Stephen Fry on the day Sir Arthur Conan Doyle met Oscar Wilde

While researching STV documentary The Search For Sherlock Holmes, presenter David Hayman went to meet the person who still holds the distinction of being the youngest ever member of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London - a certain fellow called Stephen Fry.

Having also played Oscar Wilde onstage and on film, there is perhaps no better person than Fry to talk about the occasion when Conan Doyle and Wilde first met at the Langham Hotel - a meeting that may have changed both their lives.

Talking about the dinner that took place at the very hotel they were speaking in, Fry said: “Well, there was an American literary magazine called Lippincott's Magazine, which I think was in Philadelphia.

“Anyway, it was an American magazine and it was run by a man named J.M. Stoddart, who was over in Britain talent-scouting, recruiting authors for his magazine.”

Fry added: “In fact, he invited to dinner in this very hotel two men who had never met. The young writer - both actually young, in their thirties - Arthur Conan Doyle, who had written A Study in Scarlet, one story of this detective.

“But this man, Conan Doyle, was a failed eye surgeon essentially. Round the corner is Harley Street from exactly where we are, literally runs straight down there, and he’d had a little place there and it hadn’t really taken off - it was obviously in the days of private practise - and he’d turned his hand to penmanship instead.

“So he’d written reasonably successfully, people knew who he was, he was going to be perhaps a significant writer - though no-one knew quite how significant - and then there was this blazing talent Oscar Wilde, who had gone to Oxford and established a reputation for himself, even as an undergraduate there were cartoons of him in Punch.

“And at that dinner two stories arose in the minds, or two commissions were made and a large sum of money was proposed by Stoddart to each, and each met for the first time and really liked each other - and that’s a surprise. It tells you a lot about Conan Doyle, and it tells you a lot about Wilde.”

Fry says he thinks the approval of a true literary man like Wilde emboldened Conan Doyle to write again.

Indeed, he thinks the influence may have been mutual, and that Conan Doyle may have reminded Wilde of 19th century writer Robert Louis Stevenson and made him think that he could write a novel with a hint of the supernatural, one which would allow him to tell a parable about good and evil and about decadence - which would have led him to penThe Picture of Dorian Gray.

Fry explained: “So they each came away having been commissioned to write books, and each then went on to pursue paths of enormous and illustrious literary fame.

"Wilde’s sadly ended in his personal life as a tragedy - though his reputation is of course as high now as it’s ever been, if not higher around the world - and Conan Doyle’s also. I don’t suppose there’ll ever be a day now until the crack of doom when Sherlock Holmes stories are out of print.”

Follow David Hayman on The Search for Sherlock Holmes, which airs on STV on Monday December 28 at 9pm.

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