The Irregular Special Players came about by accident as a result of a chance meeting at the Kent & East Sussex Railway in early 1992. Various members from the Sherlock Holmes society had been offered a publicity stand at an event held at Tenterden Town station which was attended by the actor Tom Baker (best-known as being the fourth, and some say best, Doctor Who). It was he who came up with the idea of having a murder mystery on their Wealden Pullman dining train, and he challenged us to produce a script for such an evening.
Six months later in the October of that year a group of seven members from the Sherlock Holmes Society plus one from the Pullman Society performed The Wealden Pullman Mystery. That night is perhaps most memorable for what went wrong … the railway had not formally advertised the evening as a murder mystery so when our actor ‘died’ on the carriage floor and the Pullman Steward asked if there was a ‘doctor in the house’ we were not expecting five doctors to come forward and offer their assistance before our own Doctor Watson made his appearance! Nor did we think that one of our actors would then trip over an obstacle and fall on top of the victim who in great pain and shock suddenly arose from the ‘dead’ to everyone’s surprise. Likewise never did we suppose that the actor who was supposed to brandish a clue in the form of a bottle in front of the audience would let go of it, which by chance would subsequently find its way out of the carriage window never to be seen again … and this was all in the first five minutes. At the end of the night our players were expecting the worst, but it transpired that the audience had enjoyed themselves so much that we were invited back for further adventures the following year … an arrangement which lasted until Covid some 30 years later.
The Irregular Special Players became established with our logo being designed in the shape of a Victorian train carriage door strap (to represent that first event on the Kent & East Sussex Railway). At the top of our shield are three pipes to signify that there is a complex mystery for Holmes to solve just as in the Conan Doyle story The Adventure of the Red Headed League when confronted by just such a problem Holmes says that ‘it is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes’. In the centre are comedy and tragedy drama masks since we are an acting company who has both these elements present in all our shows. At the bottom is a pair of crossed swords to represent murder, but with a magnifying glass on top to indicate murder detected. Finally our motto Solvitur Ambulando is more an instruction to our audience in that they will need to ‘walk about’ in order ‘to solve’ the mystery.
From those humble beginnings other trains followed our lead, and then boats, ships, hotels, restaurants and the like. Being unique in that we only perform Sherlock Holmes murder mysteries in full Victorian costume we have been fortunate enough to be invited to some of the finest country houses, manor houses, National Trust properties and so on where their period surroundings fit in perfectly with our events. We have performed everywhere from an embassy on the opening night of the London 2012 Olympics to people’s homes for private parties … and since Covid we now have an online offering too. Our actors are not only members of Sherlock Holmes societies, but also Equity members ensuring the highest standards of professionalism (unlike that first event in Tenterden).
Since 1992 we have ‘murdered’ 1,000’s of people in 1,000’s of events all over the country and internationally too. We have appeared on television, and were even filmed by Oscar winning director Ang Lee at a private performance in the States. With plots to suit every occasion (including a wake in one instance!) we remain as enthusiastic today about our murder mysteries as ever. We look forward to a continued ‘life of crime’ and sincerely hope that we might meet you soon at one of our forthcoming events.