September 12, 2000
Sadly, it's been five years since Jeremy Brett left us. In remembrance, I'm sharing a speech which I presented at a celebration held in Jeremy's memory in 1996.
Of course, some things have changed since then. For example, the hotel where the celebration took place no longer has a Sherlock Holmes theme, and my mother eventually had the heart surgery mentioned in this speech. (She's doing fine now.)
However, one thing hasn't changed: the special place Jeremy Brett still has in the hearts of his fans. And, it is to Jeremy and his fans that I dedicate the following:
THE BRETTISH EMPIRE -- A World of Fans and Friends
by Lisa Oldham
Delivered at Paula Brown's "Celebration of Jeremy Brett"
9/14/96, San Francisco, CA
Copyright 1996-2010 by Lisa L. Oldham, all rights reserved
Hello. My name is Lisa Oldham, and I'm the editor of The Brettish Empire, the online Jeremy Brett newsletter. I'd like to thank Paula for inviting me to speak to all of you here today.
Jeremy thought Doyle was better read than watched; I think I'm better read than watched, too, so I hope you'll bear with me!
I never had the privilege of meeting Jeremy Brett, so I have no personal remembrances of him to share with you. However, in the course of editing The Brettish Empire I've encountered many of Jeremy's fans, and I believe the diversity and the quality of his admirers reflects the kind of person he was.
Jeremy once said that his fans consisted mainly of "A lot of Japanese, brigadiers, and small children." His estimation of his own popularity was far too modest, however. I've discovered that Brett fans come from all walks of life, are of all ages, and live all over the world. They are men, women and children. They run the gamut of occupations: lawyers, librarians and lab technicians; journalists, novelists, and artists; students, secretaries, homemakers, and computer consultants. Most of my subscribers live in the United States, Canada, and England, and I've also heard from Brett fans in France. (Since The Brettish Empire is accessible on the World Wide Web, it may be read by fans in other countries, as well.)
One thing all these different people have in common is an interest in Jeremy Brett. Now, while Jeremy was fairly well-known in Britain, he wasn't exactly a "superstar" in America. He was never on the cover of People magazine and I don't think he ever appeared on The Tonight Show. So, "Why Jeremy Brett?" some people may ask.
One of my readers is a twelve year-old girl named Ashley, and she told me that when Jeremy died she was naturally very sad, and someone at her school tried to console her by saying, "Well, now you can drool over Brad
Pitt!" (As if the two were interchangeable--to me that's like saying, "Hey, your Rolls-Royce is gone, but now you can buy a Neon!")
Jeremy wasn't just a "heartthrob." And, he was more than just "Sherlock Holmes." Jeremy was also a son, a brother, a husband, a father, and a friend. Ironically, the man perhaps best known for playing a detective who kept his emotions in check provoked very deep emotions with his own passing. His loss was felt most deeply, of course, by his loved ones. But, most of Jeremy's fans felt as if they had lost a beloved relative, as well. Many messages I received after Jeremy's death and many postings I read in Sherlockian newsgroups on the Internet said, "I feel like I've lost a member of my family." Others said, "I wish I could have met Jeremy." Still others said, "I wanted to thank Jeremy for all the enjoyment he gave to me."
Even now, a year later, I still receive messages from fans who discover
The Brettish Empire on the Web and write to tell me how much they miss Jeremy. A woman from here in California told me that she'd been going to school and working two jobs during the past fall and winter, so she taped
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes from PBS for later viewing. She only recently had the opportunity to watch part of the series, and as she was watching, Diana Rigg's tribute to Jeremy came up on the screen. That's how this lady learned that Jeremy was gone.
