Sherlock Holmes. The greatest fictional detective ever created and despite other later iconic creations that have graced the cinema and television screens – Maigret, Poirot, Morse – he will remain forever at the very pinnacle of that genre. Created by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Sherlock Holmes made his very first appearance in Beeton’s Christmas Magazine of that year in “A Study in Scarlet”. As can be appreciated, a paper covered magazine issued some 130 years ago will be lucky to have survived at all in the intervening years and all remaining copies – probably less than 10 – are now housed either in private hands or libraries. If one should ever come to the market it would easily fetch £ tens of thousands. The author, aged just 27, received the princely sum of £25 in return for all the rights – a mistake he was never to make again.
Just over 10 years later Sherlock Holmes was to take on a physical form by means of a theatre play with William Gillette taking the part of the detective, a role he was to revisit in the cinema in 1916 and then on the radio in 1930. Meanwhile other notable actors of the time, Eille Norwood, John Barrymore and Raymond Massey took turns in representing the character both on stage and in celluloid. However it wasn’t until the arrival of Basil Rathbone (the first of the trio pictured at the head of this piece), in the late 30’s and through the 40’s, that the essential character of Holmes became widespread through the explosion in cinema attendance. There are many older Sherlockians – for the followers of the detective are thus yclept – who class Rathbone as their favourite Holmes and the one who came closest to Doyle’s creation.
There have been many other actors who have taken on the role of Sherlock Holmes in the intervening years but here I single out the two others pictured above: Jeremy Brett and Peter Cushing, the former because of the first-rate Granada television series of the 80’s and 90’s and the latter for his earlier television series in the 60’s and for the film “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. For me Jeremy Brett remains the iconic Holmes and sadly, for Brett, it was a character that was to take over his very being. Already predisposed to depression, Brett’s physical deterioration can be charted over the period of the television series and by the end he was having to take on doses of oxygen between takes just to get him through. However, taken as a whole, Brett’s depiction of Homes was possibly the best thing he had ever done either on film, tv or on the stage. (Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that his first marriage was to Anna Massey, daughter of one of the earlier Holmes’ actors, Raymond Massey).
Which brings us “by a commodious vicus of recirculation” to Benedict Cumberbatch and the point of this little epistle. His Sherlock Holmes, I will admit, is one that I have only watched once all the way through and dipped into on other occasions. It would appear to have been constructed for the Dr.Who generation mixed with Wurzel Gummidge. The fact that Una Stubbs played both Aunt Sally and Mrs Hudson is, one might aver, justifiable reason to give it a wide berth. Be that as it may.
I did not choose this picture deliberately (it was the first image to pop up that had Cumberbatch in deerstalker like the other actors) but the smug look on his face somewhat betrays what I detect as a sense of superiority. It is a trait that he has seen fit to inflict on his paying audience in the theatre by berating the government over its lack of help for “Syrian refugees” (despite the fact that the UK government had poured vast millions into refugee camps in Turkey) and then during the Referendum led a petition signed by 250 actors which urged everyone to vote Remain because “the EU is good for the Arts” and “leaving Europe would be a leap into the unknown for millions of people across the UK”. Oh really? And just how on earth did the other Sherlock Holmes actors fare in the days before EU funding? And what do they know of the millions of people across the UK and what they really want?
At what point did our darling actors deem it necessary to inflict their political opinions on us? For the life of me I could not define Rathbone’s or Brett’s or Cushing’s stance on any subject outside the theatrical world in which they worked. They were paid to do their job in bringing to life the creations of others and in that respect they performed admirably and in Brett’s case one could say he truly suffered for his art. I don’t recall any of them berating the governments of the day and their audiences for not doing enough or “doing the wrong thing”. And here lies the nub of my argument. Just who do these people think they are? They are, for the most part, highly paid interpreters of other people’s words but are fêted by the media as oracles who must be consulted on all matters which, with few exceptions, they know nothing about and of which they have little or no experience. The fact that Cumberbatch has purchased a £10.8 million villa in California tells us all we need to know about his understanding of a worker struggling to keep his or her £15k job from being undercut by cheap imported labour. Under threat of imprisonment that worker will pay his £145.50 licence fee to be able to watch the television but in doing so not only will he will be funding Cumberbatch’s wonderful lifestyle but also being subjected to Cumberbatch’s political ramblings courtesy of the MSM.
Meryl Streep, Tom Hiddleston, Martin Freeman, Jude Law, Helena Bonham-Carter, Dominic West, Danny Boyle etc etc etc – the merry band of highly paid actors and directors feel that it is necessary – nay, their duty – to use their privileged platform to promulgate their political opinions despite the fact that the people they are haranguing are the very people who put food on their table – or more precisely – heat in their swimming pools in their gated communities. All of us on this site have as much right to express our opinions and many would argue that considering our day to day remuneration is paltry compared to the actors and we have little or no opportunity to up sticks and move to another country we have damned more right to be heard. I long for the day when one of these luvvies comes up against at least one interviewer who is prepared to call them out but meanwhile we have to just chip away on social media and let them know that all the world’s a stage and this “slippered pantaloon”, for one, is not going to take any more shit from the likes of them.
Buy ‘A Coin for the Hangman’, Ralph Spurrier (Roger Ackroyd)