Archive for March, 2011

Holmes on Television – Part 1: 1937 to 1970

The first appearance of Holmes on television was in the USA.

Louis (or Luis)  Hector, who had played Holmes on the radio from 1934 to 1935, played Holmes alongside William Podmore as me in “The Three  Garridebs” an adaptation of the story from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes”. David Stuart Davies’ excellent book, “Starring Sherlock Holmes”, gives a fairly detailed account of this black and white, 30 minute, first appearance broadcast by NBC on the 27th November 1937.

It was another 12 years, in 1949, before Holmes appeared again on television. Again this was in the US and was an adaptation of “The Speckled Band” with Alan Napier as Holmes and Melville Cooper as me in a 28 minute broadcast on CBS. Alan Napier would later play Batman’s manservant Alfred in the Adam West Batman’s series in the 1960s.

Three years later on the 29th July 1951, Holmes appeared for the first time on British television on the BBC in a children’s programme, “For the Children – The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” with Andrew Osborn as Holmes and Philip King as me.

Later that year Holmes appeared in six 30 minutes adaptations on the BBC in a series entitled “We present Alan Wheatley as Mr Sherlock Holmes in …”. Alan Wheatley would be later remembered for playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in the television series “Robin Hood” alongside Richard Greene (who played Sir Henry Baskerville in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce). This series included “The Empty House” (broadcast on the 20th October 1951), “A Scandal in Bohemia” (27th October), “The Dying Detective” (3rd November), “The Reigate Squires” (17th November 1951), “The Red-Headed League” (24th November) and finally “The Second Stain” (1st December). I was played by Raymond Francis, whom British readers may remember as Chief Inspector Lockhart in the series about Scotland Yard called “No Hiding Place”.

A couple of years later in the US, Basil Rathbone appeared as Holmes in a 30 minute pastiche (the first television programme to stray from the Canon). This CBS broadcast on the 26th May 1953 was entitled “Suspense: The Adventure of the Black Baronet” in which I was played by Martyn Green as Nigel Bruce was too ill (he died later that year). The story was written by John Dickson Carr and Adrian Conan Doyle, son of Sir Arthur.

The following year in the US there was the first major series of Holmes adventures on television. This starred Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as me (he had played Holmes on the radio in Britain). These are mainly pastiches with one story, “The Red-Headed League”, from the Canon. All 39 episodes were about 25 minutes long and were broadcast weekly stretching over a whole year from the 18th October 1954 to the last episode on the 17th October 1955.

Nothing was seen of Holmes on television for the next nine years until Douglas Wilmer appeared as Holmes in “Detective: The Speckled Band” on BBC1 in the UK on the 18th May 1964. Nigel Stock was Watson. This was one of a series of stories featuring different detectives. The BBC was looking for something to follow their succesful “Maigret” series, which had starred Rupert Davies who introduced each programme in the Detective series. The following year, twelve more Holmes adventures, all from the Canon, appeared on the BBC in 50 minute episodes with the Wilmer and Stock pairing.

Then there was a three-year gap before Holmes appeared again in the BBC series “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes” series of 16 adaptations from the Canon. Peter Cushing replaced Douglas Wilmer as Holmes but Nigel Stock was Watson again. All sixteen were shown on the BBC1 in 1968 and 12 of them were shown again, this time in colour, on BBC2 in 1970. The really sad fact about this series is that only 5 episodes remain (A Study in Scarlet, both parts of  The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Sign of Four and The Blue Carbuncle). It was BBC policy at the time to wipe and re-use tapes once they were judged to be of no further use. This seems very short-sighted now but the first domestic video recorders were still a couple of years away.

In the next part of this series, we enter the 1970s and we come across some rather questionable interpretations of Holmes’ adventures, as we make our way to the mid-1980s and encounter what some see as the best portrayal of Holmes on television or maybe on-screen anywhere . . .

DVDs available in the UK:

Ronald Howard – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Douglas Wilmer – Sherlock Holmes (only the US version available as an import)

Peter Cushing – The Sherlock Holmes Collection (only 5 of the series)

DVDs available in the US:

Ronald Howard – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Douglas Wilmer – Sherlock Holmes

Peter Cushing – The Sherlock Holmes Collection (only 5 of the series)

Books used in compiling this series:

UK: Starring Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies; Sherlock Holmes on Screen by Alan Barnes; Sherlock Holmes – A Centenary Celebration by Allen Eyles

USA: Starring Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies; Sherlock Holmes on Screen by Alan Barnes; Sherlock Holmes – A Centenary Celebration by Allen Eyles

The Official Papers Into The Matter Known As – “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Over Christmas I amassed a pile of books to review and one of these is this set of official documents, published by MX Publishing on behalf of Detective Inspector Kieron Freeburn (retd.) of New Scotland Yard. Freeburn discovered a dusty folio at an auction in Exeter. As a result of his examination of the contents he believes that they are the original police case files that detail the investigation by Scotland Yard  represented by our good friend, Inspector Lestrade and various members of the Devon County Constabulary into the story that I recalled under the title “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

This is the first time I have seen the witness statements, medical files and original police reports that chronicle the police view of the case covering the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, the killing of the hound and the tragic aftermath.

At the outset, I must state that I have not seen the original documents although I understand that the publishers have received a request from the USA to purchase the originals. The set I have been provided with (which you can obtain for yourselves here) are facsimilies of the originals which are said to be in a delicate condition. The author, possibly on the advice of the publisher, has decided to type up many of the documents in a copperplate script to make them easier to reproduce and read than the original handwritten and typed versions.

However, there do appear to be some discrepancies between these documents and my own records of the case. I am, in this repect, grateful to Roger Johnson of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, pointing out to me that the post mortem report on Sir Charles gives Sir Henry’s name; Selden’s name changes from Arthur to Albert; Mrs Lyons is referred to as Miss Lyons, and Barrymore once refers to his wife as his sister! Some of these errors may have occurred in the transcription from the orginals. In the original publication of my version of the events in the Strand, the death of Sir Charles were stated as occurring at the beginning of May. This was later changed to June when the account was published in book form but the police records still refer to these events as occurring in May rather than June. The “tone” of some of the police reports has, I think, something to do with the resentment that the police felt about Holmes becoming involved in the investigation.

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes and the volume on The Hound of the Baskervilles from the Sherlock Holmes Reference Library are useful aids in checking the validity of these documents. My own view is that whilst they do not shed any further light on the events they do provide a useful background to Holmes’ investigation and an insight into the official police view at the time.

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