News Bulletin 51

Alex Kane’s Viewer & Listener Guide: November 19th – 25th, 2011.

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

Free SH Audiobook CD Offer! Read all about it here!*


The Game’s Afoot  (BBC Radio 4 Extra on DAB, also Freeview 708/Freesat 708/Sky 0131/Virgin910 at 9.00am and 7pm)

A three hour special (first broadcast on BBC Radio 7, 19 July 2008) in which Nick Utechin (former editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal) presents a selection of radio Sherlocks between 1945 and 2004: a sort of old-fashioned Holmes Service, if you like! There’s also an interview with Bert Coules, who dramatised many of the Merrison/Williams complete Canon and the additional Merrison/Sacks “Further Adventures.”

1) The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1945)—Sir Cedric Hardwicke

2) The Red-Headed League (1954)— Sir John Gielgud

3) The Boscombe Valley Mystery (1966)—Carleton Hobbs

4) The Solitary Cyclist (1993)—Clive Merrison

5) The Abergavenny Murder (2004)—Clive Merrison


Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four (ITV 3 on Freeview10/Freesat115/ Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.35am.

Originally shown on December 29, 1987, this was the first of the Brett/Hardwicke two-hour specials: and this one also coincided with Sign’s centenary.

It’s a very good—and beautifully filmed—version of the story, with John Thaw (already enjoying huge success as Inspector Morse) as probably the best Jonathan Small I have seen. Ronald Lacey also struck me as damn near perfect as Thaddeus Sholto/Bartholomew Sholto. They are roles which tend to be hammed up by most actors, but he stays away from the sort of ‘camp’ menace approach taken by so many others. He’s certainly much better here than he was as Inspector Lestrade to Ian Richardson’s Holmes in the 1983 Hound of the Baskervilles.

Sherlock Holmes, 2009 (Sky Crime/Thriller on Sky 307/Virgin437 at 1.05pm and 9.00pm)

While Robert Downey Jnr gives us a Holmes we have never really seen before (and I won’t complain about that) I still think this film is let down by a lousy plot, gorgonzola script and an awful lot of hamming-it-up from a cast who should know better. Guy Ritchie doesn’t seem to have understood that Holmes is a ‘thinking machine’ first and foremost.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.00pm) Series 2, Episode 5—The Red-Headed League (September 22, 1985)

There are lots of reasons to like this episode, not the least being Roger Hammond’s performance as Jabez Wilson. He gets it just right: a wonderful combination of chubby pomposity and utter bafflement, playing wonderfully well against Brett at his mischievous best. And great to see the magisterial Eric Porter in his first outing as Moriarty. You all know, of course, that Moriarty wasn’t in the original story, but John Hawkesworth (who dramatised this episode) was just setting things up for the next episode of the original run—The Final Problem.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 7.55pm) Series 6,Episode 3—The Golden Pince-Nez (March 21, 1994)

Edward Hardwicke was tied up with another project and wasn’t available to play Watson, so the scriptwriter (Gary Hopkins) decided to bring in Mycroft as back-up. It doesn’t work. Charles Gray is very good as Mycroft, but Mycroft was always intended as a minor, slightly mysterious character. Put bluntly, he outstays his welcome!

Frank Finlay, who played Professor Coram, had previously played Inspector Lestrade in the 1965 film ‘A Study In Terror’ and again in the 1979 film ‘Murder By Decree.’

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio 4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm, 1am) Episode 5—The Priory School (March 24, 1993)

Another week of Clive Merrison and Michael Williams. Hurrah! Michael Bakewell, who dramatised this episode, also dramatised the same story back in 1978, with Barry Foster as Holmes.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.00pm) Series 2, Episode 6—The Final Problem (September 29, 1985)

This was to be David Burke’s last outing as Watson, so it’s worth remembering that he left very large shoes for Edward Hardwicke to fill. More great work from Eric Porter—probably my favourite Moriarty—and a stunningly filmed climax.

The Scarlet Claw, 1944 (TCM on Sky 317/Virgin415 at 5.05pm)

I wouldn’t disagree with the verdicts of Chris Steinbrunner and Norman Michaels (authors of The Films of Sherlock Holmes): “Without question…The Scarlet Claw with its eerie suspense and expert construction was the best entry in the entire Universal Holmesian roster.” The film is clearly influenced by the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ but has enough little twists and devices of its own to make it engrossing. Along with the Rathbone/Bruce ‘Hound’(1939) and ‘Adventures’ (1939) this is the most characteristically Holmesian story: and it seems to get better each time I see it.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio 4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm, 1am) Episode 6—Black Peter (March 31, 1993)

I’ve always thought that this is one of the most difficult stories to dramatise for radio and I’m not sure that David Ashton has managed to pull it off, although Alex Norton gives it his all as Patrick Cairns. Norton is probably best known for his role in Taggart and I liked this from the Sunday Times: “A global hit, the award-winning Taggart is the world’s longest continually running police drama. Alex Norton (Patriot Games) stars as DCI Matthew Burke, who leads a team of tough, committed cops against Glasgow’s criminals. A mad cocktail of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, and old Vincent Price movies.”


