:

To me, any hobby (including Sherlockiana) has levels of greatness inherently associated with it.  For any hobby to be worthwhile, these levels of expertise and greatness must be rewarded in order to advance and perpetuate the hobby, as well as to inspire further greatness within it.  For those die-hard enthusiasts who have risen among the ranks, recognition of their efforts by admitting them into an exclusive scion is a fitting reward.  I realize that the BSI has come under a lot of criticism in the past, most notably concerning the admission of women into its ranks, yet it has endured.  And it will continue to do so.

To my way of thinking, admission into the Baker Street Irregulars is like getting a PhD in Sherlockiana!  Just as a physician has an “MD”, or an attorney uses an “Esq”, once you are accepted as an Irregular, you can place those three letters, “BSI”, after your name for the rest of your life.  It is an honour and a distinction, and it should be regarded as such.

You can’t just apply for membership, either.  It is a scion “by invitation only”.  In fact, when I first started attending Sherlockian events, someone told me that if you even asked about how you might become a BSI member, you would never be invited in. So, for many, being invited to join the BSI someday may be a lofty goal, a dream, or a fervent wish, depending on their outlook.  There is no doubt in my mind, though, that the air of mystique surrounding the Irregulars makes everyone want to beat a path to their door.

But oh, the greatness, and scholarship, and tradition found within their walls!

Whenever I read through the past 50-odd years of the Baker Street Journal, I get an almost reverent sense of awe and wonder at the early beginnings of Sherlockiana. With all the hundreds of articles and scholarly papers and research, some tongue-in-cheek and some decidedly serious, I realize that all these people have shaped our framework.  I can just picture Christopher Morley and the early pioneers in the 1930’s deciding to form a scion based on Wiggins and his fellow “Irregulars” who helped Sherlock Holmes.  The tradition of Holmes giving each Irregular a shilling as payment is continued at the Annual Dinner, when the head of the BSI (currently Michael Whelan) gives each newly accepted member a genuine Victorian-era shilling coin and the distinction of a special name, or “Investiture”, from the Canon. Looking back over the roster of past Irregulars, there can be seen all varieties of investitures based on characters, phrases, and titles of the stories. In fact, the head of the BSI holds the special investiture of “Wiggins”, which is reserved for just that position.

Once an Irregular, always an Irregular, they say.  A member’s investiture is held for life.

When a BSI member passes beyond the Falls, his/her investiture may be inherited by a new member, thus passing another part of the tradition on.  And each year, new members rise to fill the ranks of those departed. All the BSI members I have spoken to so far agree that being accepted as an Irregular comes as a complete surprise, much like the Oscars.  So when the Envelope was opened, and my good friends Regina and Paul had their names called his year, I could imagine their surprise and delight as they joined the ranks of the almost six hundred Irregulars before them.

To sum up: if you are a good Sherlockian, you may be invited to the annual BSI Dinner. If you are an invitee, you may, or may not, be investitured in the BSI that night. If you are not investitured, you may, or may not, be invited to the next annual BSI Dinner. And so it goes, year after year . . . 

Well, I think I’ve been a pretty good Sherlockian so far.  But maybe it’s a wee bit early to go down and check my mailbox just yet.

Until next time, and hoping you join me in saluting this year’s additions to the BSI, I am,

Yours faithfully,