"It's funny how I got into Jeremy Brett's Holmes. Let's just say it took me about eight years to finally open my sieve of a mind and watch the man in action on PBS. For years I had flipped the channels and saw promos for upcoming episodes of Holmes whodunits on Mystery!; yet, in the back of my mind, I didn't see Mr. Brett as the stereotypical view of Holmes. Now, I was never a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. The common vision of Holmes--deerstalker, pipe, cape...didn't turn me on. In fact, I always thought it was rather silly.
"As a tie-in to my other interest, Mr. Stephen Fry, I thought that in the wake of all his recent controversy and problems, the following anecdote may be suitable since, ironically, Mr. Fry's personal interest in the Great Detective actually sparked my fascination with Holmes and Mr. Brett's portrayal.
"Several years ago, I began to admire the humorist, actor, and writer Stephen Fry. He used to write a column in the Daily Telegraph called 'Fry on Fridays', wherein he wrote his little heart out by putting fingertips to Mac keyboard and letting go. One of his many fascinations was Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Mr. Fry stated that when he was a child he was the youngest member of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, a very prestigious club. He not only wrote for the Telegraph, but also contributed television and book reviews to various British publications. An anthology of Mr. Fry's work, Paperweight, included the following critique he wrote in 1983 about the then-new Sherlock Holmes series on Britain's ITV network:
" ' I love to lose myself in good mystery,' Sir Thomas Browne confesses in Religio Medici. I know what he means. There are few more enjoyable pastimes than snuggling up with a good murder. But, such mysteries are penetrable, they are 'susceptible of rational explanation', as Sherlock Holmes might say. Holmes, incidentally, is currently to be seen a marvelous new incarnation on ITV every week played by Jeremy Brett, who has overcome the fact that as a young man he was, to use a phrase of Anthony Burgess', 'adventitiously endowed with irrelevent photogeneity' and is now, in his maturity, acting magnificently. In the current series we have been treated to The Copper Beeches and The Greek Interpreter, in both of which 'all of my friend's remarkable powers' were needed.'
"There is another entry in Paperweight taken from the Daily Telegraph where he discusses a trip he took to Washington, D. C. He and [longtime collaborator] Hugh Laurie were invited to join the 20th anniversary celebration of Masterpiece Theatre. The event was hosted by President Bush at the White House and most of the invitees were actors and actresses who'd appeared on the series. Fry and Laurie were there because of their portrayals of 'Jeeves and Wooster'. I'll let Fry take over...
"'With us were a great quantity of fellow screamers: Diana Rigg, Sian Philips, Keith Michell, Ian Richardson...Jeremy Brett, Geraldine James, Simon Williams, John Hurt...shoulders of fine honeyroast hams in whose company Hugh and I were not fit to be seen.'
"Due to Fry's admiration of Doyle's work I began to loosen up toward the 'Holmes' series. Instead of watching only two minutes of it and switching to something else as I usually did, I patiently stayed seated. What I saw in the next uninterrupted 50 minutes enchanted me, but I was not smitten...yet.
"At first I thought Jeremy Brett overacted a bit. Too much quirkiness, too much 'drama'. However, as I watched more and more each week, I began to see that this mecurial actor with his quick mannerisms wasn't overacting. He was Holmes. It was Holmes' neurotic body language and his moodiness. The man's mind was like lightning, therefore, his body couldn't keep up, despite its sinewy, spry physique, so his movements are great and exaggerated.
"What I also enjoyed was Granada's use of authentic Victorian wear. I hated that 1940's Rathbone wardrobe with its silly pipe and hat. JB was class all the way, right from the top of his top hat to the tip of his tails, with pinstriped trousers and handmade shoes. Jeremy's distinction, his voice, his mannerisms, everything, just fell into place. To me, this was Holmes; this was the very embodiment of a Victorian man. From then on, I was hooked.
"Thanks to Stephen Fry's influence I became a Jeremy Brett admirer and a Holmes fan."
Debi (Trikywu) also discovered some interesting Brett items during a recent trip to New York City's Museum of Radio and Television (and detected some news in a Sherlockian publication, as well):
"JB did a role for PBS' Great Performances series. It was in a film called Jennie where he played the lover of Jennie Churchill, mother of Winston. He had a slavic accent [I think his name was something like 'Count Krinsky'--llo]. I found him quite fascinating as the love interest of Jennie, played by the late and lovely Lee Remick. Also at the museum was an old performance of Macbeth, filmed in 1960 for British telly, I believe. The very young Mr. Brett played the son of Duncan, Malcolm, who usurped the crazed Macbeth and gained the crown. [Over 20 years later JB himself played the tragic Thane of Cawdor in an educational video production. This taped version of Macbeth is usually filed under "S" for '"Shakespeare" and is available in larger video stores such as Media Play--llo]. JB was very good in both of these performances. It's always amazing to find pre-Sherlock performances of the illustrious Mr. Brett.
"Also, in a side note...in case no one saw the small article in the Autumn edition of The Sherlock Holmes Gazette, Jeremy has done something else since the film Mad Dogs and the [BBC] Hamlet documentary. You may be interested to know that as a peaceful form of work which affords him income and a bit of rest, he accepted some voiceover work for commercials in England. Apparently, Jeremy's butterscotch chops can be heard on Homepride Flour ads. Doing voiceovers is a very lucrative business and in England many famous people do them--Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, and many other 'hip', successful Brits. It really brings in the 'dough'! [Especially the flour ads <VBG>--llo] I'll be in England in late May and will glue my ears to the television perchance to hear this ad!"
Thanks so much, Debi, for another captivating write-up. BTW, during the 1993 Christmas season I was jolted by a familiar-sounding voice narrating an ad for Rotary brand watches. I thought, "Is that whom I think it is?" I caught the commercial a couple more times (they showed it at the same time every evening on a local station), and yes, it was unmistakably Jeremy Brett, describing a watch called "Artemis" which was "so thin and light" it was "barely there." Unfortunately, the commercial didn't return for Christmas 1994.
See you next time!