Back in the pre flat screen days of television in the ol’ sod of Ireland I was an avid viewer of BBC2 and in particular the old films that were shown around tea time. As far as I can remember Tuesday and Wednesday evenings were set aside for old reruns of classic serials and films. If it wasn’t The Munsters it was The Adams Family and similarly if Charlie Chan wasn’t scolding number one son then it would be Sherlock Holmes donning some grease paint and a wig. I have always had a soft spot for Sherlock and in particular the multi talented swordsman Basil Rathbone.
There was something about his saturnine features and suave air that appealed to my bohemian soul: he was reliable but erratic, debonaire yet rakish, friendly while standoffish. I recently discovered that he was born in Jo’burg, South Africa to an engineer who was accused of spying for the POMs and later beat a hasty retreat to England before the Boers did away with him. Funnily enough another favourite actor of mine, Sid James, was also South African(Jo’burg) by birth but Cockney by trade and left of his own will.
Where as Basil was forced into the insurance game for a year before finally treading the boards our Sid was a hairdresser before finding his feet in film. I’m not sure if Sid James ever portrayed Sherlock on film but I can still dream…
Anyway, I’m digressing slightly. The point of this article is that Basil was my favourite until the even more saturnine and bipolar Jeremy Brett happened on the scene in the mid eighties.
Unfortunately our Jeremy suffered from a dietary affliction called appetite which had him gaining pounds as the series progressed. I’m not sure if he possessed any of the athletic talents of dear Basil but he was more than capable of putting on a good show when it came to detective dramatics and really did live for the role. But then, Basil was still my favourite because it is damn near impossible to replace child hood loves no matter how hard one tries.
I am well aware that there have been many actors who have tried to carry the Holmes mantle and quite possibly it feels like there have been many more who have tried and failed. The insane Tom Baker donned the famous deerstalker for a four part BBC production of The Hound of The Baskervilles which has not passed before my eyes but I am lead to believe that it has not aged well with time and was not overly applauded upon its initial viewing. This has to be a travesty of dramatisation as Tom Baker is beyond a doubt the living embodiment of Sherlock. I shall make a point of fossicking for this series on the webs when time allows.
I am only considering actors who repeatedly played the great detective and not one offs but there is an exception to the rule. Apparently Billy Wilder had cast Peter O’Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson for The private Life of Sherlock Holmes. As usual the plan changed and the lines went to Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely. It is not a bad film but if the truth be told but the two Peters would have been so much better.
Now we are more or less up to date and there is a new pretender to the crown of the Consulting Detective of all Consulting Detectives: Benedict Cumberbatch.
The BBC commissioned a new series of the popular Conan Doyle hero which was to be based on the originals but rewritten to accommodate contemporary morals and situations. I think that half of the success of the show is due to the writing and adaptation of the original by messers Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss(who plays Mycroft Holmes) and the other half to Benedict’s physical resemblance to all the spirits of Sherlock before. Everything is there in spades for the Holmes buff; a prominent nose, piercing eyes, a pasty face and a general cellar dweller appearance. I would just like to say that although Bob Downey Jr is one of my prefered actors I don’t ever recall Sherlock mumbling his way through dialogue. Although the much maligned and erroneously married and now divorced Mr Ritchie may have found his way with The Great Detective I hope that he does not popularise our hero as Victorian Britain’s equivalent to Rambo and thus lead to a general downgrading of the stories:’Hands off Guy, he’s ours!’.
As a side note it would be unproffesional not to make mention of Viz magazine’s very own Sherlock Homo. No explanation needed.
This brings me to my initial sprout of an idea and my reasoning for starting this post. While I was checking up on the ancestry of dear Mr Cumberbatch I stumbled upon the circumstances of his gap year in which he taught english to Tibetans in Tibet. Now that is the stuff of detective stories and gothic novels. Didn’t Batman have a spell there too?
I can just see the headline in the Tibet Express; The Sherlock Holmes Elementary School is now open for business.