Dame Jean Conan Doyle Biography: Part 1

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Dame Jean Conan Doyle was the second daughter and the last direct descendent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Born in 1912 to Conan Doyle and his second wife, Jean Leckie, Dame Jean was just 17 when her father died and remained devoted to his memory until her own death in 1997. She was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society and worked hard to refute inaccuracies made by Conan Doyle biographers throughout her life.

The following is used with permission of Jon Lellenberg and forms the postscript to the foreword of his book The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Ten years after the words above were published, on November 18, 1997, Jean Lena Annette Conan Doyle, DBE, AE, born December 12, 1912, and last in the direct line of Arthur Conan Doyle, died in London at the age of 84. The youngest of the three children of Sir Arthur’s second marriage, she and her brothers Denis and Adrian grew up in a close relationship with their famous father, and remained devoted to his memory all their lives.

Military Life and Service with the RAF

Seventeen years old when her father died in 1930, and just out of school without any settled plans, the deepening crisis abroad in the 1930s aroused in Dame Jean the military impulse of the Doyles, and she joined the Royal Air Force in 1938. She spent World War II involved first with radar and then with some of its most secret intelligence work. Upon the war’s end, she stayed on to make the RAF her career, in a series of increasingly responsible posts in the United Kingdom and Germany. In 1963, she became the ranking woman in the RAF, was appointed an Honorary Aide de Camp to the Queen, and received the feminine equivalent of knighthood. She retired in 1966, having married Air Vice Marshal Sir Geoffrey Bromet the year before, and becoming Lady Bromet as well as Dame Jean.

Conan Doyle Estate and Sherlock Holmes Copyright

For many years her father’s estate had been managed by her brothers. They spent their entire lives being their father’s sons, and Jean, as the youngest and female, was seldom consulted by them about literary or business matters. Nor did she seek to be in charge following her retirement from the RAF. Denis had already died in 1955, and when Adrian followed in 1970, Dame Jean and her sister-in-law Anna, Adrian’s widow, wanted to accept a holding company’s offer to manage the copyrights. But Denis’s widow Nina sued to require them to accept her bid for the copyrights, resulting in the sequestration of the family papers as security, and putting them out of reach for decades.

U.S. copyright law changed in 1978, extending protection for existing copyrights to seventy-five years from the original date of publication, and empowering Dame Jean, as her father’s surviving heir, to recapture them. Dame Jean neither sought nor welcomed this development. Her interests at this point in her life were her husband, and Service-oriented charitable organizations, like the Not Forgotten Association and the Royal Star and Garter Home, in whose work she was active.

But devotion to her father’s memory led her to conclude that she had no choice but to do what she could to restore the integrity of his work. She was not insensible to its financial value, but her priority was always quality control rather than income generation. She strove for uses of the characters which would enhance her father’s literary reputation, and welcomed ones which reminded people that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was more than Sherlock Holmes. And she kept a sense of humor about it, something for which her brothers had not been famous.

Conan Doyle Societies

Dame Jean’s efforts, frequent references to her in print, and her occasional writings and interviews about her father, did help bring about renewed recognition for Sir Arthur, including the welcome creation in 1989 of the Arthur Conan Doyle Society.

The old breach between the Conan Doyle Estate and the Baker Street Irregulars was also closed during these years. Her brothers had feuded with the BSI over its tongue-in-cheek consignment of their father to the role of Dr. Watson’s literary agent. Dame Jean, who ruefully and none too facetiously considered Sherlock Holmes the Conan Doyle family curse anyway, saw things differently. When in 1991 six women received investitures in the BSI, the first one was Dame Jean Conan Doyle.

Continued on page 2 >

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