Sherlock’s Hardest Case: How to Write an Unforgettable Best Man Speech


221b Baker Street

Image by hknong via Morguefile

Sherlock Holmes is wrestling with a difficult problem at 221B Baker Street. So problematic, in fact, that he sends an urgent summons for help to Detective Inspector Lestrade. As Lestrade arrives – with a full backup team, having left a crime in progress – Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch on BBC-TV, holds up a slim book entitled How to Write an Unforgettable Best Man Speech. “This is hard,” he says. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

If you should ever need to do that “hardest thing” and make a best man’s speech, don’t rush out to your favourite bookstore, be it Amazon or bricks-and-mortar, to find a copy of that book. Sadly, it doesn’t exist. (I say sadly, because that episode of Sherlock went viral and it would have been a fantastic piece of product placement.)

YOUR OPINION SOUGHT … wedding speeches on screen

A good friend told me that it would be an interesting exercise to analyse that now-famous speech, and I’ve decided to ask my readers for their opinions on it … and on other wedding speeches on screen, both TV dramas and feature films.

There are of course millions of real wedding speeches now on YouTube but I’m looking for fictional ones, because I believe that their lessons are more easily remembered. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Sherlock, has millions of fans (aka Cumberbitches), but that’s not the only reason for writing about his now-famous but fictional speech.

The other reason is that the latest series of the drama has just finished on BBC TV – personally I didn’t like the way they developed this last series but that’s just my opinion, though I know I am not alone – so maybe you fans are suffering withdrawal symptoms.

The Sign of Three: solve a crime or two, write a speech

This speech came, as any Sherlock fan will tell you, in an episode called The Sign of Three, broadcast in 2014. Sherlock has been invited to be Dr Watson’s best man, to his surprise and confusion. Simply writing it is, as he tells D.I. Lestrade, “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Your turn to comment!

So here’s the survey. What do you think of Sherlock’s speech? If you were planning a best man’s speech, what lessons, if any, would you take from it?

Here is a link to a video of the speech, via our old friends at YouTube:

That link takes you to almost the full speech, apart from a section at the beginning where Sherlock reads out the messages from absent friends; or, as he says: “First things first: telegrams! Well, they’re not actually telegrams; we just call them telegrams. I don’t know why. Wedding tradition, I suppose. Because apparently we don’t have enough of that already.”

This is all fiction, of course; but I think there are some useful lessons that can be learned from it. Do you agree? If so, what are they? And what do you think about what he does at the very start – reading the so-called ‘telegrams’ – which isn’t in this video?

If you want to see that part too, the only version I found on YouTube isn’t of great quality and has subtitles in Dutch; but here it is.

And for a final piece of background, here’s a transcript of an interview with Steven Moffat, who was Executive Producer of the Sherlock series and who wrote the speech, talking about this episode. He says he always wanted to see Sherlock as a best man. (That idea was his, not Conan Doyle’s:  in the original novels, Watson marries Mary Morstan between stories, off-screen so to speak). Moffat’s thoughts are very instructive.

Please post your comments: I’ll post mine soon. I will also post links to posts about this episode by other bloggers, so that you can compare your views with theirs.


That episode of Sherlock? It’s called The Sign of Three.

Other fictional wedding speeches from movies and TV dramas? I’ll be posting in coming weeks about other onscreen speeches. Watch this space!


pound_coins_stackedup_resizedWonga, the UK’s largest payday loan company, has been ordered to pay £2.6m in compensation, after sending letters from non-existent law firms to customers in arrears.

The letters threatened legal action, but the law firms were false. In some cases Wonga added fees for the letters to customers’ accounts, according to the BBC.

The customers affected (45,000 of them) will each receive £50 for distress (a piddling amount, surely?) plus any legal fees they have encountered. The regulator in this case is the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA); they cannot however fine Wonga because the offences happened before they started regulating payday loans companies.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?, said: “It is right the FCA is taking a tougher line on irresponsible lending and it does not get much more irresponsible than this.

“It is a shocking new low for the payday industry that is already dogged by bad practice and Wonga deserves to have the book thrown at it.”

