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Holmes Christmas List 2016

It has been a very busy year with the research for my book on Holmes on the British radio unearthing new details that need further investigation and so little time has been devoted to anything else, including this website.

Anyway, whilst Mrs Hudson is busy in the kitchen, I can tell you about the first book that I want to put on this year’s list of presents for afficianados of the world’s first consulting detective.

murder_of_mary_russellThe Murder of Mary Russell is the latest in the series of Russell’s memoirs and is one of those books that once you start it you will find it difficult to put down.

The possibility of Russell’s demise is not the real surprise of the book – it’s when a man comes to the door one morning, claiming to be Mrs Hudson’s son. The book took me by surprise but not Holmes, Hudson and Russell who were in one its secrets long before me.

You can find my review here.

Also this year, we have had The Marriage of Mary Russel where Russell and Sherlock Holmes embark upon the riskiest adventure of their partnership – their wedding. Note that this is only for the Kindle.51nu0phixxl

51ordqivl-l-_sy346_Also, but so far only available on Kindle in the UK (publishing problems have pushed the book back to April next year) is Mary Russell’s War containing nine short stories, seven of which have never previously been available in print, and one brand new, never-before-seen Sherlock Holmes mystery.  

They begin with England’s declaration of war in 1914 from Russell’s teenage diaries where she tells of tracking German spies through San Francisco, and then an unimaginable tragedy strikes.

On a much lighter note, Eve Titus’s Basil of Baker Street stories are being republished.

basil-of-baker-street-9781481464017_hrThose who still enjoy the film Basil The Great Mouse Detective (listen carefully at the beginning for the unmistakeable voice of Basil Rathbone upstairs in 221B and look out for the charming portrayal of Toby the dog) will be pleased to know that all five books of the original stories are being republished – three so far and the remainder in 2017.

The stories comprise Basil of Baker Street (first published in 1958 republished 2016), Basil and the Lost Colony (1964 republished 2017), Basil and the Pygmy Cats (1971 republished 2016), Basil in Mexico (1976 republished 2016) and Basil in the Wild West (1982 republished 2017).

Last Christmas, I mentioned the first three volumes of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. Now there are two more.

mx-part-vThe first, Part IV: 2016 Annual was published in May and the latest Part V: Christmas Adventures is published on November 21st.  As before all the royalties from these collections are being donated by the writers for the benefit of the preservation of Undershaw, one of the former homes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Benedict Cumberbatch is certain to go down in history for one of the great portrayals of Holmes. Whether and for how long the BBC Sherlock will last is unclear but if you want to know more about Cumberbatch then a biography is released later this month.

51xcv3l8vhl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Benedict Cumberbatch: London and Hollywood by Lynnette Porter covers his early success as a working actor through his dynamic trajectory to international star. 

That’s all for this year’s Christmas list – just a few books as there’s nothing that caught my eye in the video or games departments. We are waiting to see what the New Year will bring – especially in the new series of the BBC’s Sherlock . . . 

Sherlock Holmes Centenary (1987)

In celebration of 100 years of Holmes in 1987, the BBC broadcast a number of programmes relating to his legacy. The Radio Times for the week of December 5th to 11th, 1987 carries a drawing of Holmes on the cover and there are seven pages inside covering “Sherlock – A study in the science of sleuthing” by H R F Keating and other articles. You can see these articles and the cover by the courtesy of Altamont in his Markings.

The programmes broadcast that week included:

  • “Centenary, My Dear Watson” on BBC Radio 4 where we follow the men and women of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London who celebrated the centenary with a pilgrimage through Switzerland to the Reichenbach Falls. This programme can be heard here.
  • “Food and Drink” on BBC Two in which, as a change from Christmas Pudding, what about Plum Duff, the exclusive recipe of our housekeeper (or is it landlady?) Mrs Hudson
  • “The Case of Sherlock Holmes”, a 40 Minutes special on BBC Two (lasting an hour and ten minutes) in which Tim Pigott-Smith, who has played both of us, embarks on an investigation into why Holmes continues to fascinate. This programme can be seen here.
  • “The Hound of the Baskervilles”on BBC Two which was Basil Rathbone’s first film as Holmes, and the start of a new season of Rathbone as Holmes films on the BBC
  • “Out of Court” on BBC Two which carries out an investigation into vicious and ou-of-control dogs, citing the Hound as “an elementary matter for Sherlock Holmes to unravel”

Add to that a competition to win “a holiday for two near the Reichenbach Falls or a set of the new deluxe Super Cluedo Challenge”!

