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Fletcher Robinson, Pemberton & Doyle PDF Print E-mail
During 1896, 26 year-old Bertram Fletcher Robinson (hereafter BFR) wrote a book entitled Rugby Football for the Isthmian Library Series on Sports and Pastimes (London: A. D. Innes & Company Limited).  This book was edited by a 32 year-old novelist called Max PembertonIn December 1896, Pemberton resigned his position with the Isthmian Library and accepted the editorship of Cassell’s Family Magazine (later renamed Cassell's Magazine).  BFR was appointed as Pemberton's replacement and he subsequently edited 8 books about various sports and pastimes.  Furthermore, Pemberton commissioned BFR to write 30 articles for two magazines and also the narrative for two books that were each published by Cassell & Co. Ltd. (see 'BFR Bibliography').
On 25 April 1901, Max Pemberton invited BFR to dine with him at his home at 56 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, London (NW3).   Pemberton later recounted the following details about this dinner in an article that was published in the London-based Evening News newspaper (25 May 1939):
The late Fletcher Robinson who collaborated, with Doyle in the story, was dining at my house in Hampstead one night when the talk turned upon phantom dogs.  I told my friend of a certain Jimmy Farman, a Norfolk marshman, who swore that there was a phantom dog on the marshes near St. Olives (near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk)  and that his bitch had met the brute more than once and had been terrified by it.  ‘A Great black dog it were,’ Jimmy said, ‘and the eyes of ‘un was like railway lamps.  He crossed my path down there by the far dyke and the old bitch a’most went mad wi’ fear…Now surely that bitch saw a’ summat I didn’t see…’
Fletcher Robinson assured me that dozens of people on the outskirts of Dartmoor had seen a phantom hound and that to doubt its existence would be a local heresy.  In both instances, the brute was a huge retriever, coal black and with eyes which shone like fire.
Fletcher Robinson was always a little psychic and he had a warm regard for this apparition; indeed, he expressed some surprise that no romancer had yet written about it.  Three nights afterwards, Fletcher Robinson was dining with Sir [sic] Arthur.  The talk at my house was still fresh in his mind and he told Doyle what I had said, emphasising that this particular marshman was as sure of the existence of the phantom hound as he was of his own being.  Finally, Fletcher Robinson said ‘Let us write the story together.’  And to his great content Sir [sic] Arthur cordially assented.

The dinner to which Pemberton referred took place sometime between 26 and 29 April 1901 at the Royal Links Hotel in Cromer, Norfolk.  During that same period, Arthur Conan Doyle (hereafter ACD) wrote a letter to his mother in which he stated as a footnate that "Fletcher Robinson came here with me and we are going to do small book together 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' - A real creeper."  ACD also wrote another letter to Herbert Greenhough Smith, the editor of The Strand Magazine, in which he offered this story to Greenhough Smith but insisted that "I must do it with my friend Robinson and his name must appear with mine."   He also added that “I shall want my usual 50 pounds per thousand words for all rights if you do business.”  ACD later incorporated Sherlock Holmes as the central character within this story.

During early 1904, BFR, ACD and Pemberton were each admitted as members to a select twelve-man society referred to by its members as ‘Our Society’.  This organisation met regularly to discuss various crime related topics.  On 18 October 1906, ‘Our Society’ met at Pemberton's house and he delivered a speech entitled An Attempt to Blackmail Me.  Two days later, BFR played golf with ACD at Hindhead in Surrey.  Shortly thereafter, BFR was appointed as editor of a weekly illustrated newspaper entitled The World – A Journal for Men and WomenThis periodical was owned by Lord Northcliffe and managed by Pemberton.  The latter man had resigned his position as the editor of Cassell's Magazine by December 1905. 

On 21 January 1907, BFR died at his home in London.   Three days later, he was buried at St. Andrew's Church at Ipplepen in Devon.  Amongst the many floral tributes that were sent to the funeral service was a message that read  "From 'Our Society', with deepest regrets from fellow members".  On that same day, Pemberton attended BFR's memorial service at St. Clement Danes in London.

On 18 September 1907, Max Pemberton attended ACD's wedding reception in the Whitehall Rooms of the Hôtel Métropole in London.  Four months later, Pemberton had a story entitled Wheels of Anarchy published by Cassell & Co. Ltd. (London, Paris, New York, Toronto & Melbourne).   This book includes the following statement:

                                                                    AUTHOR'S NOTE

This story was suggested to me by the late B. Fletcher Robinson, a dear friend, deeply mourned.  The subject was one in which he had interested himself for some years; and almost the last message I had from him expressed the desire that I would keep my promise and treat of the idea in a book.  This I have now done, adding something of my own to the brief notes he left me, but chiefly bringing to the task an enduring gratitude for a friendship which nothing can replace. 

This statement resonates to some degree with the acknowledgments that are printed in the various first editions of The Hound of the Baskervilles and attributed to ACD.  It is important for several reasons.  Firstly, it illustrates that BFR had conceived the plot for a further story that was written by a popular author.  Secondly, the statement suggests that BFR knew that he was dying and thereby refutes any suggestion that was poisoned.   

During 1936, Hutchinson & Company Ltd. published Sir Max Pemberton's autobiography entitled Sixty Years Ago and After (he was knighted in 1920).  In his book, Pemberton recalls that BFR once received an anonymous invitation to dine at the Reform Club.  The same invitation card implored BFR not to disclose this engagement to a flatmate called Percy Illingworth.  Meanwhile Illingworth had also received such an invitation and he was instructed to conceal the appointment from BFR.  Pemberton reports that both BFR and Illingworth spent several uncomfortable days excusing themselves to one another ahead of this engagement.  The situation came to a head when each man tried to exit their flat for the same covert destination using separate Hansom cabs.  Eventually the two abashed men were reunited at the Reform Club where they were greeted by their anonymous host - an innocent looking Owen Seaman (a newly appointed Punch Contributor).

Max Pemberton also reports that during 1897, BFR visited Livadia in the Crimea and was received by the entourage of Tsar Nicholas II at The Old Grand Palace (later redeveloped and renamed The White Palace).  BFR was entertained by the Emperor’s Great Chamberlain and was subjected to persistent surveillance by the Russian Secret Police.  Following the February Revolution (1917) and the subsequent abdication of Nicholas II (2 March 1917), the Imperial family sought permission to reside at this palace.  Their request was refused by Alexander Kerensky, the then Prime Minister of the Provisional Government, and the Imperial family were later shot by the Bolsheviks at Ekaterinburg in the Province of Sverdlovsk Oblast (17 July 1918).  It appears that BFR's trip to Crimea influenced his literary collaboration with John Malcolm Fraser (later Sir John) entitled The Trail of the Dead (1902/03).

On 7 July 1930, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died aged 71 years following a heart attack at his home at Windlesham, Hurtis Hill, Crowborough, Sussex.  He was buried in the grounds at Windlesham, beside his writing hut on 11 July.  A large crowd attended the funeral and train loads of floral tributes were sent from all over the British Isles and beyond.  It was a joyous, colourful and non religious occasion. 

On 22 February 1950, 86 year-old Sir Max Pemberton died at his London home following a long illness.  He was buried at Kensal Green Roman Catholic Cemetery in London.   On the 27 February 1950, a requiem mass was held for him at Brompton Oratory.

By Paul Spiring ©2007.
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