10th December, 2 Comments
By John Watson
“Behind every great man is an even greater woman, demanding rent.”
Following the success of the book Mrs Hudson’s Diaries – A View from the Landing at 221B, the writers Barry and Bob Cryer, have brought Mrs Hudson on to the radio in her own series (well, two episodes, anyway).
As we have been reminded by the good lady many times, she is our landlady – not our housekeeper, and in the BBC Sherlock series, viewers were also reminded of Mrs Hudson’s standing. She has always been “an independent woman, who was taking advantage of the change in the law that allowed a widow to inherit her husband’s property for the first time” as Bob Cryer points out.
The writers suggest that the radio series may move to television.
Whilst the two episodes are available on the BBC I won’t review them here.
When her tenant, a magician known as The Great Mysto, goes missing, Mrs Hudson is suddenly in urgent need of rent money and new lodgers. This half hour episode sees Mrs Hudson attempting to reclaim her lost money and encountering everything from crooked showgirls and Music Hall eccentrics to German strongmen and dodgy clairvoyants. Meanwhile, Mrs Hudson’s maid Martha (Ruth Bratt) has secretly advertised for new tenants and it’s not long before a doctor (Stephen Critchlow) and a consulting detective (Orlando Wells) come knocking. Time is not on her side as villainous Sir Charles Swift is ready to swoop and reclaim her house if she doesn’t pay her ground rent.
In this second episode, a dead goose and a battered hat are found by Inspector Lestrade (Bob Cryer) lying in the middle of Baker Street. It’s not long before Mrs Hudson is leading her friends out into the night on a very silly seasonal adventure.
However, one thing you can be sure of, Sherlock Holmes (Orlando Wells) and Dr Watson (Stephen Critchlow) are never far away and usually ahead of the game. So come in from the cold, turn on the wireless and make a date with Mrs Hudson. But don’t forget to wipe your feet first.
Did I say it was a comedy?
18th October, No Comments
By John Watson
I have written many times about what was, before the Bert Coules adaptations, the most extensive collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, broadcast by the BBC. The BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcasts of the third series of these performances, starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes, and Norman Shelley as me, is now underway, so I thought it worth reviewing the complete output from this duo, once again.
In total, Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley, appeared in 75 individual performances with four different adapters of my stories and nine different producers. Where the same story was performed more than once, with various adapters and producers, the cast and the scripts were also diverse.
Many of these broadcasts were repeated, often mixing performances with different adapters and producers, and understanding what recordings I have in my collection has been a challenge, but by using the BBC Genome database, I have managed to catalogue most of them.
The number in square brackets, for example “” is the unique performance number and each broadcast title has a link to the programme in the BBC Genome database.
Short Stories Series 1 – Children’s Hour 1952-1953
This first series of five short stories, broadcast from 1952 to 1953 on the BBC Home Service, was dramatised by Felix Felton and produced by David Davis.
- The Naval Treaty (15 October 1952) 
- The Five Orange Pips (12 November 1952) 
- The Blue Carbuncle (10 December 1952) 
- The Red-Headed League (7 January 1953) 
- The Three Students (4 February 1953) 
Long Stories 1 – Sherlock Holmes 1953
In 1953, in the middle of the above series, a one-off programme was broadcast, dramatised and produced by Raymond Raikes. This is an adaptation based on the William Gillette play “Sherlock Holmes” performed on stage in 1899.
This broadcast appears to be the basis of the experimental stereo broadcast in 1958 also produced by Raymond Raikes.
- Sherlock Holmes (3 October 1953) 
Short Stories Series 2 – Children’s Hour 1954-1955
The second series, this time comprising six short stories, broadcast from 1954 to 1955 on the BBC Home Service, were again dramatised by Felix Felton and produced by David Davis.
- The Norwood Builder (7 October 1954) 
- The Bruce-Partington Plans (4 November 1954) 
- The Mazarin Stone (2 December 1954) 
- The Missing Three-Quarter (6 January 1955) 
- The Copper Beeches (3 February 1955) 
- The Final Problem (3 March 1955) 
Short Stories Series 3 – Children’s Hour 1957
The third series of six short stories, broadcast in 1957 on the BBC Home Service, was with the same adapter, Felix Felton, as the previous two series, but the producer this time was Martyn C Webster. The six stories are the five from the first series plus the last one from the second series.
