The Saga of the Sherlock Holmes Granada TV Series

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

A new and noble project

Producing the definitive adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories!

Michael Cox, a fervent admirer of Arthur Conan Doyle, dreamed of making a color version and a perfectly faithful adaptation of the adventures of the great detective. In 1981, the moment seemed conducive to the launch of this beautiful project. Executives of television companies enjoyed a real autonomy. Of course, they had to make contemporary thrillers, sit-down comedies and popular soap operas, but they could also adapt the classics of their choice. According to Michael Cox, "imagination had power," because it was the producers, the writers, the decorators and the directors who had the power and not the salesmen. Denis Forman, Chairman of the Board of Granada Television and David Plowright, then Director, enthusiastically backed the Cox project. All that was left was to do it.

Reality to take in account

Money, the sinews of war... and television

But Granada is not Warner Bros and before the filming, Cox had to think about how to keep his budget within reasonable limits. He planned to shoot outdoor scenes but to keep as much as possible of indoor scenes in studio to save time and money. Plowright, for his part, had the clever idea of selling the series in advance to the American company WGBH, which would provide Cox with additional funds.

Legal conflicts about copyrights

Cox thought that Conan Doyle's work had finally fallen into the public domain. This was true in UK but not in USA, where the latest stories of Sherlock Holmes were still subject to copyright. Lorindy Pictures had bought the rights and threatened Granada with a lawsuit if the British company used the works or even the characters of Holmes and Watson! A legal truce war raged for more than two years, after which Granada, having indemnified Dame Jean Conan Doyle and Lorindy Pictures, was finally ok to launch the series.

A formidable deployment of energy

While the lawyers were battling, Cox was not idle. He had chosen his Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett, an actor known both in England and America, whose he admired in The Good Soldier, adapted from the novel by Ford Madox Ford and in Rebecca, from Daphne du Maurier. Jeremy Brett possessed, in Cox's eyes, all the qualities required to portray the great detective: voice, presence, energy, appearance and classical training. Indeed, Brett was remarkably seductive, unlike the great detective. But Cox thought it would be a benefit to attract the female audience. Without being beautiful, Holmes was not a sexy character but he possessed an irresistible power of fascination.

As for the sets, David Plowright suggested Cox to build a replica of Baker Street near the Coronation Street one, on a former railway depot located in Manchester, near the studios of Granada. Experienced decorators such as Michael Grimes, Tom Wilding and Margaret Coombes tackled the task with zeal.

Meanwhile, Michael Cox, aided by Stuart Doughty and Nicky Cooney, re-read Conan Doyle's sixty Sherlock Holmes stories and recorded in a "Baker Street File" all the details about the appearance and morals of Holmes and Watson. There remained the question of scenarios. He was totally excluded for Michael Cox to work on stories other than those written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Having dismissed, with regret, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, where Holmes and Watson were absent in too long flashbacks, Michael Cox and his friend, the talented John Hawkesworth, chose the thirteen stories they were allowed to shoot.

Cox and Hawkesworth also agreed that Holmes could not stand the foolishness, and Watson could not be the buffoon that Nigel Bruce was with Basil Rathbone in the 1939-1945 movies. Since Watson's conjugal status was highly variable and uncertain (he had several wives), they decided that he would remain single and proposed the role to David Burke, which was capable of playing with spirit and warmth. They wanted to make Mrs. Hudson a character in her own right and fortunately Rosalie Williams accepted the modest role of the landlady because she had known Cox and Jeremy Brett for a long time... While waiting for the shooting to begin, Brett read and re-read the Conan Doyle's stories with a growing interest in Holmes, whom he began to see as a dark and mysterious exciting character to explore.

The promising start of the series

From the start, the first season The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes seduced audiences and critics. Philip French, among others, wrote in The Sunday Times : "Jeremy Brett and David Burke are the best Holmes and Watson I've ever seen."

A fidelity never reached before

The admirers of Conan Doyle were, in fact, conquered by the accurate fidelity with which Alexander Baron had adapted A Scandal in Bohemia, Jeremy Paul The Speckled Band and Bill Craig The Copper Beeches. The writers of the Adventures profoundly knew, loved and respected Conan Doyle's works. Finding, for example, that the deduction scene placed by the novelist at the beginning of The Resident Patient was still subject to copyright and knowing the importance he attached to this type of exchange between Holmes and Watson, Derek Marlowe wrote an original scene of the same kind, very funny and unfolding in a barber shop.

Passionately determined to reject any deviation from the original work, Brett opposed the elimination of the famous speech of the rose, or the delusional ravings of Percy Phelps in The Naval Treaty, and endeavoured to prove that the deduction which led Holmes to diagnose, at the beginning of The Dancing Men, that Watson had abandoned his plans for financial investments could without a doubt be preserved. However, the actor had to accept changes : in The Naval Treaty it was impossible to keep Holmes' thoughts on the residential schools seen from the window of the train without showing these establishments, but Cox obviously could not afford to build Clapham Junction as it was in 1890...

Conflicts between the actors and producer sometimes bordered on the drama. In the original story The Adventure of the Crooked Man, the meeting between Nancy and Henry Wood takes place at night under a lamppost. But it was decided that in the episode, it would take place at the Mission, to avoid the considerable cost of a night shoot and a makeup of the modern urban decor. Brett and Burke found that this change distorted the intimate and pathetic scene of the meeting. There was a great dispute about this, says Burke. Tears were shed and a brawl almost started.

An exemplary professionalism

Cox, who did nothing lightly, decided not to start by filming the episode which would constitute his curtain raising, A Scandal in Bohemia. Before the series was exposed to the judgment of the audience, each of its aspects had to be carefully developed and prowled. To do this, Cox chose a story he felt strong and typical, The Solitary Cyclist. A Scandal in Bohemia was made after The Solitary Cyclist, The Naval Treaty, and The Speckled Band. The same concern for perfection is found in the director Paul Annett, recruited urgently after the defection of John Davies. If Annett carefully checked the shots after each shoot, he considered himself not only as an image specialist, but brought intelligence and careful in directing the actors. Brett, a romantic actor accustomed to embody heroes with complex inner life and passionate character, was initially disoriented and uncomfortable in the character of Sherlock Holmes. Annett guided him with tact and lucidity. He urged him to be natural, to exploit without excess the theatricality he shared with his character and succeeded in channeling his fantasy and his ardor. Brett, also extremely professional and totally involved in the production, did not miss any rush. Able to appreciate the work of each technician, he discussed the choices of the screenwriter and the director when they seemed questionable to him and maintained excellent relations with the whole team, which he knew how to brighten and stimulate. All the actors had the faith that raises the mountains. During The Solitary Cyclist, for example, Carruthers exclaims: « Ah! Coward dogs! Too late! Too late! By God! I will restore this woman in her rights, even if I have to be hanged for that! » Cox thought of suppressing this original reply, as he feared that his obsolete and melodramatic style would sink the adaptation into ridicule. But John Castle, who played Carruthers, declared it with such conviction that the producer decided to keep it.

A brilliant portrayal of Holmes and Watson

It was excluded, for the actors of the Sherlock Holmes series, to give a stereotyped or schematic vision of the characters of Arthur Conan Doyle. During the interrogation scene, in The Dancing Men, screenwriter, actors and director tried to refine the performance of the great detective. Holmes is certainly distant, but reveals a more amiable side of his nature when he questions the servants and even accepts the suggestion, slipped by Watson, to offer a sit to the upset cook. Bringing all his acting abilities to his performance, Brett detected the problems underlying in the text, observing, for example, Joseph Harrison's hostility to Percy Phelps, he guessed the resentment of the son of a worker towards a young man bound to the highest levels of the establishment. Brett thought deeply on his character and tried to restore his complexity. Thus, when he examined Violet Smith's hand, he suggested that Holmes found this touch quite agreeable and that's the reason why he hastened to let it and to take up a purely professional attitude. The brief but vehement explosion of anger of the detective exclaiming in The Blue Carbuncle that he is not hired by the police to make up for his deficiencies, is enough to make the glimpses of the demons hidden beneath the cold character and the gesture by which he tightens his dressing gown around him in The Final Problem, to suggest the chilling fright that Moriarty inspires him. Brett and Burke were in perfect agreement to make us perceive, with subtle touches, the emulation that reigns between Holmes and Watson as well as their complicity. But also, the irritation that they sometimes inspire each other, as in the first scene of The Copper Beeches, a masterpiece of finesse and humor. When Burke's perfectly posed but resolute tone of anger said : « This is Sherlock Holmes » to the Police Inspector which did not react to Holmes arrival (The Dancing Men) says more than a long speech about Watson's devotion to Holmes and his determination to defend him against everything. Jeremy Brett and David Burke did not just play their part, they meditated and contributed to the scenario, writing tasty moments with Jeremy Paul, such as those when Watson secretly consulted the Holmes' essay on secret codes ​​or when he boasted in explaining to his admiring interlocutors how to decipher the codes, under the detective's accomplice and amused glance.

