'Arnold Wiggins may have not been the greatest detective to step through the doors of 221b Baker Street' claimed the Radio Times in March 1983, 'but, when Sherlock Holmes was away pursuing some fearful Baskerville hound across Dartmoor or walking in the mountains of Switzerland, young Wiggins came into his own.'
Based on a group of street urchins whom Conan Doyle recruited on behalf of Holmes to perform various missions, take messages, search London following clues and going to places where the detective himself could not, The Baker Street Boys actually appeared in print as The Baker Street Irregulars and acted as Holmes' eyes and ears. Watson first encountered the Irregulars in A Study in Scarlet, describing them as "six dirty little scoundrels (who) stood in line like so many disreputable statuettes." Their chief was the energetic and inventive Wiggins. Holmes said to Watson about them: "There's more work to be out of one of those little beggars than out of a dozen of the force...Then mere sight of an official looking person seals men's lips. These youngsters, however, go everywhere and hear everything. They are as sharp as needles, too; all they want is organization."
Writer Anthony Read took up Conan Doyle's notion of a ragamuffin gang and turned it into a series of stories which first aired on BBC1 at 5:10pm on Tuesday 8th March 1983. Holmes himself never appeared-he was always far too busy solving crimes on his own or with Watson-but viewers of the series caught glimpses of his coat as he left timely words of advice for the gang. Dr Watson was there to help out, though (on the occasions he wasn't shadowing Holmes), as was the incompetent Inspector Lestrade, who always managed to find himself in the same situation with the gang as with Holmes -two steps behind! The gang even encountered Holmes' archenemy, the evil Moriarty.
Series producer Paul Stone told John Craven's Back Page column in the 'Radio Times' that week: "The boys tackle the crimes that Holmes doesn't have time to deal with, like the mystery of the disappearing despatch case, which was the subject of the first story in the series. "It's got all the ingredients" said Stone, "-a Foreign Office official is attacked and his case containing vital papers is stolen. Anarchists are involved and there's a threat to assassinate an important foreign visitor."
There were eight episodes in total and each was in two parts shown on Tuesday's (part one) and Friday's (part two). As well as Wiggins (Jay Simpson) the gang included Beaver (Damion Napier), the junior Doctor Watson; Shiner (future EastEnders star Adam Woodyatt), a shoeshine boy; Sparrow (David Garlick), the youngest gang member; and two girls-Queenie (Debbie Norris), who was the 'little mother', and Rosie (Suzi Ross), a flower girl. Roger Ostime was briefly glimpsed as Sherlock Holmes and Hubert Rees played Watson with Colin Jeavons as Moriarty and Stanley Lebor as the hapless Lestrade. Anthony Read wrote episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8 -whilst Richard Carpenter wrote 3, 4, 5 and 6.
The series was released on video in 1985 but has since been deleted from the BBC catalogue.
Published on November 28th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.