published originally in the 1999 Baker Street Journal Christmas Annual, THE BEST OF THE PIPS, Volume II:  More Papers on the Sundial

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“Arthur Cadogan West”

The Five Orange Pips has been more private than most Sherlockian societies. It has given an account of itself only twice before, without lifting the veil of discretion very high either time.“While The Pips is not a secret Society,” wrote our founding father, Richard W. Clarke, in his introduction to The Best of the Pips, 1956, “we have con-stantly maintained a passion for anonymity. We have scorned the spotlight and avoided the publicists.” He reiterated that policy in a similarly brief 1961 Baker Street Journal article, “The Five Orange Pips,” and not much about the Pips has been added to the public record since then.1

    But time passes. Given the accumulation of Pipsarchives now in hand, notably the papers of Jephro Rucastle, Reginald Musgrave, and Roaring Jack Woodley, and in the spirit of the mandatory declassification reviews which impose upon my secular life at the Arsenal, it is time to disclose a few additional details about the Pips’ first few decades. It may be stated with assurance now that those years began in 1935. While Dick Clarke’s two published articles left it unclear whether The Five Orange Pips had been founded in 1934 or ‘35, his 1950 dinner notice settles the point by referring to that year as the Pips’ 15th anniversary, and stating firmly that “Our organization was established in 1935.”

    Another point made clear is that it had nothing to do with the BSI founded the year before. No evidence suggests that the five founding Pips were even aware of the BSI’s existence at the time. And when they did become aware of it, they did not leap to salute it as the senior society. None of them deigned to attend the BSI’s annual dinners until 1945, ten years later, and not until several years after that did they consent to a scionic link to the BSI. (The “of Westchester County” appended to the name of The Five Orange Pips, in the BSJ and elsewhere, did not appear until the end of the 1940s, and long ago ceased to be meaningful.)

Pips at the 1947 BSI dinner. Seated clockwise in the foreground from bottom center:

Norman Ward, Belden Wigglesworth, Frank Waters, Benjamin S. Clark,

Richard W. Clarke, James R. Hunt, Phelps Frisbie, Owen Frisbie.

Linkage to the BSI, individually or as a society, was the work of the Sixth Pip, Edgar W. Smith, who was enpipped in 1938. It is regrettable that we do not know how he and the Pips first crossed paths. But it is a point of distinction for The Five Orange Pips that Smith, who was so much to the BSI for so long, was a Pip first. In 1936, he had written a letter of appreciation to the author of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Vincent Starrett was away at the time, and it was a year before he returned home to find Smith’s letter. Smith learned of the BSI from Starrett, and finally wrote to Christopher Morley in August 1938. But the BSI did not meet again until January 1940. By that time, Smith had been a Pip for more than a year.

    As the revived BSI’s “Buttons,” Smith compiled a membership list for it dated December 5, 1940. Of the 48 names on it, the sole Pip (out of seven, for Benjamin S. Clark had become one earlier that year) was Smith himself. A separate list of the same date headed “Membership - Five Orange Pips” gave names, addresses and noms de Canon of Gordon Knox Bell (“Henry Baker”), Richard W. Clarke (“Jephro Rucastle”), Owen P. Frisbie (“Reginald Musgrave”), Norman Ward (“Victor Trevor”), Frank Waters (“Roaring Jack Woodley”), Benjamin S. Clark (“Sir Henry Baskerville”), and Edgar W. Smith (“Thorneycroft Huxtable”). No more proof is needed that The Five Orange Pips thought of themselves in those days as a separate and equal Sherlock Holmes society. (As to what Pips think today, we lower the veil of discretion again.)

    The next Pips membership list we have was prepared by Dick Clarke in 1953. It included a new generation of Pips consisting of William Harmon Beers, Thayer Cumings, James R. Hunt Jr., Ellery Husted, and James Montgomery. A separate slip gave abbreviated noms for them: “Gottsreich” for Montgomery, “Openshaw” for Cumings, and “McMurdo” for Hunt. Husted had not chosen one at that time. Colonel Beers had died in 1949, but that year’s dinner menu gives his as “John H. Watson, M.D.” Pips select their own alter egoes. “Kindly decide whom you think you most resemble in person and character,” Dick Clarke wrote to Ben Clark in 1940, “and, if this name has not already been taken, it will become your official title.” The custom, in place by the middle of 1935, very likely influenced Edgar W. Smith’s adoption in 1944 of Titular Investitures to denote membership in the BSI. In more recent years, echoes of one’s secular vocation have been heard in Pips' titles as well.

