Mark Gatiss on writing Sherlock with Steven Moffat, his love of the Gothic and owing Peter Mandelson

He's the actor and writer who helped create Sherlock, but who inspired Mark Gatiss' Victorian obsession?

My mum always said I had an old soul. At infants school, I walked around wearing an eiderdown as a cloak and using a cameo brooch as a pocket watch. I was led to Sherlock Holmes by my love of Victoriana. I always liked the luridness, the scarlet thread of murder. I was very fond of murder stories and stiff collars and laboratories – Gothic horror and rather starchy Britishness. My dad was adept with a sewing machine when I was a kid – he used to like running up curtains and things – and when I was four he made me a checked waistcoat with little buttons in the shape of anchors. I think possibly I am reincarnated.


My mum got me The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when I had German measles, aged ten – because I was poorly I was allowed a present. The first story I read was A Scandal in Bohemia. I went on to read them all, with the mistaken idea that would make me cool. I loved the flavour of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, not just Sherlock Holmes but others like Professor Challenger. He was a master storyteller and you get a brilliant snapshot of Victorian Britain.

I’ll never forget the weird shock of reading about a vegetarian restaurant in The Red-Headed League, which feels such a modern thing. I was a vegetarian for 15 years – I had principles then. It’s one of those things that makes you realise the Victorians weren’t very different from us at all.

I used to imagine that my parents had a liberal attitude towards what we watched on TV, then I realised a few years ago that we just had to watch what my dad wanted. I was steeped in horror films from the beginning, I absolutely adored them. I saw my first when I was about five: The Brides of Dracula (Hammer, 1960). I remember it vividly.

I loved the big horror titans like Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, but Peter Cushing was always my favourite. He was in a good share of not very good films, but he’s always brilliant. He’s so immaculate and lovable, even when he’s playing the villain. He brings an amazing physicality, he’s got this real muscular energy. There’s a famous bit at the end of Dracula, when he races up the table and drags a curtain down to let the sunlight in, that’s pure Douglas Fairbanks.

Also, obviously, he was a great Sherlock Holmes. He was a huge fan of the books, so in the Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) he put in a lot of the original lines. He was concerned with making it sound authentic. It’s really just about going back to the books, as we have done with Sherlock, to capture the spirit of Doyle.


Of course, I was not alone in loving horror movies: the entirety of popular culture is currently dominated by people like me. “Cult” is now this huge thing. Basically, the geek has inherited the Earth. I suppose if geekdom has become the mainstream, then something else must be happening on the fringes that we’re not aware of. Really straight down-the-line, searing kitchen-sink drama, maybe.