Holmes, the fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
is, perhaps, the most popular literary character adapted to the
performing arts. The adventures of Sherlock Holmes have been transformed
for the dramatic stage (Sherlock Holmes, 1899, and The
Crucifer of Blood, 1978), the musical stage (Baker Street,
1965), ballet (The Great Detective, 1953), film, radio and
television. On television, the character has appeared in specials,
series, parodies, animation, made-for-television films, and even
in a recurring role-playing game by the android Data (Brent Spiner)
on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The actors who have undertaken the role for television include Ronald
Howard (son of film actor Leslie Howard), Alan Napier, Peter Cushing,
Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Tom Baker (later the Doctor in
Dr. Who), Edward Woodward, Charlton Heston, Roger Moore,
Leonard Nimoy, Peter O'Toole (as the voice of the detective in the
Australian animated Sherlock Holmes and the Baskerville Case),
and Jeremy Brett. Even Basil Rathbone, who portrayed the character
in 14 feature films and eight years on the radio, played Holmes
on the small screen. Comic actors such as Milton Berle, Monty
Python's John Cleese, Larry Hagman, and Peter Cook have all
played the master sleuth in television parodies.
Holmes was the first fictional character adapted for television.
The Three Garridebs, a trial telecast, was broadcast on 27
November 1937 from the stage of New York City's Radio City Music
Hall by the American Radio Relay League. The live presentation was
augmented with filmed footage to link scenes together. Louis Hector
played the detective, and William Podmore played his associate,
Until 1951, Holmes' appearances on television were limited to a
variety of special broadcasts, including the hour-long parody, Sherlock
Holmes in the Mystery of the Sen Sen Murder, on the 5 April
1949 episode of NBC's Texaco Star Theatre. The satire featured
Milton Berle and Victor Moore as Holmes and Watson, and a guest
appearance by Basil Rathbone as Rathbone of Scotland Yard.
first television series of Sherlock Holmes adventures was produced
in the United Kingdom. Vandyke Pictures intended for its half-hour
adaptation of The Man with the Twisted Lip, starring John
Longden as Holmes and Campbell Singer as Watson, to be the first
of a six-episode series. However, the pilot did not impress executives,
and only the one episode was broadcast (in March 1951). Three months
later, the BBC aired its own pilot, an adaptation of The Mazarin
Stone, with Andrew Osborn as Holmes and Philip King as Watson.
In late 1951, the BBC produced the first television series of Sherlock
Holmes adventures, but with a new producer and new actors (Alan
Wheatley as Holmes and Raymond Francis as Watson). Six of Arthur
Conan Doyle's stories were adapted to the 35-minute format by C.A.
Lejeune, a film critic for The Observer.
Basil Rathbone who, for many years gave what was considered the
definitive portrayal of Holmes, reprised his role as the detective
in a half-hour live presentation for the 26 May 1953 episode of
CBS' Suspense. The episode, The Adventures of the Black
Baronet, was adapted by Michael Dyne from an original story
by crime novelist John Dickson Carr and Adrian Conan Doyle, son
of the character's creator. The episode was intended as a pilot
for an American series, but it was not selected for programming
by any network.
The first and only American television series of Sherlock Holmes
adventures finally aired in syndication in the fall of 1954. The
39 half-hour original stories were produced by Sheldon Reynolds
and filmed in France by Guild Films. Ronald Howard starred as Holmes
and Howard Marion Crawford starred as Watson. The series' associate
producer, Nicole Milinaire, is considered to be the first woman
to attain a senior production role in a television series.
1954, American adaptations of the Holmes stories have been limited
to various made-for-television films (e.g., The Return of the
World's Greatest Detective with Larry Hagman as Holmes, Sherlock
Holmes in New York with Roger Moore as Holmes, and The Hound
of The Baskervilles) or televised stage plays (Frank Langella's
Sherlock Holmes and The Crucifer of Blood with Charleton
addition to producing made-for-television Holmes films in Britain,
the BBC continued to produce other series of Holmes adventures.
A 1965 series of 12 adaptations was produced by David Goddard and
featured Douglas Wilmer who, The Times noted, bore an "uncanny
resemblance" to the sleuth in the original book illustrations by
Sydney Paget. A 1968 series starring Peter Cushing dispensed with
many of the conventions invented by other actors for the character,
such as the meerschaum pipe, the deer-stalker cap, and the phrase,
"Elementary, my dear Watson." The series aspired to be true to the
character as written in the novels. In an attempt to capitalize
on Cushing's popular work in 1950s and 1960s horror films, the BBC
series accentuated the elements of horror and violence in the original
1984, Britain's Granada Television mounted the most popular series
to date. Shown under various titles (The Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, and The Casebook of
Sherlock Holmes) in Britain, the series was broadcast in the
U.S. as part of PBS' Mystery! series. Critics have praised the high
quality of the series' productions, including an authentic-looking
Baker Street, and Jeremy Brett's performance as Holmes has been
ranked as among the finest portrayals of the detective.
The appeal of the character has not been limited to English-speaking
countries. An original teleplay, The Longing of Sherlock Holmes
(Touha Sherlocka Holmes), in which Holmes is tempted to commit
the perfect crime, was produced for Czechoslovakian television in
1972. In 1983, Russian television produced a series of five 80-minute
adaptations of Conan Doyle's stories featuring leading Soviet actors
Vassily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin as Holmes and Watson.
The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries
Bunson, Matthew E. Encyclopedia Sherlockiana: An A-to-Z Guide
To The World Of The Great Detective. New York: Macmillan, 1994.
Max Allan, and John Javna. The Best Crime & Detective TV: Perry
Mason to Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files to Murder, She Wrote.
New York: Harmony, 1988.
Ronald Burt. The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes and Dr.
Watson: A Classified and Annotated List of Materials Relating to
Their Lives and Adventures. New York: Bramhall House, 1974.
Allen. Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. New York:
Harper & Row, 1986.
Peter. The Television Sherlock Holmes. London: Virgin, 1994.
a Sleuth: Holmes Stalks the City by Television-- Football Pictures
are Clear." New York Times, 28 November 1937.