Sherlock Holmes in Films, Television and Radio

Sherlock Holmes is certainly a fictional character that seems to intrigue us all judging by the interest and the number of films made about him, the many Television Series and the excellent Radio Dramas with firstly Carlton Hobbs as Holmes and then later, Clive Merrison.

I do remember in the very early fifties on Radio hearing and being fascinated by an adaptation of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and then later came the Hammer Film Production with Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes in the same story in 1959.

However in the early Sixties ITV ran the Basil Rathbone films which were not big budget and not at all true to the novels – in fact they were virtually all upgraded in time to the Forties – but somehow we loved them. Maybe it was Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of Holmes – he certainly looked the part – and Nigel Bruce’s bumbling Dr Watson that we thought was just perfect – it certainly was perfect for the way the films were made or maybe, and more likely, it is the timing of the films being shown to an audience that had never seen them before.

My own two favourites are ‘The Scarlet Claw’ and ‘The House of Fear’ – I remember Basil Rathbone pacing up and down outside that large cliff-top house in The House of Fear – and we the audience and Dr Watson could not work out what he was doing and why he was doing it. In fact he had noticed and was checking that the house measured much more externally than it did on the inside – leading him to discover ? Well if you haven’t seen it I had better not reveal just what that is.

ABOVE and BELOW – The House of Fear

The Scarlet Claw’ was quite disturbing because of what seemed to be a serial killer on the loose against a snowy landscape but the killer was driven, we later learn, by revenge for past injustices – and he carried out his horrifying retribution against the perpetrators from years before.

ABOVE – Still from The Scarlet Claw

To the purist these Basil Rathbone films were not really appreciated although I have to say that when Universal started the series in 1939 they kicked off with ‘The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ and then ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ which were big budget productions and right on it as regards the period and the style.

I always remember the very last line of one of the films when Sherlock Holmes turned to Watson and said ‘Watson, the needle’ a reference to Holme’s cocaine habit which is never explored again thankfully and only mildly hinted at in the books.

ABOVE – The 1939 Film Version

Apparently in the USA Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce played these roles on the Radio for quite a few years and very successfully too.

In Britain Peter Cushing again played Holmes in a lavish BBC Television production of The Hound of the Baskervilles and this time he had Nigel Stock as Dr. Watson who was excellent in the role. This is one of my favourite adaptations of the story which was shown in two parts on BBC Television in September 1968 – A Colour Production

Peter Cushing and Nigel Stock – on the Moors

Later of course we had the superb Jeremy Brett TV series and this time there were two Dr Watsons – first it was David Burke and later Edward Hardwicke. Both were good but my preference would be Edward Hardwicke in this role.

Carlton Hobbs – The Radio Collection as Sherlock Holmes

Now back to Radio and Carlton Hobbs who played Holmes for a long time alongside Norman Shelley as Dr Watson. These episodes I believe are still available and I remember them as being very good. I must seek them out again and have a listen.

Somehow Radio drama – which I love – has a power that the other visual ones do not have – they can and do harness the mind with its incredible power, to bring these stories and others to life in a way that visual ones can’t because the characters and the scenes are already there but on Radio those same scenes are conjured up by each and everyone of us – in our mind’s eye.

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