The central figure in each of these mysteries is Oscar Wilde - playwright, poet, wit, raconteur, detective . . .
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, on 16 October, 1854. He was the
second son of Sir William Wilde, an eminent Irish surgeon, and Jane Francesca Wilde, née Elgee, a poet, author and translator,
who wrote under the pseudonym ’Speranza’. Oscar Wilde was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskkillen, at Trinity
College, Dublin, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he achieved a double first and, for his poem Ravenna, won the Newdigate
Prize for Poetry. On leaving Oxford, he settled in London and embarked on a career as a professional writer, critic and journalist.
His play Vera was published in 1880 and his Poems appeared in 1881.
In 1881, Richard D’Oyly Carte presented the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, Patience, satirising Oscar and his fellow
’aesthetes’. Its success, and Wilde’s celebrity, led D’Oyly Carte to invite the young author, aged 28,
to undertake an extensive lecture tour of North America at the beginning of 1882. In 1883, Wilde spent several months in Paris,
working on his play, The Duchess of Padua, and meeting, among others, Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, Emile Zola and Robert Sherard.
On 29 May 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, the daughter of a noted Irish QC, and set up home at 16 Tite Street, Chelsea. Their sons,
Cyril and Vyvyan, were born in 1885 and 1887.
Wilde’s story, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, appeared in 1887, followed, in 1888, by The Happy Prince and Other Tales
and, in 1889 and 1890, more controversially, by The Portrait of Mr W H and The Picture of Dorian Gray. The first of his successful
social comedies, Lady Windermere’s Fan, was produced in London in 1892, followed by A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband
(1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).
In 1891 Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, the third son of the then Marquess of Queensberry. In 1895 Queensberry left a card for
Wilde at the Albermarle Club accusing him of ’posing Somdomite’ (sic) and provoking Wilde to sue Queensberry for criminal libel.
The failure of the libel action led to Wilde’s own prosecution on charges of gross indecency. On 25 May 1895 he was found guilty and
sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour. Released from gaol on 19 May 1897, Wilde travelled immediately to France and spent
the rest of his life on the Continent. His poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, was published in 1898, and his confessional letter, De Profundis, was
published posthumously, in 1905. Constance Wilde died in Genoa on 7 April 1898, following an operation on her spine. Oscar Wilde died in Paris on
30 November 1900. He was buried at Bagneux Cemetery. In 1909 his remains were moved to the French national cemetery of Père Lachaise.
The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries are inspired by Oscar Wilde’s friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Wilde and Conan Doyle first met at the Langham Hotel in London in August 1889. Conan Doyle is the narrator of Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders.
The other books in the series are all narrated by Robert Sherard, Wilde’s first biographer.
Robert Harborough Sherard Kennedy was born in London on 3 December 1861, the fourth child of the Reverend Bennet Sherard Calcraft Kennedy.
His father was the illegitimate son of the sixth and last Earl of Harborough and his mother, Jane Stanley Wordsworth, was the grand-daughter
of the poet laureate, William Wordsworth (1770-1850). Robert was educated at Queen Elizabeth College, Guernsey, at New College, Oxford, and
at the University of Bonn, but he left both Oxford and Bonn without securing a degree. In 1880, having quarrelled with his father and lost his expected
inheritance, he abandoned his ’Kennedy’ surname.
In the early 1880s, Robert Sherard settled in Paris and set about earning his living as an author and journalist. He cultivated the acquaintance
of a number of the leading literary figures of the day, including Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, Alphone Daudet and Oscar Wilde. He published
thirty-three books during his lifetime, including a collection of poetry, Whispers (1884), novels, biographies, social studies (notably The White
Slaves of England, 1897), and five books inspired by his friendship with Oscar Wilde: Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship (1902); The Life of
Oscar Wilde, 1906; The Real Oscar Wilde, 1912; Oscar Wilde twice defended, 1934; and Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris and Oscar Wilde, 1936.
He was three times married and lived much of his life in France, where he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. He died in England, in
Ealing, on 30 January 1943.
In 1960, in Oscar Wilde and his world, Vyvyan Holland, Wilde’s younger son, gave this assessment of Robert Sherard: ’When they first
met . . . they felt they had nothing in common and disliked each other intently; but they gradually got together and became life-long friends.