Newspapers printed obituaries when Jeremy passed away, naturally, but quite a few also ran tributes and editorials, not an everyday procedure for someone who wasn't a "superstar." Time Magazine printed a thumbnail obituary with a small photo of Jeremy, and even this tiny obit prompted readers to write letters to the editor saying how saddened they were by Jeremy's loss. In June (nine months after his passing), the Los Angeles Times ran a glowing tribute to Jeremy in conjunction with the release of Moll Flanders, his final film. Now, if you saw the film, you know Jeremy is little more than a blip on the screen, which makes it even more remarkable that a major newspaper would print such an article.
I'm pleased by these tributes, but I 'm also reminded of a line from The Barretts of Wimpole Street, a play in which Jeremy portrayed Robert Browning. Elizabeth Barrett says, "Why can we never know an eagle for an eagle until it has spread its wings and flown away from us for good?"
Of course, we, Jeremy's fans, recognized this "eagle" long before he flew away, and that's why we're here to celebrate his life today. And, there is much to celebrate. Not just in the work Jeremy left behind, but in the way he touched people's lives, even those who never knew him personally.
Although I never met him, Jeremy Brett has had a tangible effect on my life. For example, writing and editing The Brettish Empire has not only taught me much about Jeremy and his fans, but also about computers and the Internet, knowledge which is very valuable these days.
I've learned about travel, too. I would never have had a reason (or the courage) to fly to London alone, as I did last March, if it hadn't been for the Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society's tribute to Jeremy. And, I wouldn't be standing in front of you here today, in San Francisco, if it wasn't for this tribute Paula has put together for Jeremy.
Another benefit of being a Brett fan is that now I have friends and pen pals all over the world, including Paula and many others of you in this room. It's wonderful to be connected that way.
I discovered Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare through Jeremy Brett. And, I've learned much about the theatre and classical music while reading about Jeremy. For example, after I read that Verdi's Requiem was one of Jeremy's favorite pieces of music, I listened to it, and now it's one of my favorites, too.
Even the little details of Jeremy's life are educational. For instance, I found out that Clapham Common, the London neighborhood where Jeremy spent his final years, was once home to the "Clapham Sect," a group of socially conscious evangelical Christians (including William Pitt) who were instrumental in abolishing the British slave trade in the early 1800's.
Knowing of Jeremy's struggles against heart disease and manic depression has helped me cope with situations in my own life. Like Jeremy, my mother had rheumatic fever as a child, and recently it appeared that her heart was weakening, and that she may need surgery. Thankfully, her condition didn't warrant surgery, but because I'd read up on heart disease following Jeremy's diagnosis with cardiomyopathy, I better understood what she might be up against. Also, when a relative was diagnosed with manic depression, I had an idea of what they were going through because of Jeremy's courage in discussing his own mental illness. (Thankfully, my relative is doing very well now.)
Jeremy's story has also reminded me that life is very fragile and very short, and if you want to thank or encourage someone--be it your parents, your best friend, or your favorite actor--do it now. I decided to write to Jeremy, but I thought he lived on Mt. Olympus, so I wanted to compose something "special," not just a trite fan letter. I bought fine stationery and a birthday card (Jeremy and I shared the same birthday, November 3). I wrote and re-wrote drafts of my "special" letter. It was almost ready to send, when the news came of Jeremy's passing. Too late, I realized that Jeremy was mortal and a simple, "Thank you, Mr. Brett; and get well" would have sufficed. Now, I'm left with a box full of stationery and a heart full of regret.
Jeremy Brett wasn't a superstar, but he was something even more special: a caring and generous human being, and a very gifted actor--gifted not only with the ability to entertain, but with the ability to touch people's hearts and minds.
The Bible says, in I Corinthians 13:1, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." Any actor can stand on a stage or in front of camera and skillfully declaim the words of Doyle or Shakespeare. However, Jeremy Brett not only said the words, he made us experience them. Jeremy loved his characters, he loved his profession, and he loved his family, his friends, and his fans. That's why we can still hear his voice above the "noisy gongs" and "clanging cymbals" who remain.
And that's why we'll always remember Jeremy Brett.
Until next time,