The Holmes Service 1929-1939

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.

1929

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.

NPG 5024; Sir Desmond MacCarthy by Duncan Grant

Desmond MacCarthy

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!

1934

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”.

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Norman Shelley

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”.

imagesBert 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.

1935

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.

1936

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.

1938

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.

1939

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’.

Comments

2 Responses

  1. Bert Coules says:

    Interesting piece. I doubt if the 1934 “Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band” was either a full-blown play version or a reading. The Scrapbook programme was a look back to notable events in its particular titular year, so it’s much more likely that the item was a feature about Conan Doyle’s famous 1910 stage production.

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