Sherard wrote the first three biographical studies of Wilde after his death ... On these three books are based all the other biographies of Wilde, except
the so-called biography by Frank Harris, which is nothing else but the glorification of Frank Harris. Sherard got a great deal of his material from
Lady Wilde when she was a very old lady and was inclined to let her imagination run away with her, particularly where the family history was concerned;
and Sherard, a born journalist, was much more attracted by the interest of a story than by its accuracy, a failing which we can see running through all
his books. But where his actual contact with Wilde is concerned, he is quite reliable.’
Gyles Brandreth was born on 8 March 1948 in Germany, where his father, Charles Brandreth, was serving as a legal officer with the Allied Control
Commission and counted among his colleagues H Montgomery Hyde, who published the first full account of the trials of Oscar Wilde in 1948. In 1974, Gyles
Brandreth produced The Trials of Oscar Wilde (with Tom Baker as Wilde) at the Oxford Theatre Festival and, in 2000, edited the transcripts of the trials for
an audio production featuring Martin Jarvis.
Gyles Brandreth was educated at the Lycée Français de Londres, at Betteshanger School in Kent, and at Bedales in Hampshire where the school’s founder,
J H Badley (1865-1967), provided him with a series of vivid personal accounts of Oscar Wilde’s conversational style. Badley was a friend of the
Wildes and their son Cyril was a pupil at Bedales at the time of Oscar’s arrest. Gyles Brandreth went on (like Robert Sherard) to New College, Oxford
(where he was a scholar, President of the Union and editor of the university magazine) and then (again like Sherard) embarked on a career as an author and
journalist. His first book was a study of prison reform (Created in Captivity, 1972); his first biography was a portrait of the Victorian music-hall star,
Dan Leno (The Funniest Man on Earth, 1974). More recently he has published a biography of Sir John Gielgud, an acclaimed diary of his years as an MP and
government whip (Breaking the Code: Westminster Diaries 1990-97) and two best-selling royal biographies: Philip & Elizabeth: Portrait of a Marriage
and Charles & Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair. In 2010 John Murray (who published Arthur Conan Doyle), published Gyles Brandreth’s diaries covering
the years 1959 to 2000 under the title Something Sensational to Read in the Train - a phrase borrowed from The Importance of Being Earnest.
Robert Sherard’s forebears included William Wordsworth. Gyles Brandreth’s include a less eminent poet, George R Sims (1847-1922),
who wrote the ballads Billy’s dead and gone to glory and Christmas Day in the workhouse, and was the first journalist to claim to know the true
identity of ’Jack the Ripper’. Sims, a kinsman of the Empress Eugénie and an acquaintance of both Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, was
probably the first ’celebrity columnist’ and well-known in his day for his endorsement of an ’infallible cure for baldness’
known at ’Tatcho, The Geo R Sims Hair Restorer’.
As an actor Gyles Brandreth has appeared in pantomime and Shakespeare, and, most recently, as Lady Bracknell in a musical adaptation of The Importance
of Being Earnest. As a broadcaster, he has presented numerous series for BBC Radio 4, including A Rhyme in Time, Sound Advice, Wordaholics and Whispers -
coincidentally the title of Robert Sherard’s first collection of poetry. He has featured on Desert Island Discs and nowadays is probably best known in
the UK as a regular on Just a Minute (BBC Radio 4) and a reporter on The One Show (BBC 1). A regular on the Channel 4 word game Countdown, his television
appearances have ranged from being guest host on Have I Got News for You to being the subject of This Is Your Life. With Hinge & Bracket he scripted the
TV series, Dear Ladies; with Julian Slade he wrote a play about A A Milne (featuring Aled Jones as Christopher Robin); and, with Susannah Pearse he has
written a play about Lewis Carroll and the actress Isa Bowman. He is married to the writer and publisher, Michèle Brown, and they have three children -
a barrister, a writer and an environmental economist.
Oscar Wilde died in a small, first-floor room at L’Hôtel d’Alsace, 13 rue des Beaux-Arts, in Paris, at approximately 1.45 pm
on 30 November 1900. Exactly one hundred years later, at the same time, on the same date, in the same room, Gyles and Michèle Brandreth were among
a small group who gathered to mark the centenary of his passing and to honour a most remarkable man, whose greatest play, according to Frank Harris,
was his own life: ’a five-act tragedy with Greek implications, and he was its most ardent spectator’. In 2010, Gyles Brandreth unveiled
the plaque commemorating the first meeting of Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle at the Langham Hotel, London.
Visit Gyles Brandreth’s website: www.gylesbrandreth.net
Gyles Brandreth as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest
Gyles Brandreth visiting 221B Baker Street, London
Merlin Holland and Gyles Brandreth at the unveiling of James Matthews’ bronze of Lady Bracknell