Mr Holmes … and Mr Brett (Archive, 2014)

Originally Posted November, 2014

I had been contentedly enjoying a frothy Mocha coffee,
when the man and wife walking past my table
outside the coffee shop – paused,
and then came back to ‘have a word’.

The man said that they had seen me a few times,
and – having always noticed the pipe, waistcoat,
and watch-chain, had several times
wanted to come and say ‘hello’.

Sitting down, they chatted about life, and the world,
and the change in people; lamenting, as they did,
over the utter loss of anything of refinement.

The man mentioned – amongst his examples –
the noticeable “garbage” that constituted television,
he said, for the past twenty years.

Learning that I had no television, he asked
if there was anything I remember ever enjoying
on the TV.

As anything manufactured by Hollywood
was immediately excluded,
I was able to name only the 1995 BBC production
of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ … which led me
to mention the death of actor Jeremy Brett.

A Craftsman …

In the later 1980’s, I felt a strange kinship with Mr Brett
based upon his confessed meticulous attention to detail
on (what was for me) the last continuously running,
Quality Production to be broadcast on a television set.

Twenty years Before the insulting displays which had
previously flowed from the Hollywood sewers;

and – after an array of modern characterisations
which bore little or no resemblance to the literary figure,

Jeremy Brett was the only actor
to ever make a visible effort
to bring the character descriptions of Conan Doyle,
or the illustrations of Sidney Paget
to life in the character of … Mr Sherlock Holmes.

To have seen in a 30-second ‘film trailer’,
this much-beloved character of Holmes … degraded
by the cheap and tawdry antics of an American actor who,
with money from his producer wife,
portrayed ‘Holmes’ as a martial arts thug;

accompanied by a ‘Watson’ who
as the pair sat in a Hackney cab,
leaned forward to punch ‘Holmes’ across the face
– was absolutely appalling.

Now, while it is evidently essential to have
ill-disciplined thugs as ‘heroes’ in America,

one would have hoped that Hollywood MIGHT
have the decency

to Leave Victorian Britain
– ( and the historical characters whose literary identities
are a part of that time and that place ) –

Alone.

But then of course, Decency no longer exists
in a world that glories in displays
of crude behaviour, vulgarity, and violence.

Britain itself has discarded its once-renowned ‘reserve’
in order to pander to the boorish obscenity
of the 21st century television watcher.

Even the BBC have degraded Conan Doyle’s meticulous,
violin-playing, theatre attending, pipe smoking gentleman
to a vulgar, smart-mouthed yuppie
contending with ludicrous comic-book-esque ‘villains’.

It is not enough that Hollywood portrays its ‘super heroes’
as obnoxious, liquor-swilling, ‘partying’,
irresponsible, smirking, mental adolescents
who simply don a stretchy suit to become a ‘super hero’

– but now, beloved literary characters
are similarly degraded
in order to suit modern immaturity,
selfishness, and depravity.

Neither before nor after Mr Brett’s intensely scrutinised
meticulous portrayal, have either Holmes
or Watson been portrayed in a manner
that is completely faithful to their creator’s original.

Growing up, we never had a television in our home
and the only sights I ever caught of one were
when calling at the home of a school-mate.

I remember once, the high excitement
of being asked by one schoolmate
if I would like to come to his house that Saturday morning,
to see a Sherlock Holmes film on their TV.

I cannot adequately relate the thrill of anticipation
in the prospect of actually seeing
my favourite literary figure ‘brought to life’, as it were –
moving … speaking … “living” ( !!! )

rather than just being described
on the printed page of a book.

The day arrived – Finally !!! – and I scarcely knew whether to
join my friend in lying on the floor in front of the TV,
or sitting on the settee and leaning against the armrest.
The excitement was incredible !

As the credits began, I could hardly believe
that I was about to see Holmes and Watson in action.

I could NOT believe it.

And then …

What?

I kept looking at my friend … then, at the screen …
then, out the window.

What … Was … This ???

THIS was not Holmes and Watson.

Some obnoxious, big-headed narcissist,
pontificating to some bumbling, dim-witted fool
who all but walked into walls ???

WATSON !!! — I finally yelled at the screen,
was a doctor — a combat Physician —
a British Army Surgeon !!!

whose clear-headed skill and expertise
saw him piecing together
men torn apart by cannon fire
in Afghanistan.

WHAT this Bumbling, Stupid … OAF
… had to do with John Watson, M.D.
was beyond me.

This wasn’t just … wrong:

it was Offensive.

I remembered thanking my friend for his kindness
and thoughtfulness in inviting me to his home – but,
I asked him (as politely and delicately as I could),
if he particularly want to see this.

We ended up getting on our bicycles
and riding down to The Melrose
where we picked up a bag of sweets each,
and headed off for Orangefield Park
to watch the swans,
while working our way through the little paper bags
of lemon bon-bons.

That night in bed, I looked through my illustrated
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes …
and did my best to forget about the disgrace that I saw
on that television set.

Fleeing the pain of being brusquely thrown away
by the girl I loved, I literally ‘ran away’ and joined the military.
And it was there – 14 years after that ‘TV experience’
that – in 1984, I saw Sherlock Holmes ‘brought to life’
in personality and mannerisms
by Jeremy Brett.