Tougher line? £50 each? I imagine the people at Wonga are laughing.

Wonga is not the only lender to do this. Back in my debt-crisis days, I received a letter from a non-existent firm of solicitors. I was only alerted to the fact when I noticed that the initials of the firm were identical to those of the bank that was chasing me for the debt. It’s sharp practice and could cause considerable distress, because most people have a healthy respect for the law. And that’s how it should be. So to use that fact in this way is pretty despicable. £50 each, eh?

There is an existing Code of Practice from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) regarding harassment of debtors, although it is often ignored. I’ve blogged about it more than once; for details click HERE.



For the BBC News item, click HERE.

For the OFT Code of Practice regarding harassment of debtors, click HERE.



BBC2’s Newsnight ran an informative and inspiring piece this week, highlighting the wide range of support provided by the Citizens Advice organisation. Demand for their services is increasing – nationally it’s quadrupled since the start of the recession – while funding has been cut.

Volunteers: the backbone of the CAB service

We saw the workings of the Coventry CAB (that’s what the individual bureaux are called here in the UK), staffed mostly by volunteers including Brian Adams, a 75-year-old former miner who has been a volunteer there for almost ten years. He says he finds it “fulfilling to help people” and the feeling is shared by three generations of his family. His daughter began volunteering at the bureau and then made the switch to paid work as the receptionist; and his 16-year-old grandson, who is still at school, volunteers too.

School outreach: a win/win collaboration

Talking of schools, we saw a most innovative collaboration with local schools, through whose involvement confidential referrals can be made. And while the school is acting as a kind of outreach branch of the local CAB, we heard from a head teacher who reported a fantastic impact on the pupils: measures of academic achievement had doubled and absenteeism had halved.

Personally, I cannot speak highly enough of the benefits that Citizens Advice brings to communities in so many ways. Watch the film, I urge you!

Debt advice

This blog is about debt. When I had my own problems in the 90s, the local CAB were a fantastic help to me, as they have been to countless others. You can book a face-to-face meeting – though you might have to wait a little because, as I said, they are overstretched – or use their excellent online help service.


For the Citizens Advice online help service.

For details of your nearest CAB (UK only: sorry, folks, if you don’t live here), there’s a search box on their home page.

For the full Newsnight TV piece (only 12 minutes).


A couple of years ago I was privileged to hear a talk, here in Bristol, by the groundbreaking and unassuming Bangladeshi economics professor Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer of the “microcredit” movement. The way he had lifted thousands of people out of poverty, by lending small sums without collateral, was inspirational. I loved too the fact he had just ignored the negative advice and nonexistent support of traditional bankers and set up his own bank. He has subsequently stepped down from the bank’s chairmanship after some negative publicity (buck the trend and that’s inevitable in our world, surely?) but what he achieved was impressive in the extreme.

Later, telecoms companies wouldn’t support him in his idea of supplying mobile phones to wannabe entrepreneurs in remote villages, so he just set up his own telecoms company and Village Phone Program. (“No mains electricity? No problem: solar power. No shortage of sunlight in Bangladesh; and solar panels are cheap here!”)

I had to smile when I saw the ICC (cricket) World Cup on TV a few years ago; the Bangladesh team were wearing the name of Grameen Telecom (the market leader, above all those global brands) on their shirts.

Grameen and its founder were jointly awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The man himself will be talking today on BBC Radio 4 (“The World This Weekend”, 1pm) about the setting up of the first UK branch of his Grameen Bank, in Glasgow. I’ll be listening.


Wikipedia on Grameen Bank: LINK


According to the BBC news this morning, the UK’s Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly says clarity is needed about what bailiffs are legally allowed to do.

New proposals are in the pipeline, including a ban on the use of force. There’ll be detail on what items bailiffs cannot take from homes.

This is welcome news. However, as I say in my book “Back to the Black”, there is already a code of conduct about debt collection; a code that is often broken by debt collecting companies. Let’s hope that the new code of conduct for bailiffs will be better observed, or this will be a waste of time and money.

