Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in the 1880s and, more than 100 years later, his fans are as dedicated as ever. When exploring the Holmesian fandom online, it’s clear that the community is as diverse as it is creative. And you can’t get very far without noticing one group in particular: The Baker Street Babes.
This group of young fans hosts the Web’s only all-female Sherlock Holmes podcast, covering everything from the classic novels to the latest Holmes incarnations in TV and film. There are currently 11 Babes, representing a range of professions that includes authors and professors. Originally, however, there were only seven women in the group. It all started with a Twitter list created by the group’s founder, Kristina Manente.
“I’ve always loved podcasts and had a radio show while I was in undergrad. I was itching to do something again and it just so happened that I had amassed a group of friends who all liked the same thing: Sherlock Holmes,” Manente told the Daily Dot.
She organized her friends into a Twitter list, pitched them her idea for a podcast, and suddenly the game was afoot.
The Babes stand out for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are an all-female group. Manente said she wanted to keep the podcast women-only, mostly because of a lack of women on the radio and in podcasts generally. She wanted something to balance out the voice of fellow Sherlock Holmes podcast I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, which is hosted entirely by men.
“I also wanted to give a voice to young female fans. We’re poked fun at constantly by the media and those who don’t necessarily understand fan culture, but while we may have quirks and in-jokes, there’s an amazing level of scholarship and discussion happening. It’s always overlooked and I wanted the podcast to showcase both sides of the coin, if you will,” Manente said.
The podcast has released 46 episodes since May 2011. They cover the gamut of Sherlock Holmes fandom and interview guests like New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King, and actress Lara Pulver, who played Irene Adler on the BBC’s Sherlock.
Each episode draws anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 listeners, and episodes focusing on the BBC’s Sherlock are typically the most popular. Depending on their guests, they can sometimes even double this number. The Babes podcast featuring an interview with actress Amanda Abbington, the wife of Martin Freeman (Sherlock’s Watson), got around 20,000 listens.
Sherlock’s Sue Vertue and Steven Moffat at the Baker Street Babes’ San Diego Comic-Con party.
Around the premiere of Sherlock series 2, the group’s fame started to skyrocket online. Sherlock producer Sue Vertue got in touch and offered them interviews with people involved with the program, and PBS reached out to get their help promoting the show in the U.S. Manente is still astonished by how popular they’ve become.
According to Manente, the BBC show appreciates their support and supports what they’re doing in return. This was especially clear over the summer when Manente decided to attend her first San Diego Comic-Con. After hearing there would be a Sherlock panel, the Baker Street Babes planned to throw a Holmes party for fans. Even though it wasn’t an official Sherlock event, they still invited the people from the BBC show. To their surprise, producer Sue Vertue and show creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss all turned up.
“It really says something about the integrity of that team that they came to a fan party just because they wanted to,” Manente said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the podcast’s listeners were introduced to the classic Holmes stories through the BBC’s TV adaptation. The divide between old and new fans of Sherlock Holmes has actually been a problem for the Babes. Manente experienced this firsthand when she was dismissed by older people at a conference a few months after creating the podcast. She and the podcast were written off as “silly.”
As recently as this January, prominent Holmes fan Philip Shreffle called out the Babes—and Manente personally—as not “intellectually elite” enough to count themselves as true Sherlock Holmes scholars. His piece, “The Elite Devotee Redux,” made the rounds of the Holmesian fan community but, in the end, fans almost universally sided with the Babes. Despite incidents like these, Manente said the divide between old and new fans is gradually closing.
“The vast majority of traditional Sherlockians are incredibly welcoming and very excited about the surge of new, young people entering into their world ...There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy your love of something, and that’s something that we really want to hammer home and promote, as do, I think, most of those in the traditional world,” she said.
Manente poses with Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss at the Baker Street Babes San Diego Comic-Con party.
Manente called BBC Sherlock fans “creative mad geniuses” because they’ve been able to do so much with only six episodes. Series 3 doesn’t air until next year.
“It’s funny, because so many other fandoms use the Sherlock fandom’s insanity as the butt of their jokes, but you have to hand it to them: They’ve kept creating so many things both amazing and bizarre, after years of waiting,” she explained.
The Baker Street Babes plan to continue sharing their love of Holmes in all his forms, and hope to expand their online presence. When asked about what they plan for the future, Manente was quick to respond with “taking over the world.” They’re starting by working on their commentary channel and expanding their YouTube presence. If they can raise the money, they’d also like to attend more conventions and collaborate with other groups in Sherlock Holmes fandom.
The Babes also have a book coming out in January 2014 with Wessex Press entitled The One Fixed Point In A Changing Age: Essays On Sherlockiana By Online Fandom. The essays include character studies, examinations of Holmes’ emotions, and musings on the famous relationship between Holmes and Watson.
“We wanted to give fandom a chance to show their academic stripes. We got four times the amount of submissions than we could publish, which was incredible, and I hope we can do another volume,” Manente said.
What is it about Sherlock Holmes that inspires such devotion? To Manente, it’s his aloof genius and his relationship with his steadfast partner and friend, Watson. Fandom thrives on deep, dedicated friendships like the one between these two characters.
“That relationship, however you personally interpret it, is the heart and soul of those stories and what has really kept the fanbase going, I believe,” she said. “That and the adventures. Everyone wants to have adventures!”
All photos via Kristina Manente