Between 1984 and 1985, the private British television producer Granada had astonished the worldwide community of Sherlock Holmes fans with thirteen brilliant episodes of Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories with Jeremy Brett in the title role. The script adaptations and productions were able to reproduce the atmosphere of the original stories so well that the series had not only become a commercial success, but was also held in high regard by fans and critics alike.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
At first, there was no guarantee that Granada would produce more episodes after the production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes had ended. The series had deliberately been finished with the story The Final Problem to provide a good ending, but also to have a backdoor in case of a continuation, which Arthur Conan Doyle had himself opened with the sequel The Empty House later. Despite suboptimal broadcast times, the premiere in 1984 and the second batch of episodes in 1985 produced rating good enough for the Granada studio bosses to greenlight more episodes. But there were still a lot of obstacles in the way before production was able to start again.
Despite the huge success of the Sherlock Holmes series, the year 1985 was not a good one for Jeremy Brett. His wife Joan Wilson, to whom he had been married since 1976, had sadly succumbed to cancer and the actor was absolutely devastated. His depression, from which he had already suffered from for a long time, began to get worse, but he was still interested in playing Sherlock Holmes when Granada announced the production of new episodes. After his very personal stroke of fate, Jeremy Brett and his family and friends rightly believed that work would be the best therapy for him.
Michael Cox, who had produced the first thirteen episodes and had been released from his job as chief of television series at Granada for this, did not have the time anymore to take as much care of the series as before, but still remained as an executive producer. His job was now filled by June Wyndham-Davies, who had already garnered much experience as a producer at Granada and was seen by everybody as the best choice to lead the renewed project of bringing Sherlock Holmes back to the television screens.
The new, old Doctor Watson
A completely different problem appeared when David Burke announced that he would not be playing Doctor Watson anymore - but for this difficult decision he had the best reasons of them all. First, he wanted to be more together with his family and secondly he had been given an offer from the Royal Shakespeare Company which he was simply not able to refuse. The producers had no other choice as to let David Burke go, but were not angry that he had not chosen the strenuous production in Manchester over a quiet family life at home in London and an amazing theatre acting opportunities with the RSC.
The search for a successor was fortunately not very difficult, because David Burke already had an excellent suggestion: his friend Edward Hardwicke, the son of actor legend Cedric Hardwicke. He was exactly the right age for Doctor Watson and during his long career even had played a minor role in the BBC Sherlock Holmes series with Peter Cushing. But Hardwicke had a tough act to follow because his predecessor's portrayal of Doctor Watson had been extremely close to Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.
Consequently, Edward Hardwicke did not even attempt to imitate David Burke, but despite the completely different approach, the new Doctor Watson was so surprisingly similar to his former incarnation that many viewers were not really aware of the change. The plot also described a gap in the timeline of the stories between the two series of about three years which was able to at least somewhat explain the changed appearance of Doctor Watson. The similarity of the two actors was not very great, but because they played the same character, Edward Hardwicke was often called by the name of his predecessor by the film crew for some time.
Stories and more Stories
Like before, the biggest question was again which of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories to choose for the adaptations - but this time Granada even had the premission of the author's heirs to use stories whose copyright had not yet expired. Again, thirteen episodes were planned, but for the first time Granada had also decided to adapt two of the long novels of the Holmes canon. The Sign of Four was to be made between the two halves of the series for the 100th anniversary of the first publication of a Sherlock Holmes story in 1887 and The Hound of the Baskervilles as a big finish after the rest of the episodes.
Chosen for the eleven hour-long episodes were this time five from The Return..., one that was left over from The Adventures... and another one from Memoirs... for the first part of the series. The last half was comprised of only four episodes, three stories from His Last Bow and one more from Memoirs... were selected. As before, using the original order of the stories was not an option, but because they were mostly independent from each other, it was possible to choose more freely from almost all of Conan Doyle's works with only few modifications. Although the stories were chosen from several of the books, the collection was still named The Return of Sherlock Holmes because of the first episode and to give all of them a common identity.
The stories were again adapted by the best authors Granada was able to get. Four scripts were written by series developer John Hawkesworth, who unfortunately lost his position as story supervisor after the second series and later only wrote only one more script. The other scripts were written by experienced Holmes authors like Jeremy Paul, T.R. Bowen and Alan Plater, but witrh John Kane and Gary Hopkins also two newcomers joined the team, which had been personally chosen by the producers and like their colleagues wrote brilliant adaptions of Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories. Only few necessary modifications were made and as usual with the utmost respects to the original short stories.
A New Beginning
The first seven episodes were produced in almost the same way as before and were able to start earlier, because the now famous Baker Street set had already been built and the scarce budget was able to be used for more important things. Among these was a lot of location shooting outside of the Granada studio lot in Manchester, because many of the stories required appropriate backgrounds, which were mostly found in the near environments. Numerous historic castles, manors and other houses stood for the many often moody locations of the stories, which Arthur Conan Doyle had described in great detail in his stories.