Outstanding guest actors

The quality of the guest actors in the series contributes greatly to its brilliance. We can, alas, mention only a few of them. Frank Middlemass, perfect replica of the sympathetic Henry Baker in The Blue Carbuncle. Joss Ackland, the ideal interpreter of Jephro Rucastle, the fearsome owner of The Copper Beeches, with his imposing stature, deep bass voice and disturbing smile. Charles Gray, whose massive silhouette, sardonic and indecipherable manners, sometimes engaging, sometimes icy smiles make a formidable Mycroft Holmes, very close to the original. Colin Jeavons, Inspector Lestrade, who seems to come straight out of the pages of Conan Doyle and whose appearances in The Norwood Builder are a real comic delight. Eric Porter, a specialist in the great villain roles of English literature as Professor Moriarty, obnoxious and frightening as hell, with his hands like talons, his threatening smoothness and, in moments of crisis, his head swaying like a snake. Far from mechanically conforming to the stereotype of the role, Porter has reflected on his character's deepest motivations, which he believes are above all pride and the desire to prove his superiority over Holmes. The confrontation of the two enemies at Baker Street during The Final Problem is one of the greatest moments of the series, each of the actors wanted to give their best.

Well-managed problems

A good balance between fidelity and adaptation

Whatever Cox's desire for loyalty, he had to take into account the imperatives of a television series. From the very first episode, the audience had to get a clear and striking idea of Holmes' personality and his relationship with Watson. So Cox borrowed from The Sign of Four the sequence where, Watson believing that his friend was still on drugs, the latter answered him with the famous tirade on the horror inspired by intellectual inertia, and he placed it at the very beginning of the episode A Scandal in Bohemia. This was obviously a modification of the story, but using an authentic passage by Conan Doyle which, played with force and accuracy, results in a superb scene. As the spectator could not record the same amount of information as the reader, it was also sometimes necessary to simplify the text. Thus, in The Dancing Men, writer Anthony Skene felt it preferable to forego an exhaustive explanation of the principles of deciphering the code. Moreover, Watson could hardly remain passive and silent on the screen, even as he was only the narrator in the original short story. So he had to be given much more to say and do in the adaptations than in the book. Thus, in The Crooked Man, he was given the task of bringing to Holmes the murder case that upset the garrison of Aldershot. Finally, the spectator of a series generally appreciates the recurring, sympathetic and funny characters to which he is attached, hence the punctual but nevertheless important role attributed to the landlady. The adorable [[Rosalie Williams], by playing a Mrs. Hudson who is alternately outmoded, horrified, furious, dignified, attentive, resigned or full of majestic authority, has given her character an impact that is out of all proportion to her screen time. When transferring a work from one medium to another, complete fidelity is rigorously impossible, and Cox knew this before shooting began.

The art of turning insufficiencies into advantages.

Fascinating as they are, Conan Doyle's stories could not all make it to the screen without retouching. In The Greek Interpreter, for example, when Holmes and Watson arrive at the kidnappers' lair, Paul Kratides is dead and Kemp has fled in the company of Latimer and Sophie Kratides. End of the adventure. We will never know for sure what became of the two criminals and their victim's sister. One can imagine the frustration and even the fury of the spectators if the episode also stopped there. The excellent writer and screenwriter Derek Marlowe has therefore invented a sequel that is at once breathless, dramatic and funny. Holmes and Watson chase the fugitives, dragging behind them the indolent Mycroft who, for once, will act masterfully. Latimer's death will be appalling and spectacular, while the odious Kemp, handed over to the police by our heroes, will not escape the gallows. At times, Cox's team had to go beyond filling in the gaps in a story and correct obvious errors. The bones discovered in the blaze of The Norwood Builder and supposedly belonging to Oldacre, for example, could not actually be those of a rabbit. Cox knew full well that the police would not have been mistaken, because forensic medicine in Holmes' time was already able to identify blood and bones. So a human being had to have been thrown into the fire. The screenwriter agreed with this hypothesis, which not only made sense, but made the story even more dramatic. Finally, even among the thirteen stories selected, the original story did not always provide enough material for an episode. The Final Problem, for example, contains no criminal case or riddle to solve. To thicken the plot, John Hawkesworth took as his starting point a sentence from Watson that Holmes had been hired by the French government to investigate a case of supreme importance. Recalling that in 1911 the Mona Lisa had been stolen and had remained untraceable for two years, he decided that Moriarty would have it stolen by one of his accomplices, but that Holmes would succeed in recovering it. Hawkesworth solved the problem with perfect elegance: not only did he spice up the episode with an original and picturesque police investigation, but he fully justified the Napoleon's fierce hatred of crime towards Holmes, who had once again thwarted his machinations.

Budgetary limitations, a brake, but not yet a hindrance.

Perfectly aware that his budget, although substantial, is not that of a Hollywood blockbuster, Michael Cox carefully holds the purse strings. The house chosen to represent The Copper Beeches is not surrounded by any beech trees, so Cox does not consider any expensive solution to present us with a park filled with these hardwoods. Bill Craig, the scriptwriter, will simply have Rucastle say, in a funeral tone: "Dead, Miss Hunter, dead, for the most part." An irreproachably economical solution which, moreover, adds to the sinister atmosphere of the place. But the need to moderate expenditure sometimes has more frustrating consequences. If the battle of Holmes and Joseph Harrison in The Naval Treaty, for example, is shown through the image of their shadows moving in slow motion on the wall, it is because, as the filming threatened to exceed the allotted time, it had to be done quickly and simply, even if it meant settling for a stylized duel. It's a pity, but thanks to his thrifty spirit, Cox still had the money he needed to shoot The Final Problem in the beautiful Swiss countryside and to film the fall of Holmes and Moriarty into the Reichenbach Abyss in the way he had dreamed of and which required a lot of money. A battalion of English and local technicians had to build the platform from which the two stuntmen, Marc Boyle and Alf Joint, would be lowered, equipped with a harness to which a steel cable would be attached. And of course it was also necessary to take the time to carry out tests. Of course, the techniques used in cinema have progressed enormously since the eighties, and today's spectators could find the tricks used by the Granada team to evoke the fall of Holmes and Moriarty, primitive and very recognizable. That would be very unfair. The stage is excellent for the means of the time. It was much admired and Byron Rodgers wrote in The Times that it was the best fall ever filmed.

As David Stuart Davies wrote in "Bending the Willow", The Final Problem was a splendid conclusion to "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", thirteen episodes of admirable quality.

"The Return of Sherlock Holmes" : fights, victories and defeats

The horizon is getting darker

Watson quits Baker Street

David Burke's lively, warm and humorous interpretation had completely renewed Watson's image. But the actor, whose wife and two-year-old son lived in Kent, suffered from working away from his family. So when he had finished filming "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and the Royal Shakespeare Company offered to hire him and his wife, actress Anna Calder-Marshall, he found it impossible to refuse, despite the pleasure he found to play with Jeremy Brett. But far from leaving Cox in embarrassment, he gave him a perfect replacement, Edward Hardwicke. More mature in appearance, Hardwicke looked like the man the good doctor could have become after the three years of mourning for the Great Hiatus. The first episode of the Return was only filmed in fourth place, to allow Brett and Hardwicke to adapt to each other.

A weakened Sherlock Holmes

Brett probably suffered from bipolar disorder since a long time. But his sometimes excessive conduct was attributed to his natural enthusiasm and his eccentricity to a non-conformism which was altogether normal in an artist. The untimely death of his wife Joan in 1985 was a terrible blow, which pulverized the fragile balance which he had managed. Illness, hitherto held in check, raised his head and tightened his grip on him. Never again it would left him. Mental illnesses are often equated with outright madness and poorly regarded, Brett readily credited the romantic thesis of the tabloids, that his depression was the result of grief. Later, his troubles were attributed to the influence of Sherlock Holmes, an indecipherable, dark and misanthropic character, who is said to have obsessed him. The role was actually very heavy and forced him to memorize long and particularly complex texts. But it was probably neither the role of Sherlock Holmes nor even the death of Joan that caused Brett's disease. By losing the woman he loved and who inspired his confidence in life, Brett also lost the barrier that had protected him from the onslaught of a monster on the watch for years. In the courageous and touching statement he made on the occasion of the "Appeal for the Manic Depressive Fellowship", he calls his illness by its name: manic-depression and admits having been affected by it without knowing it for many years. But in 1985, he only aspires to return to work and to shoot "The Return of Sherlock Holmes", as Joan asked him before dying from cancer.

