rusty_armour (rusty_armour) wrote,

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30 Reasons to Love the Granada Sherlock Holmes Series

To be more accurate, this post is actually 30 reasons why I love the Granada Sherlock Holmes series – and, to be really accurate, that would be the episodes that were filmed before 1992. I’ve tried my best to block out the episodes that came after 1991. For those of you who didn’t read my previous LJ post, I let the 30th anniversary of the PBS debut of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series pass without marking it. Even worse, I allowed the original original debut broadcast date (April 24, 1984) pass without any kind of fanfare either. It looks like I’m just managing to squeeze in this post before the 31st anniversary of the ITV airdate, which saves me a bit of work (and a 31st reason). In any case, whatever way you look at it, my recognition and acknowledgement of this remarkable series is coming later than it should. I hope this post will help rectify that situation and serve as a homage to the Granada series.

I must give credit where credit is due. I used The Television Sherlock Holmes, Peter Haining’s excellent book about the Granada series, for research and fact-checking purposes. I also ended up saving some time and effort by re-watching certain scenes with the help of YouTube. Other information came from Wikipedia, the IMDB and the original stories, of course.

1. Attention to Detail

Michael Cox, the producer of the show, was so determined to get it right that he, Stuart Doughty and Nicky Cooney created The Baker Street File, a guide “to the appearance and habits of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson”. After Cox and his team combed through the four novels and 56 short stories, they had 77 pages made up of almost 1,200 entries. This extensive guide wasn’t just used by the actors, but the entire production team.

2. More Attention to Detail

You just have to see the 221B Baker Street interior to know how much painstaking research went into recreating this fictional world. All of the props a Holmesian would expect to find are there, such as the Persian slipper filled with Holmes’s tobacco and the unanswered correspondence pinned on the mantelpiece by a jackknife. Everything was carefully considered, even the choice of wallpaper. And this attention to detail went beyond props and set design. For example, Jeremy Brett and David Burke were taught the proper way to smoke a pipe.

3. Faithfulness

The Granada episodes (before 1992) are incredibly faithful to the original stories for the most part. Even when details are changed or embellished, they usually enrich the episode. With “The Blue Carbuncle,” James Horner’s situation becomes even more desperate because he has a wife and two children. If Horner is convicted of the theft of the blue carbuncle, his family could be left destitute. After his name is cleared, Horner is reunited with his family just in time for Christmas. Watson is added to the events of “The Musgrave Ritual” when he wasn’t a participant in the original story, and Moriarty ends up being behind the attempted bank heist in “The Red-Headed League”.

4. Holmes’s Emotional Range

Jeremy Brett really did cover the full emotional palette when it came to portraying Sherlock Holmes – and you could see it all in his face and his body language. He could be the cold, calculating machine or the bloodhound ruthlessly chasing down a scent. However, there’s also the smiling Holmes who is satisfied by something he’s uncovered or simply happy to be in Watson’s company. There’s even the highly amused Holmes who laughs loudly when he thinks something is funny. A great example of this can be found in “The Red-Headed League” when neither he nor Watson can suppress their laughter after hearing the story of Jabez Wilson’s ridiculous adventures. Of course, you also see Holmes laughing uproariously when he gets high in “The Musgrave Ritual”.

5. Holmes/Watson Friendship

I think for any Sherlock Holmes production to work you have to believe that Holmes and Watson are friends. It’s not just about the chemistry between the actors (though that’s obviously important) but the emotional bond between Holmes and Watson. With the Granada series, I was able to believe in the Holmes/Watson friendship. It was there with Brett and Burke, but even more apparent with Brett and Hardwicke. Of course, Brett and Hardwicke worked together longer and developed a friendship outside their professional relationship. I’ve read that Edward Hardwicke was very supportive when Jeremy Brett’s wife (Joan Wilson Sullivan) died of cancer. Brett was still grieving when the two first started working together.

