Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Those Who Were Rather Rudely Forgotten

I have come to the realization that I have not yet scratched the surface of the number of audio recordings which feature Sherlock Holmes. I neglected a great number of radio shows and I wanted to formally (or perhaps informally give them their moment in the limelight).

There are dozens and dozens and dozens (maybe more) one-off Sherlock Holmes radio recordings. Sir Cedric Hardwicke starred in a 1945 radio adaptation of "The Speckled Band" where he starred as Holmes. This forgotten radio drama is not highly regarded for Hardwicke seemed to lack the eccentric air which made Holmes so enjoyable. Furthermore, Orson Welles appeared as Holmes in an early radio broadcast of William Gillette's play which he adapted for radio.

Aside from Rathbone and Bruce, perhaps the second most beloved radio Holmes and Watson was Carleton Hobbs and Norman Shelly as Holmes and Watson. Hobbs and Shelly became icons as Holmes and Watson in the mid 1950's through the '60's. They debuted on the 15th of October, 1952 in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" and ended in 1969 with "His Last Bow." In that time, they had adapted more of Conan Doyle's story than had ever been recorded before (and held the record until the Clive Merrison series in the '80's). Hobbs and Shelly also made a recording of the Gillette play in 1953.

The two actors became sensations. In fact the two men were involved in a plaque which was set down at the Criterion Bar in London. It was at that restaurant that Watson and his friend Stamford left to visit Sherlock Holmes for the first time in "A Study in Scarlet." To commemorate the event, Hobbs arrived at the festivities dressed as Holmes - and riding in a hansom cab.

While Hobbs and Shelly made names for themselves, some already established stars were taking up the roles of Holmes and Watson. Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson turned up as Holmes and Watson in a series of twelve radio plays. Gielgud starred as Holmes and Richardson as Watson. Once more, I shall be rather opinionated here - I am not the greatest fan of these shows. While they feel less dated in comparison to the Rathbone/Bruce shows, I just don't feel the same level of excitement from the stars. Richardson got on my nerves as Watson, and although Gielgud is a grand actor, I didn't feel as though he truly got into the spirit of things. Throughout the stories, Gielgud speaks in a monotone, bringing very life into the character of Holmes. When in the last episode, "The Final Problem," which guest starred Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty, the actors involved just couldn't make the story interesting. It's rather sad since this series had potential of being some of the best Sherlockian radio ever made. But, that's a what-if, and I won't discuss it anymore.

Throughout the years, other actors have stepped up to the microphone in some capacity to play Holmes. There was Tim Pigott-Smith, who starred as Holmes in a 1980's adaptation of "The Valley of Fear." And then there is David Ian Davies, who has read a great number of Sherlockian pastiches over the years, including a reading of "The Tangled Skein." There was John Moffatt (the BBC Radio's Hercule Poirot) who starred as Holmes in an adaptation of Loren D. Estleman's "Sherlock Holmes Vs. Dracula: The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count" and then there was Roger Llewellyn, who after starring in the one-man play, "Sherlock Holmes: The Last Act" dramatized the show for Big Finish Productions (one year before Nicholas Briggs took over the role).

One of the more recent audio recordings to emerge from the Sherlockian world is Sir Derek Jacobi as Holmes, who recorded the entire canon on a series of audio books. Now, what you must understand is that I think Sir Derek is a great actor, who has showed some fantastic range in the past. He has been in everything from "I Claudius" to "Agatha Christie's Marple" to "Doctor Who" and even appeared on the American sitcom, "Frasier." I think he is a brilliant star and certainly one of the best in British film. Nonetheless, I cannot say that I was fully impressed by his readings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work. Although he seemed to be enjoying himself, I did not get the impression that he was putting forth his best effort. I could be entirely wrong, but he did not seem to show any of that range which I believe he is so skilled in. To someone unfamiliar to the stories and listening to these audio books, I don't think they could at once tell which character was speaking. His voices are Holmes and Watson were almost the same, and I felt as though Sir Derek could have done better. I have not listened to his recording of Anthony Horowitz's "The House of Silk," but the idea of him narrating is great. It creates a kind of continuity between Doyle's canon and the pastiche, and was a fantastic idea to do.

As I have said before, Sherlock Holmes has always been identified with radio. Throughout the years, dozens of radio broadcasts have been put forth, and as long as people continue to express interest in audio recordings of some kind, Sherlock Holmes shall remain a part of it.

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