Created by Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most universally recognised private detective of all time. Accompanied by his friend and assistant, Dr Watson, Holmes works to solve mysteries for the powerful elite of London. The character appears in 56 short stories and 4 novels, and there are over 250 major adaptations of these stories. In 2012, Guinness World Records honoured the character as the “most portrayed human literary character in film and television.”
Sherlock Holmes is a character ofgreat contrast. Between frantic bouts of near-frightening genius, he demonstrates profound human fallibility. Analytical but chaotic, detached yet affectionate, duty-bound but self-serving, Holmes’ great inconsistency has permanently endeared him to English readership.
Given the overwhelming amount of choice, it’s hard to pick a favourite adaptation, but the wildly popular Steven Moffat creation, Sherlock, has a special place in our hearts. The BBC television series sees Benedict Cumberbatch accurately capture the true, maverick spirit of the character.
Mma Precious Ramotswe
For British audiences, Hercule Poirot is one of the most recognisable private detective characters of all time. Created by prolific writer Agatha Christie over 100 years ago, Poirot has been depicted in over 80 different works of fiction. The stories form the basis of the ITV programme Agatha Christie’s Poirot, which ran from 1989 to 2013 and is considered by many to be a cultural staple of British television.
Poirot is depicted as an elderly, Belgian, moustache-toting ex-policeman. He’s intelligent, well dressed, and politely mannered. The character’s likeability was unintentional, with Christie describing him as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep.” Still, the character’s popularity with the public ensured his survival as a mainstay of fictional private investigation.
Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys
Created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in the late 1920s, these characters were introduced to sell detective fiction to children. Despite their wild popularity and prominent position in US culture, the characters don’t quite make our list because of their hollow corporate origins. The books are still in print, being ghostwritten by several different authors.
Philip Marlowe is by far the most popular character we’ve left off the list. In fact, he’s so popular that he’s already been mentioned twice in this list, which deliberately tried not to mention him. Created by Raymond Chandler and immortalised by Humphrey Bogart, Marlowe is one of the most famous fictional detectives of all time.
We felt he was too similar to Sam Spade for us to include both characters in the list. Unfortunately for our friend Phil, Sam got there first, so we decided to include him instead.