AS TIME GOES BY, when one looks back on one's past experiences, they seem to have been lived by someone else. Or, at least, they do to me, especially when I cast my mind back to those heady days of the 1980s and early 1990s, that period when the Granada series of Sherlock Holmes films and Jeremy Brett in particular impinged on my life. I remember sitting down to watch the first televised episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and how excited I was before it began and how delighted I was after viewing it. Michael Cox and company had got it right and Jeremy Brett made a fascinating and charismatic Holmes. Little did I know then how much the series and Jeremy would become a part of my life. Recalling those occasions when I trekked off to various locations to watch the filming and interview JB, they seem dreamlike and unreal. But, despite them being magical, they were not dreams. They did happen.
As recorded in the main body of the text, I first met JB in March 1988—over twenty years ago, although it seems like yesterday. I was ushered into his Winnebago on the docks at Liverpool by a young, brisk PR girl who informed me that I had just ten minutes with the great man. I had the impression that I was merely tolerated by her. I was no one important, just one of the many fans of Jeremy who was allowed a brief audience. To be fair, my only 'credentials' then were that I was then Co-President of a small Holmes Society and Co-Editor of its publications. I had also been the author of Holmes of the Movies a decade earlier, a book which charted the Baker Street sleuth's film career. However once JB and I got talking and he could see that I knew my Holmes and I didn't have to be spoon-fed information about the The Hound of the Baskervilles, the current production, the actor relaxed and chatted away merrily with me. I am sure it relieved his boredom in being able to talk about his part and the story they were filming. When the PR girl returned in the allotted ten minutes to whisk me away, JB waved his arms gently to dismiss her. 'We're all right,' he said and continued to talk to me. In the end I stayed nearly an hour. That meeting seemed to cement a kind of relationship between us. He knew I was a genuine and knowledgeable Sherlockian and not just a simpering fan.
It surprised me—no, shocked me—when a few weeks later I received a telephone call at home from him. I picked up the receiver and a voice said, 'Hello, it's Jeremy here . . .' Thank goodness, some guardian angel prevented me from responding with 'Jeremy who?' I certainly wasn't expecting the great man himself to ring me. He just wanted to add some comments to our conversation about The Hound. That kind, impulsive gesture and care about the production was the essence of the man. In five minutes he was gone, leaving me a little shell-shocked.
When I was interviewing him, sometimes I felt that he wasn't always listening to me. His eyes seemed vacant and his mind elsewhere but then on a later occasion he was able to repeat what I'd asked him or told him. I remember discussing the concept of the two hour Sherlocks when Granada had decided to go down this route. In those far off days it was a fairly new concept, pioneered by the Inspector Morse shows. I told him that when a Morse was on, I used to clear my diary for the evening, sit down with some choice nibbles and a bottle of wine and give myself up to the Oxford mystery completely for two hours. It was a pleasant indulgence. I felt sure that others would enjoy the two hour Holmes shows in the same fashion. At the time JB did not seem terribly impressed or interested in my notion. However several months later at a press conference which I attended someone asked him how he felt about moving from an hour long slot to a two hour one. He grinned and thrust his arm in my direction. 'I'm sure a lot of viewers will be like my friend David and settle down with a bottle of wine and something to nibble while they enjoy the show.' He'd taken notice and remembered. I nodded graciously.
It is true that I never knew Jeremy before his health—both physical and mental—began to deteriorate; but I was able to observe his sad decline. As a result of the bipolar condition both his views on the stories and his performances grew erratic. His opinions varied almost daily: he loved the two hour shows; he hated the two hour shows. He thought the nightshirt scene in The Eligible Bachelor was fascinating; he knew he should never have done it. The iron will that had kept him on the Doyle straight and narrow wilted. I see now that it was cruel to keep him at it. He wasn't well and he rather became Granada's puppet towards the end when he had neither the fight nor the clarity of vision necessary to keep the character on song.
On good days, he was an absolute delight to be with and talk to. However, his love of the character of Holmes vacillated. After his wife died and the bi-polar darkness descended, he grew to hate Sherlock, seeing the self-contained and self-righteous detective as a straitjacket, suffocating his own natural ebullience and racing emotions. Illness or not, this was true. In reality he was much nearer in attitude and character to Watson than the aesthetic and icy Holmes; but towards the end of his life he had grown to love the old fellow. He had inhabited his skin long enough to come to terms with his foibles, inconsistencies and his lack of emotion. Jeremy called him 'an elusive pimpernel' in his last conversation with me and added, 'Bless his heart, he's streets ahead of us still.' Terms that could be applied to JB himself.
When I wrote the Afterword for the second edition of this book in 2002, I said that I did not believe we would see such a great Sherlock Holmes on screen as the one that Jeremy Brett gave us for a long time. Nothing has happened in the intervening years to alter my opinion. In playing Sherlock Holmes JB not only won many fans for his acting ability but he also created a whole new army of enthusiasts for the character as well, I miss him. You miss him. And the world of Sherlock Holmes misses him. Praise be for film and the memory bank.
DAVID STUART DAVIES
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