Brett in the role of Sherlock Holmes
|Born||Peter Jeremy William Huggins
3 November 1933
Berkswell Grange in Berkswell, Warwickshire, England
|Died||12 September 1995
Cause of death
|Years active||1954 - 1995|
|Spouse(s)||Anna Massey (m. 1958-1962, divorced)
(m. 1976-1985, her death)
He was born Peter Jeremy William Huggins at Berkswell Grange in Berkswell. His birthdate is given variously as either 3 November 1933, December 1933 or many sources give 1935, although this was probably a later vanity claim to reduce his public age. He was the son of a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire and an heir of the Cadbury chocolatier family. Educated at Eton College, he claimed to have been an "academic disaster," attributing his learning difficulties to dyslexia.
Although he eventually developed precisely honed diction, he was born with "rhotacism," a speech impediment which prevented him from pronouncing the "R" sound correctly. He underwent corrective surgery as a teenager and followed it with years of practising. Much later he claimed that he practised all of his speech exercises daily, whether he was working or not.
However, while at Eton he excelled at singing and was a member of the college choir. He trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, graduating in 1954, but his father had demanded that he change his name for the sake of family honour so took his stage name from the label of his first suit, "Brett & Co.".
Stage and screen
Brett made his professional acting debut at the Library Theatre in Manchester in 1954, and his London stage debut with the Old Vic company in Troilus and Cressida in 1956. He made his first appearance in a major film with War and Peace (1956), which starred Audrey Hepburn.
Also in 1956, he appeared on Broadway as the Duke of Aumerle in Richard II. He played many classical roles on stage, including about a dozen Shakespearean parts at the Old Vic, in New York and four while Brett was a member of the National Theatre Company from 1967 to 1970.
From the early 1960s, Brett was often on British television. He starred in several serials, including as d'Artagnan in an adaptation of The Three Musketeers (1966). His highest profile film appearance was as Freddie Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady (1964), which reunited him with Audrey Hepburn. Although Brett could still sing, as he later demonstrated when he played Danilo in a BBC Television broadcast of The Merry Widow (Christmas Day 1968), the top notes were dubbed as he originally sang them quietly so as to not wake the street (Wogan Interview, 1988).
Some of his appearances were in classical comedic roles, such as Captain Absolute in a television version of The Rivals (1970) and Bassanio in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (1970) in a National Theatre Company production directed by Jonathan Miller, which also featured Laurence Olivier (as Shylock) and Joan Plowright (as Portia). This was adapted for television in 1973 with the same three leads. Brett joked that, as an actor, he was rarely allowed into the 20th century and never into the present day. He did though appear in a few contemporary guest roles, in a couple of the ITC series such as The Baron (1967) and The Champions (1969), wherein he was cast as swarthy, smooth villains. Brett also appeared in The Incredible Hulk ("Of Guilt, Models and Murder", 1977) and starred as Maxim in the 1979 adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca opposite Joanna David.
Jeremy Brett's final, posthumous film appearance was an uncredited bit part as the artist's father in Moll Flanders, a 1996 Hollywood feature film starring Robin Wright Penn in the title role. The film (not to be confused with the 1996 ITV adaptation starring Alex Kingston) was released nearly a year after Brett's death.
As Sherlock Holmes
Although Brett appeared in many different roles during his 40-year career, he is best remembered for his performance as Sherlock Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series of Granada Television films made between 1984 and 1994. These were adapted by John Hawkesworth and other writers from the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even though he reportedly feared being typecast, Brett appeared in 41 episodes of the Granada series, alongside David Burke and, latterly, Edward Hardwicke as Dr Watson.
After taking on the demanding role ("Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played — harder than Hamlet or Macbeth") Brett made few other acting appearances, and he is now widely considered to be the definitive Holmes of his era, just as Basil Rathbone was during the 1940s. Brett had previously played Doctor Watson on stage opposite Charlton Heston as Holmes in the 1980 Los Angeles production of The Crucifer of Blood, making him one of only four actors to play both Holmes and Watson professionally.[notes 1]
Brett had been approached in February 1982 by Granada TV to play Holmes. The idea was to make a totally authentic and faithful adaptation of the character's best cases. Eventually Brett accepted the role. He wanted to be the best Sherlock Holmes the world had ever seen. He conducted extensive research on the great detective and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, and was very attentive to discrepancies between the scripts he had been given and Conan Doyle's original stories. One of Brett's dearest possessions on the set was his 77-page "Baker Street File" on everything from Holmes' mannerisms to his eating and drinking habits. Brett once explained that "some actors are becomers — they try to become their characters. When it works, the actor is like a sponge, squeezing himself dry to remove his own personality, then absorbing the character's like a liquid".
Brett was obsessed with bringing more passion to the role of Holmes. He introduced Holmes' rather eccentric hand gestures and short violent laughter. He would hurl himself on the ground just to look for a footprint, "he would leap over the furniture or jump onto the parapet of a bridge with no regard for his personal safety."
Holmes' obsessive and depressive personality fascinated and frightened Brett. In many ways Holmes' personality resembled the actor's own, with outbursts of passionate energy followed by periods of lethargy. It became difficult for him to let go of Holmes after work. He had always been told that the only way for an actor to stay sane was for him to leave his part behind at the end of the day, but Brett started dreaming about Holmes, and the dreams turned into nightmares. Brett began to refer to Holmes as "You Know Who" or simply "HIM": "Watson describes You Know Who as a mind without a heart, which is hard to play. Hard to become. So what I have done is invent an inner life". Brett invented an imaginary life of Holmes to fill the hollowness of Holmes' "missing heart", his empty emotional life. He imagined: "...what You Know Who's nanny looked like. She was covered in starch. I don't think he saw his mother until he was about eight years old..." etc. While the other actors disappeared to the canteen for lunch, Brett would sit alone on the set reading the script, looking at every nuance, reading Holmes in the weekends and on his holidays. A theatrical adaptation, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, by Brett's friend playwright Jeremy Paul ran at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End with Brett and Edward Hardwicke during 1988 and 1989; the production subsequently toured.
