18th April, 2 Comments
By John Watson
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.
Posted in Television