Times change at Granada

"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" having been a brilliant success, the Granada's business men expected that the series would continue naturally on its streak and judged that the costs could be limited. These guys are professionals, they thought, according to David Stuart Davies, they can pass ten thousand dollars for a million. Maybe, but that was where the series started on a soapy slope. Because you cannot produce good films without the appropriate budget. Especially since Cox, champion of economics and financial management, would no longer be directly in charge.

Originally an executive producer, he had indeed obtained a secondment to produce "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and now had to return to his original duties. Reassured by the success of the first two seasons, he saw no danger there and entrusted the reins of the "Return of Sherlock Holmes" to June Wyndham-Davies, an experienced professional who had produced excellent vintage pieces for Granada. But June's priorities were different: she was not particularly fond of Sherlock Holmes and was primarily interested in what Cox called the "brilliantly polished surface of things", namely the aesthetic quality of the films. Since she intended to keep her bases in London and that Cox would now be content to supervise the series, many details could escape their control.

The series continues its lead and consolidates its positions

Content is abundant

The series still has many excellent stories to adapt, including The Six Napoleons, The Plans of the Bruce-Partington, The Sign of Four or the impeccable Silver Blaze, a model of Holmesian investigation. In this particularly well-constructed story, Holmes demonstrates his methods by inferring from the presence of a sleeping pill in the curry dish, which is served to the horse keeper on the night of the robbery, that the culprit is the person who decided on the menu: the coach Straker himself. Then, inspecting the scene of the crime, he discovers clues that had escaped all others because he was looking for them, having mentally reconstructed the probable sequence of events.

Creativity is at every level

The screenwriters of "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" were full of cleverness and inventiveness. Hawkesworth repaired the blunder committed and recognized with rare honesty by Conan Doyle in Silver Blaze: the rules of turf strictly prohibiting participation in horse races with make-up, the screenwriter places the thoroughbred's toilet before the Wessex Cup instead of after. A model of loyalty, Hawkesworth goes further, however, in The Second Stain, by taking the judicious initiative to make the outcome even more difficult. Instead of quietly putting the stolen letter back in Trelawney Hope's suitcase, which has remained in his room, Holmes has to wait for the diplomat's return and surreptitiously slip the letter among his papers, under his nose and beard, at the risk of getting caught. In The Man with the Twisted Lips, Alan Plater reinforces the picturesque and funny nature of the fake beggar Boone by having him quote the greatest English authors with a lot of relevance. And this is not a gratuitous fantasy of the screenwriter, as the book "The Seven Curses of London" (James Greenwood, 1869) testifies that the "professional beggars" of the time were capable of such strategies. Jeremy Paul, for his part, restructured The Musgrave Ritual in order to remove the tangle of reported speeches and integrate Watson into the action. As for the problem of the oak tree, which was to serve as a landmark in the treasure hunt but could not fail to have changed in size in two centuries, it was the very ingenious designer Michael Grimes who solved it magnificently, making the tree in question not a living plant but a decorative element of the weather vane.

Actors are no less creative. Hardwicke imposes his personal mark on Watson by giving him, in addition to a radiant goodness, a new firmness and authority. In The Devil's Foot, he jealously watches over Holmes' health, ready to defend him against all those who could harm him, and even against his own follies. As for Brett, he's always on the lookout for new discoveries. In The Empty House, he perfectly suggests Holmes' calculating coldness by explaining with a fine-tuned and very self-satisfied air how he let Watson believe in his death. But when the flashback shows Holmes lurking under a rock and watching his friend looking for him in panic, Brett invents a stage game that wasn't in the script: he starts shouting Watson's name but stops halfway through, his reason reminding him of the need to hide his survival from him. During this very finely and soberly played moment, his whole attitude, however, says how sad Holmes is to abandon his friend to the grief of his pseudo-death. Brett sometimes dares to be bold. In The Devil's Foot, when Watson finally manages to wrest him from his terrifying hallucinations, Holmes grabs him by the shoulder and neck and cries out: John! John! John! Nothing like that in Conan Doyle, such actions being contrary to the Victorian code: two gentlemen must not touch each other nor call each other by their first names. Brett knows it and has seen that, for this very reason, his gesture and his cry, transgressive and moreover unique in the series, would have an exceptional impact, by letting glimpse the power, usually discreetly hidden, of Holmes' friendship towards Watson.

The bonds between the actors are growing stronger

Rosalie Williams, Colin Jeavons, Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke gathered together in several episodes, are visibly getting used to playing together. Brett and Hardwicke admire each other and soon become great friends. Like Watson does for Holmes, Hardwicke keeps a close eye on Brett. He will always support him with exemplary loyalty. The friendship between the fictional characters seems to reflect on the real people who play them. Brett was touched by the moving way Hardwicke played Watson's overwhelming joy when Holmes returned. Conversely, the understanding and affection between the two men influences their playing. Thus, Brett explains that, when he invented to address Watson in The Abbey Grange, calling him gentle-man of the Jury, it was because he thought that both Watson and Hardwicke were both gentlemen and gentle men. The double proximity of the characters and actors results in a particularly intimate and warm atmosphere. It is particularly noticeable in the dénouement of The Empty House, which brings together an exceptionally relaxed and amiable Holmes, a blossoming Watson and a Mrs. Hudson delighted to see her little family reunited. But she is also to be found, among other things, in the tasty first scene of The Six Napoleons, where Lestrade, Watson and Holmes, comfortably seated by the fire, glasses and cigars in hand, discuss current affairs in a friendly manner.

Unusual aesthetic quality

The images of "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" are very often beautiful. Peter Hammond, for example, has done a first-rate job in [[The Abbey Grange (TV episode 1986)|The Abbey Grange]. The opening sequence, showing the white horses of Inspector Hopkins' carriage galloping through a deep night lit by the flames of the torches, is breathtaking and many superb images then mark the episode, such as the faces of Watson, Hopkins and Holmes, reflected in a mirror with a rich golden frame. Nor is it easy to forget, in The Musgrave Ritual, the silhouettes of Holmes, Watson and Reginald Musgrave standing out against the sky, armed with their umbrellas and heads raised towards the great oak tree, nor that of the horseman from the past or Rachel floating on the pond, like Millais' Ophelia.

Patrick Gowers' music is in no way less imaginative, whether it be the delightful harpsichord piece of The Musgrave Ritual, which alone is capable of transporting us back to the time of Charles I, Elgar's majestic First March, which ennobles The Second Stain with its solemn accents, or the superb Libera Me from The Priory School, performed by the Westminster choirs.

A sure win... on the surface

At the end of the first season of "The Return of Sherlock Holmes", the series seemed to have definitively triumphed. It had managed to attract very famous actors such as Alan Howard (Duke of Holderness), Harry Andrews (Lord Bellinger), Patricia Hodge (Lady Hilda), Anne-Louise Lambert (Lady Brackenstall), Eric Sykes (Horace Harker), Jenny Seagrove (Mary Morstan), John Thaw (Jonathan Small) and many others. It was a great success in England and USA, promised to export very well and received very positive reviews.

But victories are rarely definitive. In the beautiful edifice of the first season there were already some discreet cracks. In the second season they widened, became gaps, and the series suffered its first setbacks.

Pitfalls, skirmishes and first setbacks

The disease is back

Very intuitive, Brett had good judgment. In the first season of "The Return of Sherlock Holmes", the disease sometimes managed to quietly confuse him. In The Musgrave Ritual, the actor is generally excellent, whether he plays a whiny, restive Holmes, mortally bored at the prospect of a stay with a country hobbyist, or whether he masterfully directs the investigation and militarily surveys the park to find the location of the treasure. But the odd behaviour and the laughter, as irrepressible as devoid of motive, that he lends to the detective, who is supposed to be on drugs, gives rise to a vague uneasiness.

In 1986, the onslaught of bipolar disease was much more energetic. While in hospital, Brett began to fear that treatments given to ease his frightening mood swings would one day prevent him from working, blunting his reactions and the expressiveness of his acting. Despite all precautions, the Sun learned of the actor's problems and titled: "Sherlock Holmes in the Madhouse"... Back on his feet and for a time in great shape, Brett was able to sparkle in the beautiful and exciting The Sign of Four. But the filming of The Devil's Foot found him in a phase of excessive exaltation, caused by the disease, which inspired him to some rather ridiculous clothing extravagances. Holmes supposedly cold, Brett wore a hood topped with a Trilby, himself held in place by a scarf. The episode, filmed in magnificent landscapes, was also fascinating and full of research. Denis Quilley played a perfect Leon Sterndale, fearsome but also deeply moving. Hardwicke was a touching Watson of caring and impressive authority and Brett, a brilliant but human Holmes, both vulnerable and masterful. Yet some of the press saw only the ridiculous attire, and so they picked him up and made hot gulps out of him.