6. Watson Isn’t Stupid

Unfortunately, one legacy of the Rathbone films is the stupid Watson – and many Sherlock Holmes productions that followed had Watsons that were in the buffoonish Nigel Bruce mold. Patrick Macnee admitted that he based his performance as Watson in Sherlock Holmes in New York entirely on Nigel Bruce’s portrayal. Thankfully, both David Burke and Edward Hardwicke based their performances on the original Watson, the Watson from Conan Doyle’s works. While the David Burke Watson could sometimes seem a bit dim when faced with Holmes’s brilliant deductions, he certainly didn’t lack intelligence. You could believe that this Watson was capable of earning a medical degree and surviving the horrors of war. If anything, Edward Hardwicke’s Watson seemed even more intelligent, but that may have been because he was more solemn and serious. Edward Hardwicke’s first episode was “The Empty House” and he was a Watson who would have lost his wife (in canon) and his best friend. However, this was a Watson who was still more than happy to accompany Holmes on his adventures.

7. Homage to Sidney Paget

There are several instances in the show when the Sidney Paget illustrations are recreated on screen. Not only are such moments beautifully staged, but they’re real treats for anyone who’s familiar with Paget’s work. Here are two examples of Paget illustration and the way they were treated on screen:

I even found this wonderful vid that demonstrates the Paget scene staging:

8. Right Actors for the Roles

I think this show had an excellent cast. Jeremy Brett not only bore a striking resemblance to the Paget illustrations of Sherlock Holmes, but he had a dynamic personality and dramatic presence. David Burke and Edward Hardwicke also bore a physical resemblance to Watson and personality traits that suited the role. Casting for the guest roles was also handled with care. Some notable examples include the casting of Rosalie Williams as Mrs. Hudson, Gayle Hunnicutt as Irene Adler, Eric Porter as Professor Moriarty, and the wonderful Colin Jeavons as Inspector Lestrade.

9. Location, Location, Location…

Baker Street may have been an exterior set built in Manchester (not that you can tell given the excellence of the design), but some footage was shot in London. The production team tried to find suitable locations for each episode. In a number of cases, various stately homes and parts of the Lancashire and Welsh countryside set the scene for some of Holmes and Watson’s adventures. The film location for “The Final Problem,” was actually the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. There is ample evidence on the screen of just how hard the production team worked to recreate the world of Victorian England.

10. Costume Design

Not only are the costumes suited to the period but the characters and even the particular moods of a scene as well. During the flashback sequence in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Irene Adler wears a dress with monochrome colours and a rather bold design during her adventuress days. Ten years later, in her domestic setting in London, she is wearing much softer, flowing fabric. Of course, it probably goes without saying that a lot of the costume design is based on the Sidney Paget illustrations, especially when it comes to Holmes and Watson.

11. Appropriate Attire for the Appropriate Occasion

In other words, the deerstalker, an article of clothing that didn’t even appear in the original stories. It came about purely because of the Sidney Paget and Frederic Dorr Steele illustrations. In many Sherlock Holmes productions, Holmes doesn’t go anywhere without it. In Murder by Decree, he even wears a deerstalker and Inverness cape to the opera, which is pretty ridiculous. In the Granada series, Holmes only wears his deerstalker and Inverness cape when he’s in the country. In London, he has a top hat or bowler and a frock coat.

12. Depiction of Victorian London

While it’s hardly Ripper Street or an Alex Grecian novel in terms of its grittiness, I still think the Granada series did a good job of depicting the divide between the social classes. In “The Man With the Twisted Lip,” we see the dark, nightmarish world of an East End opium den. In the same episode, a group of filthy, poverty-stricken children surround Mrs. St. Clair when she goes to the East End to find her missing husband. In “The Naval Treaty” and The Sign of Four, we see the living conditions of two lower class families.

