...And welcome to a very special (and long) edition of TBE.
Okay. Now, where was Terminal Four? Again, I asked the clerk. "You have to take the shuttle bus out there," she replied, pointing toward the doors.
So, I hopped the shuttle bus. For those of you who have never been there, Heathrow Airport is almost like a city, seemingly as large as London itself. The shuttle driver took us all around the airport, picking up passengers before dropping us at Terminal Four. It was during this roundabout ride that I caught my first glimpses of London: the famous black taxis, the cars whizzing by on the "wrong" side, the signs that said "Give Way" instead of "Yield".
Once inside Terminal Four, I checked the "Arrivals" monitor. It turned out Debi's flight would be delayed until 9:00 a.m. Later, the time changed to 9:20 a.m. So, I had a bit of a wait ahead of me.
At the Britrail desk, I exchanged the voucher I received from my travel agent for a weekly Underground travel pass. This card would save me a great deal of time and trouble during the coming week. It enabled me to jump on and off the "Tube" without ever having to queue up for tickets.
I sat down at the meeting point across from the British Airways visitor center. I saw the BA flight attendants in their schoolgirl-like uniforms and was reminded of the "Madeline" stories of my childhood. I heard this announcement over and over: "Do not leave your bags unattended. Do not mind other people's bags. Any unattended bags will be confiscated by the police and are subject to destruction." So, whenever I went over to the Flight Arrivals area to see if Debi's plane had landed, my bags went with me.
9:20 passed, 9:30 passed, 10:00 passed, 10:30 passed. The monitor said that Debi's flight had landed. I saw throngs of people pouring into the Flight Arrivals area, but no one who fit Debi's description.
I waited some more, but still no Debi. After futilely waiting even more, it finally dawned on me that we must have missed each other somehow. I called Alexa Robinson, a new friend and TBE reader who lives in Hounslow, five minutes from Heathrow. She came right over and helped me out. We had Debi paged, and, when there was no response, we decided to leave the airport. Alexa and her husband kindly gave me a ride to my hotel, the Strathmore, in Kensington. (Thank you, Alexa, for being such a lifesaver!)
Once I got settled into my cozy room at the Strathmore, I called Debi's hotel. The clerk told me that, yes, Debi had checked in, but was out at the moment. I left a message for her to call me.
Debi returned my call later that afternoon. We had a very nice chat, and decided to meet each other the next morning at the Gloucester Road tube station for our trip to the Cafe Royal--the site of the Jeremy Brett tribute luncheon.
Debi, who had visited England several times before, taught me how to use the "Tube". I learned one lesson very quickly when I attempted to stand next to Debi on the escalator in the station: "Stand on the Right" (if you don't, you might get trampled!)
We reached the Piccadilly Circus station and crossed the street to the Cafe Royal. The Cafe is the very model of elegance, richly paneled and luxuriously carpeted. Framed photos of luminaries dot the walls.
Debi and I checked in and walked into the Derby and Queensbury reception area, which was already beginning to fill up. I looked around for familiar faces before remembering that most of the people I was looking for I knew only by their e-mail addresses. However, I did recognize Paula Brown, who had sent me a picture of herself and her husband taken with Jeremy Brett when he visited Pasadena in 1991.
I introduced myself, and Paula set about introducing me to some of the other people in the room. She introduced me to Christopher Roden, the renowned Sherlockian author and publisher who is also an e-mail correspondent and TBE subscriber. In turn, Christopher introduced me to his wife, Barbara.
Paula pointed out a dark-haired woman wearing black slacks and a turquoise jacket. "That's Linda Pritchard," Paula told me. (More about Linda later.)
David Stuart Davies, the Sherlockian author and co-president of the Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society (the sponsor of the luncheon) spotted Debi and came over to say "Hello". Debi is a member of the Musgraves and has corresponded with David.
"I've got a surprise for you, luv!" David mischievously told Debi.
Taking her aside he said, "Here, I'll whisper it to you."
"What did he say?" I asked Debi afterwards.
"He said I was going to sit at his table."
A friendly gesture, we both thought. Then, we checked out the seating chart. Wow! David's table was the equivalent of the "captain's table". The "royalty" would be sitting there: The Rodens, Sherlockian writer R. Dixon Smith, Jeremy Paul (author of several Sherlock Holmes scripts and the play The Secret of Sherlock Holmes), Myra Fulford of the Manic Depression Fellowship, and--take a deep breath--Jeremy's first "Watson", David Burke.