But evil had opened another front, of extreme strategic importance for an actor: physical appearance. After the filming of The Sign of Four, Brett, in a manic attack, cut his hair very short himself, so that it could no longer be combed back and smoothed with an ointment. It was a dreadful hair massacre that stunned Hardwicke, landed Cox, and put a strain on the make-up department. Brett tried, after the fact, to rationally justify the ransacking and Cox, forced to make a good-hearted counter-move against bad luck, claimed that his new "hairstyle" might be suitable. But the fans were for the most part dismayed. They were not at the end of their disappointment, for the lithium prescribed for bipolar disease had, among its disastrous side effects, that of causing considerable water retention. Much to his chagrin, Brett, who was naturally slender, began to gain weight on a regular basis. By the time The Bruce Partington Plans shots were shot, Holmes' silhouette had become almost as massive as his brother's. But what was natural in Charles Gray was sickly in Brett, and if Mycroft could and should be corpulent, Sherlock was not at all.

Financial setbacks breed artistic setbacks

As Michael Cox feared, the filming of Silver Blaze was expensive. It required a lot of horses, crews and extras in period costumes for the Wessex Cup. But it was The Devil's Foot that ruined the series. June Wyndham-Davies decided to film the entire episode in Cornwall and to house the entire crew there for the fortnight of filming, which was a colossal expense. By the time Cox realised the danger, it was already too late to avoid it. There would not be enough money left to shoot the two remaining episodes. So they were reduced to cancelling them. "The Devil's Foot," Cox wrote, "would always be remembered as The Cornish Horror."

Michael Cox and June Wyndham-Davies then believed that The Devil's Foot could provide them with the means to save the situation. It would provide Granada with two hours of entertainment at a much lower cost than two episodes. It was, Cox honestly admits, a very poor calculation, for a Baskerville Dog turned to economy and even by economy could not be fully successful. If we were unable to do justice to Conan Doyle's famous masterpiece, it would have been better not to adapt it. For lack of the necessary money, the services of John Madden, a renowned director, who had admirably succeeded in recreating the gloomy atmosphere of the moorland in The Priory School, could not be secured as one would have wished. Nor was there any question of staging the legend of the Baskervilles. Writer Trevor Bowen said, in retrospect, that it was better to do so. But Brett believed, and rightly so, that depicting the legend of the curse of the Baskervilles on the screen was absolutely essential to create the atmosphere of supernatural threat that is the most fascinating part of the story. Filming the tailing of Henry Baskerville by Holmes and Watson in the bustling streets of London? Too expensive in extras and vehicles. Shooting outside on the vast, mysterious and gloomy moorland? Too expensive too. So they filmed in the studio the pursuit of Selden by Watson and Sir Henry and the appearance of the dog, launched after Baskerville. The Hell Hound, the stumbling block in many adaptations before the era of computer-generated images, was here only a Great Dane coated with phosphorescent material, unable to provoke the slightest shiver of fear. To top it all off, Brian Mills, in order to fill the two hours of the film at the lowest possible cost, reused fragments from previous episodes, such as the very recognizable passage from The Greek Interpreter where Holmes walks away in the fog from a station platform. The shooting of this poor Hound caused a deep unease among all the members of the crew and the result fell far short of the audience's expectations. For the first time, the critics were frankly negative and even sometimes acerbic. Yet, writes David Stuart Davies, it was not strictly speaking a bad film, only a disappointing film. Indeed, one could expect much more from an adaptation of such a masterpiece, especially since the producer had a Holmes and a Watson of exceptional value.

The illness of his star and the financial restrictions imposed by Granada made the filming of Sherlock Holmes' Return a journey full of pitfalls and traps into which the series could not always avoid falling. But thanks to the professionalism, intelligence and remarkable grit of the team that directed it, The Return is nonetheless, as a whole, a collection of little masterpieces full of unforgettable scenes and images.

"The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" : a great victory over adversity

Brett regains some energy

"The Secret of Sherlock Holmes", a superb but exhausting adventure

A man of the theatre above all, Brett dreamed of bringing Sherlock Holmes to the stage. On the occasion of his centenary, he suggested to Jeremy Paul that he write a play centred on the friendship of Holmes and Watson. Having explored his character in depth, the actor was able to collaborate actively in the development of the text. The plot did not excite the critics, as it had no police investigation or mystery. But the fascinating performance of Brett and Hardwicke was a source of enthusiasm. The play, which was supposed to run for six weeks, ran for two years. It was a great success, but the pace of eight performances a week exhausted the actors, especially Brett. The performances were probably cathartic for him, but required excessive physical effort from a man with a worsening heart condition who, due to the enormous water retention caused by the lithium, found it difficult to breathe and move. He was forced to leave the theatre and go to hospital, where he stayed for a fortnight and had more than twelve litres of water removed from his body. By 1989 Brett and Hardwicke, who had supported him with boundless patience, were on their knees. Brett took a short holiday but had to be rushed home and hospitalised: the treatments for his bipolar disorder and his heart condition had clashed.

A miraculous resurrection

The hospitalisation of his star plunged Michael Cox into the throes of uncertainty. If he started preparations for the filming of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes and Brett proved unfit to act, financial disaster was certain. But if he put it on hold, he would be inflicting a terrible disappointment on the actor. Cox finally took the risk of keeping the scheduled shooting date. Brett swore to him that he would be ready in time and left the hospital in record time. But according to Hardwicke's testimony, he was a shadow of his former self when rehearsals began. His loyal partner had never seen him so hesitant and lacking in spirit. However, as soon as filming began, the passion of the profession worked miracles: Brett recovered and, according to the unanimous opinion of the critics, excelled throughout the season.

Cox bravely takes over the leadership of his troops

The market imposes its law

By 1989, when Brett and Hardwicke returned to the Sherlock Holmes series, the world of British television had, according to Michael Cox, changed completely. The Conservative government was firmly committed to market forces and, the producer adds bitterly, to dismantling a broadcasting system that the world envied in the UK. Ratings and profitability became the only relevant criteria for success and accountants took over. To implement this new policy, new leaders were needed. The dinosaurs, who had once built Granada's reputation, were got rid of.

Cox stands firm

Sacked after many years of loyal service, Cox was offered the opportunity by David Plowright to run "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes" as a freelance producer. A year later, Plowright was forced to resign. Cox agreed to take over the leadership of his troops without accepting the liberal catechism, as shown by the quote from John Ruskin in which he addressed the new leaders: "You must always remember that your business is to form the market as well as to supply it, [otherwise] your career will have succeeded only in restraining the arts, tarnishing the virtues, and throwing confusion into the manners of your contemporaries." Cox had to battle hard with the accountants, who cut his budgets and imposed new burdens on him, demanding, for example, that he pay to use the Baker Street set, which was built with the show's money. But the producer stood firm and did not give up his values.

The series breaks down barriers

Against scarcity, the series uses the weapon of cunning

In The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Turner confesses to Holmes and Watson his tumultuous Australian past. A flashback was needed to avoid a long static scene. The attack on the gold convoy by Turner, then a highwayman, is very wisely chosen. During the assault McCarthy had seen his face, which enabled him to blackmail him mercilessly from his return to Britain. This Western-style sequence was welcome in an episode that was sorely lacking in action. But the time was long past when Cox could afford to go to Switzerland to shoot The Final Problem! He had to find a corner of Australia... in England. Bromley Cross Quarry in Lancashire was the place. Unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs. "But," Cox commented philosophically, "it must rain sometimes in Australia, mustn't it?"

Against the weaknesses of the original stories, the ingenuity of the scriptwriters

The series had already exploited the best Sherlock Holmes stories. The ones that remained were, according to David Stuart Davies, fragile vessels that needed to be strengthened or reframed. This is what Gary Hopkins did when he was given the script for Shoscombe's Adventure. In the original story, the mystery is dispelled all too soon: having jumped into Lady Beatrice's carriage, Jasper barks furiously at his alleged mistress, who shouts at the coachman to drive away. Holmes concludes that this is not the real Lady Beatrice, because dogs are never wrong. Watson adds that the voice heard was that of a man, so there is no longer any doubt that the role of Lord Robert's sister is played by an impostor. In Hopkins' script, on the other hand, with Carrie Evans, the chambermaid, ordering the coachman to leave before Jaspers could reach the carriage and the fake Lady Beatrice remaining silent, mystery and suspense are preserved.

