Alex Kane’s Viewer & Listener Guide:
November 26 – December 2, 2011.
“A very remarkable note,” said Holmes, glancing over it. “A few trifling points might perhaps be added.”
Murder by Decree, 1978 (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117/Freeview10/Freesat115 at 12.10am) I have always had a very soft spot for this film, even though it has more holes than a colander. 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.
Five Meet To Make Up Myths (BBC Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 also DAB/Freeview708/Freesat708 at 7.30am) Gyles Brandreth explores the relationships and connections between Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, JM Barrie and Bram Stoker in the 1880s and 1890s. Brandreth is his usual very enthusiastic self (which means he often gets carried away!) but this is, nonetheless, an enjoyable programme. Brandreth is well versed in Doyle/Holmes and has also written an engaging series of mysteries featuring Wilde and a number of other literary luminaries from the same era—starting with “Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance” (Touchstone: 2007). This documentary
originally aired on BBC Radio4 on January 17, 2009.
Dover and the Unkindest Cut of All (BBC Radio4 on Sky0104/Virgin904/FM/DAB at 2.30pm) Ok, it’s a bit off the beaten track in terms of Holmes, but I have always enjoyed Joyce Porter’s comic grotesque Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover: played here, with great relish, by Kenneth Cranham. Politically and socially incorrect (it’s set in the 1970s) and very funny.
The Master Blackmailer (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.20am) First shown on January 2, 1992 this is one of the two-hour specials which feels very padded to me. The problem is that the original story is, in a matter of speaking, an open and shut case. There isn’t really any detecting for Holmes to do and the villain is bumped off as he and Watson hide behind a curtain. It would probably have needed padding even if it had been the usual length (around fifty minutes once you discount the time for adverts), so stretching it by another fifty minutes was going to require something fairly meaty. Unfortunately, dramatist Jeremy Paul hasn’t been able to find enough meat.
The media at the time made a bit of a fuss of ‘the kiss’ between Holmes and Agatha (played by Sophie Thompson, whom I would have been delighted to kiss): but Brett commented that “I was concerned about the scene because I thought we might be infringing on Sherlock’s sexuality given that he is such a private man.” I’ll leave you to interpret that for yourselves.
Robert Hardy, who plays Milverton, has a long association with the Canon, having read many of them on audio books and playing Holmes to Nigel Stock’s Watson on eight occasions. I’m not sure he gets it quite right here—there’s just a little too much mince with the menace.
MONDAY 28 The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 6.00am) 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.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.00pm) Series 3, Episode 4—The Musgrave Ritual (July 30, 1986) A splendidly tight episode from Jeremy Paul: so good, in fact, that it won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America.
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 7.50pm) Series 6, Episode 4—The Red Circle (March 28, 1994) What makes this episode stand out for me is the presence of Betty Marsden and Kenneth Connor as Mr and Mrs Warren. They are two veterans of British comedy and give the roles exactly the right mix of off-centre seriousness without ever falling into mere caricature.
John Hallam, who played Giorgiano—and was one of British television’s best known faces (even if people didn’t know his name) was born in Lisburn (Co.Antrim) in 1941 after his family were evacuated to Northern Ireland at the start of the Second World War.
Sherlock Holmes, 2009 (Sky Showcase on Sky 303/Virgin403 at 10.15pm) 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 Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm and 1am) Episode 10—The Golden Pince-Nez (September 22, 1993) Another week of Merrison and Williams begins with another of the very difficult ones to dramatise for radio. Maurice Denham, who played Professor Coram—-always a very unlikely character, in my opinion—had been seen a few months earlier playing the Rev. Merridew in Granada’s “The Last Vampyre.”
Thorndyke—Forensic Investigator (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6.45am, 1.45pm, 8.45pm and 1.45am The Secret of the Urn: R Austin Freeman claimed to have invented the inverted detective story: “Some years ago I devised, as an experiment, an inverted detective story in two parts. The first part was a minute and detailed description of a crime, setting forth the antecedents, motives, and all attendant circumstances. The reader had seen the crime committed, knew all about the criminal, and was in possession of all the facts. It would have seemed that there was nothing left to tell, but I calculated that the reader would be so occupied with the crime that he would overlook the evidence. And so it turned out. The second part, which described the investigation of the crime, had to most readers the effect of new matter.”
His best known creation, Dr. Thorndyke, enjoyed critical and public success and also featured in the Strand Magazine. But he always seemed a remote figure and that probably explains why he hasn’t stood the test of time. But still worth listening to.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 6.50am) Series 3, Episode 4—The Musgrave Ritual (July 30, 1986) See Monday.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.00pm) Series 3, Episode 5—The Abbey Grange (August 6, 1986) Conrad Phillips—playing Sir Eustace Brackenstall—was a big television star from the late 1950s to the late 1960s and is best remembered to my generation (and I’ll leave you to do the maths for yourself) as William Tell. Anne Louise Lambert—Lady Brackenstall—will be best remembered for the absolutely brilliant “Picnic At Hanging Rock.”
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm and 1am) Episode 11—The Missing Three-Quarter (September 29, 1993) Peter Jeffrey—playing Dr Armstrong—is one of the true greats of British television, having been in just about everything (drama and comedy) in his very long career. As ever, he’s very good in this. And here’s a challenge for you: in Sherlockian terms what links Jeffrey, Christopher Lee and Richard E Grant. I don’t want mere guesses, by the way, so you will have to back up your answer with evidence. A small prize awaits the winner. Entries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thorndyke—Forensic Investigator (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6.45am, 1.45pm, 8.45pm and 1.45am Pandora’s Box: Read by Jim Norton this is the last in the current series.