   In his 1961 BSJ essay, Dick Clarke chuckled about “setting the pips on the members of our revered rival societies.” One target was Dr. Gray Chandler Briggs of St. Louis, discoverer of Camden House in Baker Street, who found the pips set on him in May 1936. “I have no objection to you New York ‘Litterateurs’ spoofing me,” he replied, “and I have no inkling as to your purpose in putting me on the receiving end of what my old and dear friend Gillette calls ‘a midnight carnival.’” In November 1937, Clarke sent a pained letter to Heywood Broun of the New York World-Telegram demanding that he retract a statement attributing “Quick Watson, the needle” to Sherlock Holmes. It read in part:

Our organization is a serious one, seldom interfering with studies of the great master. But when he is criticized for remarks he did not make, it is time to take steps. While I cannot speak for our colleagues, the Baker Street Irregulars, I am confident they would approve our censure of this singularly flagrant misrepre-sentation.

But less respect for the BSI was paid in a later, March 1941, letter to the New York Times. Responding to its report of January’s BSI dinner, where Rex Stout shocked the Irregulars with his charge that Watson was a woman, Clarke began his indignant observations with the remark: “For several years the members of our organization have looked with good humored tolerance at the puerile essays of some of the mem-bers of the Baker Street Irregulars.”2

Certainly we Pips try to be on the cutting edge of canonical scholarship. Our practice of each Pip reading a scholarly paper at each of our annual dinners dates back to 1939 — when originally Pips were required to write Sherlock Holmes stories based on the unrecorded cases. Owen Frisbie reminded others that year that they had agreed to each select and record a case as Dr. Watson would have, and read them at that year’s dinner. (“I am inclined to think,” murmured Frank Waters to Frisbie, “that we may all be a trifle ambitious.”) In 1940, the dinner notice said that the new Pip, Ben Clark, was “busily engaged in writing The Singular Affair of the Aluminium Crutch,” but the custom had begun to take on its final shape, for Pips were advised that “some latitude is being shown the members this year and the writing of a story is not a requisite. Said work, however, must be substituted for by the offering of a thesis, poem, commentary, or other literary work worthy of the subject.” Pips put their papers on the sundial each year to this day.

    Europe was at war by then, and storm clouds were gathering in the Pacific. On November 21, 1941, Edgar W. Smith wrote to the Pips on the letterhead of the Basking Ridge, N.J., holiday house he had dubbed Thorneycroft. Calling it now the Priory School-in-Exile, he summoned the Pips to dinner there on Friday, December 12. That dinner did not take place, due to certain rude acts by the Empire of Japan at the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7th:

I regret exceedingly [Smith wrote the Pips later] that circumstances should have conspired to make inexpedient our little gathering last week at the Priory School-in-Exile. If we had read the Sacred Writings more closely, perhaps we could have foreseen the development of the unholy alliance that has turned our whole world topsy-turvy — need I remind you of the close knowledge of things Japanese possessed by the unspeakable Baron Gruner and the reverence in which he seemed to hold the Emperor Shomu and the Shoso-in near Nara?

    Smith tentatively rescheduled for the spring of 1942, but, as it turned out, there was a hiatus for the duration of the war, which absorbed their energies and sent some Pips off to distant corners of the world. We hear next from Dick Clarke in October 1943, off in the Navy, in a letter to Smith relating a wartime anecdote: “My son, who un-fortunately did not do well at your school, has been for several years in the Foreign Legion, and at the present writing is killing Germans in Corsica. He always was a cute little rascal. How he loved to kill grasshoppers, smack - smack - smack.”