Debi and I were astounded. Debi said she was already a little shaky from jet lag, and now she really felt shaky!
Alas, I was not privileged to sit at the head table, but from where I sat I had a good view of it. And, I was seated next to another TBE'er", Lisa Horton (a.k.a. Tciotdit). We swapped "Jeremy" stories all through lunch.
"We swapped 'Jeremy' stories all through lunch."
We moved into the banquet room, a wood-paneled hall with photos of cricket teams on the walls. As we found our tables, I noticed that Jeremy was everywhere--a line drawing of Jeremy as Holmes graced our placecards, and our programs had Jeremy's photo on the cover. At first I was surprised that this particular photo was used for the cover--it was a headshot from Jeremy's "bad hair" days circa The Hound of the Baskervilles. But, as I studied it and saw the kind, wise expression on Jeremy's face, I understood why this picture was chosen over the typical "Holmes" still.
The luncheon began with some introductory comments by David and the Musgraves' co-president, Kathryn White. David then introduced a recording of the phone conversation he had with Jeremy which was played at last May's "Aspects of Holmes" conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. He explained that Jeremy had agreed to appear in person at the conference but later had to bow out due to his health. However, Jeremy called David and said that he felt he had let everyone down, and wondered what else he could do to make up for it.
It was decided that Jeremy could record a message via telephone for the Musgraves. David needed a few days to prepare the interview. When the phone call was finally made, David said that Jeremy sounded horribly out of breath. When David offered to postpone the interview, Jeremy breathlessly insisted that he was all right and asked, "What do you want me to do?" David told him, "Well, you could say 'Hello', and I could ask you some questions." Jeremy agreed, and David revealed that as soon as Jeremy said "Hello", his voice was as strong as ever. Indeed, it was, and Jeremy was in fine, witty form as he talked about "S.H." He told a story about the statue of Sherlock Holmes in Edinburgh which had us in stitches. It was a little sad, though, to hear him insist that he was "doing fine" healthwise, in light of what happened just a few months later. But, it was fitting (and touching) to hear his voice on this day.
A sumptuous lunch was served. At one point, Kathryn called our attention so two toasts could be made. First, the Musgraves' standard toast, "For the trust", which comes from a line in their namesake story, The Musgrave Ritual: "North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one/And so under/What shall we give for it?/All that is ours/Why should we give it?/For the sake of the trust."
Second, a toast to the subject of the tribute: "Cheers, Jeremy!" We raised our glasses high.
After lunch we were treated to speeches by Edward Hardwicke, David Burke, Jeremy Paul and Myra Fulford. Mr. Hardwicke couldn't attend the tribute in person because he was filming a Ruth Rendell mystery, so he spoke via tape. He warmly remembered Jeremy as a wonderful friend and co-worker. He concluded his speech with an anecdote about the time Jeremy was paying the driver of the taxi which brought him to the Holmes set and the waistband of his favorite (and much laundered) white trousers gave way, leaving the trousers around Jeremy's ankles. Everyone on the set laughed, of course, and the person laughing loudest was Jeremy himself.
David Burke is a self-deprecating raconteur. He now has short, gray hair and a beard, so he introduced himself by saying, "I heard someone say as I was coming in today, 'He looks like David Burke's grandfather.' Mr. Burke paused and then deadpanned, "Actually, I'm his father." Everyone laughed, and he added, "And I must say, I'm quite proud of my son--but I just wish he'd get a decent job!"
Mr. Burke told several amusing stories about Jeremy. He said that the first time he ever met Jeremy was years before the Sherlock Holmes series, in the BBC canteen. Jeremy was treating his leading lady to a gourmet lunch complete with champagne, served on his own damask table cloth!
Mr. Burke's stories made me think that if these two actors hadn't been paired in the Holmes series, perhaps they could have found alternate employment as the comedy team of "Brett and Burke". For example, there was the story of the lady on the train to Manchester who asked them, "What do you gents do?" Before Burke could answer, Jeremy said, "We're dentists." "Well, then which one of you is the anesthesiologist?" the woman inquired. "The what?" Burke asked. "You know, the one who puts people to sleep," the woman explained. Brett and Burke quickly pointed to each other and said, "He is!"
