Adaptations of Sherlock Holmes
The stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were very popular as adaptations for the stage, and later film, and still later television. The four-volumes of the Universal Sherlock Holmes (1995) compiled by Ronald B. De Waal lists over 25,000 Holmes-related productions and products. They include the original writings, "together with the translations of these tales into sixty-three languages, plus Braille and shorthand, the writings about the Writings or higher criticism, writings about Sherlockians and their societies, memorials and memorabilia, games, puzzles and quizzes, phonograph records, audio and video tapes, compact discs, laser discs, ballets, films, musicals, operettas, oratorios, plays, radio and television programs, parodies and pastiches, children's books, cartoons, comics, and a multitude of other items — from advertisements to wine — that have accumulated throughout the world on the two most famous characters in literature."
- Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (gamebook) (1981) (Sleuth Publications) (book-based game)
- 221B Baker Street (Gibsons Games)
- Watson & Holmes. From the Diaries of 221B (2015) (Ludonova)
- Four Sherlock Holmes and a Vampire (Who Is Also One of the Aforementioned Sherlock Holmes) (2018) Written by Andrew J. Young (RPG)
Three Sherlock Holmes adaptations have appeared in American newspapers. The first, titled Sherlock Holmes, ran from 1930 to 1931. Sherlock Holmes was drawn by Leo O'Mealia (who later drew covers for Action Comics) and distributed by the Bell Syndicate. A short-lived half-page Sherlock Holmes comic strip appeared daily and Sunday in the 1950s, written by radio scriptwriter Edith Meiser and drawn by Frank Giacoia. The third adaptation "Mr. Holmes of Baker Street" by Bill Barry appeared in 1976-1977. This adaptation of the famous detective was not very popular down south, but experienced a series of faithful followers in northern states.
Despite the character's near-ubiquitous presence in other media and household recognition, in comic books Sherlock Holmes has been limited to the occasional miniseries or guest appearance. Sherlock Holmes cover artist Walt Simonson has speculated that this may be because the period setting is so difficult to draw.
DC Comics' Sherlock Holmes one-shot (cover-dated September–October 1975) adapts "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House". The one-shot's creative team of Dennis O'Neil (writer) and E. R. Cruz (artist) had coincidentally just come off of adapting another pulp crimefighter for DC, The Shadow. O'Neil and Cruz would each shortly take an additional turn at the character: The Joker #6, written by O'Neil, pitted Holmes (actually an actor suffering a head injury) against the title character, and the 50th anniversary issue of Detective Comics, drawn by Cruz, additionally commemorated the 100th anniversary of Sherlock Holmes.
SelfMadeHero published "Hound of the Baskervilles", adapted by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Ian Culbard, in May 2009.
In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Holmes appears in a flashback sequence depicting the climactic scene of "The Final Problem" and is still believed by the public to be deceased, although it is revealed in the second volume that Mina later meets with him.
In the 1990s, Caliber Comics issued a four-part Sherlock Holmes Reader which features quotes from Holmes, a map of 221-B Baker Street, and canon story adaptations as well as individual stories such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes and The Sussex Vampire.
In 2013, New Paradigm Studios began publishing a monthly, ongoing series entitled Watson and Holmes. The series re-imagines Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as living in the 21st Century and living in Harlem.
It has been estimated that Sherlock Holmes is the most prolific screen character in the history of cinema. The first known film featuring Holmes is Sherlock Holmes Baffled, a one-reel film running less than a minute, made by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company in 1900. This was followed by a 1905 Vitagraph film Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; or, Held for Ransom, with H. Kyrle Bellew and J. Barney Sherry in unlisted roles. It was long believed that the film starred Maurice Costello as Sherlock Holmes, but Leslie S. Klinger has written that the identification of Costello in the role is flawed. Klinger states that the first identification of Costello with the role was in Michael Pointer's Public Life of Sherlock Holmes published in 1975 but Pointer later realized his error and wrote to Klinger stating
"I am now aware that Maurice Costello could not have been in that film, as he had not joined the Vitagraph company by that date. I'm sorry that my book has been misleading, but I doubt that I shall have the opportunity for an amended reprint, and should not have the time to prepare one anyway."
Sherlock Holmes has also been a prolific screen character in foreign language films, such as the Russian 2013 mini-series version broadcast in November 2013.
