Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Granada Television, 1984 - 1985
Starring: Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Rosalie Williams

Jeremy Brett was and remains to be the greatest actor to portray Sherlock Holmes, no disrespect intended to Basil Rathbone. Brett starred in a number of Holmes-themed TV series and feature films produced by the British company Granada Television from 1984 to 1994. Production ceased when Brett fell ill, dying of heart failure soon after. Based on his excellent performances, these films and episodes became wildly popular in the UK and the US, ensuring that the series has been frequently re-broadcast over the years, is available in a wide number of formats for home viewing and is currently streaming on Netflix.

Though the show is known both as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes, Adventures technically refers to the first season, which ran two years and spans 13 episodes, each 60 minutes long. This season was produced by Michael Cox and was written and developed by John Hawkesworth. The title The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes refers to the first published collection of Holmes short stories written by Conan Doyle. Not all of the 12 stories are represented in the first season, however. About half the stories are excluded in favor of more beloved works and "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" was later adapted as a feature length film. I highly recommend this collection, which is available in its entirely at Project Gutenberg.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes features the following episodes, which are named after corresponding stories. Note: the episode titles drop "The Adventure of..." which every story title in this season contains, with the exception of "A Scandal in Bohemia."

1. "A Scandal in Bohemia" is based on the first Holmes story to be published in the famous magazine where Conan Doyle got his start, The Strand, and was later published in the Adventures collection. Holmes has a run in with Irene Adler, who is one of the only characters to outwit him and certainly the only woman to do so. He is hired by the future King of Bohemia to retrieve some blackmail photographs taken by Adler, who he had an affair with and who is threatening to ruin his impending marriage.

2. "The Dancing Men" appears in the later collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which is the first book published after Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Holmes, but failed due to his immense popularity. Holmes and Watson visit the Norfolk countryside to solve a case involving a series of strange stick figures written all over an estate. A local lord's young American wife is on the brink of nervous hysteria over the figures, which resemble dancing men. Holmes realizes the men are a cipher, but can he crack the code in time? This episode is one of my favorites and is a welcome inclusion.

3. "The Naval Treaty" was featured in the story collection The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Watson's old friend, Percy Phelps, needs help when a naval treaty is stolen from the foreign affairs office he works in. It seems impossible that someone could have stolen the treaty, based on the construction of the building and location of his office, as well as the suspects apprehended after the fact. Can Holmes find it before Phelps's life and reputation are ruined?

4. "The Solitary Cyclist" is from Return and concerns a young girl named Violet who has become involved in a curious set of circumstances. After her father's death she is contacted by two men who have recently arrived from South Africa. They claim to have known her deceased uncle, who supposedly said he wanted his surviving family provided for. The nicer of the two men offers her an unusually well-paying job as a music teacher and governess for his young daughter. The second man is rude and repulsive, frequently making unwanted advances on her. In addition to this, a mysterious bearded man has begun to follow her whenever she rides her bicycle. Can Holmes unravel the mystery in time to save Violet?

5. "The Crooked Man" appears in Memoirs and is an oddly tragic tale. Holmes is investigating a case in which a woman is believed to have killed her soldier husband and brings Watson in for some medical advice. Partly due to a missing key and some claw marks at the scene, Holmes thinks a third party is responsible. He tracks down the "crooked" man, who relates his sad story.

6. "The Speckled Band," one of my favorite stories, is part of the Adventure collection and is one of the few Holmes stories than can be considered a "locked room mystery." A young woman hires Holmes to investigate the death of her twin sister. The girls' stepfather is increasingly unpleasant, probably due to the fact that if either of the girls married, they would take a considerable chunk of their mother's fortune with them. As Helen, the surviving twin, is due to be married, she fears for her life. When her stepfather forces her to move out of her bedroom and into a different room in the house, Holmes intervenes with the hope of saving her life.

7. "The Blue Carbuncle" is included in the Adventures collection and is basically a Sherlock Holmes Christmas story. Holmes is investigating a Christmas goose that was on its way to be eaten until a carbuncle (or gemstone) was found in its throat. The only clue is a battered old hat. He tracks down the hat's owner, who is ignorant of the crime and Holmes realizes the jewel belongs to a visiting Countess. Can Holmes find the culprit with so few clues?

8. "The Copper Beeches" is also in the Adventures collection and is another one of my favorite stories. A young lady named Violet gets advice from Holmes about a governess position with curious conditions. She will be paid an enormous salary, but has to cut off her beautiful hair, among other odd things. Ultimately her employer seems pleasant enough, so she takes the job at his estate, the Cooper Beeches. After a short time she contacts Holmes, who brings Watson to investigate the increasingly bizarre things Violet is asked to do. One of the most genuinely creepy stories, this is an excellent adaptation.

9. "The Greek Interpreter," found in Memoirs, is the first time we encounter Mycroft in either the series or Conan Doyle's stories. I love Mycroft. He contacts Holmes about his neighbor, a Greek interpreter, who was hired for a very suspicious job by a man named Latimer. The interpreter was asked to translate for a Greek man who has obviously been kidnapped. Latimer wanted the man to sign some papers and the interpreter secretly discovered his unfortunate plight during their conversation. The man refused to sign over property to Latimer and said something about a woman being in trouble. Intrigued, Holmes agrees to get to the bottom of things and places an advertisement in the paper that leads he and Watson down a dangerous path. This is the first time that the TV series makes some significant plot changes in order to better suit running time and a dramatic conclusion.