Then, there was the time that Jeremy asked David to guess who was going to play Moriarty in The Final Problem. Burke guessed several names, all incorrect. Jeremy finally revealed the name of the actor: Joan Plowright. Of course, David thought he was kidding, but Jeremy remained deadly serious as he reminded Burke that David Plowright, Joan's brother, was the managing director of Granada, their studio. He added that Sir Laurence Olivier, Plowright's husband, had been approached for the role, but he was too busy. So, Plowright was going to lose "three stone" and portray "The Napoleon of Crime". Burke was nearly convinced. After all, hadn't Sarah Bernhardt and Vanessa Redgrave played male roles? Burke was still mulling this over in his mind when Jeremy asked him what day it was. Burke snapped out of his musings to remember what the date was--April 1. Jeremy had "fooled" him!
Mr. Burke further illuminated Jeremy's mischievous side with the story of how Jeremy wrote himself a gushy fan letter to cheer himself up. He ended the letter by saying, "Please send me a signed photo." "Jeremy, you didn't actually send the letter, did you?" Burke asked him. "Oh, yes," Jeremy answered. "I even put a first-class stamp on it so I'd get it sooner--I got it this morning, in fact!" "Well, did you send yourself an autographed photo?" Burke queried. "Of course not," Jeremy told him, adding, "The bugger didn't include a self-addressed envelope!"
Burke's last anecdote was perhaps the funniest of them all, because he expertly evoked Jeremy's voice and mannerisms as he acted out the story. It seems Jeremy had heard that the local police force was being beefed up. So, one day as he was strolling near his home in Clapham Common, Jeremy went up to a young policeman on the beat and launched into an effusive speech about how relieved he was that more such officers were being added to the force, and that people would sleep much better at night knowing they were there. When Jeremy finished singing the praises of London's finest, the young officer turned to him and said, "Why don't you just piss off!"
Mr. Burke was followed by Jeremy Paul, the award-winning author of several Granada "Holmes" scripts and the play The Secret of Sherlock Holmes. Jeremy P. also offered many amusing anecdotes about Jeremy B. He first came to know JB as a "ferocious" ping-pong player! Paul's wife was appearing as "Beauty" to Jeremy's "Beast" in a television production of Beauty and the Beast, and she learned that Jeremy loved to play ping-pong, as did her husband. Paul invited Jeremy over for a "match". In the course of his fierce competition with Paul, Jeremy accidentally destroyed a lamp with a slamming serve. Jeremy was mortified. Paul said that the lamp had been an inexpensive gewgaw, but the lamp Jeremy thoughtfully sent over as a replacement obviously came from a store such as Harrod's, and still remains one of Paul's prized possessions.
Mr. Paul also provided some behind-the-scenes insights on the process of putting together The Secret of Sherlock Holmes. He revealed the many creative contributions Jeremy made during the formative phases of the play. For instance, Jeremy told Paul, who was playing a "phantom" Moriarty in an early version of the play, not to wear shoes during his ghostly "cameo" because they would "clatter" on the stage, thus destroying the illusion. (David Stuart Davies added that Jeremy's way of thinking was probably right in line with Sidney Paget's, as Paget never drew Moriarty with feet!)
Finally, Ms. Myra Fulford of the Manic Depression Fellowship gave a moving account of her brief association with Jeremy Brett. She explained that the unfortunate stigma attached to mental illness often adds to the suffering of those afflicted with manic depression. Jeremy courageously defied the insensitive attitudes of others by candidly discussing his illness in an 1994 article in the Daily Mail. Ms. Fulford read the article and wrote Jeremy to thank him for being so forthcoming about such a difficult subject. Later, when she approached other prominent sufferers of manic depression about recording appeals for the Fellowship and was turned down by every one of them, Jeremy enthusiastically stepped in to help.
The heartfelt appeal Jeremy recorded was broadcast on the BBC4 radio show The Week's Good Cause only days before his death. Before it was broadcast, however, Jeremy had the satisfaction of seeing it advertised as one of "This Week's Top Picks" in the radio listings, a first for The Week's Good Cause. What he probably never knew was that his appeal netted approximately 6,000 pounds in donations.