- The Naval Treaty (11 October 1957) 
- The Five Orange Pips (18 October 1957) 
- The Blue Carbuncle (25 October 1957) 
- The Red-Headed League (1 November 1957) 
- The Three Students (8 November 1957) 
- The Final Problem (15 November 19570 
Long Stories 2 – The Hound of the Baskervilles 1958
The Hound of the Baskervilles was broadcast in six episodes on the BBC Light Programme, dramatised by Felix Felton and produced by Patrick Dromgoole. These six episodes are all given the same unique performance number .
- The Baskerville Curse (6 April 1958) 
- Sir Henry Baskerville (13 April 1958) 
- Baskerville Hall (20 April 1958) 
- The Light on the Moor (27 April 1958) 
- Death on the Moor (4 May 1958) 
- The Final Ordeal (11 May 1958) 
Short Stories Series 4 – Thirty-Minute Theatre 1959
This fourth series consisted of six stories was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. They were dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Frederick Bradnum. The Copper Beeches was broadcast as a different performance in Series 2.
- The Man with the Twisted Lip (12 May 1959) 
- The Beryl Coronet (30 June 1959) 
- The Blanched Soldier (4 August 1959) 
- The Copper Beeches (11 August 1959) 
- The Noble Bachelor (18 August 1959) 
- Shoscombe Old Place (25 August 1959) 
Short Stories Series 5 – Thirty-Minute Theatre 1960
The fifth series consisted of seven stories broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. The first of these, The Stockbroker’s Clerk, was produced by Frederick Bradnum who produced the previous series. The producer for the remaining six was Martyn C Webster. All seven were dramatised by Michael Hardwick. The Naval Treaty had been broadcast twice before – once in Series 1 and once in Series 3.
- The Stockbroker’s Clerk (23 February 1960) 
- The Naval Treaty (22 March 1960) 
- The Greek Interpreter (5 April 1960) 
- The Cardboard Box (19 April 1960) 
- The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (3 May 1960) 
- The Engineer’s Thumb (17 May 1960) 
- The Illustrious Client (31 May 1960) 
Long Stories 3 – The Valley of Fear 1960
The Valley of Fear was broadcast in 1960 on the BBC Home Service. It was dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Robin Midgely.
- The Valley of Fear (31 December 1960) 
Short Stories Series 6 – Black Peter 1961
This single story appears to be a one-off broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. It was dramatised by Alan Wilson and produced by Archie Campbell.
- Black Peter (5 March 1961) 
Long Stories 3 – Saturday-Night Theatre: The Hound of the Baskervilles 1961
This was the second time The Hound of the Baskervilles had been broadcast, this time on the BBC Home Service. It was dramatised by Felix Felton, who had done the 1958 version which was in six episodes, but this production was by Robin Midgley and had a different cast to the 1958 broadcasts.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (5 August 1961) 
Short Stories Series 7 – 1961-1962
This series of seven stories was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. They were dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Robin Midgely. The Blue Carbuncle had been broadcast twice before – once in Series 1 and once in Series 3.
- The Empty House (27 November 1961) 
- The Reigate Squires (4 December 1961) 
- The Resident Patient (11 December 1961) 
- Charles Augustus Milverton (18 December 1961) 
- The Blue Carbuncle (25 December 1961) 
- Thor Bridge (1 January 1962) 
- The Priory School (8 January 1962) 
Short Stories Series 8 – 1962
This series of eight stories was broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. Again they were dramatised by Micheal Hardwick and produced by Robin Midgely. The Missing Three-Quarter and The Mazarin Stone had been broadcast before in Series 2.
- The Speckled Band (17 July 1962) 
- Silver Blaze (24 July 1962) 
- The Musgrave Ritual (31 July 1962) 
- The Golden Pince-Nez (7 August 1962) 
- The Missing Three-Quarter (14 August 1962) 
- The Abbey Grange (21 August 1962) 
- The Devil’s Foot (28 August 1962) 
- The Mazarin Stone (4 September 1962) 
Long Stories 4 – Saturday-Night Theatre: A Study in Scarlet 1962
A Study in Scarlet was broadcast on the BBC Home Service. It was dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Robin Midgely.
