Father Brown

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For other uses, see Father Brown (disambiguation).
Father Brown
Father Brown.JPG
First appearance The Blue Cross
Created by G. K. Chesterton
Portrayed by Walter Connolly
Karl Swenson
Alec Guiness
Heinz Rühmann
Josef Meinrad
Kenneth More
Barnard Hughes
Renato Rascel
Andrew Sachs
J. T. Turner
Kevin O'Brien
Mark Williams
Gender Male
Occupation Priest
Nationality British

Father Brown is a fictional Roman Catholic priest and amateur sleuth created in the early 20th century by English novelist G. K. Chesterton.

Father Brown is featured in a series of short stories where he solves mysteries and crimes using his intuition and keen understanding of human nature. The character was loosely based by Chesterton on Father John O'Connor (1870–1952), a parish priest in Bradford, who was involved in Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism in 1922.


Chesterton portrays Father Brown as a short, stumpy Roman Catholic priest, with shapeless clothes, a large umbrella, and an uncanny insight into human evil. In "The Head of Caesar" he is "formerly priest of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London". He makes his first appearance in the story "The Blue Cross" and continues to appear throughout five volumes of short stories, often assisted in his crime-solving by the reformed criminal M. Hercule Flambeau.

Father Brown also appears in a story, "The Donnington Affair", which has a curious history. In the October 1914 issue of an obscure magazine, The Premier, Sir Max Pemberton published the first part of the story, then invited a number of detective story writers, including Chesterton, to use their talents to solve the mystery of the murder described. Chesterton and Father Brown's solution followed in the November issue. The story was first reprinted in the Chesterton Review (Winter), 1981, pp. 1–35  in the book Thirteen Detectives.[1]

Unlike the better-known fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown's methods tend to be intuitive rather than deductive. He explains his method in "The Secret of Father Brown": "You see, I had murdered them all myself.... I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was."

Brown's abilities are also considerably shaped by his experience as a priest and confessor. In "The Blue Cross", when asked by Flambeau, who has been masquerading as a priest, how he knew of all sorts of criminal "horrors," Father Brown responds: "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?" He also states how he knew Flambeau was not really a priest: "You attacked reason. It's bad theology."

The stories normally contain a rational explanation of who the murderer was and how Brown worked it out. He always emphasises rationality; some stories, such as "The Miracle of Moon Crescent", "The Oracle of the Dog", "The Blast of the Book" and "The Dagger With Wings", poke fun at initially sceptical characters who become convinced of a supernatural explanation for some strange occurrence, but Father Brown easily sees the perfectly ordinary, natural explanation. In fact, he seems to represent an ideal of a devout but considerably educated and "civilised" clergyman. That can be traced to the influence of Roman Catholic thought on Chesterton. Father Brown is characteristically humble and is usually rather quiet, except to say something profound. Although he tends to handle crimes with a steady, realistic approach, he believes in the supernatural as the greatest reason of all.[2]


Father Brown was a vehicle for conveying Chesterton's view of the world and, of all of his characters, is perhaps closest to Chesterton's own point of view, or at least the effect of his point of view. Father Brown solves his crimes through a strict reasoning process more concerned with spiritual and philosophic truths than with scientific details, making him an almost equal counterbalance with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, whose stories Chesterton read.[a] However, the Father Brown series commenced before Chesterton's own conversion to Roman Catholicism.

In his Letters from Prison, the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci made this partisan declaration of his preference:

Father Brown is a Catholic who pokes fun at the mechanical thought processes of the Protestants and the book is basically an apologia of the Roman Church as against the Anglican Church. Sherlock Holmes is the 'Protestant' detective who finds the end of the criminal skein by starting from the outside, relying on science, on experimental method, on induction. Father Brown is the Catholic priest who through the refined psychological experiences offered by confession and by the persistent activity of the fathers' moral casuistry, though not neglecting science and experimentation, but relying especially on deduction and introspection, totally defeats Sherlock Holmes, makes him look like a pretentious little boy, shows up his narrowness and pettiness. Moreover, Chesterton is a great artist while Conan Doyle was a mediocre writer, even though he was knighted for literary merit; thus in Chesterton there is a stylistic gap between the content, the detective story plot, and the form, and therefore a subtle irony with regard to the subject being dealt with, which renders these stories so delicious.[4]