A champagne bucket was pressed into service at the luncheon to collect donations for the Manic Depression Fellowship. Your editor proudly put in a 10-pound note, the first British currency I ever possessed.
The luncheon ended with David Stuart Davies reading a famous quote from Vincent Starrett, summing up our feelings about Jeremy and Sherlock Holmes with the lines, "...they live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart: in a nostalgic country of the mind: where it is always 1895."
A brief autograph session followed. I waited until the queue went down a bit and then approached Mr. David Burke for his autograph. I explained about TBE and told Mr. Burke that several of my subscribers had asked me to tell him how much they appreciated his intelligent portrayal of Dr. Watson, as did I. I added that I was glad he could attend the luncheon. He warmly thanked me.
After I received Mr. Burke's autograph, a tall young man extended his hand and asked, "Are you Lisa Oldham?" I answered, "Yes." He told me his name, Bob Jackman, and explained that he had come all the way from Boston to attend the luncheon after reading the announcement in TBE. I was truly touched to learn TBE has that kind of influence.
Now, there was one more person I had to talk to. I waited patiently as several other people took their turns, and then I approached her--Ms. Linda Pritchard, Jeremy's devoted companion.
Ms. Pritchard is a down-to-earth woman with curly dark hair and dark eyes. As calmly as I could (my heart was pounding) I told her that Jeremy was loved by fans all over the world. She agreed, pointing out that the luncheon was evidence of how deeply people felt about Jeremy. I told her about TBE and offered to send her copies of all the back issues as a way of remembering Jeremy. She said she'd like that very much. So, copies of TBE will soon be going to Ms. Pritchard, and she will be able to read your articles and tributes.
Debi and I left the Cafe to go to Wyndham's Theatre so Debi could pick up her ticket to a play that evening. I said goodbye to Lisa and Paula as we left--Paula's husband said he had asked Paula if I was the lady "who looked like Hillary Clinton" (must be my hairstyle!). I wish I could have met the other TBE'ers who had said they would be at the luncheon. Unfortunately, we weren't issued nametags, so I couldn't match names to faces.
"Let's look at Jeremy's plaque!"
When we reached Wyndham's, we both had the same thought: "Let's look at Jeremy's plaque!" After Debi got her ticket we convinced an usher to let us view the plaque by showing him the program from the luncheon. He obliged, but told us we had to be quiet, because the bar wasn't open yet. He led us up the narrow, carpeted stairs into the bar.
The simple brass wall plaque reads:
"I lost a friend whom I regarded as the best and wisest man I have ever known"--The Regulars
Two explanations are in order. First, 1933 is the correct year of Jeremy's birth. This was the date printed on the program at his memorial service. So, he was actually 61 when he died. In a way, I was comforted to learn this, because it meant that he had nearly two more years of life than I previously thought. Still...
Second, as Linda Pritchard told The Sherlock Holmes Gazette, "The Regulars formed in 1989 during the run of the stage play The Secret of Sherlock Holmes. We were a group of people who had never met before and came together because we shared the same interest--Jeremy." (Much like the TBE gang.)
Above the plaque is a black-and-white photo of Jeremy. As Debi can attest, it's a very flattering picture of Jeremy as himself. It's a fitting companion to the plaque, a reminder to all those who will see it in the future that Jeremy was a real person, and not just a name on the wall.
As the usher escorted us toward the stairs, we thanked him profusely for letting us view the plaque. He confessed that he was afraid we would cry if he didn't let us see it! As we came down the stairs, a group of people we recognized from the luncheon came into the lobby and asked a familiar question: "May we please see the Jeremy Brett plaque?" (This usher could probably make a mint if he decided to charge people to see the plaque. ;->)
I have many more "Brettish" adventures to relate, but I'll save them for future issues. (I'm sure your e-mail boxes are already straining at the seams.)
I think my feelings about Jeremy and the tribute luncheon are best summed up by a postcard I bought in the gift shop at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. There is a counter where heraldic and personalized items are sold, including keychains and postcards printed with "the personality in your name", matching traits to people's names. The "personality" of "Jeremy" printed on the card exactly matches the person described in the stories I heard at the luncheon:
"JEREMY--A man with a great sense of humour, thrives on making others
happy. He is most admired for his honesty.
"To know him is a bonus."
"To know him is a bonus."
Indeed, it must have been...
Until next time,