July 2010. It is three weeks before the first series of Sherlock broadcasts on BBC One, and show creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are panicking. The BBC has suddenly brought forward the slot for their show “by a substantial amount”. As summer is already a difficult time to launch a series, Gatiss and Moffat are bewildered as to how they will promote it.
“We were sitting around with our heads in our hands,” Steven Moffat remembers, “going, ‘There isn’t enough time to do this. It will broadcast to no one.’ ”
This was when they joined Twitter.
“It was really only one step up from individually knocking on people’s doors and shouting, ‘Sherlock is coming!’ through their letter boxes,” Mark Gatiss explains. “We were almost… desperate.”
“What did we think we’d get?” Moffat muses.
“Four million viewers,” Gatiss replies.
“Four million viewers, tops, and a couple of nice broadsheet write-ups. That was our best-case scenario.”
On the night the debut episode – A Study in Pink – went out, the core cast and crew assembled at Moffat’s house in Kew to watch it, in a state of nervous tension.
Gathering around the wine – “a lot of wine” – were Martin Freeman (Dr Watson), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes), Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, the show’s producer, who is, handily, also married to Moffat, “which has, over the years, saved us a fortune on cabs”.
In the event, when Sherlock began, the Moffat party had to immediately pause it, as Benedict Cumberbatch still hadn’t arrived.
“He called us – he was stuck in a traffic jam on Baker Street,” Moffat recalls. “Sherlock Holmes, stuck on Baker Street! We couldn’t work out if that was a good sign or not.”
“I think he might have made that up, to be honest,” Gatiss says. “But it’s a really good lie.”
When Cumberbatch finally arrived, the party who made Sherlock watched the show ten minutes behind the rest of Britain.
“But we knew when the climax happened,” Gatiss beams, “because suddenly all our phones were going off, everyone texting, everyone phoning. I mean, exploding.”
“An hour later, I went and sat in the garden,” Moffat says, “and looked at Twitter. I saw that Benedict was trending worldwide on Twitter, Martin was trending worldwide, Sherlock itself was trending worldwide. And people were talking about it with this… passion. As if they were lifelong fans – when, of course, they’d not seen it 90 minutes ago. Everything had changed in 90 minutes.”
He pauses for a minute, still looking surprised.