In The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, the writers and directors have shown great skill in turning the sometimes problematic stories they are given into films that will appeal to audiences. Trevor Bowen, for example, has completely reconstructed the first half of The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax. In the short story, Holmes, relieving himself of his duties, sent Watson to the continent in search of the missing Lady Frances. The poor doctor naturally failed to find her. Holmes joined him too late, the young woman having already left for London, and cruelly mocked the way he had conducted his investigation. Bowen has done away with the costly and unnecessary wanderings and has erased Holmes' arrogant injustice. The film opens with Watson on holiday in the beautiful sunny Lake District and Holmes in the silent solitude and gloom of 221B Baker Street, reading with extreme care the letters in which his friend describes the picturesque residents of his hotel: Major Schlessinger, Miss Calder, Lady Frances Carfax, and the strange incidents he has witnessed. Director John Madden shows Holmes using a variety of figures to represent the characters Watson is talking about and mimic their actions. This is a genius move that makes the beginning of the film fascinating. The second part of the original story was not a problem and Bowen followed it faithfully, only allowing himself to place the discovery of Lady Frances in the coffin of the deceased maid not in Schlessinger's home, but in the cemetery. The result is a scene that is as original as it is thrilling and artfully filmed. While the funeral of Lady Frances, chloroformed but alive, is solemnly taking place, Holmes and Watson gallop to the cemetery and then to her future grave in order to save her... The liberties taken by the adaptation may shock some purists, but the result is a captivating episode, whose mysterious and disquieting atmosphere is further accentuated by Patrick Gowers's supremely effective musical accompaniment.

Against physical limitations, the power of the mind

He may have lost his elegant slimness, his pretty boy face and his remarkable agility, but Brett's intelligence as an actor has remained intact. During the investigation scene on Thor's Bridge, it was his idea to lie down in the place and position where the victim's body was lying. Thus placed, it is natural that Holmes noticed that a piece of stone had been torn from under the bridge railing.

Of course, the days when the actor could run like a greyhound and leap over sofas are gone. But his acting, more interiorised, is at least as strong. During the confrontation between Holmes and Turner in [[The Boscombe Valley Mystery (TV episode 1991)|The Boscombe Valley Mystery, for example, Brett smiles serenely and plants his piercing gaze in Turner's eyes, which widen with fright: he has understood that no secret can escape Holmes' lucidity. It's all about the expression on the faces, which June Howson skilfully highlights with multiple zooms and close-ups. The intensity of Brett's acting is strikingly evident during the scene in The Problem of Thor Bridge where Watson takes Holmes into the cell next to Grace Dunbar's to explain his hypotheses to her. In his view, Gibson had indeed got rid of his wife and arranged to frame Grace Dunbar for having rejected him. Brett's attitude and face are filled with an animosity of shock and horror that makes you think that he not only hates himself for not having found the truth, but also hates Watson for having discovered it for him. The next moment, a complete metamorphosis: Holmes enters the housekeeper's cell, full of confidence, and announces with a smile that she is safe. Watson's false solution has in fact helped him to find the real one.

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: a success

Unanimous praise from the press

In the Mail on Sunday, Alan Coren calls Brett's performance so extraordinary that he can't think of any adjectives that are extraordinary enough to describe it and predicts six glorious weeks for the series. Marcus Berkmann in the Daily Mail praises the high standard of production and Brett's full-bodied acting, while Andrew Cowen in The Stage says Granada has liberated Sherlock Holmes from the world of boyhood, where he was previously confined, and notes that Brett's 'gothic' demeanour adds a charisma too often absent in lesser performances.

Deserved applause

The critical praise was fully justified, as the season did justice to the best stories, magnified the qualities of the others and made the most problematic ones watchable.

Among the best short stories used for The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes is The Problem of Thor Bridge, in which Holmes conducts a thrilling and exemplary investigation. The quality of the original allowed Jeremy Paul to write a very faithful script in which he only gave more importance to Gibson, Grace Dunbar and of course Watson. To the solidity of the plot, Michael Simpson added the beauty of the images of the exotic Maria, the English countryside and the Gibson's lush grounds. Brett played a quietly ironic Holmes, unaffected by fear or the glamour of money or power, and Daniel Massey made Gibson an arrogant, devious and dangerous billionaire, a worthy adversary of the great detective.

The Illustrious Client, on the other hand, is far from being a model Holmesian story. Holmes does not solve any riddles and has to play an unusual role for him. He has to prevent a young girl from a marriage that would be fatal to her. He is saved by Kitty Winter and it is she, not he, who puts Baron Gruner out of action. But Conan Doyle's dialogue sparkles with wit and vivacity, and his colourful characters have the most vigorous relief. The adaptation exploits these qualities so well that it is easy to forget the rest. The actors are indeed perfectly chosen. Kim Thomson, a delightful Kitty, is able to convey all the passion, suffering, bravery and fierce determination of her character. As for Anthony Valentine, if he does not have the irresistible physique that Conan Doyle lends to Baron Gruner, he conveys his deep perversity with remarkable efficiency, particularly in the famous scene where he consults with delight the catalogue of his conquests. The musical accompaniment, taken from Mozart's Don Giovanni, provides a superb background to the crucial scenes. Don Juan is serenaded when, in the excellent sequence written by Robin Chapman, Gruner plays to his fiancée Violet the comedy of remorse and conversion. In the denouement, Don Juan's air of damnation begins to play as the Baron, believing he has his revenge, gloats as he threatens a defenceless Holmes with his revolver, but as imposing as the statue of the Commander. This ending, with its tragic power, is truly magnificent.

Nothing could completely save The Creeping Man from implausibility and ridicule. However, Robin Chapman amended it considerably. Among other things, he has delayed the revelation of the identity of the mysterious predator that terrifies the Presbury household, and he has increased the drama of the ending. Presbury is no longer content to provoke his dog until it attacks him. He storms Alice Morphy's home, intending to rape and possibly kill her. The story as a whole is hardly believable, yet the intensity that the script and the acting have managed to give to certain scenes makes them captivating. In the original, for example, Holmes is quietly reflecting with Watson, over a bottle of port, on the interval between the dog Roy's fits of rage, triggered by Presbury's injections of monkey hormones. In the adaptation, on the other hand, Holmes has to solve the problem in a hurry and under stress. Indeed, Presbury, furious at having been spurned by his too-young fiancée, has locked himself in his office and has just received a parcel of monkey hormones... As for the dog's fits of rage, they follow one another in a more complex rhythm than in the novel. Holmes, focused and tense to the extreme, finally understands that the interval between attacks decreases by two days each time. The next injection of hormones, which could have dramatic consequences, will therefore take place the same day! Taking his companions with him, Holmes rushes to Presbury's in the hope of avoiding the worst, and the viewer is gripped despite himself.

A delicate balancing act

Producing The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes was like walking a tightrope, without a net, over a precipice. For Cox, fidelity to Conan Doyle's work was an article of faith. But under no circumstances could he exceed his budget, or else the remaining episodes would be cancelled. It was therefore impossible to film Lady Frances Carfax in Lausanne, Baden and then in Montpellier, where the beginning of the investigation in the original takes place. Moreover, whether we like it or not, a popular detective series must comply with the requirements of the genre if it is not to be condemned to failure from the start. In particular, it must include mystery and action. If the original lacks them, the writer will add them. So Gary Hopkins introduced a false lead in Shoscombe's Adventure to spice up the plot: the supposed murder of the loan shark Samuel Brewer. But this was obviously to alter Conan Doyle's story. Cox worked miracles to maintain the right balance between fidelity, economy and the need to meet the legitimate expectations of the public. It was hard work, requiring a lot of skill, and one for which Brett rightly admired him.

Would it have been better for the series to leave out, as David Stuart Davies seems to suggest, Conan Doyle's weaker stories? One might think not, for even the less successful ones have their charm or interest. If The Creeping Man is extravagant, for example, it reflects the reality the novelist witnessed. In 1889, did not the scientist Brown-Séquart inject himself with a solution based on extracts of dog, guinea pig and pig testicles, in the utopian hope of restoring his virility?

The fate of the series changes

A planned disaster

Moving to feature films, a suicide mission

The Inspector Morse series was a huge success with its two-hour episodes, and ITV wanted to compete with it by showing Sherlock Holmes films of the same length. It was as unreasonable a decision as Napoleon launching the Russian Campaign despite the approach of winter, because Inspector Morse was based on two hundred page novels with tight plots, while the remaining Sherlock Holmes short stories to be adapted were no more than twenty pages long and the bottom of the barrel. "It doesn't matter," Michael Cox bitterly ironised, "don't worry about the quality, just fill the time slot!" But there was nothing more the producer could do for the series. When Brett talked about giving up the role of the great detective, Cox took his words, inspired by a temporary discouragement, at face value and agreed to produce an adaptation of Maigret. By the time the actor decided to don the Sherlock Holmes costume again, the producer was no longer available. June Wyndham-Davies took over, but according to David Stuart Davies, she had been given peremptory and aberrant instructions: Make the pictures pretty and reduce the dialogue! This was to forget that to cut the dialogue in a Sherlock Holmes story is to strip it of much of its interest and specific charm. If Cox could no longer play the role of guardian, Brett was not in a position to do so either. Shuffled between the 'highs' and 'lows' of his mood by bipolar illness, he would get carried away by enthusiasm during the shoots and only recover his critical faculties afterwards, when it was too late.

