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"The Madness of Colonel Warburton" is the first episode of Series 1 of the BBC Radio 4 series The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, written by Bert Coules. It was first broadcast on January 30, 2002. In it, Holmes is engaged by the son of Watson's ex-commanding officer to investigate his father's alarming new interest in spiritualism.

Plot[]

Watson returns to 221B Baker Street to find Holmes high on cocaine. He insists that Holmes take a new case, and shows Holmes a letter he received from Michael Warburton, requesting his assistance. Watson tells Holmes that Michael is the son of Colonel James Warburton of the 66th Berkshire Regiment, a decorated soldier who was Watson’s commanding officer in Afghanistan.

Holmes and Watson meet with Michael, who has followed his father into the army and is now a lieutenant in the Berkshires. Michael tells them that his father has become deeply involved with the Bessmers, a spiritualist couple who claim to be able to contact the dead. The colonel is convinced that his late wife Elizabeth is communicating with him through them, and on her advice has willed all his property to the Bessmers. Further, he promotes the couple incessantly, inviting all his friends and acquaintances to attend their séances. Michael says that beyond the financial issue, he fears the colonel is making a laughingstock of himself, his family, and the regiment. As they are talking, they are interrupted by the colonel, who demands that Holmes keep out of his affairs before leaving with his son.

Holmes visits the Bessmers in disguise, and gains admittance to a séance after "donating" 40 guineas. At the séance, the medium, Mrs Bessmer, is bound and chained behind a curtain. Holmes and the other attendees are seated around a nearby table with their hands together, tied to Mrs Bessmer with rope. After the lights go out, the voice of a young girl speaks to one woman, a mother who is eager to contact her recently deceased daughter. She mentions a pet name to the mother to convince her of her identity. This is followed by the voice of Elizabeth Warburton, who says she wishes to leave her husband proof of his faith. When the lights are turned on, Mr Bessmer releases his wife, and a ring is found on the table, which the colonel proclaims to be the same wedding band his wife was buried wearing. Holmes decides to take the case.

Holmes attempts to break into the Bessmers' house, but is foiled by the Bessmers' surprisingly tight security. Meanwhile, Watson meets with Colonel Warburton, who asks him whether he believes him mad or deluded and invites him to attend a séance himself. Holmes encourages Watson to go, having found little success in his investigation. Watson attends, and is infuriated when a voice speaks to him claiming to be his dead wife, Mary. He tells Holmes that she revealed no information that was not a public knowledge, though most of the other sitters heard details that they claimed nobody else could know.

Holmes and Watson visit the Warburton vault, which Holmes finds undisturbed, convincing him that the wedding ring could not have been stolen from Elizabeth's grave. They then stop by the Warburton house looking for Michael, but find only the colonel at home. He dismisses Holmes, but warns him that some truths are better left hidden. On the way back to Baker Street, Holmes point out the poor repair of the house and the small number of servants. Holmes then visits Warburton's solicitor, who gives him a copy of the colonel's old will before it was changed in the Bessmers' favor.

Holmes and Watson confront Michael at a regimental dinner. Holmes accuses Michael of perpetrating fraud on his father, and hiring Holmes to divert suspicion from himself. Under Colonel Warburton's old will, the house and lands were entailed to Michael on the condition he never sell them. The house's ruinous condition would cost a fortune to repair, ruining the young man. Michael therefore conspired with the Bessmers to dispose of the house, feeding them information to make the séances convincing. Michael angrily denies the accusations, protesting that he has never met the Bessmers and that he has more to be grateful to his father for than Holmes could ever know. His outburst convinces Holmes of his innocence, and Holmes realizes he was mistaken. He asks Watson to help him set a trap for the Bessmers.

On Holmes' instructions, Watson attends another séance with Colonel Warburton. The apparition of Mary Watson appears as before, but this time Watson breaks the circle and grabs her, revealing it to be Mrs Bessmer, as Holmes enters the room and declares the Bessmers frauds and Colonel Warburton their accomplice. Now caught, the Bessmers vindictively threaten to reveal a secret that would ruin the colonel's family, prompting him to shoot them dead. Holmes explains that the Bessmers were blackmailing Warburton after learning about a "youthful indiscretion" by Michael that the colonel had gone to great lengths to conceal. The incident is never described, but the information would destroy Michael's promising military career. To protect his son, the colonel had given the Bessmers his fortune and enticed his friends into joining the séances, feeding the couple private information to make their trick convincing. When Warburton ran out of friends, the Bessmers compelled him to change his will and sign over the remainder of his property to them.

Having confessed to Holmes, Warburton admits he is concerned that if Scotland Yard investigates they would uncover the blackmail, and therefore Michael's secret. Reiterating his commitment to his son, he shoots himself before Watson can stop him, knowing that the police would believe him mad and close the case.

Cast[]

  • Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes
  • Andrew Sachs as Dr John Watson
  • Timothy West as Colonel James Warburton
  • Eleanor Bron as Mrs Bessmer
  • Struan Rodger as Mr Bessmer
  • Jamie Newall as Lieutenant Michael Warburton
  • David Bannerman as Sir Robert
  • Clare Corbett as Mrs Margaret Fryer

Trivia[]

  • The case was inspired by a reference in "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb", where Watson mentions that the case of "Colonel Warburton’s madness" was one of the two cases that he had personally introduced to Holmes.
  • Watson’s affiliation with the 66th Berkshire Regiment is mentioned in A Study in Scarlet. He was attached to the Berkshires when he received the wound at the Battle of Maiwand that forced his retirement from the army.
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