Here too, John Watson, ‘late of the British Army’
was presented as the thoughtful and sober-minded physician,
by fellow actors David Burke, and then, Edward Hardwicke.

THIS – for the first time Ever, was
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Jeremy Brett had not only meticulously scrutinised
every detail written by Conan Doyle about Holmes,
but studied – in detail – the illustrations of Sidney Paget –

at one time, going ( to the horror of the series’ producers )
to the extent of cutting his own hair to replicate
the unusual haircut of Holmes in one particular drawing
where Paget had Holmes sitting in thought, legs drawn up
against his body, whilst staring into the fire.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s own daughter
wrote to commend Brett
for his portrayal of her father’s fictional creation
telling him that HE was the ‘Holmes of my childhood’.

Even on the death of his wife in 1985,
Brett never wavered from his meticulous portrayal
of Sherlock Holmes. Although deeply despondent,
he consistently presented the Holmes of literature
to multitudes who probably did not even appreciate
what they were seeing.

( It is certain that, if they did – if there was
even the SLIGHTEST appreciation for Brett’s faithfulness,
public outcry would have prevented
the abominations in the years that followed.

But, of course, half-way through the 1990’s … humanity
was well on its way ‘out’. )

I am still amazed, regularly, at the compliments
received – almost daily (just this morning, as I write these words)
simply because I dress the way that I do.
But, it explains a great deal to me about the ease with which
Brett’s Holmes can be ‘replaced’ by such low-quality vulgarity.

Gentlemanly decorum … and lady-like femininity
are clearly a ‘threat’ – offensive –
to the vicious self centred, domineering mentality
of modern masses.

Those few who do appreciate these things, are overwhelmed
enough to pass an appreciative comment
– which is what happens to me.

A very sad statement when wearing a shirt with a collar,
and shoes that require polish;
or a waistcoat (commonly seen in the 1970’s) …
is remarked upon with sincere appreciation
by a few discerning souls who remain in the world.

Human beings are now, brutal;
and they want to see brutality …

And so, the modern “Holmes” becomes a snide creature
perfectly suited to the ‘standards’ of the 21st century
– the gentlemanly dignity having gone out of modern men,
who now dress like slobs.

It can be no surprise to realise
that a self controlled, dignified Holmes
would be ‘boring’ to profanity-spewing yobs,
who do not possess ‘class’ enough
to even tuck in their shirts.

I cannot imagine that anyone under say, 50,
can possibly imagine the extent of decline
in precision workmanship …

or the cheapening – ( if not outright dismissal ) –
of absolutely everything that requires Skill,
mature Experience,
and meticulous Attention to Detail.

Jeremy Brett was a man who delivered that
precise attention to detail:
he was a skilled craftsman – a master
in his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Comments on the Internet openly demonstrate that,
to present Brett’s Victorian Gentleman Holmes
to modern-minded masses, is – truly,

to throw pearls before swine.

Sherlock Holmes was a Victorian Gentleman:
he was neither a wise-cracking, martial arts thug;
nor an obnoxious vulgar yuppie.

It is a disgrace that every last thing – in the 21st century,
must be brought down
to the gutter level of the crude masses;

a statement upon the modern world
that some things cannot be left alone
simply … out of respect.

Jeremy Brett was a flamboyant, extroverted theatre actor
who was known to address those with whom he worked
as ‘darling’.

Yet he made it a studied habit to become ‘Holmes’ –
an intense, irritable, introverted character
who was utterly disconnected from humanity,
and would spend an entire night
smoking one bowl of tobacco after another
in the course of fixating upon a problem.

It is (for me) disturbing to note that the producers
of the Sherlock Holmes series
seemed so unmoved at Mr Brett’s declining health
that they even allowed him to film
during that final two years of the series –

when Brett’s features had so swollen
from treatment for depression
that he barely resembled the Brett / Holmes
of the first four seasons.

When filming the exceedingly poorly ‘interpreted’ screenplays
for the last two years, Jeremy Brett was a
very sick and weak man.

Edward Hardwicke, born on the 7th of August 1932 …
He died from cancer, age 78, on the 16th of May, 2011.

Jeremy Brett, born on the 3rd of November, 1933 …
He died from heart complications on the 12th of September, 1995.

He was 61.

I remember, in the late ‘80’s, reading of Mr Brett’s
life-long struggle with melancholy;
his meticulous drive for PRECISE attention to detail;

and his constant effort to rise above
the mundane, ‘lowest common denominator’ laziness
of the changing world around him.

We had ( it seemed to me )
a great deal in common.

I thought, in 1989, about writing a letter to him –
to thank him, and (perhaps) encourage the man.

But I remember thinking: “How many ‘fan’ letters
must that man receive in a week? He would never even
notice one from the likes of me.”

And I never did send one.

But the point is, of course – upon sober reflection:

He may never know who I was …
… but I knew who he was.

And – given the disgusting spectacle
that has had the impertinence to pass
as “Sherlock Holmes” in the years since,

I truly wish that I had, at least, made the effort
to write … and say “Thank You.”

I suppose that is what these words
are about, really …

My way of doing now, what I never did then —

leaving a few words to say,

Thank You, Mr Brett,
for the joy that your skill, dedication, and efforts
have given me.

You brought a childhood literary hero to ‘life’.
And for that,

I am exceedingly grateful.

P Livingstone

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