The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.05pm) Series 3, Episode 1—The Empty House (July 9, 1986)

And a very warm welcome to Edward Hardwicke as Watson (His father, Sir Cedric, can be heard as Holmes on Saturday 19—see above). Personally I thought that Brett’s disguise as the old bookseller was pretty hammy, but at least we didn’t have to put up with it for too long. Patrick Allen—who was one of British television’s best known actors and voice-overs—is superb as Colonel Moran.

The Scarlet Claw, 1944 (TCM on Sky 317/Virgin415 at 11.15am) See Tuesday.

Sherlock Holmes, 2009 (Sky Crime/Thriller on  307/Virgin437 at 11.50am and 7.45pm) See Sunday.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio 4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm, 1am) Episode 7—Charles Augustus Milverton (April 7,1992)

This is another story which is difficult to get right for radio (even television), for there is always the temptation to allow Milverton to come across as a pantomime villain. So thank goodness for Peter Vaughan, who plays him as a genuine ‘heavy’ rather than as a sort of hand-me-down Moriarty. He was also a very convincing Turner in Granada’s ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery’ (1991).


The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.00pm) Series 3, Episode 2—The Priory School (July 16, 1986)

Nicholas Gecks, who plays James Wilder, went on to play Inspector Lestrade in ‘Sherlock: Case of Evil’ (2002), a made-for-TV film which doesn’t often see the light of day. Thankfully! He also had a small part in ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady’ (1991), with Christopher Lee as Holmes: which is similarly bad. Overall, one of the weaker entries in the Granada series.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio 4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm, 1am) Episode 8—The Six Napoleons (September 8, 1993)

A tight little adaptation of the story, with a nice turn from Donald Gee as Inspector Lestrade.


The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.00pm and 1.35am) Series 3, Episode 3—The Second Stain (July 23, 1986)

Two lovely performances from the very distinguished Harry Andrews (Lord Bellinger) and Patricia Hodge (Lady Hope) add much needed gravitas to what has always struck me as a fairly lightweight plot.

Murder by Decree, 1978 (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 11.05pm)

I have always had a very soft spot for this film, even though it has more holes than a gorgonzola.  Christopher Plummer had previously played Holmes in a 1977 TV adaptation of Silver Blaze. To be fair, it wasn’t a vintage portrayal, largely because they tried to make him ‘look’ like the Holmes audiences were used to. A year later, though, they allowed him to be a Holmes who looked like Plummer: and that made a huge difference to his performance. So good, in fact, that it’s in the middle of my top ten favourites.

James Mason isn’t convincing, though. His Watson is trapped somewhere between Nigel Bruce and Nigel Stock, with some of the most irritating habits of both. The plot is a Ripper based one, heavily influenced by Stephen Knight’s book, ‘Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution,’ which manages to drag in the Masons (no, not James’ family!), the Royal family and the British
government. It’s just good fun, albeit of the most bizarre variety.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio 4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm, 1am) Episode 9—The Three Students (September 15, 1993)

A very neat little dramatisation by the Northern Ireland actor Denys Hawthorne, who also played Hilton Soames. I wrote about Hawthorne a couple of weeks ago and Oscar passed on a note from Roger Johnson to let me know (which I didn’t) that Hawthorne had played Holmes in a BBC Radio 4 drama, ‘The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes,’ first broadcast in June 1980.

Thanks Roger. If any of you ever have snippets of extra information about cast members etc then please let me know:

Note. BBC Radio 4 Extra is also available at


We’ve Roger Johnson to thank, again, for news of an imminent special offer:

Sherlock Holmes stories free on audiobook CD!

Collect seven free Sherlock Holmes audiobook CDs, written by Arthur Conan Doyle and read by Derek Jacobi, with The Daily Telegraph, November 19 – 25.

Free inside Saturday’s paper, November 19, investigate the disappearance of the champion racehorse, Silver Blaze.

Free inside The Sunday Telegraph, November 20, discover the true nature of The Red-Headed League, followed by another five free audiobook CDs of the most popular Sherlock Holmes stories – available each day with The Daily Telegraph.

Weekday CDs are available from WH Smith High Street locations and other participating stores, subject to availability. Running time: Average 75mins, one story per disc.

Saturday November 19th –
CD ONE – Silver Blaze

Sunday November 20th – CD TWO – The Red-Headed League

Monday November 21st – CD THREE – The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Tuesday November 22nd – CD FOUR – A Case of Identity

Wednesday November 23rd – CD FIVE – The Five Orange Pips

Thursday November 24th – CD SIX – The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor

Friday November 25th – CD SEVEN – The Final Problem

You can also read all about it and see the CD covers here.

 Source: Roger Johnson, District Messenger/Interim News/17 November 2011