13. Music

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that a soundtrack junkie would be endorsing the music from the show, but I think Patrick Gowers’ score really does capture the essence of the stories and the Sherlock Holmes character itself. Naturally, there’s a lot of emphasis on the violin (most notably in the main theme itself), but there is also some beautiful choral work in pieces such as “Libera Me” and the kind of dramatic flourishes you might expect from a Sherlock Holmes score. Here’s an example of the extended version of the main theme:

14. Humour

There are wonderful touches of humour throughout the original stories, but the Granada episodes inject a bit of playful humour of their own. At the end of “The Solitary Cyclist,” Holmes’s latest chemistry experiment fills the whole flat with noxious, smoky fumes, and Holmes and Watson desperately thrust their heads out of a window. Watson asks Holmes if that is the answer and Holmes replies, “Yes, that is the answer.” Then Holmes says, “Come. Let me explain” and he pulls Watson away from the window and back into the flat. An instant later, you see the Victorian fire brigade pulling up to 221 Baker Street.

I think “The Six Napoleons” is one of the funniest episodes. I re-watched it not that long ago and completely cracked up when Holmes delivered these overly dramatic lines when staring down at the body of Pietro Venucci in the mortuary: “Forgive me, Lestrade. I was just contemplating the one mystery that not even I can solve: death itself. Pray continue.” When Holmes, Watson and Lestrade are on the stake-out in Chiswick, you get these two humourous exchanges:

Holmes: Watson, if you’ve caught a cold, it’s your fault. You left the rugs behind.

Watson: Sorry, Holmes.

Watson: Have a humbug, Lestrade.

Holmes: Watson, this is no time for humbugs.

15. Disguise

I know that, thanks to Sherlock, disguise isn’t cool anymore, but I happen to like it. I’ve always found Sherlock Holmes’s mastery of disguise very appealing. I love the idea of him being able to carefully construct a character using makeup and disguise and then gain access to places he wouldn’t have been able to enter as a Victorian gentleman. In the Granada adaptation of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” we see Holmes insinuate himself into Irene Adler’s household by gaining employment as a groom – a groom with flaming red hair, a florid face, shabby clothes and a rough demeanour. Holmes later gains access to Irene Adler’s house itself by disguising himself as a gentle, old clergyman.

16. Flair for the Dramatic

From what I’ve heard, Jeremy Brett had a reputation for being something of a drama queen, which worked out perfectly considering that he was playing a detective who was a drama queen as well. I think one of the best examples of this flair for the dramatic is in a scene from the Granada adaptation of “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”. In this episode, we see Holmes adopt the role of the conjurer as he leads up to the big reveal (e.g. the recovery of the black pearl of the Borgias). He pulls a red tablecloth out from a full table setting for tea (only disturbing two pieces of cutlery from what I could tell) and then transfers the tablecloth to another table, draping it artfully across the surface. As if that wasn’t enough, he lovingly carries the sixth Napoleon bust over to the table, caressing it as he walks, and carefully places it on a little black cloth. He then asks Watson and Lestrade for their undivided attention before he smashes the bust with his riding crop. This scene is greatly embellished from the description given in the original story and I absolutely love it.

17. Gothic Elements

I think the Granada series was successful in recreating many of the Gothic elements from the Sherlock Holmes canon. Some notable examples include Blessington’s terrifying nightmare from “The Resident Patient,” Rachel Howells’ body floating up in the water at the end of “The Musgrave Ritual,” and that creepy scene in “The Copper Beeches” in which Violet Hunter explores that forbidden wing of the house. She sits down outside of what she assumes is an empty room, only to hear footsteps coming from inside before seeing a shadow cast under the door. Naturally, The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most Gothic work of all. The Granada series presents a suitably bleak and atmospheric Dartmoor and Baskerville Hall.

18. The Emotional Sherlock Holmes

While Holmes is often described as a cold thinking machine, we see flashes of emotion throughout the canon and it’s something we see in the Granada series as well. One of the best examples is in “The Six Napoleons” when Lestrade delivers that famous speech of praise and we see that Holmes is visibly moved. It’s a great performance by Brett:

Holmes displays a rare instance of genuine compassion in “Silver Blaze”. When a distraught Edith Baxter is recounting the events leading up to John Straker’s death, Holmes places his hand over hers in a silent gesture of sympathy. This scene doesn’t exist in the original story, and I think we only see this in the episode because Holmes is alone in the room with Edith Baxter and doesn’t need to hide his feelings.

