Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal fictional detective first appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. Sherlock Holmes became hugely popular following the publication in The Strand Magazine of the first series of short stories covering a period from around 1878 up to 1907, with the final case being set in 1914. The London-based ‘consulting detective’ is famous for using his intellectual prowess, astute observation, deductive reasoning and inference to solve even the most difficult cases.
When asked if there was a real Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle always maintained that Holmes was inspired by Dr Joseph Bell, for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from the smallest observations. Dr Bell was also interested in crime and occasionally assisted the police. All but four of the stories are narrated by Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr John H. Watson, with two narrated by Holmes himself and two others written in the third person. As well as being hugely popular still in print, Conan Doyle’s stories have been filmed many times and Sherlock Holmes has appeared on screen more often than any other fictional character. Sixteen of the Holmes stories were adapted for radio in the early 1950s, produced by Harry Alan Towers for his own company and broadcast by both the BBC.
John Gielgud stars as an enthusiastic, mischievous Holmes and Ralph Richardson is his fruitily avuncular Watson. Others involved include Val Gielgud (Sir John’s brother) as Mycroft Holmes and Orson Welles as a memorable Professor Moriarty. Heritage Media have released the whole of this excellent vintage radio drama, sympathetically remastered and issued on four double CDs, each containing four episodes. From early tales such as The Blackmailer and Scandal in Bohemia to The Red-headed League and A Case of Identity, this collection is a treat for all Holmes aficionados.
These four volumes, recorded for broadcast in 1954, are true classic Sherlock Holmes for lovers of these legendary stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Although they are heavily edited when compared to David Timson's illustrious accounts that are a collector's dream – the unique and inimitable voice of Sir John Gielgud and his equally great sidekick Sir Ralph Richardson as Watson are essential listening.
The sound effects, although crude at times are wonderfully atmospheric as are the equally valid contributions of Val Gielgud as Mycroft Holmes in "The Traitor" and other unnamed female actresses which take those parts so well. Some of my favourite Holmes stories are included here such as "The Second Stain", "Silver Blaze" and "The Speckled Band" all superbly dramatized on all counts.
There are times when the sound is slightly cramped as these are mid 1950's mono recordings but otherwise I have nothing but praise for these issues and a top recommendation is surely in order.
NEW ENGLAND REGIONAL PRESS (USA):
There were two major radio series featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
The American one starred Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce and ran for seven years in the mid-1930s. (Several actors had played Holmes before, but the Rathbone/Bruce films enhanced the popularity of this duo.) In Great Britain, a radio series ran in 1954 with even classier casting. Knighted in 1949 and 1953 respectively, Sir Ralph Richardson appeared as Watson and Sir John Gielgud as Holmes.
16 of them have been released on CD by Heritage Media titled THE CLASSIC SHERLOCK HOLMES in 4 sets of 2 CDs each. Many of these will be familiar to those who read the originals and/or saw them televised in the Jeremy Brett series. The more popular tales included here are “A Scandal in Bohemia” (the one with Irene Adler), “The Speckled Band,” and “The Red-headed League.”
There has always been a chemistry between Gielgud and Richardson on stage, and it is good to hear how wonderfully they play off each other. If anything, they are perhaps a bit too urbane. This Watson is not the silly fool of the Rathbone films, but this Holmes is a little less neurotic and cynical than the Holmes on the printed page. I find that this radio series lacks a feeling of momentum and adventure. But then again, the original tales don't move very quickly either.
Gielgud's brother Val (a bigwig at the BBC then) appears as Holmes‚ brother Mycroft in “The Traitor,” to add an extra bit of interest.
I used to hear some of these on an old LP set and am grateful to Heritage Media for making these broadcasts available on CD.