10. "The Norwood Builder" appears in Return and concerns Jonas Oldacre, a missing builder who appears to have been murdered during a fire. The main suspect is his lawyer, John McFarlane. He gets arrested, but Lestrade agrees to hear his tale where he insists on his innocence. Holmes notes that there is something suspicious about the different drafts of wills and his investigation paints an increasingly blacker portrait of Oldacre.

11. "The Resident Patient," which is included in Memoirs, is another one of my favorite mysteries. A young doctor, Trevelyan, consults Holmes about his investor, a man named Blessington, who is obsessive about the doctor's books and goes over the accounts religiously. Blessington has become paranoid about theft around the same time Trevelyan acquires a new patient, a Russian who is disposed to have fits. The Russian and his son disappear, but return the next day with a plausible story. Blessington insists someone has been in his rooms. Holmes tries to investigate, but Blessington refuses to help him and is later found hanged in his bedroom. Though the police believe it to be suicide, Holmes knows otherwise and begins to hunt for a murderer.

12. "The Red-Headed League" is from Adventures and is not only my favorite Conan Doyle story, but is also the greatest Holmes story with a comic flavor. Though the episode takes certain liberties with the plot, it is still close to the original, which concerns a red-headed businessman named Jabez Wilson. He consults Holmes and Watson after being fired from a part time job. This job was suggested to him by his assistant and he was hired out of a large pool of red-haired men. He did meaningless office work for a large sum of money every week, until he received a notice saying "The Red-Headed League is dissolved." It turns out that there never was a Red-Headed League and, according the the landlord, his employer didn't exist. Though he laughs at Wilson, Holmes discovers a plot involving bank robbery. This adaptation changes things by involving Moriarty as the mastermind behind it all.

13. "The Final Problem" appears in Memoirs and is the famous story that pits Holmes and Moriarty against each other once and for all. For some reason this has never been one of my favorites, probably because Conan Doyle attempts to kill off the world's greatest consulting detective and the Napoleon of crime all in one go. Essentially Moriarty has had enough of Holmes's interference and attempts to kil him when he is getting close to turning Moriarty over to Scotland Yard. Holmes sneaks off to Europe with Watson in tow and Moriarty follows them. They wind up at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, where Moriarty distracts Watson with a ruse and he and Holmes duke it out over the Falls.

The first season is the best and if you're going to take the time to watch any episodes, it should be from Adventures. Though there is a strict degree of faithfulness through out the entire show, the first season represents some of the best stories and the most direct adaptations. There are excellent production values and immense attention to detail, both in recreating Conan Doyle's world and maintaining period realism. The sets are absolutely beautiful and range between Baker Street, Victorian London and the British countryside. The complete Baker Street replica, built in studio by Granada, was available as a tourist attraction in Manchester until about ten years ago.

The real reason to watch the series, of course, is Jeremy Brett. He provides some warmth and humor to Holmes, particularly in his interactions with Watson. The close friendship between he and the good doctor is at the heart of the show and this was one of the first long running adaptations to give them a more even relationship. Brett also possesses Holmes's manic energy and almost physically palpable sense of intelligence. There have been some criticisms that Brett is too over the top, but Holmes is never what I would call a subdued character, ranging from explosive, manic energy during crime solving to deep depression when stuck at home without a case. 

David Burke's Watson is my favorite of all time, with MURDER BY DECREE's James Mason in second place. He is warm, funny and down to earth, showing a begrudging tolerance for Holmes's more absurd antics. Unfortunately Burke left the show after Adventures and was replaced by an almost equal Edward Hardwicke.

Adventures was followed by several more series and a few feature length films. Immediately after Adventures is The Return of Sherlock Holmes, then The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes and finally The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, all named after different Conan Doyle story collections. It should be noted that Brett was sick and essentially dying during the filming of Memoirs, which many fans have claimed to be the most inferior of the series. As a result of his illness, Charles Gray stepped in more frequently as Mycroft to allow filming to continue. The feature films are The Sign of the Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Master Blackmailer, based on "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," The Last Vampyre, my personal favorite and based on "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," and The Eligible Bachelor, based on "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor." What is particularly impressive about the series as a whole is that out of 60 Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle, Granada managed to adapt 42 of them.

You can find all of the episodes in The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes: Boxed Set Collection, which is a reasonably priced 5-disc set released by MPI, though there are limited special features. Also available is the staggering Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series, which contains all four seasons and five feature films. Also released by MPI, there are 12 discs and more special features, including a few commentary tracks and some interviews.

The game is afoot!


  1. Brett was a very masterly Holmes. Great post about Brett and the Granada series.

    Have you read the book "Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" by David Stuart Davies. This book is a must read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.


  2. He is my favorite Holmes. Thanks! I'm going to try to review all of them by the summer. I haven't read that book, but will add it to the list.