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Raffles The Gentleman Thief

Athletic, attractive, amorous and villainous, A J Raffles is virtually the mirror-image of Sherlock Holmes.

Small wonder, considering that he was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brother in law E W Hornung. The master thief shares his Christian name with Holmes' creator, and the 1892 Conan Doyle story The Doings of Raffles Haw may have provided his surname. The dedication for the first volume of Raffles adventures The Amateur Cracksman reads: "To A. C. D. this form of flattery".

In his autobiography, Conan Doyle wrote: "I think I may claim that his famous character Raffles was a kind of inversion of Sherlock Holmes, Bunny playing Watson. He admits as much in his kindly dedication." Bunny is Bunny Manders, real name Harry, Raffles' friend from his schooldays. Bunny inherited money, and the two lost touch. But he couldn't hold onto his wealth, and on March 15th 1891, he knocks at Raffles' door seeking his old pal's help. The response he receives isn't quite what he hoped for "Do you think that because a fellow has rooms in this place, and belongs to a club or two, and plays a little cricket, he must necessarily have a balance at the bank? I tell you, my dear man, that at this moment I'm as hard up as ever you were. I have nothing but my wits to live on absolutely nothing else." Raffles agrees to help, but as Bunny discovers when they enter a Bond Street jeweller's in the dead of night, his brand of assistance is far from conventional. Their destinies are joined that night, and Hornung charts their adventures in two further collections, The Black Mask and A Thief in the Night.

Raffles is one of England's most celebrated gentlemen cricketers, but his taste for the high life is more than he can afford legally. His philosophy is very simple: "Why should I work when I could steal?" he asks in The Ides of March. "Why settle down to some humdrum uncongenial billet, when excitement, romance, danger, and a decent living were all going begging together. Of course, it's very wrong, but we can't all be moralists, and the distribution of wealth is very wrong to begin with." Raffles has been played on film by Ronald Colman and David Niven and on television by Anthony Valentine and Nigel Havers.

Imagination Theater's new series sees the character returning to American radio for the first time in over sixty years. In the coming months, you'll hear faithful recreations of the stories of E W Hornung, as well as some new adventures for the master thief and his pal. So light up a Sullivan and raise your glasses to Raffles and Bunny: two fellows who were very, very good at being bad.

 

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