Adapting Appledore's Master Singer: an impossible challenge brilliantly overcome

To turn Charles Augustus Milverton's short story into a two-hour film was, in the words of Michael Cox, to reconstruct the Atlantic or Niagara Falls from a drop of water. Jeremy Paul accomplished this feat with consummate virtuosity. He carefully preserved the excellent material of the original, such as Milverton's visit to Baker Street, the burglary of his home by Holmes and Watson, and his tragic death. To flesh out this meagre core, he reconstructed the dramas caused by Milverton that Conan Doyle merely mentions in passing, such as Colonel Dorking's suicide, thus giving us a glimpse into the dark and often overlooked underbelly of Victorian society. The film is beautiful to watch thanks to Peter Hammond's stylish and elegant direction. Holmes and Watson are a perfectly matched team and Norma West plays an impressive Lady Swinstead with dignity and passion. As for Robert Hardy, he is an ideal Charles Augustus Milverton, unyielding under his gentle exterior and perfectly chilling. Yet, while critics praised The Master Hunter of Appledore, it was only with reluctance. According to David Stuart Davies, the press, a little tired of Sherlock Holmes films, felt the need to be fussy. The unfortunate kissing scene between Agatha and Holmes provided the opportunity. The newspapers also regretted that the story lacked a real puzzle and that Holmes was far from brilliant. This was not the fault of the adaptation, but of the original. However, if the critics were not dithyrambic, they were generally favourable to the Master Builder: this result was a great achievement, given the immense difficulty of the task assigned to the June Wyndham-Davies team.

The general staff sends its troops to the massacre

In 1992, David Plowright was no longer manager of Granada. The last staunch defender of quality, according to Brett, he in turn had been sacked. [June Wyndham-Davies, who would have liked to film a few more Sherlock Holmes stories, was unable to get a clear answer from the management. In January, to everyone's surprise, the order came down: two feature films were to be made, one of which would be a Christmas special. While June Wyndam-Davies already had three one-hour scripts ready to go: The Retired Colour Merchant, The Golden Pince-Nez and The Red Circle, she urgently needed to find a two-hour script. She hired the talented Jeremy Paul.

The Last Vampyre: an alarming fail

Left to choose from the weak stories still available, Jeremy Paul selected The Vampire of Sussex. But unlike Charles Augustus Milverton, the story had no subplots related to the main plot that the writer could have developed. One had to jump into the void without a parachute. Jeremy Paul set to work eagerly. But forced by necessity and perhaps also carried away by his creative impulse, he invented so many events and characters absent from the original that the film became a pastiche. Above all, in The Vampire of Sussex, as in The Hound of the Baskervilles, all the events end up being explained in a natural and perfectly clear way, whereas in The Last Vampire, Holmes not only does not lead the events, but is unable to provide a precise and certain logical explanation at the moment of denouement. David Stuart Davies, having met Brett on the set, had noted how unhappy he was with his role, as he attached great importance to fidelity to Conan Doyle: 'From now on, we're not doing Conan Doyle, we're doing "Doyle for a laugh"', he told his visitor. But ill, exhausted, he no longer had the energy to fight the excesses and could only confess his impotence: I am only an actor... The press had a hard time with The Last Vampyre, which nevertheless offers some beautiful moments of cinema, such as the burning of the lordly castle. As Brett was discreet, perhaps too much so, about his state of health, some journalists were not kind to him either. David Thomas, in particular, was wickedly ironic in The Sunday Express about the film and its star: 'The most frightening aspect of the film is the considerable weight that has settled on Brett's once emaciated form.' Sure, but what could he do? It was a disastrous side effect of his treatment, which he tried in vain to conceal by constantly wearing a big black coat, despite the heat that made him sweat profusely.

The Noble Bachelor: a debacle

Si Le Dernier Vampire avait eu des conséquences néfastes pour l'image de la série, jugée coupable d'infidélité à l'esprit comme à la lettre du récit de Conan Doyle, il ne l'avait pas totalement ruinée. De même que la bataille de la Bérézina avait permis, grâce à l'héroïsme des pontonniers du Général Eblé, de sauver les restes de la Grande Armée, le scénario de Jeremy Paul avait préservé le rationalisme et la dignité de Holmes, tandis que les images de Peter Hammond créaient une fascinante atmosphère de mystère et d'effroi. Mais Le Noble Célibataire produisit un effet désastreux. Le scénario de Trevor Bowen diabolisait le personnage de Lord Robert Saint-Simon, faisant de lui un monstre digne des romans noirs d'Ann Radcliffe et greffait, sur la maigre et terne intrigue de la nouvelle, une foule de péripéties aussi horribles qu'invraisemblables. Mais ce que les admirateurs de Conan Doyle ne pouvaient pardonner au film, c'est la métamorphose de leur héros. En proie à d'affreux cauchemars, Holmes renie en effet le rationalisme qui constitue son essence même et admet que les rêves constituent une forme de prescience et peuvent annoncer l'avenir. En dépit de toute logique, la suite du film confirme cette croyance: tout ce que Holmes a vu dans ses rêves prémonitoires y devient réalité, jusqu'aux moindres détails…Mais si le spectateur accepte les rêves prophétiques dans l'univers théâtral de Richard III ou d'Athalie, il n'est pas prêt à les tolérer dans une histoire de Sherlock Holmes. Conscient des aberrations du scénario, Brett en élimina quelques-unes. Mais en raison de sa maladie, sa lucidité subissait des éclipses. Il se laissa donc convaincre de se précipiter en chemise de nuit dans Baker Street sous une pluie battante et de s'effondrer dans une flaque, ce qui dégradait à la fois son image et celle de Holmes. Cette fois, les critiques furent impitoyables. Nancy Banks-Smith, du Guardian, exprima son indignation en termes imagés : Ce film, c'est une histoire honnête et simple comme une fille de laiterie, qu'on a attifée et outrageusement maquillée pour en faire une dévergondée qui erre en racolant, crie, bafouille et lance des insinuations grivoises. C'était Waterloo, et la série aurait du mal à restaurer son image abîmée. Mais ceux qui avaient exigé qu'on réalise l'impossible en un temps-record n'en étaient-ils pas les premiers responsables ? Comme l'écrit David Stuart Davies, il aurait peut-être mieux valu changer de politique et utiliser de bons pastiches que de tenter de faire des films de deux heures avec des histoires qui auraient péniblement fourni un scénario de cinquante minutes.

If The Last Vampyre had had harmful consequences for the image of the series, judged guilty of infidelity to the spirit as well as the letter of Conan Doyle's story, it had not totally ruined it. Just as the Battle of the Berezina had saved the remnants of the Grand Army thanks to the heroism of General Eblé's pontoon boats, so the script by Jeremy Paul had preserved the rationalism and dignity of Holmes, while Peter Hammond's images created a fascinating atmosphere of mystery and dread. But The Eligible Bachelor had a disastrous effect. Trevor Bowen's script demonised the character of Lord Robert St. Simon, turning him into a monster worthy of Ann Radcliffe's noir novels, and grafted a host of horrific and implausible events onto the meagre and lacklustre plot of the novel. But what Conan Doyle fans could not forgive the film was the metamorphosis of their hero. In the grip of terrible nightmares, Holmes denies the rationalism that is his very essence and admits that dreams are a form of prescience and can foretell the future. Despite all logic, the rest of the film confirms this belief: everything Holmes saw in his premonitory dreams becomes reality, down to the smallest detail... But if the spectator accepts prophetic dreams in the theatrical universe of Richard III or Athalie, he is not ready to tolerate them in a Sherlock Holmes story. Aware of the script's aberrations, Brett eliminated some of them. But because of his illness, his lucidity was slipping. So he allowed himself to be persuaded to rush down Baker Street in his nightgown in the pouring rain and collapse in a puddle, thereby degrading both his image and that of Holmes. This time the critics were merciless. Nancy Banks-Smith of the Guardian expressed her indignation in graphic terms: This film is a plain, honest story like a dairy girl, dressed up and outrageously made up into a hussy who wanders about soliciting, shouting, babbling and making saucy innuendoes. It was Waterloo, and the series would have difficulty restoring its damaged image. But weren't those who had demanded that the impossible be done in record time the ones primarily responsible? As David Stuart Davies writes, it might have been better to change policy and use good pastiches than to try to make two-hour films with stories that would have painfully provided a fifty-minute script.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: The last lights of the sunset