Many similar films were made in the early years of the twentieth century, most notably the 13 one- and two-reel silent films produced by the Danish Nordisk Film Company between 1908 and 1911. The only non-lost film is Sherlock Holmes i Bondefangerkløer, produced in 1910. Holmes was originally played by Viggo Larsen. Other actors who played Holmes in those films were Otto Lagoni, Einar Zangenberg, Lauritz Olsen, and Alwin Neuss. In 1911 the American Biograph company produced a series of 11 short comedies based on the Holmes character with Mack Sennett (later of Keystone Kops fame) in the title role.
The next significant cycle of Holmes films were produced by the Stoll Pictures company in Britain. Between 1921 and 1923 they produced a total of 47 two-reelers, all featuring noted West End actor Eille Norwood in the lead with Hubert Willis as Watson.
John Barrymore played the role in a 1922 movie entitled Sherlock Holmes, with Roland Young as Watson and William Powell in his first screen appearance. This Goldwyn film is the first Holmes movie made with high production values and a major star.
In January 2004, the BBC posted five new Sherlock Holmes short stories on their "Cult" website, along with RealAudio files of the stories, as read by Andrew Sachs and Hannah Gordon. The audio productions were done in association with BBC 7, but are no longer available. The texts of all five short stories are still posted, with accompanying illustrations and illustration galleries, as well as an edited transcript of an interview with Bert Coules. The short story texts can also be downloaded as eBooks in three different formats.
"Scarlet Story", the opening theme of the NHK puppetry Sherlock Holmes is titled after "A Study in Scarlet". And a song titled "Agra Treasure" that is made for the show is sung in "The Adventure of the Cheerful Four", one of the episodes of the series based on "The Sign of the Four". In the episode, some of the characters are modeled after the members of the Beatles.
In the 1930s, writer, actress, and producer Edith Meiser was largely responsible for first bringing Holmes to American radio listeners. Meiser, loved the Holmes stories, helped sell the show to the NBC radio network and found a sponsor. She wrote the show by herself for 12 years [1930–1942], both adapting Doyle's classic tales as well as writing new adventures in the Holmesian style. The first show she adapted was "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." It was broadcast on October 20, 1930, and featured William Gillette in the lead role. Various actors played the Holmes and Watson parts in the series until October 2, 1939, when Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were cast after appearing in the 1939 film “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. NBC’s Red and Blue networks carried the series until 1942. After that the shows were then written by the team of Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher. Then the Mutual Broadcasting System picked up the series which it ran until 1947 [Rathbone left in 1946 and was replaced by Tom Conway, Nigel Bruce remained] with the proviso that Meiser continue to contribute “new adventures”. Meiser's adaptations and original stories won praise from Conan Doyle's family for their faithful adherence to the original characterization.
One famous radio appearance starred Orson Welles as Sherlock Holmes in an adaptation of one of William Gillette's plays. This was broadcast in September 1938 as part of The Mercury Theater on the Air series on CBS Radio.
Throughout the early 1940s on American Radio, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce performed as Holmes and Watson, respectively, in several series of canonical and original Sherlock Holmes stories on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio show. These broadcasts were loosely based on Doyle's cases. When Rathbone finally departed the role before the 1947 season, Tom Conway played Sherlock Holmes opposite Nigel Bruce for one season. After a change of networks, there were two more pairings: John Stanley as Holmes and Alfred Shirley as Watson in 1947–1948 and Stanley and "George Spelvin" in 1948–1949. Both Stanley and Conway emulated Rathbone when performing Holmes to aid in continuity for the audience.
John Gielgud played Holmes for BBC radio in the 1950s, with Ralph Richardson as Watson. Gielgud's brother, Val Gielgud, appeared in "The Bruce-Partington Plans", perhaps inevitably, as Mycroft Holmes. As this series was co-produced by the American Broadcasting Company, known American actors also appeared, such as Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty in "The Adventure of the Final Problem".
Carleton Hobbs portrayed Holmes in a series of BBC radio broadcasts that ran from 1952 to 1969, with Norman Shelley playing Watson. Many of these were broadcast on Children's Hour. Of the many actors who have portrayed Holmes and Watson for the BBC, the Hobbs and Shelley duo is the longest running.
There have been many other radio adaptations (over 750 in English), including a more recent BBC Radio 4 run featuring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson. Together, the two actors completed radio adaptations of every story in the canon between 1989 and 1998. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a new series consisting of original stories written exclusively by Bert Coules was then commissioned, but following Williams' death from cancer in 2001, he was replaced by Andrew Sachs. The episodes of The Further Adventures were based on throwaway references in Doyle's short stories and novels. The complete canonical run is available on CD and audio tape. The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is also available on CD as four box sets each containing four episodes.
