Monday, November 10, 2014

A cultivated membership.

This is the time of year for joy and disappointment among the elder generations of Sherlock Holmes fans -- the arrival of those rare and exclusive invitations to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. How does that invitation process work? Here's a flow chart from the current head of the group:

It starts with all Sherlock Holmes fans across the entire Earth. The next step is eliminating all those Sherlock Holmes fans who aren't known to a current member of the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. Next comes the elimination of all those Holmes fans who don't, for whatever reason, inspire a current member of the B.S.I. to writer a recommendation letter to the current head of the group.

Once all that has taken place, and the entire world's population has been whittled down to a number of two or three digits, the current commander-in-chief of the Baker Street Irregulars takes over and decides who among that list is invited to the annual New York dinner, and then who among that list is handed a shilling of membership.

For the past twenty-nine years, that membership and invitation list has been held at what is considered an optimal level by one of two individuals, serving successively as gatekeeper to the club. It's one of those pope in Rome, king on his throne, el dictador en casa, sort of situations that some folks feel good under, and others, not so much.

After twenty-nine years of a hand-picked membership by the single leader, one has to wonder if a more democratic membership process might be entrusted to that select body. But then again, perhaps they're all pleased with the status quo. There's a tradition there, but as we all know, it was once a tradition to only let one woman into the dinner and then throw her out after the cocktail party until 1991. Traditions are slow to change. ("Like turning a train," according to one wise soul much younger than mine.)

Yet at this time of year, an elder Sherlockian who isn't into such things still finds himself pausing to think about them.


  1. money talks... perhaps they should have an open membership with dues...those who really want to join can, and fill the B.S.I. coffers. I'm cheap... I still wouldn't be in.

  2. Just to be clear - because your post only had a passing mention of this - while the final decision may rest with the head of the BSI, it's a crowdsourced effort from the start.

    While the graphic makes it seem like it's a one person job, it ignores how the names get to the head of the BSI: he selects invitees for the dinner based on recommendations he receives. Indeed, in his letter, he was very clear about the importance of this part of the process:

    "Thanks to all of your who took the time and effort to submit recommendations for dinner invitations and investitures. They are deeply appreciated for it is impossible for a Wiggins to go everywhere, see everything and meet everyone without other fellow Irregulars picking up the challenge of adding new members to make the society even stronger in the future than it has ever been."

    1. Recommendations from the group, yes. But the final decision still lies in the hands of the one individual, who can pick and choose from said recommendations upon their personal preferences. In the end, it is a one person job and not a true democratic process, however kindly it may be phrased.

  3. "After twenty-nine years of a hand-picked membership by the single leader, one has to wonder if a more democratic membership process might be entrusted to that select body."

    I believe that BSI investitures have been hand-picked by a single leader for about 70 years, and there has never been a pretense of a "true democratic process" any more than a knighthood is by popular election.