- A Study in Scarlet (22 December 1962) 
Long Stories 5 – Saturday Night Theatre: The Sign of the Four 1963
The Sign of the Four was broadcast on the BBC Home Service. It was dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Val Geilgud.
- The Sign of the Four (2 March 1963) 
Short Stories Series 9 – Sherlock Holmes Returns 1964
This was a series of ten stories broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. The first two were repeat broadcasts of the Robin Midgely productions of The Abbey Grange  and The Mazarin Stone , so they are not included here.
The remaining eight stories were dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Graham Gould. The Bruce-Partington Plans and The Norwood Builder had been broadcast before in Series 2 and The Red-Headed League had been broadcast before in Series 1 and Series 3.
- The Solitary Cyclist (21 August 1964) 
- The Bruce- Partington Plans (28 August 1964) 
- The Three Garridebs (4 September 1964) 
- The Norwood Builder (11 September 1964) 
- The Sussex Vampire (18 September 1964) 
- The Red-Headed League (25 September 1964) 
- The Three Gables (2 October 1964) 
- The Retired Colourman (9 October 1964) 
Short Stories Series 10 – Sherlock Holmes Again 1966-1967
This series of nine stories were broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. They were dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Martyn C Webster. The Five Orange Pips had previously been broadcast in Series 3.
- A Scandal in Bohemia (21 November 1966) 
- The Five Orange Pips (28 November 1966) 
- The Six Napoleons (5 December 1966) 
- The Boscombe Valley Mystery (12 December 1966) 
- The Crooked Man (19 December 1966) 
- Wisteria Lodge (26 December 1966) 
- The Dying Detective (2 January 1967) 
- The Second Stain (9 January 1967) 
- The Final Problem (16 January 1967) 
Short Stories Series 11 – Sherlock Holmes 1969
This was the last series of stories starring Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley and was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 which had replaced the Light Programme at the end of September 1967. The six stories were dramatised by Michael Hardwick and produced by Graham Gould. Black Peter had been previously broadcast in Series 6.
- The Dancing Men (24 June 1969) 
- A Case of Identity (26 June 1969) 
- Black Peter (1 July 1969) 
- The Red Circle (3 July 1969) 
- The Lion’s Mane (8 July 1969) 
- His Last Bow (10 July 1969) 
Coverage of The Canon
Of the 56 short stories, all but four were performed by Hobbs and Shelley. These four are The Yellow Face, The Gloria Scott, The Creeping Man, and The Veiled Lodger.
The following were performed more than once by Hobbs and Shelley:
- Three times
- The Red-Headed League 
- The Five Orange Pips 
- The Blue Carbuncle 
- The Naval Treaty 
- The Final Problem 
- The Copper Beeches 
- The Mazarin Stone 
- The Hound of the Baskervilles 
- The Norwood Builder 
- Black Peter 
- The Three Students 
- The Missing Three-Quarter 
- The Bruce-Partington Plans 
I am now going through my collection of recordings to ascertain to which unique broadcast they belong . . .
Posted in Radio
15th February, No Comments
By John Watson
From the earliest days, the BBC was experimenting with stereophonic sound. But in the late 1950s, these experiments became a full-scale programme of broadcasts, in stereo, of music and drama. One of these broadcasts, in November 1958, was of a specially-written play, “Scenes from Sherlock Holmes”, itself based on the play “Sherlock Holmes”, written by William Gillette, famously with permission from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. No recordings of the test transmission are known to exist, but again we have an example of the BBC pioneering new technology and bringing Sherlock Holmes to the public in an innovative format.
The story of stereophonic broadcasting by the BBC began in the 1920s with test transmissions of opera from The Opera House, Covent Garden, in London. There was no means of broadcasting two channels over a single network station in those days, so the left channel was transmitted over the 2LO frequency and the right over the Daventry frequency. Anyone wanting to listen to the broadcast would need two radio sets that were in range of both transmitters.
