Baker Street Wiki
Baker Street Wiki

Jeremy Brett was the actor who portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the Granada Television Series, Sherlock Holmes, from 1984 to 1994.

Role as Sherlock Holmes[]

Although Brett appeared in many different roles during his 40-year career (including Freddie Eynesford-Hill in the 1964 film version of "My Fair Lady"), he is now best remembered for his performance as Sherlock Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series of Granada Television films made between 1984 and 1994. These were adapted by John Hawkesworth and other writers from the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even though he reportedly feared being typecast, Brett appeared in 41 episodes of the Granada series, alongside David Burke and, latterly, Edward Hardwicke as Dr Watson.

After taking on the demanding role, Brett made few other acting appearances, and he is now widely considered to be the definitive Holmes of his era, just as Basil Rathbone was during the 1940s. Brett had previously played Doctor Watson on stage opposite Charlton Heston as Holmes in the 1980 Los Angeles production of The Crucifer of Blood, making him one of only three actors to play both Holmes and Watson professionally (the other two are Reginald Owen, as Watson in the 1932 film Sherlock Holmes and Holmes in 1933's A Study in Scarlet, and fellow Old Etonian Patrick Macnee, who played Watson first in 1976's Sherlock Holmes in New York and Holmes in 1993's The Hound of London).[citation needed]

Brett had been approached in February 1982 by Granada TV to play Holmes. The idea was to make a totally authentic and faithful adaptation of the character's best cases. Eventually Brett accepted the role. He wanted to be the best Sherlock Holmes the world had ever seen. He conducted extensive research on the great detective and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, and was very attentive to discrepancies between the scripts he had been given and Conan Doyle's original stories. One of Brett's dearest possessions on the set was his 77-page "Baker Street File" on everything from Holmes' mannerisms to his eating and drinking habits. Brett once explained that "some actors are becomers — they try to become their characters. When it works, the actor is like a sponge, squeezing himself dry to remove his own personality, then absorbing the character's like a liquid".

Brett was obsessed with bringing more passion to the role of Holmes. He introduced Holmes' rather eccentric hand gestures and short violent laughter. He would hurl himself on the ground just to look for a footprint, he would leap over furniture or jump on the parapet of a bridge with no regard for his own personal safety.

Holmes' obsessive and depressive personality fascinated and frightened Brett. In many ways Holmes' personality resembled Brett's own, with outbursts of passionate energy followed by periods of lethargy. It became difficult for Brett to let go of Holmes after work. He had always been told that the only way for an actor to stay sane was for him to leave his part behind at the end of the day, but Jeremy started dreaming about Holmes, and the dreams turned into nightmares. Brett began to refer to Sherlock Holmes as "You Know Who" or simply "HIM": "Watson describes You Know Who as a mind without a heart, which is hard to play. Hard to become. So what I have done is invent an inner life". Brett invented an imaginary life of Holmes to fill the hollowness of Holmes' "missing heart", his empty emotional life. He imagined :"...what You Know Who's nanny looked like. She was covered in starch. I don't think he saw his mother until he was about eight years old..." etc. While the other actors disappeared to the canteen for lunch, Brett would sit alone on the set reading the script, looking at every nuance, reading Holmes in the weekends and on his holidays. "Some actors fear if they play Sherlock Holmes for a very long run the character will steal their soul, leave no corner for the original inhabitant", he once said. It never occurred to him that he was ill.

Illness and Death[]

After the death of Joan Wilson, Brett struggled with filming the third Granada series, The Return of Sherlock Holmes in late 1985. On the set it was noticed that his manic episodes, his excessive changes of mood, were getting worse and eventually grief and workload became too much; he had a breakdown, was hospitalised and diagnosed manic-depressive.

Brett was given lithium tablets to fight his manic depression. He knew that he would never be cured; he had to live with his condition, look for the signs of his disorder and then deal with it. He wanted to go back to work, to play Holmes again. The first episode to be produced after his discharge was a two-hour adaptation of The Sign of the Four. From then on the difference in Brett's appearance slowly became more noticeable as the series developed. One of the side effects of the lithium tablets was fluid retention. Brett began to look and act differently. The drugs were slowing him down; he was putting on weight and retaining water. Brett also had heart troubles. His heart was twice the normal size, he would have difficulties breathing and would need an oxygen mask on the set. "But, darlings, the show must go on", was his only comment.

During the last decade of his life, Brett was treated in hospital several times for his mental illness, and his health and appearance visibly deteriorated by the time he completed the later episodes of the Sherlock Holmes series. During his later years, he discussed the illness candidly, encouraging people to recognise its symptoms and seek help.

Brett died on 12 September 1995 at his home in Clapham, London, from heart failure. His heart valves had been scarred by rheumatic fever contracted as a child.

Mel Gussow wrote in a New York Times obituary "Mr Brett was regarded as the quintessential Holmes: breathtakingly analytical, given to outrageous disguises and the blackest moods and relentless in his enthusiasm for solving the most intricate crimes."

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