Note to readers: “A Second Glance” is an opportunity, between major essays, for us to periodically go into even more detail about characters, themes, and minutiae from the Holmes canon, and also share music, film clips, artwork, and other media to enhance your Holmes reading experience.
We take a break from the canon this week to acknowledge the contributions of one of Britain's finest actors and a gentleman many believe to have given the quintessential portrayal of Holmes, Mr. Jeremy Brett. Brett was born Peter Huggins, the son of a distinguished army officer, Lt-Col. H.W Huggins, in 1933. Brett was educated at Eton and received his early stage training at the Central School of Speech and Drama. His first London appearance was as Patroclus, played as a notably seductive youth, in Tyrone Guthrie's thrilling Edwardian-dress production of Troilus and Cressida at the Old Vic in 1956. Brett was twice married, first to Anna Massey, the actress, and secondly to Joan Wilson, the American producer of Masterpiece Theater for the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States. The romantic story is that, when Brett, during the early Seventies, stood in for a period for Alistair Cooke as the presenter of Masterpiece Theater, Wilson was so overwhelmed by Brett's handsome appearance that she vowed to make him her husband. Her death; after only seven years of marriage, came as a devastating blow to him.
The dark shadow which lay across his overflowing good nature was an increasing tendency to manic depression, an illness (later coupled with heart disease) which began to show itself during the second series of Sherlock Holmes and which made the production of later episodes a determined and heroic struggle for him. Brett passed away on September 12th, 1995, leaving the goal of a full and complete canonical run of the series (produced by Granada television for the BBC from 1984 until 1994) short by only 18 of the original stories.
The video clips that accompany this post tell the story of Brett's relationship to the character of Sherlock Holmes in his own words. They were originally broadcast on the Weekend Edition program on National Public Radio in America in 1991. Our hats are off in memory of Mr. Brett and his extraordinary portrayal. We hope you enjoy this closer look into the man who was Holmes.
Sources: Derek Granger, The Independent, 15 September 1995; Jeremy Brett: The Definitive Sherlock Holmes by Linda Pritchard 2001. Videos uploaded by macolleague