Writing in Wireless World in June 1958 about these early experiments, Capt. H J Round, says that they had no idea if anyone heard their broadcasts, but that they gave valuable insight into the difference between listening to stereo from loudspeakers and from headphones. The location of broadcast sounds heard from loudspeakers matched the location of the original sounds in relation to the placement of the microphones, whereas the location of sounds in headphones seemed to be partially determined by their frequency. A soprano voice (high frequency) seemed to come from in front of the listener, but the orchestra (mixed frequencies) came from behind. Male voices (low frequency) also appeared to come from behind with the orchestra. More bizarrely, someone walking from the left microphone to the right microphone appeared to walk over the listener’s head rather across in front – but this only when listening on headphones. What this has to do with Sherlock Holmes will not be obvious at this stage but, about twenty years later, in 1978, the BBC was again experimenting using Sherlock Holmes stories, broadcast in “binaural sound” specially engineered to the be listened to with stereo headphones. A future article on the Barry Foster/David Buck Sherlock Holmes Series first broadcast in 1978 will explain further.
By the late 1950s, many people had a television set as well as a radio, and the BBC’s experiments could reach a wider audience by using the television broadcast channel for the right-hand channel and the radio for the left. Such a series of experiments were carried out over two and a half years from January 1958. Not all of these broadcasts are listed on the BBC’s Genome database, perhaps because they were broadcast only in the south and the regional versions of the Radio Times used to populate the Genome database are not always from the south. The earliest listings of “Stereophony” broadcasts in the Genome database are from July 1959 but a full list of the broadcasts is given in a BBC Engineering Department report from 1961.
This lists a variety of programmes, mainly consisting of orchestral music, but listed for 1st and 2nd October 1958 is a drama entitled in the report simply “Sherlock Holmes”, performed at Broadcasting House, Studio 6A. These dates may be rehearsals, recording sessions, or actual broadcasts but the only reference to the public hearing these programmes appear in the Daily Express for 12th November 1958 where listeners are promised, on Saturday 15th between 10:15am and 11:15am, the sounds of a “knife whizzing right across the room, the passing hansom cab, [and] the sound of Holmes’s violin at one side of his study as Watson enters through the door at the other.”
Having your listening equipment set up correctly was important and the BBC printed this guidance in the Radio Times:
But what of the programme itself? For his 1899 play, the American actor, William Gillette, had asked Arthur Conan Doyle for permission to adapt some of Holmes’s stories for the stage. He telegraphed Conan Doyle asking “May I marry Holmes?” and Conan Doyle famously responded, “You may marry or murder or do what you like with him”. It appears that Gillette’s play, which introduced some novel elements of its own (the curved pipe, which has become iconic, though Holmes never used one to my knowledge) was chosen for this new presentation by one of the BBC’s most innovative producers, Raymond Raikes.
Raikes had a reputation with the BBC’s listeners for delivering “a spirited production of the highest quality which would be both hugely entertaining and probably educative. It would also be directed with utmost professionalism and incorporate the latest developments in sound technology”.
He had produced a programme based on Gillette’s play for the BBC Home Service on 3rd January 1953. This starred Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as me. The programme lasted ninety minutes so must have been shortened to fit into the sixty minutes for the stereophonic broadcast. Whether this utilised a recording, the same actors in a live performance, or other actors is not known. The fact a studio was used implies a live performance. The programme is also referred to elsewhere as “Scenes from Sherlock Holmes” implying some abridgement of the original broadcast.
Although Raikes maintained a prodigious output for the BBC, including the station’s experimental quadrophonic broadcasts in 1974, he never produced another Sherlock Holmes story for the BBC.
If anyone can provide further insight into this pioneering broadcast by the BBC, then please get in touch.
31st May, 2 Comments
By John Watson
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:
These are the competition questions
- What was Holmes chief adversary called?
- What was Conan Doyle’s profession?
- What nationality was Hercules Poirot?
- Which technical invention caught Dr Crippen?
- Who was Lord Peter Whimsey’s manservant?
- 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 . . .
3rd May, No Comments
By John Watson
This is the second instalment of a new series of articles tracing programmes about Holmes from the early days of radio broadcasting by the BBC through to when Holmes first appeared on BBC television to the latest Sherlock series.
The first instalment can be found here.
There is only one programme that I can find broadcast by the BBC Home Service in 1940. That was another “For The Schools” programme on October 7th. At 2.40pm there was an item for “Senior English”, planned and presented by Douglas R Allan about detective stories, with illustrations from Sherlock Holmes, Sexton Blake, etc.