Here’s what I say in my book about the existing code:


It is illegal for creditors to harass debtors. The following definitions of harassment are taken from the website of the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Sadly, I know from experience that many of these practices are used by many creditors.

 Physical/psychological harassment: putting pressure on debtors or third parties is considered to be oppressive. Examples of unfair practices are as follows: 

  • contacting debtors at unreasonable times and at unreasonable intervals
  • pressurising debtors to sell property, to raise funds by further borrowing or to extend their borrowing
  • using more than one debt collection business at the same time resulting in repetitive and/or frequent contact by different parties
  • not ensuring that an adequate history of the debt is passed on as appropriate resulting in repetitive and/or frequent contact by different parties
  • not informing the debtor when their case has been passed on to a different debt collector
  • pressurising debtors to pay in full, in unreasonably large instalments, or to increase payments when they are unable to do so
  • making threatening statements or gestures or taking actions which suggest harm to debtors
  • ignoring and/or disregarding claims that debts have been settled or are disputed and continuing to make unjustified demands for payment
  • disclosing or threatening to disclose debt details to third parties unless legally entitled to do so
  • acting in a way likely to be publicly embarrassing to the debtor either deliberately or through lack of care, for example, by not putting correspondence in a sealed envelope and putting it through a letterbox, thereby running the risk that it could be read by third parties.

 Source: OFT website, “Debt collection guidance: final guidance on unfair business practices.”



For the BBC News item on the proposed law changes: click here

For a link to my book “Back to the Black,” containing details of the existing UK code of practice governing debt collection: click here











I’ve just heard on the BBC news that the National Debt (that’s the UK, by the way) has hit £1 trillion. That’s news; that’s big news; doubtless our chief Prophet of Doom, Robert Peston, is getting ready to intone his ponderous views on its significance.

However, personal debt in the UK exceeded £1 trillion long, long ago. When my book “Back to the Back” was published in 2010, UK consumer debt (i.e. mortgages, credit card debt, loans, etc, etc) was almost £1.5 trillion and was slightly more than GDP, the usual measure of national output.

As British National Treasure Michael Caine famously said: “Not a lot of people know that.”



For information about my book “Back to the Black”, click here:


Do have a look at this video! It’s yesterday’s highly impressive funeral in Vienna of the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the former crown prince Otto von Habsburg:

I don’t normally post about this kind of event but I make an exception here; not so much for any historical significance but because it reminds me of a great and allegedly true story I was told years ago by a Swedish colleague (they do have a sense of humour, you know). I now know that the story must have been about this guy.

It’s on record that von Habsburg (who was born in 1912, six years before the end of the empire) was an MEP for several years. Apparently he went into the Parliament building a few years ago and found the chamber empty but lots of MEPs in the bars watching TV. Otto asked “what’s happening?” and was told everyone was watching an international football match.

“Who’s playing?” asked the former prince, evidently ignorant of such mundane matters as football.

“Austria – Hungary,” came the answer.

“Oh really? Against whom?”


You’ve heard the story; now watch the funeral!


It’s always nice to have some good news on the economic front and today there was good news on inflation. The “favoured” CPI measure fell in June to 4.2%, having been expected to be 4.5%.

However, behind the headlines are some interesting facts. Weak retail sales have caused heavy discounting in some sectors; for example the price of video cameras fell, according to the BBC news today.

Whoa! Video cameras? I haven’t bought one of those for a few years; especially now that I have a smartphone that takes pictures, in common with about 75% of the population. Even back then, a video camera was hardly a regular and certainly not an essential purchase.

So how come video cameras apparently found their way into the “basket” of items on whose prices the politically-important inflation rates are calculated?

Answers on a postcard, please.



So it’s all over for another year! I have tennis withdrawal symptoms already. Here’s my totally unscientific survey of the highs and lows of Wmbldn 2011.


1: Both singles titles were won by the player who was, by my reckoning, the underdog. Celebrating the underdog’s win is The British Way. It was my way anyway.

2: The women’s singles was won by the player who didn’t scream / grunt at 110 dB every time she hit the ball (tho’ see below for my totally contradictory regret for the lovely Maria having lost).

