One of the lesser-known televisual incarnations of Arthur Conan Doyle's quintessential master detective, aired its thirty-nine black and white episodes between October 1954 and October 1955, and starred Ronald Howard (son of legendary British big screen idol, Leslie Howard) as Holmes, and experienced British character actor H Marion Crawford as the ever-reliable Dr John Watson with Archie Duncan as Inspector Lestrade.
In 1957 Howard recounted how he got the part. 'Three years ago a young film producer, Sheldon Reynolds, asked me if I would like to go to Paris to make a film series about Sherlock Holmes. Why Paris? It seemed odd divorcing this essentially British grand amateur of detection from his London surroundings. Why not Baker Street? It was a foolish question. He had built Baker Street at Epinay, his French Studios. He had employed the man who had designed the permanent Baker Street Exhibition. He had had a duplicate shipped to France and there erected at Epinany.
'In face of such enthusiasm there remained only one doubt. One's own suitability for the role of the detective. Since Holmes was only a young man when he met Watson in the laboratory at Bart's Hospital - and the series was to begin with this first meeting of Holmes and Watson - there was no problem of adding grey hair. But did I look like the man? Reynolds was convinced I did, and he produced the Sidney Paget illustrations of the tall spare figure, showing me a fair-headed youthful Holmes. Dismissing my initial doubts, I accepted the role and left for Paris, trying to think myself into the part.’
Produced on a low budget by Reynolds, who also directed a majority of the episodes (others were directed by Steve Previn, the brother of composer André Previn), the series, which had an arduous shooting schedule, churning out an episode every four days, mixed vastly truncated and simplified adaptations of a number of Conan Doyle's celebrated stories with newly created adventures, which succeeded in the main in capturing the spirit of the originals. Another interesting aspect of the series was the fact that despite being filmed France, some location work was shot on the streets of London, giving it the distinction of being one of the earliest examples of multi-national TV co-productions. As for the all-important central casting, both Howard and Crawford respectively fill the roles of Holmes and Watson pleasingly in terms of both character and expected physical aspects. Notable actors and actresses who appeared as guests included Paulette Goddard, Michael Gough and Dawn Addams.
Variety reviewed the series in October 1954, and called the show "a winner that avoids the customary cliches that seem inevitable in any treatment of the Conan Doyle stories. Ronald Howard makes an excellent Holmes. He's got the fine features one expects in the man, plus a commanding voice. And, bless us, he doesn't overplay. H. Marion Crawford is something new in Doctor Watson, a commonplace type and by no means a buffoon. Archie Duncan is also good as the blustering Inspector Lestrade.” The series was voted Best New Mystery in the non-network film series division in Billboard's 3rd Annual TV Film Program and Talent Awards.
Despite its British cast, the plaudits and its successful run on US television, Sherlock Holmes was not shown in the UK until it appeared on the cable channel Bonanza in 2006.
Although 39 episodes were made, a second season of 39 episodes was scheduled to begin production in June 1955, but never went ahead. Reynolds eventually produced a second Sherlock Holmes TV series, entitled Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in 1979. Many of the 1954 TV episodes were remade in the second series. The series, which is considered rather obscure, was filmed on a relatively low budget in Poland, where it premiered.
Published on January 29th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.