The only extra I have included here, courtesy of Mrs Hudson is her Plum Duff recipe:

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These are the competition questions

  1. What was Holmes chief adversary called?
  2. What was Conan Doyle’s profession?
  3. What nationality was Hercules Poirot?
  4. Which technical invention caught Dr Crippen?
  5. Who was Lord Peter Whimsey’s manservant?
  6. Which of the following is not a character in Waddington’s Cluedo board game? (a) Miss Scarlett (b) Dr Green (c) Professor Plum

I’m afraid the competition is now closed . . .

 

Murder By Decree

“The best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made” said Rex Reed of the New York Daily Times. I might want to argue with that as Basil Rathbone in The Hound of the Baskervilles takes a lot of beating. But this is certainly one of the best.

Christopher Plummer plays a slightly warmer Holmes but I think he overdoes the theatrical garb of deerstalker, Inverness cape and Meerschaum a bit. James Mason is one of the best screen versions of me being more intelligent than most, although towards the end of the film there is a humorous moment involving me chasing a pea across my dinner plate! The friendship between us comes across well.

The scenery is superb with excellent views of London. Few people realise the stark contrast between the grandeur of the area north of the river  and the squalor to the south of the river and the East End in particular.

Holmes’ involvement in the Ripper murders in 1888 has never been made public and so fictional accounts number almost as many as the theories about who Jack the Ripper actually was. The title of this film is an indication of who, it is suggested, is the culprit. Holmes deductive powers are not much in evidence in the film (except for the mystery of the grape stalk) and the real clue to his identity comes from Mary Kelly, the last of his victims, not long before she is gruesomely murdered. The puzzle as to why the five victims were so mutilated is explained in the film along with the prior cause of all five murders. These were not the only murders around this time (and place) and the reason why these five in particular were murdered, and maybe why Elizabeth Stride’s murder may not have been by the same person can be explained by the story in this film. The book on which the film is based, The Ripper File, by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd is itself based on their six, 50 minute documentaries on the subject.

The film, which about two hours long, is fairly evenly paced and builds to a dramatic climax about fifteen minutes before the end. The last part of the film is a classic denouement with Holmes giving an excellent speech and no quarter despite the standing of those present.

This new version, on DVD, is a great improvement on earlier releases in terms of quality. There are no “extras” though on the DVD.

England’s Secret Weapon

“It is midnight. Clouds scud across the face of the Houses of Parliament as Big Ben begins its familiar chime . . . ”

So begins the Introduction to Amanda J Field’s book, England’s Secret Weapon, about the wartime films in which Basil Rathbone played Holmes.

This book provides a fresh insight into the performances that, for many, made Rathbone “The Definitive Holmes“.

Field is a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and a volunteer at the Portsmouth Museum where she is helping to catalogue Richard Lancelyn Green’s immense collection of memorabilia. Field is a film historian and the book is principally concerned with where the fourteen films fit within the times they were made and the films genres they represent.

But before that she provides a wonderful introduction to Holmes on the screen.

Holmes had been portrayed in various media (books, radio, films, etc.) for over forty years with at least twenty-two other actors taking on the role, each one adding something of their own to my original description, a deerstalker hat (drawn by Sidney Paget in an illustration in The Boscombe Valley Mystery), a calabash pipe (added by William Gillette), etc. But it was Basil Rathbone’s portrayal that for many became, and has remained, the standard against which all others are assessed. At the same time as these films were produced, Rathbone and Bruce continued to play us on the radio, with the result that Rathbone was more often referred to as Holmes by the general public than by his own name. I have referred to these radio broadcasts in my series about Holmes on the radio and in reviews of these broadcasts as issued in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Volumes I, II and III.