Yet another biography of myself, entitled “My Dear Watson” was broadcast on the BBC Home Service at 7.30pm on February 2nd, 1941.
This appears to have been based on the facts recorded in the Adventures, Memoirs, Return, His Last Bow and Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes and also uses the “scholarship of S C Roberts and H W Bell”. In this programme, I am played by Cecil Trouncer and Holmes by Felix Aylmer.
Sidney Castle Roberts (S C Roberts) was an author, publisher and biographer and a noted Sherlockian, and was president of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. In 1953 he published “Holmes and Watson A Miscellany”, a very amusing book that I am proud to have in my collection.
Harold Wilmerding Bell (H W Bell) was another writer who published a number or articles and books about us. These include “Baker Street Studies” published in 1934 which I would like to have in my collection.
Nothing relating to Holmes was broadcast in 1942 but “My Dear Watson” was repeated a couple of years after its original broadcast at 9.40pm on July 30th, 1943.
Earlier that same month on July 3rd at 9.35pm began the long association that Carleton Hobbs was to have with Sherlock Holmes though on this occasion he played myself alongside Arthur Wontner as Holmes. This was “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” adapted for the BBC Home Service by Ashley Sampson.
Later that year, Douglas Allan, in another “For The Schools” programme on the BBC Home Service at 2.40pm on December 10th, asked “Do you know Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson?” and introduced the “famous detective and his assistant“!
Nothing appears to have been broadcast in 1944 but on May 17th, 1945 at 10.45 pm the BBC Home Service broadcast an adaptation of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” with Holmes played by Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Finlay Currie playing me. The adaptation was by John Dickson Carr.
On August 9th, 1945 at 9.30pm, the BBC Home Service presented the first of a series of weekly dramas. Entitled “Corner In Crime”, the first of these was “Silver Blaze” with Laidman Browne as Holmes and Norman Shelley playing me as he would later when Carleton Hobbs appeared as Holmes.
Nothing the following year (1946) then on February 7th, 1947, Douglas Allan introduced Holmes again as part of a “For The Schools” programme at 2.40pm on the BBC Home Service.
On April 23rd that year at 6.15pm on the BBC Light Programme, Books and Authors presented a recent book that provided “an unusual study of Sherlock Holmes”. Any ideas what that might have been?
On December 27th the BBC Home Service re-broadcast “The Speckled Band” previously aired in 1945 with Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Finlay Currie.
Nothing in 1948 but on January 8th, 1949 the BBC Light Programme at 2pm in “New Books and Old Books” looked at the Sherlock Holmes stories.
From August 8th, 1949, the BBC Light Programme at 11pm on successive nights, presented “A Book At Bedtime”, in which Laidman Browne read three of my stories each one presented in five episodes. “The Speckled Band” from 8th to 12th, “The Norwood Builder” from 15th to 19th and “The Bruce-Partington Plans” from 22nd to 26th.
Laidman Browne would play Holmes again on the BBC in the 1950s and he appeared in the 1955 film The Dambusters that also included Nigel Stock who would later play me alongside Douglas Wilmer (and later Peter Cushing) as Holmes on BBC Television.
That was it for the 1940s apart from another “For The Schools” programme at 2.25pm on October 3rd, 1949 when the BBC Home Service had a reading of “The Speckled Band”.
These schools programmes will become significant in the next decade when then begin the Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley pairing as Holmes and Watson. Tune in again soon for The Holmes Service 1950-1959 when Holmes and I first appear on BBC Television!
Posted in Radio
2nd February, 2 Comments
By John Watson
When I wrote the series of articles covering my great friend and colleague on the British Radio (Part 1, Part 2) I had not appreciated that the BBC had been broadcasting programmes concerning Holmes from as early as 1929 – almost from the start of their broadcasting.
This new series of articles will trace programmes about Holmes from the early days of radio broadcasting by the BBC through to when Holmes first appeared on BBC television to the latest Sherlock series.
In fact, the first programme that I can trace was on the BBC’s 5XX Daventry radio service. This service began broadcasting on 15 December 1924 and ended on 8 March.
On December 4th, 1929 at 9.20pm BBC 5 XX Daventry and BBC London 2LO broadcast one of a series of “Miniature Biographies” (there appear to have been seven in total) in which Desmond MacCarthy presented a biography of yours truly in which he refers to me as “the obtuse and innocent Watson . . . of the intermittent practice and brown moustache, with his never-failing bewilderment and his misdirected zeal . . . the homeliest character in the literature of crime”.