19. Convincing Villains

To showcase Sherlock Holmes as the champion of justice, you need convincing villains for him to pursue. The most famous one of all is Professor James Moriarty, who is played superbly by Eric Porter. With Porter's performance, you see a man who is extremely intelligent and completely ruthless:

Other notable villains include Joss Ackland as the sinister Jephro Rucastle in "The Copper Beeches, Patrick Allen as the calculating Colonel Sebastian Moran in "The Empty House," and Anthony Valentine as the fiendish Baron Gruner in "The Illustrious Client".

20. All Roads Lead to Rome (the Original Stories)

My memory could be failing me, but I believe that when I first started watching the Granada series (when The Return of Sherlock Holmes aired on PBS), I had only read some Sherlock Holmes stories in a handful of Young Adult abridged editions that I’d found in my junior high library. As soon as I began watching the Granada series, I wanted to read all of the original stories in their full versions. I distinctly remember purchasing Volume I of the Bantam Classic version from the Coles at the Scarborough Town Centre. I think I returned to the same Coles at a later date to pick up Volume II.

21. Manchester Connection

The outdoor Baker Street set (as well as various interior sets) was built at the Granada studios in Manchester, a city I’m quite attached to. My maternal grandparents were from Oldham in Greater Manchester. My grandfather also happened to be a Sherlock Holmes fan and he was kind enough to give me his copy of The Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook when he saw that I was developing an interest in the Great Detective.

22. The Sign of Four

I was very happy when Granada adapted The Sign of Four because it’s my favourite Sherlock Holmes novel. Yes, I’ll admit that The Hound of the Baskervilles is the best novel, but The Sign of Four is my favourite because it has so many classic Sherlock Holmes elements, such as the Baker Street Irregulars and Toby the dog, not to mention the excitement of a missing treasure and a river chase. The only thing I found disappointing about the production was that Watson and Mary Morstan don’t get together at the end. However, given how many episodes had preceded this film, the chronology just wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t have made sense for Watson to get married at that point in the series, especially if Holmes and Watson were to continue living under the same roof.

23. Return to 221B

For some of the cast, the Granada series was not their first Sherlock Holmes production, which tickles this Holmesian geek. In 1981, Jeremy Brett actually played Watson to Charlton Heston’s Holmes in the play Crucifer of Blood, while David Burke played Sir George Burnwell in “The Beryl Coronet” (1965 BBC series Sherlock Holmes). Charles Gray played Mycroft in both The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and the Granada series. Frank Middlemass played Commissionaire Peterson in “The Blue Carbuncle” (1965 BBC series Sherlock Holmes) and then played Henry Baker in the Granada series’ version of “The Blue Carbuncle”. Jeremy Kemp was Baron Karl von Leinsdorf in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and Dr. Grimesby Roylott in the Granada series’ version of “The Speckled Band”. There are probably other actors I’m missing, but I think you get the picture.

24. 221B: The Next Generation

And the Sherlock Holmes filmography geekfest continues! However, I’ve now turned my attention to the next generation: cast members who had parents or relatives in earlier Sherlock Holmes productions. Daniel Massey (Neil Gibson in “The Problem of Thor Bridge”) was the son of Raymond Massey, who played Sherlock Holmes in the 1931 film The Speckled Band. He also happened to be Jeremy Brett’s ex-brother-in-law. Natasha Richardson (Violet Hunter in “The Copper Beeches”) was the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave, who played Lola Devereaux in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Alan Howard (the Duke of Holdernesse in “The Priory School”) was the cousin of Ronald Howard, who played Sherlock Holmes in the fifties TV series Sherlock Holmes. This doesn’t exactly fit the pattern, but Edward Hardwicke’s father Cedric Hardwicke was close friends with Nigel Bruce (Watson in the Basil Rathbone films). Nigel Bruce was a frequent visitor to the Hardwicke household when Edward Hardwicke was a little boy.

Speaking of the next generation, Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi) from Star Trek: The Next Generation played Lucretia Venucci in “The Six Napoleons”.

