I hear of Sherlock everywhere [GREE] – British Radio Part 1

When I started to look into Holmes on the radio I expected to be able to cover it in a single post. However, the amount of material available proved to be too large and, although broadcasts of Holmes stories started in the USA (1930) before those in Britian (1938), I have decided to start with Britain first where, almost exclusively, the stories have remained close to the Canon.

So, there were five individual broadcasts of Holmes stories between 1938 and 1948.

  1. Silver Blaze with Frank Wyndham Goldie as Holmes and Hugh Harben as my good self was the first on 12th April 1938.
  2. The Boscome Valley Mystery with Arthur Wontner (Holmes) and Carleton Hobbs (Watson) on 3rd July 1943.
  3. The Speckled Band with Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Holmes) and Finlay Currie (Watson) on 10th May 1945.
  4. Silver Blaze (again) with Laidman Browne (Holmes) and Norman Shelley (Watson).
  5. The Speckled Band (again) Howard Marion-Crawford (Holmes) with Finlay Currie (again as Watson).

Of note here are Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley as Watson. In 1952 these two actors were to become the best known players of Holmes (Hobbs) and Watson (Shelley) on British radio. Also of note is that Sir Cedric Hardwicke is the father of Edward Hardwicke who played me alongside Jeremy Brett‘s TV Holmes.

No recording of any of the above broadcasts are known to exist.

Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson started on the 15th October 1952 in the BBC Children’s Hour programme with 17 stories from the Canon.

Three were broadcast in 1952 [NAVA, FIVE, BLUE]. On 3rd Jauary 1953 they appeared in an “adult” adaptation of the William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle play called simply “Sherlock Holmes”.

The BBC Children’s Hour programmes continued in 1953 with two more stories [3STU, REDH], two more in 1954 [NORW, BRUC], four in 1955 [MISS, COPP, FINA, MAZA] and finally six in 1957 repeating some that had previously been broadcast [NAVA, FIVE, BLUE, REDH, 3STU, FINA].

A six-part adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles was broadcast in 1958 and then in 1959 a series of six programmes were broadcast [TWIS, BERY, BLAC, COPP, NOBL, SHOS]. Another series, of seven shows, was broadcast in 1960 [STOC, NAVA, GREE, CARD, LADY, ENGN, ILLU]. These were all new scripts, adapted by Michael Hardwick and did not repeat the Children’s Hour broadcasts.

In 1960 there was a 90 minute presentation of The Valley of Fear and then in 1961 a 30 minute Black Peter followed by a 90 minute The Hound of the Baskervilles before a series of seven programmes running into 1962 [EMPT, REIG, RESI, CHAS, BLUE, THOR, PRIO]. Continuing in 1962 was a new series of eight programmes [SPEC, SILV, MUSG, GOLD, MISS, ABBE, DEVI, MAZA] followed by a 90 minute A Study In Scarlet.

There was a repeat of The Speckled Band at the end of 1962 and of The Missing Three-Quarter and The Musgrave Ritual at the start of 1963 followed by a 90 minute The Sign of the Four.

A series of ten shows were aired in 1964 [ABBE, MAZA, SOLI, BRUC, 3GAR, NORW, SUSS, REDH, 3GAB, RETI] some repeating earlier broadcasts. A five-show series of repeats [3GAR, NORW, SUSS, REDH, 3GAB] ran over the end of the year into 1965.

A nine-show series ran in 1966 [SCAN, FIVE, SIXN, BOSC, CROO, WIST, DYIN, SECO, FINA] but it was 1969 before a final series of six episodes [DANC, IDEN, BLAC, REDC, LION, LAST] was broadcast.

Ten repeats were broadcast in 1969 [REDH, RETI, COPP, SIXN, 3GAR, GREE, SUSS, BOSC, FIVE, FINA] but that was the last of the Hobbs and Shelley portrayals. In the whole period from 1953 to 1966, 56 of the 60 stories from the Canon were produced. Only The Yellow Face, The Gloria Scott, The Creeping Man and The Veiled Lodger were not performed.

Recordings of many of these broadcasts can be found at the Sherlock Holmes Adventures Podcast (subscribe by iTunes to get them all) and, of course, there are the twelve recordings recently released by the BBC.