Afternoon Play: McLevy (Radio 4 on Sky0104/Virgin904 at 2.15pm) Episode 1—The Blue Gown: The McLevy series, starring Brian Cox as the Victorian detective, was born in 2000, airing at Christmas time on Radio 4. Seven series have now been broadcast, as well as a special one-off Christmas 2006 episode. This is good stuff, but it’s also grim in places.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 6.50am) Series 3, Episode 5—The Abbey Grange (August 6, 1986) See Tuesday.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Sky119/Virgin117 at 6.50am) Series 3, Episode 6—The Man With The Twisted Lip (August 13, 1986) Clive Francis—playing St Clair/Boone—was the son of Raymond Francis, who had played Watson to Alan Wheatley’s Holmes in a 1951 BBC TV series. He has also adapted “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for the
stage. Eleanor David—Mrs St Clair—was also in the 2004 BBC film “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking.”
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm and 1am) Episode 12—The Abbey Grange (October 6, 1993) Rare chance to compare and contrast a television and radio version of this story on the same day. Penny Downie—Lady Brackenstall—was born in Australia and made her acting debut there, as did Anne Louise Lambert, who played Lady Brackenstall in the Granada version.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 1 The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 6.50am) Series 3, Episode 6—The Man With The Twisted Lip (August 13, 1986) See Wednesday.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.00pm) Series 3, Episode 7—The Six Napoleons (August 20, 1986) This has always been one of my favourite Holmes stories. And an absolute joy to have the wonderful Eric Sykes playing Horace Harker. Gerald Campion—playing Morse Hudson—remains best known as Billy Bunter, a character who appeared in The Greyfriars Herald and Magnet magazines, as did the very funny pastiche Herlock Sholmes. Holmes himself is referred to in the 1953 book, Billy Bunter’s First Case:
“I say, Mauly, old chap! This is a jolly good book! Awfully interesting, and all that! It’s about Sherlock Holmes.” “Eh? Who’s Sherlock Holmes?”
“A wonderful detective, you ass! Chap who finds out mysteries by deduction, you know! I mean, suppose you showed him a walking-stick. He could tell you at once that the man it belonged to was six feet high, and had a ginger moustache, and a cast in the left eye, and so on.”
“Chap a bit like me,” said Bunter. “Cool, clear, concentrated intellect, and that kind of thing. What are you grinning at, Mauly?”
“Just wonderin’ where you parked that tremendous intellect, old fat man.”
“Oh, really, Mauly! I fancy I could do it,” went on Bunter. “I think I should make a pretty good detective, Mauly. What it needs really is brains. That’s where I come in. Not that a fellow has a chance of showing what he can do, at Greyfriars! There ain’t any mysteries here to solve.”
“Think you could solve the mystery of a mysterious disappearance. Bunter?” asked Lord Mauleverer.
“Bet you I could!” said Bunter, promptly. “Sherlock Holmes is pretty good, from the way this man Conan Doyle goes on, but I’ll bet I could do it just as well as he could. Have you lost anything, Mauly?”
“Well, give me a few details.” said Bunter, sitting up and taking notice, quite in the manner of Sherlock Holmes in his consulting-room at Baker Street. “And I’ll jolly well show you. What have you missed?”
“A bag of doughnuts.”
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm and 1am) Episode 13—TheSecond Stain (October 13, 1993) Jeremy Clyde—playing Trelawney Hope—had played Holmes in 1978, in “The Great Detective” episode of the BBC’s Crime Writers series.
The Newly Discovered Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 7.00am, 5.30pm and 5.30am)
Episode 1—-The Case of the Clockwork Fiend (January 16, 1999) The great strength of this Holmes spoof is the cast: Roy Hudd (Holmes), Chris Emmett (Watson), June Whitfield (Mrs Hudson), Geoffrey Whitehead (Moriarty) and Jeffrey Holland (Lestrade). The humour is broad and bawdy, but never goes over the knuckle.
Hudd appeared in Granada’s “The Dying Detective” and in an episode of “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” with Clive Merrison and Andrews Sachs. Emmett played Watson to Bernie Winter’s Holmes in a Sherlock-themed edition of the gameshow 3-2-1. Whitehead played Holmes in a 1979/80 Polish television series with Donald Pickering as Watson.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 7.00am) Series 3, Episode 7—The Six Napoleons (August 20, 1986) See Thursday.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (ITV 3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.05pm) Series 4, Episode 1—The Devil’s Foot (April 6, 1988) A cracking episode to launch the fourth series, with great work from Denis Quilley as Leon Sterndale, the African explorer. Oddly enough, I can never think of Sterndale without thinking of that other ‘African explorer,’ Captain Spaulding, as played by Groucho Marx in “Animal Crackers.” Quilley also played Bob Carruthers in the Merrison/Williams adaptation of “The Solitary Cyclist” in 1993.
Sherlock Holmes, 2009 (Sky Crime/Thriller on Sky 307/Virgin407 at 9.00pm) See Monday.
Sherlock Holmes—His Last Bow (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6am, 1pm, 8pm and 1am) Episode 1—Wisteria Lodge (January 5, 1994) Even though it’s dramatised by Bert Coules this is not high on my list. It just doesn’t work for me. Dominic Letts—playing Baynes—is the son of Barry Letts, who was producer of the BBC’s four part version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in 1982—with Tom Baker as Holmes.
John Neville, who played Holmes in the 1965 film “A Study In Terror”, died on November 19. While the film leaves a lot to be desired, Neville’s portrayal of Holmes was pretty good by my reckoning. He also played Holmes for a brief period when the Royal Shakespeare Company took their revival of the Gillette play to Broadway in 1975.