BBC Radio 2 also broadcast in 1999 a more ribald six-episode spoof series featuring Holmes and Watson entitled The Newly Discovered Casebook of Sherlock Holmes starring Roy Hudd as Holmes ("England's greatest detective, master of disguise and toffee-nosed ponce"), Chris Emmett as Watson ("contributor to the British Medical Journal, Which Stethescope Magazine and inventor of the self-raising thermometer") and June Whitfield as Mrs. Hudson. Titles in this series included "The Case of the Clockwork Fiend", "The Mystery of the Obese Escapologist", "The Caes of the Deranged Botanist", "Sherlock Holmes and the Glorious Doppelganger", "Holmes Strikes a Happy Medium" and "The Demon Cobbler of Greek Street", and usually turned out to have Holmes' mortal enemy Moriarty (Geoffrey Whitehead) behind each mystery. This series has since been re-broadcast on BBC Radio 7.
Starting in 1998, U.S. radio producer Jim French was given permission from the Conan Doyle estate to produce new, original Sherlock Holmes stories for radio in North America. These are presented within the Imagination Theater program on radio stations and XM satellite radio. The new stories are also broadcast under the banner The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. John Gilbert played Holmes until 2000, and subsequently by John Patrick Lowrie. Watson is played in all shows by Lawrence Albert. Scripts are by Jim French, M. J. Elliott, Matthew Booth, John Hall, Gareth Tilley, J R Campbell and Lawrence Albert. In 2005, with adaptations written by M. J. Elliott, French and his company began a new series based on Conan Doyle's original tales called "The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." Many episodes are available on CD as well as downloadable from the Imagination Theater website.
The actor most associated with Holmes on stage was William Gillette, who wrote, directed, and starred in a popular play entitled Sherlock Holmes in seven different productions on Broadway from 1899 (filmed in 1916), while the stories were still being published, to 1930. His version of Holmes, dressed in deerstalker hat and Inverness cape and smoking a large curved calabash pipe, contributed much to the popular image of the character. The deerstalker hat appears occasionally in Paget's original illustrations for The Strand, but it is by no means a part of Holmes' regular clothing. Doyle's text is even vaguer, referring only to a travelling cap with earflaps in the passages with the relevant illustrations. He is also described as smoking several different types of pipes, varying them with his mood.
In Langdon McCormick's 1905 play, The Burglar and the Lady, Holmes is pitted against the fictional criminal A. J. Raffles, created by E. W. Hornung. McCormick did not secure permission from either Doyle or Hornung to use their characters.
The calabash pipe is associated with Sherlock Holmes because early portrayers, particularly William Gillette and Basil Rathbone, made an artistic decision to use something large and easily recognized as a pipe. A calabash pipe has a large air chamber beneath the bowl that provides a cooling and mellowing effect. Holmes preferred harsh and strong tobaccos and therefore would eschew such a pipe. In fact, most stories, particularly The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, described him as preferring a long-stemmed cherry-wood or a clay pipe.
In the first twenty years of the 20th century, Harry Arthur Saintsbury played Holmes on stage in Gillette’s play more than 1,400 times. In subsequent revivals of this production, Holmes was played by John Wood, John Neville, Patrick Horgan, Robert Stephens and Leonard Nimoy. Frank Langella played Holmes in a 1981 production for HBO.
In 1923 the play The Return of Sherlock Holmes ran for 130 performances at the Princes Theatre, London. It was written by Arthur Rose and J. E. Harold Terry, and starred Eille Norwood as Holmes and H. G. Stoker as Watson. One of the performances was attended by Conan Doyle.
The Secret of Sherlock Holmes by Jeremy Paul was staged in London's West End in 1988, with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke reprising their television roles as Holmes and Watson. It was revived in the summer of 2010 at the Duchess Theatre, this time starring television actors Peter Egan as Holmes and Robert Daws as Watson.
Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors, a short play by Darren Stewart-Jones premiered at the Gay Play Day LGBTQ theatre festival in Toronto in 2013 and also played both the Hamilton Fringe Festival and the London One Act Festival in Ontario, Canada in 2014. The play imagines a romantic involvement between the two characters.