The production of the first seven episodes proved to be relatively unproblematic, because almost all of the film team from the first season had come back and Edward Hardwicke was not received as a stranger by them, but like an old friend. Even Jeremy Brett was in top form, although he was very still under great strain due to the death of his wife - the extreme mood swings caused by his manic depression were fortunately hardly noticeable at that time. The actor dived into his work with great relish and played Sherlock Holmes even more intense and charismatic as before. The production was very exhausting for everybody involved, but also a lot of fun because everyone realized after the huge success of the first season that they were about to make real television history.
Catastrophe and Resurrection
After the first seven episodes were completed, a longer break was scheduled after which four more hour-long stories and two 105-minute movies were to be made. At the end of 1986, the production team was shocked by the terrible news that Jeremy Brett had suffered a severe nervous breakdown and had been convinced by his relatives and friends to be treated in a clinic. Michael Cox and June Wyndham-Davies were so concerned about the well-being of their lead actor that they arranged for Brett to be taken to a better hospital, where he would be able to make a faster and more thorough recovery.
Nevertheless it took Jeremy Brett several months to be ready again to step in front of a camera. This was aggravated by the hypocritical reports in Britain's rainbow press, which had stressed the actor even more. But with the help of his son, his brothers and even Edward Hardwicke and his wife, Jeremy Brett managed to get slowly better. The original schedule to film all the remaining episodes including the two movies in 1987 still had to be scrapped, but instead the producers concentrated on making at least the first Sherlock Holmes feature film of the Granada studios.
Holmes on the Big Screen
Chosen for this honour was Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Sign of Four, from which John Hawkesworth had already developed an excellent script four years previously. It also was one of the two novels which had been adapted for American television in 1983 during the legal dispute with a rival company, but this movie had been made in a completely different style than the Granada series, so that there was no chance of similarities beyond the story itself. John Hawkesworth adaptation was actually much closer to the original as the certainly not bad, but still very heavily altered version by Charles Edward Pogue.
For Granada, the new adaptation of The Sign of Four was also a big experiment, because the decision was made to produce the movie not on 16mm, but on 35mm - a very unusual move for a television series at that time and an absolute first for Granada. This not only meant a big change in the technical department, but also a bigger financial burden because of the more costly film material . Granada was willing to risk it, because a film produced on 35mm was more easily marketable and would look better on big cinema screens, which would not be really possible with 16mm. Unfortunately, The Sign of Four remained the only 35mm production of the series because of the high costs.
The Continuing Return
The Sign of Four had been premiered in December 1987 on ITV and was also shown in selected cinemas - the movie garnered rave reviews, good ratings and was hailed as a true to the original, but still exciting and entertaining version of the story. Jeremy Brett looked visibly exhausted after his nervous breakdown and long hospital stay, but true to his form his appearance as Sherlock Holmes was never better. The experiment to produce a movie twice as long as a regular episode in the style of the short story adaptations was a complete success and Granada had made a worthy contribution to the 100th anniversary of the first Sherlock Holmes publication.
The final four episodes of The Return of Sherlock Holmes were shot at the beginning of 1988 and shown later in April of that year on ITV. The only problems the production had was the tight financial situation, because the small budget had already been strained by the relatively elaborate first episodes and the movie. When the last four stories were filmed, the production went so deep into the red numbers that Granada put an emergency plan into action that allowed only the bare necessities. The final four episodes were, however, less affected by this than the big final movie, which was finally filmed in early summer 1988.
As one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles was originally planned as an even bigger production than The Sign of Four, but the financial situation only allowed for a very modest adaptation. It was back to 16mm film only and the necessary complicated special effects for the appearance of the eponymous hound could not be realised in an adequate way. Because of this, the crucial finale of the movie could not satisfy the huge expectations and became one of the biggest dissapointments of Granada's Sherlock Holmes productions. The movie was only saved by the great acting and the carefully written script by Trevor Bowen, which told the famous story as close to the original as never before.
The Definitive Holmes
Despite all problems and interruptions, The Return of Sherlock Holmes was able to cement the excellent reputation of Granada's Sherlock Holmes adaptations once and for all. The series had even begun to be noticed in the USA and the first videotapes had been released in Europe. In Germany The Adventures... and the first seven episodes of The Return... were first broadcast on East German Television in 1987 and also on some local "third" channels in West Germany one year later, still in the quite good DEFA dub. In the first four episodes of The Return, Peter Hladik was the German Voice of Sherlock Holmes, while Arno Wyzniewski, who had also dubbed Jeremy Brett in the last half of the first series again took the last three episodes. Unfortunately the second half of The Return... was never shown on German television - unlike the movies, which were dubbed and broadcast by private television stations sometime in the 1990s.
Almost thirty years after they were made, Granada's Sherlock Holmes adaptations have not lost any of their special fascination. The detailed productions of the stories with their often almost theatre-like atmosphere and extensive dialogue may not seem compatible with today's audiences anymore, but they are still a brilliant piece of television history and certainly very exciting and entertaining. Modern television series can learn a lot from Jeremy Brett's unique portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.