“When the war is over,” Smith wrote to Owen Frisbie in April 1944, “it is very important that we begin to reconvene the sessions of this organization, which Chris Morley refers to in his ‘Clinical Notes’ as ‘that institution of higher learning.’” The war ended in 1945, and peaceful pursuits prevailed once more. But the 1947 dinner at Smith’s home in Summit, N.J., indicated that wartime conditions had inflicted some damage upon Pips traditions, for Smith wrote that “if [emphasis added] you have prepared any papers or memorabilia which may be appropriate for presentation on the occasion, every opportunity will of course be afforded to make them available for our common delight.” What’s more, Smith continued, “the postwar austerity will rule out evening dress.” Ben Clark acted to restore it in 1952 when the dinner was to be at his home, adding to his notice the postscript “Black tie, if convenient.” I trust that each Pip of that day filled in the missing words without hesitation: “if inconvenient, black tie all the same.” But something happened to cancel this dinner, in favor of one under Jim Montgomery’s auspices at a New York club. He also said “Black tie if convenient,” but by 1955, that year’s notice from Tax Cumings read “Black tie, as usual.” Their better instincts had reasserted themselves.

Pips at the 1949 BSI dinner, from bottom up:

William Harmon Beers, Frank Waters, Norman Ward, Benjamin S. Clark, Owen Frisbie, Peter Greig, Robert G. Harris, Richard W. Clarke, and John Stanley.

    One Pip previously veiled in mystery is a story for which the world may now be prepared. James Ramsay Hunt, Jr., known to his comrades as McMurdo, was en-pipped in 1945, and attended the 1946 and ’47 BSI dinners as well. A clandestine side was hinted at by both his alias and Dick Clarke’s remark in a 1950 letter to the Pips, that dinner was to have been in May, “but unfortunately our host, McMurdo, was sent to the California lands on a lengthy and important case for the Pinkertons.” Hunt had been an investment banker before the war, but Naval Intelligence service proved a lasting indoctrination, and he returned to civilian life as the chief of the “New York Contact Branch,” part of the Central Intelligence Group, the OSS’s successor and CIA’s precursor. In 1951 Hunt moved to Washington D.C. to become special assistant for covert operations to Allen Dulles, in the CIA branch of what Joseph Alsop called the Wasp Ascendancy. After some ten years in the Director’s office, and as chief of station in Paris, Hunt became deputy chief of clandestine operations at CIA, and finally deputy chief of counter-intelligence there to the truly spooky James Jesus Angleton. He retired in 1969, and died in Sarasota, Florida in 1979.

    Besides some of the Pips named above, our ranks have included such other illustrious members of our fraternal society, the Baker Street Irregulars, as William S. Baring-Gould, Evan Wilson, H. C. Potter, Julian Wolff, William P. Schweikert, and Edward F. Clark Jr. When Ben Clark died six years ago, our last direct tie to our founders’ era was severed. But today’s Pips honor their traditions. Our annual gathering is now firmly ensconced in autumn mists, and has been held at the same private club on Murray Hill for the past five years. Membership has never exceeded ten at any time, for no greater number could possibly satisfy the scholarly requirements in the time available at our dinners, nor permit the intimate sodality which means so much to Pips. Our papers are necessarily concise, imposing challenging standards of tight construction and precise writing, in addition to originality of concept and elegance of expression. Our dinners are cocktails and cigars, elaborate cuisine and fine wines, crisp linen, bone china, and polished silver, banter and repartee of a high order, erudition not unmixed with zeal, an occasional infusion of sentiment, and a strong sense of fellowship. The Pips are now in our sixty-fifth year, and anticipate going on this way forever, the one fixed point in a changing age.


    1 Completists will also want to read Benjamin S. Clark’s “Some Brief Recollections of a Pip,” Baker Street Journal, September 1987.

  2  “I read with some feelings of sadness your observations concerning Dr. Watson,” Owen Frisbie wrote to Rex Stout on March 31, 1941, essaying a gentle approach, to no avail. “I am sorry that you are sad, but I will not budge or falter,” Stout retorted the next day. “Sentimental die-hards have always been saddened by the brave march of scientific truth; they spat upon Galileo, Jenner, Darwin, Freud. I knew I was joining their company when I wrote that piece, but I love truth more than life.”

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