In other media[edit]

Father Brown, as he appeared in volume 13 of Detective Conan
  • Walter Connolly starred as the title character in the 1934 film Father Brown, Detective, based on "The Blue Cross". Connolly would later be cast as another famous fictional detective, Nero Wolfe, in the 1937 film, The League of Frightened Men and played Charlie Chan on NBC radio from 1932–38.[5]
  • A Mutual Broadcasting System radio series, The Adventures of Father Brown (1945) featured Karl Swenson as Father Brown, Bill Griffis as Flambeau and Gretchen Douglas as Nora, the rectory housekeeper.[6]
  • The 1954 film Father Brown (released in the US as The Detective) featured Alec Guinness as Father Brown. Like the 1934 film starring Connolly, it was based on Chesterton's first Brown short story, "The Blue Cross". An experience while playing the character reportedly prompted Guinness's own conversion to Roman Catholicism.[7][8]
  • Heinz Rühmann played Father Brown in two German adaptations of Chesterton's stories, Das schwarze Schaf (The Black Sheep, 1960) and Er kann's nicht lassen (He Can't Stop Doing It, 1962) with both music scores written by German composer Martin Böttcher. In these films Brown is an Irish priest. The actor later appeared in Operazione San Pietro (also starring Edward G. Robinson, 1967) as Cardinal Brown, but the movie is not based on any Chesterton story.[9]
  • Josef Meinrad played Father Brown in an Austrian TV series (1966–72), which followed Chesterton's plots quite closely.
  • In 1974, Kenneth More starred in a 13-episode Father Brown TV series, each episode adapted from one of Chesterton's short stories. The series, produced by Sir Lew Grade for Associated TeleVision, was shown in the United States as part of PBS's Mystery!. They were released on DVD in the UK in 2003 by Acorn Media UK, and in the United States four years later by Acorn Media.
  • A US film made for television, Sanctuary of Fear[10] (1979), starred Barnard Hughes as an Americanized, modernised Father Brown in Manhattan, New York City. The film was intended as the pilot for a series but critical and audience reaction was unfavorable, largely due to the changes made to the character, and the mundane thriller plot.
  • An Italian television series, I racconti di padre Brown (The Tales of Father Brown) starred Renato Rascel.
  • BBC Radio 4 produced a series of Father Brown Stories from 1984 to 1986, starring Andrew Sachs as Father Brown.
  • Ralph McInerny used Father Brown as the spiritual inspiration for his Father Dowling pilot script[11] which launched The Father Dowling Mysteries, a television series that ran from 1987–91 on US television. An anthology of the two detectives' stories, titled Thou Shalt Not Kill: Father Brown, Father Dowling and Other Ecclesiastical Sleuths, was released in 1992.
  • A series of 16 Chesterton stories was produced by the Colonial Radio Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts, actor and voice-over artist J.T. Turner[12] played Father Brown; all scripts were written by British radio dramatist M. J. Elliott. Imagination Theater added this series to their rotation with the broadcast of "The Hammer of God" on 5 May 2013.[13]
  • Father Brown was highlighted in volume 13 of the Detective Conan manga's edition of "Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library", a section of the graphic novels where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from mystery literature, television, or other media.
  • Ignatius Press[14] published the audio book version of The Innocence of Father Brown in 2008. The book is read by actor and Theater of the Word, Incorporated founder Kevin O'Brien[15] and features introductions to each story written and read by Dale Ahlquist,[16] president of the American Chesterton Society. The book was a winner of the 2009 Foreword Audio Book Awards.[17]
  • EWTN[18] produced the Father Brown story "The Honour of Israel Gow" as an episode of the television series The Theater of the Word,[19] which first aired in 2009, starring actor and Theater of the Word, Incorporated founder Kevin O'Brien[20] and Frank C. Turner.[21]
  • A German television series superficially based on the character of Father Brown, Pfarrer Braun, was launched in 2003. Pfarrer Guido Braun, from Bavaria, played by Ottfried Fischer, solves murder cases in the (fictitious) island of Nordersand (Northsea-island) in the first two episodes. Later other German landscapes like the Harz, the Rhine or Meißen in Saxony became sets for the show. Martin Böttcher again wrote the score and he got the instruction by the producers to write a title theme hinting at the theme of the movies with Heinz Rühmann. Until May 2015 twenty-two episodes were made, which ran very successfully in Germany on ARD.
  • In 2012, the BBC commissioned the ten-episode series Father Brown starring British actor Mark Williams in the title role. It aired on BBC One beginning January 2013, Monday to Friday, over a two-week period in the afternoon. The era and location are moved to the Cotswolds of the early 1950s and used adaptations and original stories. Filming for the series began around the Cotswolds in Summer 2012.[22] Further series ordered aired in 2014 (ten episodes), 2015 (15 episodes), and 2016 (ten episodes).