The early grunt

On the grunt front, I still treasure an article by Clive James, many years ago, when he said that Jimmy Connors “has taken to grunting loudly at the instant of hitting the ball instead of just afterwards. Confused opponents try to hit the grunt instead of the ball.”

3: Lots more great matches, too numerous to list.

But on the other hand …


0. The lovely Maria lost (but see 1 above)

1, 2 and 3: the BBC’s obsession with interviewing sportspeople (not just tennis stars) 30 seconds after the end of their matches. They must have decided it’s popular but, in the words of a friend of mine: “It’s sport for people who don’t much like sport”.

With a few notable exceptions, most sportspeople are not able to give anything more than a routine answer when totally knackered out, maybe crushed by the disappointment of having lost. They do their talking during the match; afterwards, I’d rather hear the views of the expensively-assembled and very expert team of commentators.

Grumpy Old Man mode

As for the interviewers themselves, don’t get me started. Oh, it seems I already have. When I hear one of them coming up, I go into default grumpy-old-man mode. I’m not alone; on a sports website after the Beijing Olympics I found lots of criticisms of these kinds of facile interviews from serious athletics fans, one of whom wrote: “when a Phil Jones interview comes up, I hit the mute button.”

Ungracious Serena?

John Inverdale was clearly shocked by Serena Williams’ “ungracious” (his word) response to an interview question. However, I’ve since seen the whole transcript; she gave serious answers to loads of questions after what was clearly a disappointing defeat. Only one, right at the end, revealed her true feelings:

Q. A lot of people would say if you come here after the best part of the year out of the game and walked away with the title, it wouldn’t necessarily have been a good thing for women’s tennis. Can you appreciate that? Does this result show it’s competitive still?

SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I’m super happy that I lost. Go, women’s tennis.

To ask that question of someone who’d just come back from very serious health problems and had just been put out by an opponent playing out of her skin, got the response it deserved. Ungracious? Maybe. Understandable, I’d say.


A few days ago I was listening to an interview with Scotland’s First Minister Alec Salmond on Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10 June). The topic – and I was most impressed with what Salmond said – was the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle both alcohol abuse in general and the sectarian violence that’s recently been in the news associated with Scottish football.

On the alcohol question, I was less impressed with interviewer Jenni Murray’s suggestion: “but surely (the classic interviewer’s knee-jerk) the Scottish economy depends on the whisky industry”, or words to that effect. Salmond countered by saying that whisky wasn’t the main issue in Scotland, in his view; his primary concern seemed to be with binge drinking among the young, therefore less to do with whisky and more to do with cut-price supermarket vodka, cider and high-strength beers, as in England.

Drinking north and south of the border

By the way, Salmond said “we drink more per head (10%, was it? I can’t recall) than you do in England, and you drink too much.” That last throwaway line “ … and you drink too much”  I might have ignored, if said by your average teetotal hellfire preacher; but said with a smile (this was radio, but I can tell) by someone as humorous as Salmond is known to be – a man that I’ll wager likes a drink or two himself – it was OK by me. As G K Chesterton said: “humour gets in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling with the door-handle”. Or words to that effect.

Whisky exports

Going back to the health of the whisky industry (financial health, that is): it wasn’t mentioned but I’d always assumed its success was based largely on exports, not on sales in Scotland. I have in fact heard that Venezuelans often claim to drink more Scotch than the Scots.

Domestic violence links

Salmond mentioned the increased incidence of domestic violence connected with both alcohol and football (especially after the combination that occurs after so-called “Old Firm” matches between Celtic and Rangers). He referred to a scheme they have in Scotland to try and address the problem of domestic violence in general; it’s called the Caledonian System.

Questioning this connection, Jenni Murray said (I can’t recall if she might well have prefaced it with “but surely …”) that the organisation Scottish Women’s Aid have stated there is no link between football, alcohol and domestic violence and that it’s purely a matter of attitudes. Salmond disagreed; and from police statistics I’ve read in the past I would have disagreed too, if they’d asked me.

Want to know more?

… about the Caledonian System:

Michael J MacMahon, Bristol, UK