The Brettish Empire

TBE Extra -- July 25, 1995


TBE'er Debi Rotmil has passed the following article from The Sherlock Holmes Gazette along to me. It is rather downbeat, but in light of the concern about Jeremy Brett's health prompted by various postings and rumors on the Internet, I thought it was best to share it with you, my friends and fellow Brettfans. It tells the true story of Jeremy's health woes. It's a poignant tale, but it also contains hope; please concentrate on the latter, as Jeremy does in this article. And, if you're a person of prayer--please say one for Jeremy.


"David Stuart Davies Interviews Jeremy Brett, Learns the Extent of the Damage to His Heart, and Hears Why, as Sherlock Holmes, He Has Taken...HIS LAST BOW

"When Granada claimed that it was to make no further Sherlock Holmes programmes and Jeremy Brett stated that he was done with the detective, we all hoped that they both would reconsider these decisions. Sadly, this is not to be, because Jeremy's health problems have ruled out the possibility of him taking on any more major roles.

"I had a long conversation with him in February when I visited his London home. He had just learned of the extent to which his heart has been damaged by the wear and tear placed on it, particularly in the last ten years, mainly due to the wrong prescription of drugs. [The drug is lithium, frequently prescribed to control manic depression. Determining the proper dosage can be difficult because the amount needed for treatment is very close to the toxic amount. The drug can build up to toxic levels in the body if the amount of lithium in a patient's bloodstream isn't diligently monitored. Lithium poisoning may lead to serious organ damage.--llo]

"He was, at this time, understandably distraught. For any actor of his power, charisma and talent to be told it would endanger your health to take on any leading role either in a film, on television or on the stage again must be absolutely devastating. 'It's called cardiomyopathy--the slow disintegration of the heart--and it's inoperable. The only cure is a heart transplant, and that's far too dramatic, even for me!' At this point the glorious Brett grin which I'd seen so often since I began interviewing him in 1988 split his face and for a moment the sadness left his eyes. 'I'll not be able to jump the sofa again like I did in The Red-Headed League. All that is behind me now.'

"Certainly for the moment, Jeremy is unable to get full insurance for his work and the only options left to him are what June Wyndham Davies has called 'the little golden nuggets', guest shots where he can come on briefly and 'steal the show'. Jeremy was trying to be positive on that grey day in February, but I glimpsed behind his gentle bravado the shattered actor who was desperately trying to come to terms with a future of limited and limiting performances. When I left his home I felt depressed and empty. It was as though Prospero had had his magic wrenched from him.

"It was a certainly more cheerful JB who spoke to me in late April. Basically, the situation is the same but his spirits were high. 'I've been thinking, if I'm not going to star again, what a way to go out, with Sherlock. I don't think I could have topped Sherlock.

"I agreed and suggested that to this generation he was THE Sherlock Holmes. 'Thank you for that, but all I know is that I had a crack at him. I never actually saw him, you know--he was always a few steps ahead and I never actually caught up with him. To be Sherlock is so difficult because he is such an elusive pimpernel. Maybe I got a few things right.

"More than a few things I am sure. Especially in the earlier series before ill health began to take its toll. Jeremy Brett was the perfect incarnation of the magical Conan Doyle creation.

"I asked JB why he thought this elusive character still fascinated us after over a hundred years. 'He's evergreen. He is one of the most attractive, intriguing, elusive, intellectual genuises that has ever been written about. Men find him fascinating because he is so self-contained and totally in-control, while women see him as a challenge: they want to break that icy demeanour and reveal the real emotions beneath. Of course, SH has a feminine side to him, too--that intuitive quality which is part of his magic.'

I knew that JB was somewhat dismayed at the way the final series was dismissed by the more brutal critics. 'I was desperately ill and for the most part overweight due to the drugs being prescribed, but I do believe that some of the episodes were among the best. These shows are not a one-man-band--they are a team effort; and in the last batch I had a wonderful director, Sarah Hellings, who made a marvelous input into the shows which helped me so much.

"It was Sarah Hellings who directed two of his favourites from the final series, The Red Circle and The Cardboard Box. 'I was particularly pleased with The Cardboard Box partly because I'd lost a lot of weight and I looked better and I thought it was very well put together. It was a dark and sinister story and seemed to belong to my attempts at the earlier stories. It did originally come from The Memoirs, after all.'

"I was also aware that Jeremy was pleased to end the last show with a version of Conan Doyle's closing speech from the bleak finale of this tale...'What is the meaning of it, Watson? What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.'

"But what of Jeremy Brett's future? 'Well, at the moment my spirits are high. I've had a year without any mental problems whatsoever, and while the old ticker remains a little tired, a little weary, I'm cheerful and optimistic. I'm on 12 pills each morning--I do rattle when I walk down the street. But what a way to go, with Sherlock Holmes. And you know there will be another Sherlock along any minute. Let's give the new generation a try.'

"At presstime there is a possibility that JB will play a small role in a film in Ireland this summer. [This is a reality--the film is Moll Flanders, due out around Christmas 1995--llo] Although I believe there is the spirit of the phoenix about Jeremy and in some way he will dazzle us once more in some way in the future, it is certain he will never play Sherlock Holmes again. This is sad for me and for the millions who have thrilled to his performance as The Great Detective. While it is appropriate to feel this sadness, we must also cherish his body of work that exists. He may never tease Rosalie Williams' Mrs. Hudson again, or frustrate and then amuse Edward Hardwicke's Watson again, or bring the foremost champion of law and order to thrilling life on the small screen; but, he did once, and he did it brilliantly. That is something to be very thankful for."

Indeed, it is. And here's hoping for years of "little golden nuggets" from Mr. Jeremy Brett.--llo
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"The Brettish Empire"/"TBE" Copyright Lisa L. Oldham.