In 2007, Peepolykus Theatre Company premiered a new adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. Adapted by John Nicholson and Steve Canny, directed by Orla O'loughlin with Javier Marzan as Sherlock Holmes, the production involves only 3 actors. Following a UK tour, it transferred to the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End. This adaptation continues to be presented by both amateur and professional companies around the world.
An abridged version of Peepolykus's adaptation was recorded in front of a live audience with the original cast for BBC Radio 4 (directed by Alison Hindell) and broadcast in 2012. A DVD of the stage version and CD of the radio version is available via the Peepolykus website.
In 2015, the Arena Stage in Southwest, Washington, D.C. premiered a comedic adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles authored by playwright Ken Ludwig entitled Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.
Lions Den Theatre, based in Nova Scotia, presented a live audio adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in July 2018. The play was adapted and directed by Keith Morrison.
There have been many television incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, varying in faithfulness to the source material from direct adaptations of Holmes stories, most notably The Hound of the Baskervilles, to new stories set in the present day and even the future.
Three years later, the first American adaptation of Holmes and Watson, Sherlock Holmes was produced by Sheldon Reynolds in 1954, and starred Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion-Crawford as Doctor Watson produced in Paris, France.
In the 1960s, there was a BBC TV series entitled Sherlock Holmes with Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock. Peter Cushing, who had earlier played the detective in the Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, later took over from Wilmer in the lead role.
Jeremy Brett starred as Holmes in a Granada Television adaptation screened from 1984 to 1994, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with David Burke and subsequently Edward Hardwicke as Watson. All but 18 of the Conan Doyle stories were filmed before the death of Jeremy Brett from a heart attack in 1995. Between 1984 and 1994, 36 episodes and five films were produced over six series. Brett and Hardwicke reprised their roles as Holmes and Watson in 1988-89 in a West End stage play, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, written by Jeremy Paul.
An animated series, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, brings Holmes into the future through the marvels of science. There is also a Japanese animated series called Sherlock Hound featuring anthropomorphic canine characters. Several of its episodes were directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Another Japanese anime series called Case Closed, based on the manga of the same name, features a main character by the name of Conan who is heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes.
The children's television series The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, which ran from 1996 to 1999, features a main young, modern-day female character who claims to be a distant descendant of Sherlock Holmes himself and has inherited his intellect in solving crimes.
In 2009, the BBC began making Sherlock, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Three seasons of three 90-minute episodes each were broadcast in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as John. Moriarty appears as a recurring villain. A special episode, "The Abominable Bride", was broadcast in January 2016, with a limited cinematic release worldwide. The fourth series aired January 1, 2017, with regards to it being potentially the final season - due to Cumberbatch and Freeman's busy schedules.
CBS in Fall 2012 premiered the series Elementary, a contemporary remake of the Doyle character set in the United States, starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as a female version of Watson.
In 2014, NHK produced a puppetry Sherlock Holmes written by Kōki Mitani. It is set in Beeton School, a fictional boarding school and Holmes is a fifteen-year-old pupil who lives in the room 221B of Baker House and resolves the troubles in the school but there's no murder. In the show, John H. Watson is his roommate, Mrs Hudson is a housemother of Baker House and James Moriarty is deputy headmaster of the school.
In the 1976 The Return of the World's Greatest Detective policemen Sherman Holmes suffers from a blow to the head resulting in him thinking he is Sherlock Holmes.
John Cleese starred as Holmes' grandson - Arthur Sherlock Holmes - in the comic TV special The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977). Arthur Lowe played Dr. William Watson, the original doctor's grandson.
Between 1979 and 1986, Soviet television produced a series of five television films at the Lenfilm movie studio, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The series were split into eleven episodes and starred Vasily Livanov as Holmes and Vitaly Solomin as Watson. Livanov earned honorary membership Order of the British Empire for a performance ambassador Anthony Brenton described as "one of the best I've ever seen".
In 1983, Ian Richardson portrayed Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four with David Healy as Dr. John H. Watson. Later that same year, Richardson again played Holmes in a version of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Donald Churchill as his Watson.
Also in 1983 Australian production company Burbank Films (later Burbank Animation Studios) released a series of animated TV specials based on the four full-length novels, starring Peter O'Toole as Holmes and Earle Cross as Watson. The films were entitled Sherlock Holmes and a Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four, Sherlock Holmes and the Baskerville Curse, and Sherlock Holmes and the Valley of Fear.