First broadcast on ITV from July-August 1986:
The Empty House - Das Leere Haus
(from "The Return...")
The Abbey Grange - Abbey Grange (from "The Return...")
The Musgrave Ritual - Das Ritual der Familie Musgrave
The Second Stain - Der zweite Fleck (from "The Return...")
The Man with the Twisted Lip - Der Mann mit dem entstellten
Mund (from "Adventures...")
The Priory School - Die Internatsschule (from "The Return...")
The Six Napoleons - Sechsmal Napoleon (from "The Return...")
First broadcast on ITV in April 1988:
The Devil's Foot - Der Teufelsfuß - (from "His Last Bow")
Silver Blaze - Silver Blaze (from "Memoirs...")
Wisteria Lodge - Wisteria Lodge (from "His Last Bow")
The Bruce-Partington Plans - Die Bruce-Partington-Pläne
(from "His Last Bow")
The two feature-length episodes The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles had been broadcast on ITV in December 1987 and August 1988 and are actually a part of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, but were later often separated from the series and grouped together with the other three Granada film adaptations because in some countries outside England the rights belong to different companies than the series.
Koch Media had listened to the Sherlock Holmes fans in Germany and one year after The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes released the following episodes of The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 2006 in the same style as the first boxset. The description "The Complete Second Series" was, however, not entirely correct, because although all eleven 50-minute episodes were part of the boxset, the double-length movies The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles were missing, which had already been released previously by Polyband in Germany as separate DVDs. The order of the episodes had been mixed up a little, but this was of no great consequence because of the low continuity between the stories.
Nevertheless, this 3-disc-set was exactly the release everybody had been waiting for. Koch Media had again been able to license the wonderfully restored image masters from Granada and even the four episodes which had never been shown before in Germany were put on the disc with optional German subtitles. There were again no disc-based extras, but the real bonus material came again in shape of a book: a 80-page excerpt from producer Michael Cox' ultra-rare production account A Study in Celluloid with lots of background information and even some large-format photos. Although only a German version was , the translation by Holmes expert Michael Ross is excellent.
The packaging was again the same book-pack as the first series with the digipack trays glued to the book covers and the pages in the middle. On first glance, this kind of packaging looks very fragile, but is actually very robust and not at all susceptible to damage. The cover design still looks somewhat amateurish especially compared to the very well done menus, but it is at least consistent to the previous boxset - the sturdy hardcover and the book still make this a very elegant and successful release.
At the time of the second series' release by Koch Media, it was still very doubtful if the rest of the episodes from The Casebook... and The Memoirs... would ever be coming in Germany, because none of the episodes had ever been dubbed. But thanks to the surprisingly good sales figures of the first two DVD sets, Koch Media had after all decided to bring out the missing twelve episodes with a new German dub - three years after the release of this previous set The Casebook... and The Memoirs... were released as Staffel 3 und 4, finally completing the release of the whole series in Germany.
Like its predecessor, The Return of Sherlock Holmes had been produced on 16mm film, as was customary for many television productions in the 1980s for budget reasons. Because the film transfers back then were mostly not very good, the quality had always been disappointing until Granada transferred and restored the whole series in 2005 from the original negatives, which had thankfully been preserved. Koch Media was able to license these new masters, so that the German DVD releases were able to sport the exact same visual quality as the British DVDs. Again, the original masters without German intertitles had been used, the German episode titles are only mentioned in the menus.
The film sources had been thoroughly cleaned, any dust, scratches or other dropouts are seen only in minuscule amounts and are never noticeable. As usual for 16mm, the film grain is somewhat more pronounced, but was not removed with a filter so it looks completely natural, giving the transfer a proper film-like texture. This transfer leaves a very organic and lively impression and does not look digital and lifeless at all like it probably would have if the grain had been aggressively removed. The somewhat shaky image, which was more noticeable in the first thirteen episodes, is much more stable now.
Sharpness is excellent for a 16mm production and under favourable lighting even approaches 35mm sometimes. There has been no or very little additional sharpening so that the image sometimes appears to be a little soft, but still the transfer does not swallow any details because the limit seems to be the film material and not the resolution of the DVD. Although the compression uses the same low bitrate as on the previous boxset, there are no noticeable compression artefacts - probably because a better encoder had been used.
The colour timing, always looking sickly brown-greenish in the previous versions, looks much more realistic and natural. Especially skin tones are now spot on, although Jeremy Brett always looks a little paler than the rest of the cast. Other colours are very dependent on the episode - sepia-like tones or extremely bright colours are therefore not a problem of the film material, but just stylistic choices often used to create the proper atmospheres for the stories.
Although only filmed on 16mm, the quality of The Return of Sherlock Holmes is surprisingly good and is even able to compete with more modern productions. The decision to completely shoot on film and not partly on video has paid off and shows that the producers have even thought of the future of the series thirty years ago.