Field’s analysis provides some interesting insights.

Firstly that each film used 221B as a sort of “time capsule” to represent the certainty surrounding Holmes and everything he stands for and we would retreat into the relative safety of our lodgings when necessary before venturing forth again to do battle with the foe. In discussing this with an associate, he drew a parallel with the BBC Doctor Who series in which the Doctor can always retreat to the Tardis for safety. There is also scenes in each of the films where there is a contrast between what the characters are wearing to reflect their different beliefs. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles where Dr Mortimer is meeting Sir Henry as he disembarked, Mortimer is wearing Victorian costume and Sir Henry is wearing more contemporary clothes.

Secondly she questions the assumption that Twentieth Century Fox had lost interest in Holmes after making  The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, both set in Victorian times. It may have been more to do with the money-making aspirations of Arthur’s sons Denis and Adrian (who have been described as “spendthrift playboys”) than any lost of interest.

Most interesting of all is the separation of the fourteen films into four key themes:

  1. The Victorian setting of the first two films – The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  2. The war-themed films of 1942 and 1943 – Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon and Sherlock Holmes in Washington
  3. The gothic films – Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, The Scarlet Claw, and The House of Fear
  4. The appearance of the female villain – Spider Woman, The Pearl of Death, The Woman in Green and Dressed to Kill

These four groupings show an initial desire to bring Holmes to the screen in his normal historical settings and then to use his values as propaganda during the Second World War – cleverly keeping 221B within the Victorian setting to emphasise this. Then moving into horror as an escape from the war and finally recognising the changes in the role of women and their place in society following the war.

Her analysis shows there is much more to be read in these films than I had before realised, so I plan to view them again soon.

The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Volume III

Volume III of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes brings us another mixture of stories from the Canon (The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Speckled Band) and pastiches including stories that I mentioned but never published (The Tankerville Club and The Camberwell Poisoners) and some completely new stories all from the prolific Anthony Boucher and Denis Green. The recordings are, as usual, complete with the war-time announcements, original narrations and radio commercials. The quality on some of them is not perfect (they are the same transcriptions that appeared on the original cassette versions) but this should not mar your enjoyment.

Again we have twelve broadcasts with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as me (never quite as bumbling as he was in the films) except for one story where Eric Snowden took Bruce’s place as he was ill. The details on the packaging lack the actual broadcast dates but I will fill those in for you.

Disc 1 – Introduced by Ben Wright

The Murder in the Casbah (based on a reference in SCAN and broadcast December 3rd 1945)

The Tankerville Club (based on a reference in FIVE and broadcast April 22nd 1946)

Disk 2 – Introduced by Harry Bartell

The Strange Case of the Murderer in Wax (based on a reference in SECO and broadcast January 7th 1946)

The Man with the Twisted Lip (broadcast May 6th 1946)

Disc 3 – Introduced by BenWright

The Guileless Gypsy (based on a reference in REDC and broadcast February 11th 1946)

The Camberwell Poisoners (based on a reference in FIVE although the disc and the box carry the title incorrectly as ‘The Camberville Poisoners’, and broadcast February 18th 1946)

Disc 4 – Introduced by Harry Bartell

The Terrifying Cats (based on a reference in BLAC and broadcast February 25th 1946. In this episode my part is taken by Eric Snowden as Nigel Bruce was ill. Snowden was later to play me in a later series with Ben Wright as Holmes). These facts are not disclosed on the CD or the box!

The Submarine Caves (based on a reference in BRUV and broadcast March 4th 1946)

Disc 5 – Introduced by Peggy Webber

The Living Doll (based on a reference in COPP and broadcast March 11th 1946)

The Disappearing Scientists (based on a reference in REIG and broadcast April 8th 1946)

Disc 6

The Adventure of the Speckled Band (broadcast November 11th 1945)

The Purloined Ruby (based on a reference in SECO and broadcast May 7th 1945)

I am still listening to these recordings and some of the extras are quite fascinating, including an interview with a certain Irene Norton nee Adler! I will provide more details as they come to light.