June Wyndam-Davies' fierce fight for the survival of the series

A hard-won programme

Curiously, the programmers asked June Wyndham-Davies for a new two-hour Sherlock Holmes episode. But the producer, badly burned by the reception of The Last Vampyre and The Eligible Bachelor, was not interested in a script based on a thin, mediocre Sherlock Holmes story that had been embroidered on with varying degrees of success. If it was impossible to do an authentic Conan Doyle, it was better to rely on a good pastiche. So she called on David Stuart Davies, who hastily reworked the novel he was writing into a script that would fit the series' limited budget. When The Book of the Dead was ready, the programmers decided that a feature-length Sherlock Holmes was no longer on the agenda! Perhaps they would have a slot in January for a few one-hour films. This was a blow to June Wyndham-Davies. Tenaciously, she fought for six one-hour slots, but was met with indifference and reluctance. Finally, a window appeared in the January 1994 schedule. This gave the producer a meagre six months in which to produce the sixth season. With the programmers rejecting the idea of a two-shot of a film based on David Stuart Davies' two-hour script, all that remained was for the producer to dig through her drawers to find the previously unused scripts and to mobilise experienced and reliable writers to dust them off as best they could and turn them into the six episodes of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

A series of hard knocks: the filming turns into a crossroads

Meanwhile, Brett's health worsened dramatically. During the shooting of The Three Gables he fainted on the set and had to be rushed to hospital. The water that had accumulated in his body due to the lithium prescribed for his mental illness had invaded his lungs. Brett was passionate about his job and had a strong sense of responsibility to the team. He was not about to desert. As soon as he could, he returned to shoot the sequel to The Three Gables. But between shoots, he was in a wheelchair and breathed through an oxygen mask. After shooting was completed, he had to return to hospital for a month and June Wyndham-Davies was forced to delay the filming of the prophetic The Dying Detective, which resulted in worrying additional costs. When Brett was finally able to return to work, he claimed to be in good shape because, in Linda Pritchard's words, even hanging without a rope over a precipice, he reportedly said that all was well. In reality, according to David Stuart Davies, the actor's mental problems were making his life hell. Immediately after the filming of The Agonising Detective, he was again taken to the Charters Nightingale Mental Hospital. There it was found that the lithium had irreparably damaged his heart. Brett did not want to hear any more about painkillers. He left the psychiatric hospital and went to a cardiology clinic where he had five litres of water removed by means of punctures. While his star was fighting both the disease and the doctors, June Wyndham-Davies was tearing her hair out. Her Sherlock Holmes memoirs, which she had managed to get off the ground with heroic effort, were now under threat. For how could Sherlock Holmes films be made without Sherlock Holmes? The producer, once again plucking up courage, actively sought a way out. Her solution was to replace Sherlock with Mycroft in The Mazarin Stone. Fortunately, the great Charles Gray was available, but the swapping of characters meant that the script had to be adapted. Brett was finally able to return to shoot The Cardboard Box, but he had to be accompanied by a nurse and was under strict orders to play only every other day. This was an additional obstacle for the producer, who had to reconcile these restrictions with a schedule and deadlines. Shortly after filming, Brett had to return to the psychiatric hospital, where he was unable to see the excellent final episode of The Memoirs, his last appearance as Sherlock Holmes.

An uneven season, but far from lacklustre

David Stuart Davies claims that the final season of Sherlock Holmes was almost not made and that it might have been better if it had not been. This opinion is debatable, for each of the six episodes, however unsuccessful, shines in at least one aspect.

The ingenuity of the screenwriters, for example, shines through in The Agonising Detective and The Golden Claw. For the first of these two films, Conan Doyle's short story provided Trevor Bowen with little more than the great comedy scene in which Holmes plays Culverton Smith in his own version of The Imaginary Sick Man. Bowen reconstructed the events leading up to it, which explained why Culverton Smith was eager for revenge and how Victor Savage had fallen to his mercy. Bowen also imagined the course of the murder and the process by which Holmes had become certain of Smith's guilt and then resolved to provoke him by promising to discredit him. Holmes expected Smith, now his mortal enemy, to try to eliminate him, and in so doing fall into his trap. It was a fine job Bowen had done there. But Gary Hopkins' work on The Golden Nose was no less remarkable. Hopkins programmed a flashback to the Russian Revolution for the opening sequence. Beautifully shot by Peter Hammond, who used only seventeen extras and two horses, and accompanied by Patrick Gowers' powerfully dramatic music, this spectacular opening sequence placed Anna's personal tragedy within the larger historical one. Aware that the adventure lacked suspense, with Anna suspected of Willoughby Smith's murder from the outset, Hopkins introduced the false lead of suffragette Abigail Crosby. The original story made no reference to the suffragettes, but their movement, about which Hopkins seems to be very well documented, was stirring England in Conan Doyle's time, and he was hostile to it.

The talent of the actors sometimes gives the characters a radiance that they did not have in the original. In Conan Doyle's Culverton Smith is a greedy, Machiavellian and cruel criminal, but with a laughable appearance. Played by Jonathan Hyde, slim, elegant and with a beautiful deep voice, he is no longer ridiculous, but all the more fearsome for it. The outrageous comedy of Holmes, faithfully played by Brett, is often funnier than it is scary. With a grotesque Culverton Smith, the scene could turn into a farce. In the novella, it seriously lacks credibility. For if one can admit, at a pinch, that the sentimental Watson is distraught and deluded by Holmes' burlesque ramblings about the apocalyptic proliferation of oysters, one is surprised that his unbridled comedy does not arouse any suspicion in his enemy. But Jonathan Hyde's coldly sadistic and authoritative criminal is impressive: taking Holmes' act seriously, he makes it less implausible. And Smith is shrouded in such a satanic aura that it is easy to believe that pride, the sin that lost Lucifer, is blinding him and losing him in turn. The performance of the remarkable actor Charles Gray even manages to redeem, to some extent, the calamitous Pierre de Mazarin. Gary Hopkins had used a great deal of cunning to combine the poor and implausible adventure of The Mazarin Stone with that of The Three Garridebs. But the resulting story was dishearteningly obscure and bizarre for the viewer, already frustrated by the absence of Holmes. However, Charles Gray, tall, massive and energetically ugly, but not without allure and nobility, exudes such an impression of authority and power in the face of Count Sylvius, and he can also be so funny, when cavorting with the Garridebs sisters, that, while not saving the film, he does prevent it from being rejected altogether.

Sometimes it is the beauty of the images in Sherlock_Holmes_(TV_series_1984-1994)#Season_6_:_The_Memoirs_of_Sherlock_Holmes_(1994) that lifts the less successful episodes. Despite his talent and efforts, Jeremy Paul failed to make the inconsistent adventure of the Three Gables convincing. Indeed Watson, astonishingly inferior to himself, is shown in the film to be incapable of securing the Maberley house, and the old lady herself is shown as a model of inconsistency. She fails to carry out the last wishes of her beloved grandson and neglects to inform Holmes, whom she has called to her aid, of the most essential facts. Gary Cady plays the role of the jilted lover in an outrageously melodramatic manner and Brett, exhausted, cannot deliver his lines to Isadora Klein with the necessary force that he had shown, says David Stuart Davies, when, during a discussion in his caravan, he stared at the novelist with an eye full of lightning and proclaimed: You nearly got my friend Watson killed! David Stuart Davies, who played the schemer for the occasion, says he felt a shiver of fear run down his spine... But The Three Gables is also a festival of magnificent images, such as those of the Spanish ball with an elegant parody of a bullfight, or those of the Lomond masked ball, with its white water, its multicoloured fireworks and its agile and joyful young people, some dressed as aristocrats of the Age of Enlightenment and others as grognards, centurions or satyrs, like the handsome Lomond. Far from being a mere aesthetic game, Peter Hammond's images are often charged with meaning. When we see, from a distance, Isadora Klein on her balcony, screaming her rage at the sky, brandishing Douglas's incomplete manuscript, the image is not only superb but revealing of the savage violence that lurks beneath the polished surface of the woman of the world. Holmes' entrance into Mrs Maberley's house, after he has been informed of Watson's assault, is no less beautiful or significant. Unannounced, Brett violently opens the double door. Taking advantage of the actor's unwilling build, Hammond films him against the light. His tall, massive, black and menacing figure then takes shape in the doorway. The image is oblique, as if the axis of the world had tilted: if Watson is seriously injured, Holmes' vengeful fury will know no bounds. His face is drowned in shadow and when he asks Where is Doctor Watson, his voice seems to emerge from a storm cloud.