Early in the Hobbs and Shelley era (whilst they were still producing the Children’s Hour versions), Sir John Gielgud (Holmes) and Sir Ralph Richardson (Watson) appeared in a series of twelve shows in 1954 that started with “Dr Watson Meets Sherlock Holmes” – an adaptation of Charles Augustus Milverton. This was followed by SCAN, REDH, BRUC, IDEN, DYIN, SECO, NORW, SOLI, SIXN, BLUE and FINA (in which Orson Welles played Moriarty!) Four additional shows [SPEC, SILV, GOLD, EMPT] were produced but only aired in the USA following the other twelve in 1955. Many of these shows can be found at the Sherlock Holmes Adventures Podcast and also on Sherlock Holmes A Baker Street Dozen (most are also available as MP3 downloads).

There was also a one-off production of The Sign of Four in 5 weekly episodes in 1959 with Richard Hurndall as Holmes and Bryan Coleman as my good self.

In 1967, nine shows with Robert Langford as Holmes and Kenneth Baker as Watson were heard in South Africa on the South African Broadcasting Corporation. These are included here because they were dramatised by Michael Hardwick and probably used the same scripts as the Hobbs and Shelley series. They included SUSS, RETI, 3 GAB, ILLU, COPP, NOBL, BLAN, REIG, and THOR and can be found on the internet.

In 1974 there was a one-off programme with Robert Powell as Holmes and Dinsdale Landon as me in A Study In Scarlet. This is available in two parts in the Sherlock Holmes Public Library.

Then in 1978 there was a series of thirteen programmes [REDH, MUSG, SILV, NAVA, PRIO, CHAS, COPP, BLUE, REIG, SOLI, SIXN, ABBE, LADY] with Barry Foster as Holmes and David Buck as me. These were, as I understand it, the first to be recorded in “binaural stereo”. Also, as far as I know, these are not commercially available but the Sherlock Holmes Adventures Podcast has recently started transmitting them.

My next post will cover the remainder of Holmes on British Radio including a couple of humorous series, one with (supposedly) Holmes grandson, Stamford Holmes and the other about the Holmes “Newly Discovered Case-Book”, a series entitled “The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes“, a series of twenty four stories from the Canon produced for British Airways and finally the first complete coverage of the Canon in the series produced by Bert Coules. Then I will move on to Holmes on American radio including the long running series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.


6 Responses

  1. Thank you for assembling this first part of your excellent history of the radio broadcasts of Holmes stories in Britain. I knew that the venerable Sir Cedric Hardwicke was Edward Hardwicke’s father, but I didn’t know that he had ever portrayed Holmes. Perhaps this played a part in his son’s accepting the role of Watson. As in films, the radio broadcast history confirms that both Holmes and Watson are roles that attract and challenge the very best actors of the day, much as Hamlet does. I look forward eagerly to your Part 2!

  2. shomik says:

    Im very happy to find this site as a fan of OTR and modern radio adaptations in general and of Sherlock Holmes in particular, its great to see a site with such dedication to the Radio Holmes. Look fwd to all there is on the site and useful links. Im sorry to hear the book on the BBC holmes by Coules is out of print, perhaps it is avaiable elsewhere.

  3. JakeTucker says:

    “No recording of any of the above broadcasts are known to exist.”

    The Cedric Hardwicke SPEC is the first show of The Game’s Afoot – the Radio 7 (4 Extra) 3 hour show presented by Nick Utechin which has 5 (I think) plays from different series.

    • The Good Doctor says:

      Thank you – you are perfectly correct. This 3 hour special which comes around occasionally on Radio 7 (now Radio 4 Extra) includes radio broadcasts from the 1940s to the early 2000s, including an interview with writer and dramatist Bert Coules. Programmes included are The Adventures of the Speckled Band (1945 Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Finlay Currie); The Red-Headed League (1954 Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud); The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1966 Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelley); The Return of Sherlock Holmes: The Solitary Cyclist (1993 Clive Merrison and Michael Williams); and The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Abergavenny Murder (2004 Clive Merrison and Andrew Sachs).

  4. Robert Veld says:

    You will be happy to know that 9 of the Langford/Baker South African episodes do exist – the sound quality of some are better than others but they are good – and yes, they do use Michael Hardwicke’s scripts.

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