Good Old Index

A

B

C

D

I

M

N

R

S

W

 

 

I have my plans [ILLU]

Looking forward to later in the year . . .

August

4th – The Carleton Hobbs Sherlock Holmes Further Collection with Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley (with introductions by Nicholas Utechin)

A further collection of Sherlock Holmes dramas, starring Carleton Hobbs, from the BBC Radio Archive. In this these twelve classic stories, Carleton Hobbs established the ‘sound’ of Sherlock Holmes, with Norman Shelley as his superb Watson. Collected together on CD for the first time, with a specially commissioned introduction by Nicholas Utechin, former Editor of “The Sherlock Holmes Journal”. This collection includes: “The Copper Beeches”, “Thor Bridge”, “The Sussex Vampire”, “The Three Garridebs”, “The Three Gables”, “The Retired Colourman”, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”, “The Crooked Man”, “The Cardboard Box”, “A Case of Identity”, “The Naval Treaty”, and “The Noble Bachelor”.

September

1st – A Brief History of Sherlock Holmes by Nigel Cawthorne

Sherlock Holmes continues to have a perennial allure as the ultimate sleuth. As Holmes is being re-introduced to a new audience through TV and film, Cawthorne introduces the general reader to Holmes including his resurrection following his unlikely death at the hands of arch enemy, Moriarty. Cawthorne also surveys the world of Holmes, looking at Victorian crime, myself and Inspector Lestrade, as well as the world on the doorstep of 221B Baker Street.

6th – Pirate King: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie King

In England’s young silent-film industry, the megalomaniacal Randolph Fflytte is king. Nevertheless, at the request of Scotland Yard, Mary Russell is dispatched to investigate rumors of criminal activities that swirl around Fflytte’s popular movie studio. So Russell is traveling undercover to Portugal, along with the film crew that is gearing up to shoot a cinematic extravaganza, Pirate King. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, the project will either set the standard for moviemaking for a generation . . . or sink a boatload of careers.

Nothing seems amiss until the enormous company starts rehearsals in Lisbon, where the thirteen blond-haired, blue-eyed actresses whom Mary is bemusedly chaperoning meet the swarm of real buccaneers Fflytte has recruited to provide authenticity. But when the crew embarks for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell feels a building storm of trouble: a derelict boat, a film crew with secrets, ominous currents between the pirates, decks awash with budding romance—and now the pirates are ignoring Fflytte and answering only to their dangerous outlaw leader. Plus, there’s a spy on board. Where can Sherlock Holmes be? As movie make-believe becomes true terror, Russell and Holmes themselves may experience a final fadeout.

November

1st – The House of Silk – by Andrew Horowitz

The book is set in 1890, but as written by me in a retirement home (Mrs Hudson may have something to say about that), a year after the death of Holmes. The story opens with a train robbery in Boston, and moves to the innocuous setting of Wimbledon – but, Holmes says, the tale was too monstrous, too appalling to reveal until now. “It is no exaggeration to say it could tear apart the very fabric of society”, he writes in the prologue.

24th – Study In Sherlock edited by Laurie King and Leslie Klinger

Neil Gaiman, Laura Lippman and Lee Child are just three of 18 superstar authors who provide fascinating, thrilling and utterly original perspectives on Sherlock Holmes in this one-of-a-kind book. These modern masters place the sleuth in suspenseful new situations, create characters that solve Holmesian mysteries, contemplate Holmes in his later years, fill gaps in the Sherlock Holmes canon and reveal their own personal obsessions with the infamous detective. It is the perfect tribute and a collection of twisting, clever studies of a timeless icon.

