Born on this day in 1933, Peter Jeremy William Huggins was, for many, the definitive Sherlock Holmes.
The Granada series in which he starred ran from 1984 to 1994, adapting 41 of Conan Doyle’s 60 stories. Especially in the first few years, the efforts of both Brett and producer Michael Cox resulted in the most authentic Holmes yet. Brett’s charismatic performance was supported by sumptuous sets, gorgeous costumes and deft adaptations. Most importantly, he had two of the finest Watsons ever cast: first David Burke, then Edward Hardwicke.
One of the most delightful aspects of the Granada series was the warm friendship depicted between Holmes and his Boswell. In interviews, Brett often suggested that he saw Holmes as a dependent, relying upon his steady and compassionate friend to get through life. It made for a compelling revision of the familiar dynamic. Perhaps Brett’s thoughts were influenced by the fact that he’d played Dr. Watson himself, on stage opposite Charlton Heston’s elderly Sherlock.
In the first years of the Granada series, Brett was an intensely physical Holmes, spidery and lean. Leaping over sofas, briskly rubbing his hands together, his index finger raised like an exclamation mark, Brett was spellbinding.
My favourite Granada episode is also the first that I ever saw, The Dancing Men. It’s only the second adventure broadcast but already the atmosphere is perfect. I love it for its portrayal of how Holmes and Watson live together, the rhythms of their day-to-day existence. It’s a tragic tale, made more so by the sympathetic playing of Tenniel Evans. It also contains two very fine demonstrations of Holmes’ powers of deduction, beautifully enunciated by Brett.
There’s a lovely running gag about Watson secretly reading Holmes’ monograph on codes and ciphers. At the end of the episode, Holmes tests Watson’s new skills, slyly challenging him to decode the Dancing Men code. I’m indebted to justdeduceit for these great screencaps of a wonderful moment:
If you don’t already have it, I’d urge you to invest in the boxed set of the Granada series. And if you want to read more about Jeremy Brett, the best book by far is David Stuart Davies’ Bending the Willow.