But also authentic success

The Red Circle

The Red Circle. Conan Doyle's short story keeps the reader on the edge of his seat and ends with a great twist. But it is once again far too thin to fill the fifty minutes of an episode. Jeremy Paul has therefore beefed it up with thrilling action sequences such as the Lucca's mad dash. He also spiced up the drama. Gennaro Lucca, the unseen protagonist of the short story, appears in the film and the beautiful, loving and persecuted couple he forms with Emilia arouses the viewer's sympathy and makes him wish for her salvation. But above all, Jeremy Paul has created the character of Firmani, who helps his fellow countrymen at the risk of his life. The death of the generous and brave Italian is a great dramatic moment: while the singer rehearses the aria of the death of Isolde, Firmani, whose throat has been slit by the infamous Gorgiano for not wanting to betray his friends, falls and hangs upside down from the rafters like an animal on a butcher's hook. Rosalie Williams is highly entertaining as the shrewd Mrs Hudson, skilled in the use of innuendo. Hardwicke excels, as always, in his role as the intelligent, dynamic and debonair Watson. As for Brett, who was feeling a little better when The Red Circle was filmed, his performance is remarkable for its variety, expressiveness and flexibility. Holmes is very funny when he is frightened by the emotional outbursts of women, energetic in action, imperial when he tells Inspector Hawkins: The law is what we live with, justice is sometimes more difficult to achieve. But he is also sensitive: one of the most beautiful images in Sarah Hellings is the one where the detective, illuminated by the dim glow of a candle, thinks darkly about the tragic death of Firmani.

The Cardboard Box

If this story, in which a woman pushes her married sister into the arms of a lover in the hope that the abandoned husband will return his love to her, seemed for a long time too shocking to Conan Doyle to be published, it is perfectly adapted to modern audiences by its realism, its tragedy and its darkness. To thicken the mystery, Trevor Bowen has cleverly added the false lead of Marcel Jacottet, long suspected by Inspector Hawkins of being the sender of the horrible package received by Miss Cushing. Jim Browner, instead of recounting his crime, the details of which Bowen has wisely simplified, relives it in his imagination during a sequence that is as beautiful as it is gripping: Mary Browner and her companion are walking in the snowy park, light, almost airy, and giving each other delighted looks, when Browner appears behind them, his face horribly distorted by hatred, and strikes them dead, throwing Mary into the pond. Ciaran Hinds is a perfect embodiment of Browner, a simple man, whose passion and Mary's sister's culpable manoeuvring led to his crime. Mary Browner, already dead when the story begins, never appears in the novella, but instead fills the film with her charming presence, in the delicate and almost childlike guise of Lucy Whybrow. But perhaps the greatest attraction of the episode is the successive atmospheres it marvellously manages to create. The atmosphere is particularly warm in Baker Street, where Holmes and Watson chat peacefully while smoking a pipe. As the film was shot in January, Bowen made clever use of this by setting the action at Christmas. The comical exchanges between Holmes and Mrs Hudson about the preparations for the party, the decorations, the greetings and the carols, form a beautiful contrast with the terrible tragedy that befalls the Cushing family. The snow, at first a symbol of festivity and joy, becomes as sinister as a shroud when Sarah Hellings' beautiful images show the tiny black silhouettes of Holmes, Watson and Hawkins, standing out against its whiteness, wandering through the park in search of the murdered lovers. The vision of Mary trapped in her ice coffin is truly unforgettable. Brett, weakened but excellent in this episode, where he had almost regained his former form, loved Holmes' questions, which no doubt had deep echoes in him: What purpose does this circle of misery, violence and fear serve? This was to be his final line as Sherlock Holmes. With this very sad and very beautiful final episode, the series threw its last light before going out forever.


When he launched the Sherlock Holmes series, Michael Cox had a lofty ambition: to bring to the screen as faithfully as possible a literary work that he had always cherished and revered to a wider audience. But he had not chosen an easy path to success. Indeed, accurately adapting the Sherlock Holmes stories involved an immense amount of documentation and considerable effort to obtain the vast array of objects specific to the Victorian era. And it would be much more expensive to have carriages and extras in period costume than cars and passers-by dressed in today's fashion. Of course, it was also and above all necessary to preserve the original stories, while at the same time remedying, without distorting their spirit, the unavoidable problems they posed. It was a mission that was all the more risky for the scriptwriters because, since the series claimed to be faithful, the purists would not fail to vituperate any deviation from the original. If anyone respected him religiously, it was Cox. He was therefore keen that Conan Doyle's witty and lively dialogue should be used, but its breadth and complexity, as well as its sustained and polished style, far removed from contemporary oral usage, did not make it an easy way to appeal to the general public, which was accustomed to more colloquial dialogue and more in keeping with modern taste.

Soon the saga of the Sherlock Holmes series would test its protagonists to the limit. Granada was not Warner Bros and money was not flowing. When the thrifty and cautious Michael Cox no longer held the purse strings, financial problems arose. Stewardship was no longer an option. As time went by, it became increasingly stingy, and everyone knows that money is the lifeblood of the war. But there was worse. If the series revived Victorian England, it was living in a time when economic liberalism was triumphant. Television companies, explains Michael Cox, became businesses where profitability was the top priority. Audience ratings, the guarantee of lucrative advertising revenues, became the oracle of the executives, leading them to send producers on a quest for unattainable targets. With programming now dependent on audience fluctuations, orders were followed by unexpected counter-orders to be carried out in a hurry. Finally, the health of the lead actor, on whom the success of the series largely depended, faltered and collapsed under the repeated blows of two relentless illnesses. Inexorably, Brett became exhausted. Illness and treatment altered his good looks and the glamour that Conan Doyle wrote about as having the power to make an actor fascinating, even when he is doing nothing.

In the face of adversity, the Sherlock Holmes team pulled out all the stops. Michael Cox, a shrewd financial strategist, expended a great deal of energy and ingenuity to manage the modest resources at his disposal. If talented writers such as Jeremy Paul and Trevor Bowen sometimes lost their way in an intricate web of difficulties, they were more often ingenious in correcting glaring errors in the original, enlivening static passages, filling in hasty or indecisive endings, and fleshing out stories that were too short while respecting their spirit. Set designers, such as Michael Grimes in The Musgrave Ritual, solved seemingly intractable problems. Charles Gray was able to fill in for Brett at short notice and Edward Hardwicke worked hard to support his sick Holmes as the perfect Watson. As for the directors John Madden, Peter Hammond, June Howson and Sarah Hellings, they knew how to magnify the best stories, save some of the less good ones with the beauty of their images and adapt their filming style to the dramatic decline in Brett's health. The actor, deprived of his natural physical vigour, compensated for this loss by an interiorised and profound performance, to which the rare expressiveness of his attitudes, his face and his looks gave a new power.

Since there were no Sherlock Holmes stories left that were consistent and solid enough to be adapted, should we have filmed, as David Stuart Davies thinks, well-made pastiches? Perhaps. Yet the Sherlock Holmes series, while it had to fight hard and sometimes suffer painful setbacks, certainly did not struggle in vain. One can see again and again, without tiring of it, The Naval Treaty, The Priory School, The Illustrious Client or The Cardboard Box, because each time, the quality of the work of each one appears under new aspects and in a more brilliant way. But behind the artistic adventure, there was a human adventure, just as exciting and infinitely respectable: that of true professionals, motivated by a deep deference and love for the work they were serving. If Sherlock Holmes had an indomitable energy, so did those who gave him new life in the Granada series. [June Wyndham-Davies, for example, fought like a lioness to see The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes produced. Neither the failure of her last two features, nor the unexplained rejections or unrealistic demands of Granada executives, nor the untenable deadlines, nor the disastrous setbacks, could make her retreat. As for Brett, who was released from hospital to complete the shooting of The Three Gables, even though his condition required him to be wheeled out in a wheelchair and to use an oxygen mask between shots, he could have taken the famous apocryphal quote from Cambronne to heart: 'The guard dies, but does not surrender!

Where are now the inventive Jeremy Paul, the wonderful and funny Charles Gray, the charming Rosalie Williams, the solid, faithful and good Doctor Hardwicke and his friend Jeremy Brett, who trusted life so much? But where are the snows of yesteryear? We are left with their work, and the moving and cherished memories of men and women who had talent, craft, a passion for a job well done, but also admirable grit.

  • Acknowledgments : Monique Claisse (text) and Sarah Fava / Granada (photos).
  • Bibliography : A Study in Celluloid, by Michael Cox, and Bending the Willow, by David Stuart Davies.