MacCarthy was a well-known literary critic of his time and was also well-known for analysing what he saw as chronological problems in the cases of Holmes that I have documented. In my own defence, I must state that that I was sometimes careless in recording the actual dates of events in these cases, sometimes to help protect the privacy of the persons involved, but often simply because I thought it more important to record the problems themselves, and Holmes use of deduction in resolving them, than worrying about what day or date it was.
James Edward Holroyd, in his Seventeen Steps to 221B, included MacCarthy’s essay entitled “Dr Watson” that may well have been the basis of this biography which he states is “forthcoming and profusely illustrated”. However, I can find no trace of such a book.
Also included in Holroyd’s collection is Bernard Davies attempt to resolve the mystery of the true location of 221b which comes very close to the truth!
But, back to the radio!
The next programme was on September 24th, 1934 at 8pm when the BBC Regional Programme broadcast a “Scrapbook for 1910” which it describes as “a microphone medley”.
Included is an item entitled “Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band” and Norman Shelley was one of ‘those heard in this programme’ (he was, in the future to play me alongside Carleton Hobbs’ Holmes). Arthur Conan Doyle is also included in the programme in an item entitled ‘Sherlock Holmes: a record by the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle”.
Bert Coules (see comments below) has suggested that the item in may have been about the celebrated stage version of “The Speckled Band” that opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London on June 4th 1910 with H. A. Saintsbury as Sherlock Holmes. Coincidentally, the same play is due to be staged this month (February 2015) in Houston.
The following year on February 20th, 1935 at 9.25pm the BBC Regional Programme broadcast “The Speckled Hatband’ said to be “not by Sherlock Holmes” but included a character called “Pureluck Jones” played by Bobbie Comber with a Dr Watson played by Claude Hulbert.
In 1936 there was a broadcast of ‘Sherlock Holmes stories’ as part of a “For the Schools” programme at 2pm on September 28th, 1936. This was the start of a series of broadcasts of the stories that eventually gave rise to the Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley series in the 1950s.
In 1938 there was a series broadcast on the BBC National Programme called “Detectives In Fiction” in which each programme dealt with a different detective whose exploits made them famous.
Holmes was the first of these and the story presented was “Silver Blaze” at 12.15pm on April 12th, 1938. This half-hour play presented Frank Wyndham Goldie as Holmes and Hugh Harben as me and was adapted from my story by Pascoe Thornton.
In 1939, Bransby Williams at 7.30pm on June 20th, ‘brings to life Detectives in Fiction’ with impersonations of Father Brown, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Mr Reeder, Charlie Chan and as Sherlock Holmes he ‘will make his final bow’.
Next time, I will look at the 1940s when I get another biographer, Arthur Wontner and Carleton Hobbs appear in The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Sir Cedric Harwicke and Finlay Currie appear in The Speckled Band, and Sherlock Holmes continues in the ‘For The Schools’ programmes and as ‘The Book At Bedtime’.
Posted in Radio
14th November, 3 Comments
By John Watson
It is that time of the year when I look at what might be a welcome gift at Christmas who devotees of the Great Detective.
This year the list is quite short because, although there is a lot of Holmes material about, it is not all of good quality.
Nine years later they achieved it and, though Williams sadly died in 2001, 16 “Further Adventures” recalling some of my undocumented cases were broadcast with Andrew Sachs taking Williams place.
Bert Coules, the series originator and head writer, has updated his book “221 BBC” chronicling the series.
I have reviewed the book in detail here.
Sadly, this complete set of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes is so far only available in the USA (but it is “region free” so should be viewable in the UK) and these are just the same transfers as on the DVD but this time they are in High Definition. All the bonus content is exactly the same as on the DVD set including the booklet authored by Richard Valley.
The packaging is very poor, though with a thin cardboard sleeve holding the stack of “digipacs” each holding two discs.