25. Robin of Sherwood Connections

I always get a bit of a thrill from seeing RoS cast members in other TV or film productions. In the case of the Granada series, I can think of six RoS cast members who appeared in episodes throughout the years. Robert Addie (Sir Guy of Gisburne) was Mr. Murray in “The Empty House”. In fact, although I didn’t know it at the time, I would have seen Robert Addie in “The Empty House” before I saw him in Robin of Sherwood. It came as a big surprise when I re-watched “The Empty House” after becoming a Guy Groupie and saw Gisburne in Victorian garb. Moving on…Oliver Tobias (Bertrand de Nivelle in “Lord of the Trees”) was Captain Jack Croker in “The Abbey Grange”. Patricia Hodge (Hadwisa in “The Pretender”) and Yves Beneyton (Reynald de Villaret in “Seven Poor Knights from Acre”) both appeared in “The Second Stain” as Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope and Eduardo Lucas respectively. Anthony Valentine (the Baron de Belleme in “Robin Hood and the Sorcerer” and “The Enchantment”) played a menacing Baron Gruner in “The Illustrious Client”. Unfortunately, Nickolas Grace (the Sheriff of Nottingham) had to play Bertrand in the appalling “Master Blackmailer”.

While we’re on the topic of Robin of Sherwood, its creator Richard Carpenter played Arthur Holder (“The Beryl Coronet”) in the 1965 BBC Sherlock Holmes.

26. Hints of Slash

Oh, like anyone thought I wasn’t going to go there. Well, I’ll be merciful and just include the two examples that stick out to me the most. In “The Empty House,” Holmes strokes Watson’s face when he faints and cradles his head for a bit even after Watson has regained consciousness. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes pulls a shocked and wounded Sir Henry Baskerville from the ground and actually hugs him, cradling the man to his chest. Now, I realize Sir Henry is in rough shape, but that just seems wonderfully excessive.

27. Holmes and Animals

I don't know if this was the choice of Jeremy Brett or the directors in question, but the Granada Holmes seems more tactile with animals. When he's unmasking the killer in "Silver Blaze," he gently strokes Silver Blaze as he says, "Yes, the horse. And it may lessen his guilt if I say that it was done in self-defence, and that John Straker was a man who was entirely unworthy of your confidence." In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr. Mortimer's dog is practically in Holmes's lap as Holmes enthusiastically pets him. I'll happily rewatch that scene again and again just for the interaction between Brett and the dog.

28. Drug Habit

I would argue that while the Granada series openly acknowledges Holmes’s drug habit, it doesn’t obsess over it. While it’s true that Holmes’s drug habit crops up more in the Granada series than it does in canon, I think it’s used to paint a picture of Holmes’ character rather than to present any kind of moral judgment. I could be mistaken, but I believe that Holmes and Watson only discuss the drug habit once (“A Scandal in Bohemia”) when Watson first tries to lecture Holmes and then pleads with him to stop using drugs. Of course, there are disapproving looks from Watson when he spots the needle, and we see the results of Holmes getting high in “The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Devil’s Foot”.

29. Holmes Is Not a Morning Person

I’m pretty sure this was at least hinted at in canon, but we receive concrete proof of Holmes’s inability to deal with wake-up calls in “The Blue Carbuncle” when Mrs. Hudson attempts to get him out of bed because Commissionaire Peterson is in the sitting room. In the episode, Mrs. Hudson knocks on the bedroom door and calls to Holmes. When he doesn’t answer, she opens the door and marches across the room, tapping Holmes on the shoulder. Holmes manages to sit up a bit, but barely opens his eyes. When Mrs. Hudson keeps talking, he covers his face with his hand and moans, "Oh, please. Go away." Then, as soon as Mrs. Hudson turns to leave, he fumbles for a cigarette. As I also struggle with mornings, I find this moment both hilarious and rather satisfying.

30. Phosphorescence

While I think the 1939 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles had the best hound, I still find the Granada hound suitably creepy with its green, phosphorescent glow. It certainly beats the CGI mess that resembled a dinosaur more than a hound in the awful 2002 BBC version.

Crossposted at

Tags: robert addie, ros, sherlock holmes
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