"Some actors fear if they play Sherlock Holmes for a very long run the character will steal their soul, leave no corner for the original inhabitant", he once said, but: "Holmes has become the dark side of the moon for me. He is moody and solitary and underneath I am really sociable and gregarious. It has all got too dangerous".
Private life and health issues
On 24 May 1958 Brett married the actress Anna Massey (daughter of Raymond Massey). Their son, David Huggins, born in 1959, is a British cartoonist, illustrator and novelist. Brett and Massey divorced on 22 November 1962 after she claimed he left her for a man. From 1969 until 1976, Brett was in a romantic relationship with the actor Gary Bond, who died exactly one month after Brett's death. In the late 1970s, he was involved with actor Paul Shenar. In 1976, Brett married Joan Sullivan Wilson, who died of cancer in July 1985.
In the latter part of 1986, Brett exhibited wild mood swings that alarmed his family and friends, who persuaded him to seek diagnosis and treatment of manic depression. Brett was given lithium tablets to fight his manic depression, also known as bi-polar disorder. He suspected that he would never be cured; so he had to live with his condition, look for the signs of his disorder and then deal with it. He wanted to return to work, to play Holmes again.
The first episode to be produced after his discharge was a two-hour adaptation of The Sign of the Four in 1987. From then on the difference in Brett's appearance and behaviour slowly became more noticeable as the series developed. One of the side effects of the lithium tablets was fluid retention; he was putting on weight and retaining water. The drugs were also slowing him down. According to Edward Hardwicke, Brett smoked up to 60 cigarettes a day, which "didn't help his health." He also had heart troubles. His heart was twice the normal size; he would have difficulties breathing and would need an oxygen mask on the set. "But, darlings, the show must go on", was his only comment.
During the last decade of his life, Brett was treated in hospital several times for his mental illness, and his health and appearance visibly deteriorated by the time he completed the later episodes of the Sherlock Holmes series. During his last years, he discussed the illness candidly, encouraging people to recognise its symptoms and seek help.
Mel Gussow wrote in an obituary for The New York Times, "Mr. Brett was regarded as the quintessential Holmes: breathtakingly analytical, given to outrageous disguises and the blackest moods and relentless in his enthusiasm for solving the most intricate crimes."
- Svengali (1954)
- War and Peace (1956) as Nikolai Rostov
- The Very Edge (1962)
- The Wild and the Willing (1962)
- Girl in the Headlines (1963)
- Act of Reprisal (1964)
- My Fair Lady (1964) as Freddy Eynsford-Hill
- Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)
- A Picture of Katherine Mansfield (1973) as John Middleton Murry
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1976) as Basil Hallward
- The Medusa Touch (1978)
- Mad Dogs and Englishmen (1995)
- Moll Flanders (1996)
- Barnes, Alan (2002). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. ISBN 1-903111-04-8.
- Cox, Michael (1999). A Study in Celluloid: A Producer's Account of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. Rupert Books. ISBN 1-902791-04-5.
- Manners, Terry (2001). The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes - The Tortured Mind of Jeremy Brett. London: Virgin Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7535-0536-3.
- The other three actors who played both Holmes and Watson are Reginald Owen, as Watson in the 1932 film Sherlock Holmes and Holmes in 1933's A Study in Scarlet; fellow Old Etonian Patrick Macnee, who played Watson first in 1976's Sherlock Holmes in New York and Holmes in 1993's The Hound of London; and Carleton Hobbs, who portrayed both roles on the radio.
- "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
- Sergio Angelini "Brett, Jeremy (1933-1995)", BFI Screenonline; Who's Who in the Theatre, 17th ed. Gale Research, 1981
- Sheridan Morley "The curse of being Conan", The Sunday Times, 27 April 1997, p.5
- Slide, Anthony (1996). Some Joe You Don't Know: An American Biographical Guide to 100 British Television Personalities. Greenwood Press.
- "Filmography: Brett, Jeremy". Film & TV Database. British Film Institute. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
- Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television (GALE) 15. 1996.
- A comprehensive list of his theatre credits from 1954 onwards can be found on the BAFTA 4 JB site's "Theatre Listing" page.
- Manners, p.212
- Eyles, Allen (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. p. 86. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
- Barnes, p. 39
- Barnes, p. 60
- Manners,[page needed]
- Manners, p. 122.
- Manners, p.217
- Cox, p. 22
- Manners, p.121
- Manners, p.134
- Manners, p.133
- Manners, p.216
- Emma Hagestadt "David Huggins: Public faces in private places", [The Independent, 3 November 2001, retrieved 12 April 2010
- Anna Massey Telling Some Tales, London: Hutchinson, 2006. ISBN 0-09-179645-8
- David Stuart Davies Dancing in the Moonlight: Jeremy Brett, London: MDF The BiPolar Organisation, 2006
- Manners, p.130
- Graham, David, Casting About: A Memoir (iUniverse, 2007), page 265
- Manners, p.144
- Cox, p. 112.
- Manners, p.160
- Manners, p.204
- "Elementary My Dear Watson: An Interview with Edward Hardwicke (Part 2/2)". YouTube. 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
- Manners, p.26
- Manners, p.207
- Gussow, Mel (14 September 1995). "Jeremy Brett, an Unnerving Holmes, Is Dead at 59". The New York Times. p. B15.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Jeremy Brett|
- Jeremy Brett at the Internet Movie Database
- Jeremy Brett biography and credits at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Jeremy Brett at Find a Grave