News Bulletin 54

Alex Kane’s Viewer & Listener Guide:

December 10 – 16, 2011.

“Weekly reports will suffice.”


Sherlock Holmes: The Last Vampyre (ITV3 on Freeview10/Freesat115/ Sky119/Virgin117 at 1.50pm) “The Sussex Vampire” has always struck me as one of the weaker stories in the Canon: there really isn’t all that much to get your teeth into in terms of plot and detecting! So stretching an already thin story into a two-hour special was always going to be a challenge. This dramatisation (first shown on January 27, 1993), although written by the usually reliable Jeremy Paul, doesn’t really rise to the challenge. Indeed, it quickly descends into the sort of hand-me-down gothic novel that Hammer might have tried to get away with two decades earlier.

Roy Marsden—better known for playing P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh—is absolutely wasted in the invented role of John Stockton. Marsden (with John Moffatt as Watson) was a pretty good Holmes in a series of Talking Tape Company dramatisations in the late 1980s.  There’s a good supporting cast, though, including Freddie Jones, Maurice Denham and Keith Barron.

Sherlock Holmes, 2009 (Sky Crime Thriller on Sky307/Virgin437 at 8.00pm) 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.


I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue (BBC Radio 4 on FM/DAB/Sky0104/Virgin904 at 12.00pm) Always worth listening to anyway: but there happens to be a nice little Holmes/Watson piece in this one.

Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 2.35pm) 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.

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 4.45pm) Series 5, Episode 1—The Disappearance of Lady Francis Carfax (February 21, 1991) Julian Curry—playing Schlessinger/Peters—gets it absolutely right: and that’s important, because so many other versions of this story have failed because of the underplaying or overplaying of this central role. Personally, I would happily chase across Europe after Cheryl Campbell, even if she wasn’t playing Lady Francis!

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 1.10am) This is a pretty good version of the story, with both Brett and Hardwicke in top form. Good work from James Faulkner as Stapleton—another one of those characters that is so easy to get wrong. Nice, too, to see Ronald Pickup as Barrymore. He was actually a very credible Holmes (with Norman Rodway as Watson) in “The Singular Case of Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud” back in 1990.

Kristoffer Tabori—playing Sir Henry—is a little bit wooden: but the problem is that Doyle seems to have written him that way. He’s not a likeable character and there really isn’t much warmth to him. But I suppose he was always going to be overshadowed by both Stapleton and the Hound. Tabori played Watson to Martin Jarvis’s Holmes in 2005:

Blackstone Audiobooks is pleased to present the first audio recordings ever of the only two Holmes plays written by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This new, specially commissioned production of the Hollywood Theater of the Ear stars Audie Award-winning readers Martin Jarvis (as Sherlock Holmes) and Kristoffer Tabori (as Dr. Watson).In Sherlock Holmes, the Napoleon of crime, Professor Moriarity, plots with would-be blackmailers to have Holmes killed. And the normally love-proof Holmes falls for an exceptional woman.

What is the secret of the shocking death of poor Enid’s sister, whose dying words were, “the speckled band?” Only Holmes can find the answer and save a helpless girl from certain death in The Speckled Band.

When Holmes retired, it created a financial crisis for his friend Watson, who owes money to mobsters who want either their cash or his blood. The surprising upshot is: Ghastly Double Murder in Famed Detective’s Flat, a one-act comedy by producer-director Yuri Rasovsky, here receiving its audiobook premiere.


Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.40am) See Sunday

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 7.55pm) Series 6, Episode 6—The Cardboard Box (April 11, 1994) Almost ten years to the day since the first Brett was shown, this turned out to be the last. Yes, he had lost the fire and the passion and looked unwell, but it’s still hard to watch this and not regret the fact that he never got to complete the Canon. I have lost count of the number of actors I have seen or heard tackling the role, but for me Brett remains the best: he eclipses and predominates.  

It’s the reference to Belfast in the story which provided us with our name—the Crew of the S.S. May Day—so it seems fitting that Jim Browner should be played by the Belfast born Ciaran Hinds.

The Book Show (Sky Arts2 on Sky245/Virgin283 at 6.00pm) P.D. James and Anthony Horowitz are the guests.

Sherlock Holmes: His Last Bow (BBC Radio4 Extra on Freeview708/Freesat708/Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6.00am, 1.00pm, 8.00pm and 1.00am) Episode 7—The Devil’s Foot (February 16, 1994) Patrick Allen—who played Colonel Moran in the Granada series—is a very good Sterndale. It’s all to do with the voice! Geoffrey Beevers—playing
Rev. Roundhay—played Inspector Montgomery in Granada’s “The Eligible Bachelor.”