Other references[edit]

In Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a quote from "The Queer Feet" is an important element of the structure and theme of the book. Father Brown speaks this line after catching a criminal, hearing his confession and letting him go: "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread." Book Three of Brideshead Revisited is called "A Twitch Upon the Thread" and the quotation acts as a metaphor for the operation of grace in the characters' lives. They are free to wander the world according to their free will until they are ready and receptive to God's grace, at which point he acts in their lives and effects a conversion. In the miniseries made by Granada Television adapting Brideshead, the character Lady Marchmain (Claire Bloom) reads this passage aloud.

Compilation books[edit]

  • Most collections purporting to be The Complete Father Brown reprint the five compilations, but omit one or more of the uncollected stories. Penguin Classics' 2012 edition (ISBN 9780141193854) is the only truly complete one, including 'The Donnington Affair', 'The Vampire of the Village' and 'The Mask of Midas'.
  • The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vols. 12 and 13, reprint all the stories including the three not included in the five collections published during Chesterton's lifetime.


  1. ^ Chesterton also made 19 illustrations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, then not published and recently printed for the first time.[3]


  1. ^ Chesterton, G.K (1987). Smith, Marie, ed. Thirteen Detectives. London: Xanadu. ISBN 0-947761-23-3. 
  2. ^ LeRoy, Panek (1987), An Introduction to the Detective Story, Bowling Green: Bowling Green State Univ. Popular Press, pp. 105–6 .
  3. ^ G.K. Chesterton's Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Productions, 2003 .
  4. ^ Gramsci, Antonio (2011), Letters from Prison, 1, Columbia University Press, p. 354, ISBN 978-0-231-07553-4 .
  5. ^ Cox, Jim (2002), Radio Crime Fighters, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, p. 9, ISBN 0-7864-1390-5 .
  6. ^ Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924–1984: A Catalog of Over 1800 Shows. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0351-9. 
  7. ^ "How Father Brown Led Sir Alec Guinness to the Church". Catholic culture. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Sutcliffe, Tom (7 August 2000). "Sir Alec Guinness obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 February 2007. 
  9. ^ Hail devil man (29 December 1967). "Operazione San Pietro (1967)". IMDb. 
  10. ^ A Walter 1 (23 April 1979). "Sanctuary of Fear (TV Movie 1979)". IMDb. 
  11. ^ "Ralph McInerny". The Daily Telegraph. London. 18 February 2010. 
  12. ^ "J.T. Turner". Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  13. ^ Chesterton, G. K, The Complete Father Brown Stories: Books 1–7, Classics, Starbooks .
  14. ^ "Ignatius Press". Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  15. ^ "The word". Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  16. ^ "Chesterton.org". Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  17. ^ "Books of the year awards". Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  18. ^ "EWTN". Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  19. ^ "Theater of the Word, Inc. (TV Series 2009– )". IMDb. 
  20. ^ "Kevin O'Brien". IMDb. 
  21. ^ "Frank C. Turner". IMDb. 
  22. ^ Eames, Tom (22 June 2012). "'Harry Potter' Mark Williams cast in BBC drama 'Father Brown'". Digital Spy. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 


External links[edit]