Irregular Observations: an elementary centenary

Irregular Observations
– musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection.

This is the first in an occasional series of musings from the Sherlock Holmes Collection in Westminster Libraries.  The Collection started life in 1951 and is now one of the most comprehensive in the world.  If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes and want to learn more, have a look at our website or get in touch.

The hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan DoyleSunday 26 May 2013 is the centenary of the birth of one of Britain’s best-loved actors and one who ranks high in the lists of those who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes, Peter Cushing.

Cushing first donned the deerstalker for the 1959 Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles – the first Holmes film to be made in colour. Portraying Sir Henry Baskerville was his usual Hammer co-star Christopher Lee (who would himself go on to play both Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft Holmes, though closer to the former than the latter in physical appearance).

An actor and a rare one: Peter Cushing as sherlock Holmes, by Tony EarnshawIn 1968 Cushing took up the deerstalker again for the 16 episodes of the BBC’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, some of which have survived. The series included The Hound of the Baskervilles in two parts, the first version of the novel to be filmed in part on location on Dartmoor and one which is still regarded as one of the most successful adaptations. Cushing made suggestions and insisted on removing lines or details that he felt were not in keeping with the original stories. He asked that all his costumes be based on original drawings published with the stories in The Strand Magazine.

His final leading role was again as an elderly Sherlock Holmes, in the 1984 television film The Masks of Death.  A sequel, The Abbot’s Cry, was planned for 1986, but was never made due to his failing health.

Houdini and Conan Doyle, by Christopher SandfordPeter Cushing shared a rare distinction with Peter O’Toole – both played Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Sherlock Holmes. Cushing portrayed the writer in the 1976 film The Great Houdini. Conan Doyle knew Houdini and the two men were close friends before a disagreement about Spiritualism. You can read more about their friendship in biographies of Conan Doyle and books which focus on the two men. Oh, and Peter O’Toole also played Conan Doyle in Fairytale: A True Story and provided the voice for Holmes in an Australian animated television series.

The actor married Helen Beck on 10 April 1943 at Kensington Registry Office. He was awarded an OBE in 1989 and died on 11 August 1994. Cushing wrote two volumes of autobiography, An Autobiography in 1986 and Past Forgetting: memoirs of the Hammer Years in 1988.

We should also note, in view of the 50th anniversary celebrations due later this year, that Cushing is one of two actors to have portrayed both Sherlock Holmes and Docto Who. In 1965 he stepped into the Tardis in the film Dr Who and the Daleks and the following year in Daleks’ Invasion Earth.  The other is… Who?  (No – we don’t count Matt Smith’s Doctor dressing up as Holmes in The Snowmen).

Starring sherlock Holmes, by David Stuart Davies     Sherlock Holmes on screen

Come into the Sherlock Holmes Collection at Marylebone Library to find out, look at some of the scripts from that other Doctor Who’s Sherlock Holmes production and read the reviews.



2 responses to “Irregular Observations: an elementary centenary

  1. Perhaps we should have added that 27th May was Christopher Lee’s 91st birthday.


  2. Pingback: ‘Who’ is Sherlock Holmes? | Books & the City

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