Sherlock Holmes: The Eligible Bachelor (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.45am) First shown on February 3, 1993, this is another one of the two-hour specials: and it outstays its welcome, by adding elements which just don’t make sense. Simon Williams—playing Lord St Simon—has adapted the Hound for the theatre, albeit as “a comedy melodrama, where an ancient curse returns to terrify the Baskerville family.” I can’t actually recall many laughs in the original story! Anna Calder-Marshall—playing Helena/Agnes Northcote—is the wife of David Burke, the first to play Watson to Brett’s Holmes. Mary Ellis—playing Lady Florence—was born before “The Adventure of the Empty House” was published: she also appeared as Mary Maberley in Granada’s “The Three Gables” in March 1994. It was to be her final performance.

Sherlock Holmes: His Last Bow (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 6.00am, 1.00pm, 8.00pm and 1.00am) Episode 8—His Last Bow (February 23, 1994) An excellent episode from Bert Coules to end the series. And this one is top-heavy with interconnections:

Norman Rodway—playing Stamford—was Watson to Ronald Pickup’s Holmes in “The Singular Case of Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud” (1990).

Donald Pickering—playing Sir Edward Grey— was Watson to Geoffrey Whitehead’s Holmes in “Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson” (1979/80).

Michael Cochrane—playing Captain Kell—was Watson to Jeremy Clyde’s Holmes in “The Great Detective” episode of the “Crime Writers” series (1978).

Preston Lockwood—playing Henry Asquith—was in the Hobbs/Shelley version of “The Naval Treaty” (1952).

Ed Bishop—playing the Agent— played Drebber in the Merrison/Wiilams “A Study in Scarlet” (1989) and played Stangerson in the Cushing/Stock version of the story (1968).

James Telfer—playing Von Bork—has done an audiobook reading of Hound.

Christmas with the Detectives—The Blue Carbuncle (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910) The first of a run of seasonal whodunits read by Tom Conti. Thomas Hardy, Dorothy L. Sayers and GK Chesterton stories make up the rest of the week.


The Master Blackmailer (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.40am and 12.30am) 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.

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (TCM on Sky317/Virgin415) Almost three years after 20th Century-Fox had decided not to continue the Rathbone/Bruce series, Universal Pictures picked up the option and pitted our heroes against the Nazis. The plot has a number of interesting twists, not least that one of the supposed good guys turns out to be von Bork. Ok, it’s enjoyable, if undemanding stuff, but Bruce still grates as Watson—particularly in this sort of war time setting. I’ve never been convinced that the WW2 films played any significant role in propaganda terms. Indeed, it’s hard to disagree with film critic Howard Barnes’ view: “As a sort of intelligence officer in the present conflict, the detective is bizarre and ineffective.” But audiences seemed to like it.

Hands of a Murderer (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.30pm) To be honest, it might have been better for all concerned if the hands of a murderer had been placed around the throats of both the director and writer and strangled this 1990 TV movie nonsense at birth. The plot is twaddle and, at times, impenetrable. Edward Woodward is unconvincing and unenthusiastic as Holmes, while Anthony Andrews’ Moriarty is less of a criminal mastermind and much more of a criminally bad piece of acting. Peter Jeffrey does his very best as Mycroft, but he has very little to work with. John Hillerman, as Watson, is probably best known for his role in “Magnum, PI,” but he’s actually quite good here. In one of the Magum episodes—Holmes Is Where The Heart Is–he played a pretend Watson to Patrick Macnee (a character who thought he was Holmes). Have a look if you haven’t seen it before. If you have seen it, then on your own head be it if you think it improves on a second showing. It doesn’t.


The Newly Discovered Casebook of Sherlock Holmes (Radio4 Extra on Sky0131/Virgin910 at 7.00am, 5.30pm and 5.30am) Episode 3—-The Case of the Deranged Botanist (January 30, 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.

Sherlock Holmes: The Eligible Bachelor (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.45am) See Tuesday

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 7.50pm) Season 1, Episode 2—The Dancing Men (May 1, 1984) A very understated adaptation by Anthony Skene, with excellent work from Tenniel Evans as Hilton Cubitt and Betsy Brantley as his wife, Elsie.

Terror By Night (TCM on Sky317/Virgin415 at 7.55pm) released in February 1946 this was the second last of the Rathbone/Bruce series. It’s all a bit stagey—hard to avoid when set on a train—but at least it’s Holmes the detective rather than Holmes the Nazi fighter. Good performance from Alan Mowbray as a disguised Colonel Moran, “the most sinister, ruthless and diabolically clever henchman of our late and unlamented friend, Professor Moriarty.” Mowbray had also played Inspector Gore-King in “Sherlock Holmes” (1932, with Clive Brooke as Holmes) and  Inspector Lestrade in “A Study in Scarlet” (1933, with Reginald Owen as Holmes.


Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (ITV3 on Sky119/Virgin117 at 10.50am and 1.05am) See Sunday

The Graham Norton Show (BBC1 at 10.35pm) Features an interview with Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law. I wonder what they could be promoting?!

Sherlock Holmes, 2009 (Indie on Sky312/Virgin412 at 10.00pm) See Saturday

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