It has often been said that London is one of the main characters in my stories about Holmes and this unique book to accompany the standard Monopoly game guides you through the idiosyncrasies of the Monopoly board and explains how the chosen properties relate to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
There is a Sherlock Holmes Monopoly Treasure Hunt that you can play by actually visiting the sites featured on the Monopoly board, solving clues as you go. Besides the excitement of buying and selling, the game is a wonderfully entertaining way of exploring London in the footsteps of the master detective.
The Museum of London has a new exhibition, form now until next April delving into “the mind of the world’s most famous detective”. I have not yet been to the exhibition but when I do I will be reporting on it here.
In the meantime, this is the official book of the exhibition and it uses the Museum’s collection to highlight the features of the London that Holmes and I inhabit in particular its fogs, Hansom cabs, criminal underworld, famous landmarks and streets.
It’s a comprehensive guide to the BBC series. It contains previously unseen material, interviews with the cast and crew.
It covers each episode in detail and has hundreds of illustrations of the artwork, photographs, costume and set designs.
Nevertheless it seems to be doing for New York what my original stories did for London and it’s no surprise that it’s very popular in the USA.
Here are the 24 episodes from the second season.
So that’s this year’s Christmas list and it just remains for me to wish all my readers a Very Merry Christmas!
12th November, 2 Comments
By John Watson
As those of you who know your radio Holmes and Watson or have read an earlier article of mine on Bert Coules, this is the title of the book Coules wrote about the “world’s only complete dramatised canon and beyond”.
It has been been out of print for some time having been originally written for the Northern Musgraves, an English Sherlock Holmes group. This original, Musgrave Monograph No.9 was published in 1998 and ran to about 76 pages. The BBC included a revised version as part of their boxed set of the audiocassettes of the complete original broadcast canon. But these eventually ran out.
Towards the end of 2011 Coules was approached by the Wessex Press to produce an updated version for their Sherlock Holmes publications (Gasogene Books) and this has now been published.
Anyone who might not have heard of Coules can listen to two podcasts from I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere (Episode 68 and 69) where his knowledge of Holmes and Watson and especially of their history on radio even manages to put the knowledgeable hosts of the show right on a couple of points. Another interesting point that Coules makes is that he sees my stories as “stories about a detective and not detective stories”, exactly the same view as that held by Gatiss and Moffat, the creators of the BBC Sherlock series.
Following a foreword by Clive Merrison, who played Holmes throughout the series and an introduction to the new edition from Bert Coules, it starts off with a wonderfully detailed history of Holmes and Watson on the radio and weaves into this how Coules became involved at the BBC.
He then takes us through the casting and production of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Roger Rees as Holmes and Crawford Logan as me which was broadcast in two hour-long episodes in May and June 1988.
Following the success of this production the BBC decided to produce the whole Canon but with new leads. Clive Merrison was to be Holmes and Michael Williams was to take on my role. A Study In Scarlet and The Sign of the Four (note the “correct” title) were also broadcast each in two hour-long episodes in November and December 1989.
The books takes us through The Adventures, The Memoirs, The Return, His Last Bow, The Casebook and The Valley of Fear before re-recording The Hound of the Baskervilles using a new script with Merrison and Williams.
Interesting in the script for The Lion’s Mane that Coules has come up with an explanation of the incorrect spelling of “lama” in The Empty House. I could write a book myself on the problems Arthur and I had with The Strand.
The idea of writing radio plays around some of the cases I had mentioned but not detailed as part of the Canon had occurred to Coules before the Canon was completed but by the time it became a reality, Michael Williams had sadly died. Andrew Sachs picked up my role from there and 16 Further Adventures were produced. The book covers these before rounding off with the script of The Abergavenny Murder (a case I mentioned in The Priory School) and cast and broadcast details of all the broadcasts.
The podcasts from I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere mentioned above add to the information in the book and the presenters praise Coules for the way he handled the individual stories adding material where it was necessary to support radio broadcasts. Coules has a stage play based on The Lion’s Mane and would love to produce a television series setting my stories back in their original Victorian setting.
Meanwhile, the complete Sherlock Holmes Radio Collection and the Further Adventures are available on Amazon in the UK and USA but mainly as the separate series – the complete sets are now difficult to find.
29th April, 1 Comment
By John Watson
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:
- The Victorian setting of the first two films – The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- 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
- The gothic films – Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, The Scarlet Claw, and The House of Fear
- 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.
21st December, No Comments
By John Watson
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.