December

5th – An Entirely New Country – Arthur Conan Doyle, Undershaw and the Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes by Alistair Duncan

The late 1890s saw Arthur Conan Doyle return to England after several years abroad. His new house, named Undershaw, represented a fresh start but it was also the beginning of a dramatic decade that saw him fall in love, stand for parliament, fight injustice and be awarded a knighthood. However, for his many admirers, the most important event of that decade was the return of Sherlock Holmes – the character that he felt had cast a shadow over his life.

6th – The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Volume 3 by Anthony Boucher and Denis Green

More radio adventures with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

I will add to the list as I become aware of new releases that I may want to add to my collection . . .

The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is most people’s favourite Holmes adventure and it has been the subject of many radio adaptations and over half a dozen films. For many it was their first encounter with Holmes, as played by Basil Rathbone in the version bearing the full title “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles”. I will gloss over for the moment how my literary agent seems to take most of the credit!

I envy those who have never heard the story before whose suspicions of everyone but the real villain are aroused by the events as they unfold in my narrative.

Laurence Owen has been working on this new version for four months and he describes it as a labour of love. He says that his parents introduced him to my accounts when he was very young and he has been hooked ever since. It has been something of a life ambition to have a stab at an adaptation himself.  He has assembled his cast (including himself), recorded and edited the performance, adding sound effects (some subtle, some quite startling) and composed and added a musical score. He calls it a “radio film” and he feels that The Hound lends itself particularly well to sound or radio adaptations. Many filmed versions of The Hound have been criticised because of the feeble nature of the actual hound (in one example leading a reviewer to refer to the poor creature as “The dog that did nothing in the night-time”). Owen prefers to create an image in the listener’s imagination using only sound.

In choosing The Hound, he mentions that he is also keen on The Creeping Man, The Speckled Band and in particular The Devil’s Foot, indicating a preference with the gothic, although he thinks that if The Hound is well-received, he might consider The Blue Carbuncle (hardly a gothic story!) as it would give him lots of interesting sound effects to simulate – markets, geese, drunken rows etc. – as well as a nice Christmas-themed soundtrack to compose.

The result of all his labours with The Hound  is a very atmospheric production, true to my original story in almost all respects, that is best listened to, as Owen suggests, in complete darkness, though if you’re holding the glass of brandy as he also suggests, you may lose its entire contents!

I noticed two characters were missing from the plot – I will leave you to work out who they are. One was excluded because of time constraints (see later) – the other to enhance the drama in one of the key scenes near the end.

The recording is available as a stereo podcast and will also be available in 5.1 surround sound that will take “listeners on a chilling and unforgettable sonic journey” and this is where the time constraints mentioned earlier become important.

Owen will eventually play the piece in a theatrical setting, in complete darkness, in surround sound. For this reason its length needs to be reasonably short, since the piece demands quite a lot of attention from its audience.

This surround sound version will be presented as a cinema or theatre style performance, for people to enjoy as a group. The idea is that they come along to a designated venue, as they would with a movie or a play, and experience a radio-style piece together in total darkness. This is very rarely done, and it is hoped that it will encourage the audience’s imaginations to really come into their own. This version of the piece is still in development, and we await further information about these performances. The current plan is to present them in Fringe theatre style environments, and as such will be ticketed events. Look out for The Hound of the Baskervilles at next year’s Brighton and Edinburgh festivals.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is available from Corporate Records, which provides  a new way for performers (mainly musicians) to share, sell and promote their work. Performers can sell single tracks or group them into multiple albums, set minimum prices or use a pay-what-you-like system, embed their tracks in blogs and share static download links on Twitter and Facebook.

The album version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is now available.

More information about Laurence Owen’s The Hound of the Baskervilles can be found at www.facebook.com/thehoundofthebaskervilles and Owen is on Twitter at @laurenceowen

A promotional video can also be found on You Tube at The Hound is Released!

Holmes on Television – Part 2: 1972 to 1979

After a generally good start in the thirty years since Holmes first appearance on television, the Seventies turned out to be a decade that is probably best forgotten in relation to Holmes on the small screen.