In 1986, a TV movie called My Tenderly Loved Detective was made in Soviet Union about the adventures of the female Sherlock Holmes, called Shirley Holmes here, and female Dr.Watson, called Jane Watson here.
The contemporarily-set 1987 television movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes starred Michael Pennington as the detective and Margaret Colin as Dr. Watson's granddaughter, Jane. Jane, after following directions written by her grandfather years ago, finds out that she has thawed Holmes who had been cryogenically frozen by Dr. Watson for 88 years due to Bubonic plague. They become a team—the essential Victorian gentleman and a post-feminist young woman—to solve a case that combines elements of "The Sign of the Four" with elements from the celebrated news story of a plane hijacked for ransom by D. B. Cooper.
The 1991-92 series Sherlock Holmes the Golden Years consisted of two TV films, in which Sherlock Holmes (played by Christopher Lee) and Dr. Watson (played by Patrick Macnee) are older adults who continue investigating cases. The two films were Incident at Victoria Falls and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady.
From 2000 to 2002, Muse Entertainment Enterprises produced four television films for the Hallmark Channel, starring Matt Frewer as Holmes and Kenneth Welsh as Dr Watson, in The Hound of the Baskervilles (2000), The Royal Scandal (2001), The Sign of Four (2001) and The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire (2002).
2002 saw a new version of The Hound of the Baskervilles featuring Richard Roxburgh. Ian Hart played Dr. Watson then and also in the 2004 BBC airing of Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, alternatively billed as The Return of Sherlock Holmes. An original screenplay "based on the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle", this film takes place in 1902, with Dr. Watson "saving a dear friend from narcotics and boredom", this friend being an opium-addicted and increasingly weak Sherlock Holmes. Rupert Everett plays the Great Detective.
2002 also saw the made for television cable movie, Case of Evil, about a 20-something Sherlock Holmes (James D'Arcy) and a Doctor Watson who worked as an early practitioner of autopsies, on the trail of Holmes' archenemy, Professor Moriarty (Vincent D'Onofrio).
In 1988, the animated series Alvin and the Chipmunks aired an episode entitled "Elementary, My Dear Simon", which stars Simon as Holmes, Theodore as Watson, Alvin as Professor Moriarty, and Dave as Inspector Seville.
Also in 1988, in the animated series BraveStarr, the two-part episode "Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century" had Holmes transported from Reichenbach Falls in 1893, to London in 2249. Holmes is joined by an alien, Dr. W't'sn (the 23rd century counterpart of Watson) & Inpsector Mycroft Holmes of Scotland Yard (a direct descendant & namesake of Holmes' brother Mycroft); the trio are recruited by the eponymous hero, Marshal BraveStarr, to investigate the hijackings of ore freighters. They discover Professor Moriarty is behind the hijackings & a nefarious plot to brainwash and enslave the population of Earth through hypnotism; after Holmes' presumed death in 1893, Moriarty built & used a stasis device to sleep until Holmes reappeared in 2249. Holmes and his friends foil Moriarty's plot, and Moriarty is arrested.
The android Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) from Star Trek: The Next Generation had a personal interest of visiting the holodeck and playing Sherlock Holmes with his friend Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) as Dr John H. Watson, as can be seen in two episodes of the series: "Elementary, Dear Data", and "Ship in a Bottle". On these occasions, Commander Data would replay and try to solve some of his favourite Holmes stories, or let the computer improvise a new mystery in the style of Doyle's stories. On most of these occasions, these exercises would result in a quick solution, since his android brain would immediately pick up all available clues, and his superior deductive skills would quickly solve the problem. Attempting to let the computer create a more difficult mystery for him however, resulted in the computer creating a holographic Professor James Moriarty which was imbued with a measure of consciousness, and who formed the basis for a story arc for said two episodes. The holographic Moriarty quickly caused problems when he realised he was a holodeck creation, and demanded a 'full' life, with the possibility to leave the holodeck.
Sherlock Holmes and his world are also used in video game universe as computer games and video games. The great majority of them are however pastiches. The only known adaptation of a canonical story is Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, which follows a different plot involving clearly supernatural elements.
In the mobile game Fate/Grand Order (2015), Sherlock Holmes is capable of being summoned as a 5-star Ruler Class Servant.
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- BBC Cult Page for five original Sherlock Holmes short stories, posted in January 2004.
- List of Sherlock Holmes games at MobyGames
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- The Russian TV films
- Open audio collection of various Radio broadcasts (archive.org)
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