Following the repeated series with Peter Cushing as Holmes in 1970 on BBC2 the next appearance of Holmes on the small screen was in the USA in a 90 minute adaptation of The Hound of The Baskervilles on ABC-TV on the 12th of February 1972. Stewart Granger played an unconvincing Holmes with Bernard Fox as me.

It was not well-received by the critics. Would you be convinced by a Holmes wearing a string tie living in a Baker Street on top of a hill overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral? Perhaps the most interesting cast member was William Shatner as Stapleton, three years after his role as Captain James T Kirk in the original Star Trek series. There will be more direct link with Star Trek as we shall see later.

But worse was to some. Back in Britain, the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse was a series of one-off 30 minute comedies, the idea being to see which the audiences liked that could be made into their own series. John Cleese had fallen out with the rest of the Monty Python team and was looking for “something completely different”.

So, on the 18th of January 1973 , the same day as the last of the current series of Monty Python was being shown on BBC2, Cleese appeared as Holmes with William Rushton as me (all is forgiven, Nigel Bruce) in “The Strange Case of the Dead Solicitors”.

A more serious attempt followed on the BBC late the following year though this should really be excluded from “Holmes on Television” as he wasn’t in it! “Dr Watson and The Darkwater Hall Mystery: A Singular Adventure” as its title suggests leaves everything up to me (played by Edward Fox). Its 73 minutes is like a foretaste of the recent BBC Sherlock series with many canonical references (including STUD, BLAC, MUSG and SPEC). I appear to have some fun with a Spanish maid but as the “action” appears to pre-date SIGN I had not met my future wife at that point.

Nearly three years pass and then, in 1976, “Holmes in New York” appears on NBC-TV with Holmes being played by James Bond, I mean, Roger Moore with John Steed (Patrick Macnee) of the Avengers impersonating Nigel Bruce impersonating me. Nevertheless, the plot has some points of interest. Just what is that statuette on Moriarty’s desk and what might it have to do with the person playing Moriarty in this two-hour (too) long television movie?

The following year, in the series “Classics Dark and Dangerous”, came a 30 minute dramatisation of Silver Blaize with Christopher Plummer as Holmes and Thorley Waters as me. This was one of a series of six adaptations of horror and mystery stories. It was broadcast on ITV in Great Britain on the 27th of November  1977. Christopher Plummer is a cousin of Nigel Bruce and portrayed Holmes in a dry, distant manner and chose to stress Holmes use of cocaine by wearing a pale foundation. Thorley Walters plays me as “an overgrown schoolboy” according to one review.

This was preceded on the 18th September by John Cleese, this time with Arthur Lowe (of “Dads Army” fame) as me in “The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation As We Know It”, another parody on ITV lasting 54 minutes. Best forgotten is the general view.

Then in 1978, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore appeared as Holmes and me in “The Hound of the Baskervilles . . . Yet another adventure of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson by A Conan Doyle”. This 84 minute parody is also best forgotten!

The BBC TC series “Crime Writers” covered “The Great Detective” later in 1978 with Jeremy Clyde as Holmes and Michael Cochrane as me.

The Seventies was somewhat redeemed at the very end with a series of 24 pastiches, essentially a reworking some of the same scripts as were used in the 1954-55 Sherlock Holmes series starring Ronald Howard. This time Geoffrey Whitehead played Holmes with Donald Pickering as me.

Generally speaking, none of what occurred in the Seventies has made it to DVD which may say something about its quality, so much of what I have written is based on what others have told me about these programmes.

The exception is the last series with Geoffrey Whitehead as Holmes. Some of these episodes have appeared on YouTube and a good search engine should help you locate them.

If anyone can advise on the availability of any of the programmes on video, here or in the USA, I will be happy to pass on the details.

So, the Seventies came to a close with little to recommend it to Holmes fans. But the Eighties would eventually bring us a fresh approach to my original stories and a Holmes, who on the television screen, would rival, and some say surpass, Basil Rathbone’s portrayal on the cinema screen.

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

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