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Sherlock Holmes (1965 TV series)
Sherlock Holmes (1965 TV series)

Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (a.k.a. The Cases of Sherlock Holmes) are two British series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations for television produced by the BBC in 1965 and 1968 respectively.[1] The 1965 production, which followed a pilot the year before, was the second BBC series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, after that starring Alan Wheatley in 1951.[2]


Set in the Victorian era, Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant consultant detective, as well as a private detective. He is consulted by the police and by other private detectives to aid them in solving crimes. He also takes private cases himself, and his clients range from paupers to kings. His deductive abilities and encyclopedic knowledge help him solve the most complex cases. He is assisted in his work by military veteran, Dr. John Watson, with whom he shares a flat at 221b Baker Street.



In 1964, the BBC secured rights to adapt any five Sherlock Holmes stories with an option for a further eight[9] from the Doyle estate.[9] A handful of Doyle's stories were excluded from the deal: The Hound of the Baskervilles because Hammer Films' rights would not expire until 1965[9] following their 1959 film adaptation,[9] and "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Empty House" which had been secured by producers of the Broadway musical Baker Street.[9]

In 1964, an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" was commissioned as a pilot for a twelve part series of Sherlock Holmes stories.[10][11] Giles Cooper wrote the adaptation and Douglas Wilmer was cast as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson, with Felix Felton as Dr. Grimesby Roylott.[11]

The hour-long pilot was aired as an episode of the BBC anthology series Detective[2][12] on 18 May[11] and was popular enough to re-air on 25 September[11] this time under the banner of Encore which was a BBC2 repeat slot.[2]

Wilmer and Stock were secured for a twelve part series (in black-and-white) to air the following year. Wilmer was a lifelong fan of Doyle's stories[11] and looked forward to portraying the legendary sleuth.

Wilmer responded to criticism of his portrayal by pointing out that he played the character as written.

Once the series was underway, new opening and closing titles of The Speckled Band were recorded to better match the ongoing series so the pilot episode could be included in a package to be sold abroad.[2] It has been reported that having viewed 25 September repeat of The Speckled Band, Wilmer came to the conclusion that his performance of Holmes was "too smooth, urbane, and civilised"[14] and as filming progressed Wilmer altered his performance to reflect "a much more primitive person, more savage and ruthless."[14] Wilmer himself disputed this in a 2009 interview.

At the time, due to strict agreements with the talent unions, BBC drama productions could generally only be repeated once within two years of the first transmission, and thus all twelve episodes were re-run over the late summer and early autumn of 1966,[15] albeit in a different running order. The continued favourable reception led the BBC to proceed with the option of a second series.[15]

BBC television drama chief Andrew Osborn reached out to Wilmer's agent about potential availability for a second series.[15] Wilmer declined the invitation after discovering the plan to reduce the number of rehearsal days.[13][16] Wilmer later stated that the series was "fraught with difficulty",[12] riddled with incompetence[13] and the scripts often came in late.[13] He claimed that the scriptwriters ranged from "the brilliant to the absolutely deplorable".[12] Some of the scripts were so lacking in quality that Wilmer himself rewrote them,[13] sometimes staying up until two o'clock in the morning rewriting.[12] Years later, Wilmer would briefly return to the role (albeit in a supporting role) in Gene Wilder's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, with Thorley Walters as Dr. Watson.

The BBC searched for a new actor to play Holmes. The first person Osborn suggested was John Neville.[16] Neville had previously assayed the role in A Study in Terror (1965) and Nigel Stock felt the film was quite good.[16] Neville had prior commitments to the Nottingham Playhouse and was unable to appear in a series at the time.[15]

Next, Osborn looked at Eric Porter.[16] While Porter ultimately did not get the role, he did portray Professor Moriarty opposite Jeremy Brett's Holmes in Granada Television's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.[16]

While the hunt continued for a new Sherlock Holmes, William Sterling was appointed to produce the second series.[15] Sterling created a wish list of "International Guest Stars" to appear on the programme[17] including Raymond Massey (an early interpreter of Holmes in the 1931 version of The Speckled Band)[17] as Jefferson Hope in A Study in Scarlet,[17] George Sanders as Mycroft Holmes in The Greek Interpreter,[17] Leo McKern (who later portrayed Professor Moriarty in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother)[18] as Black Gorgiano in The Red Circle[17] and Hayley Mills as Alice Turner in The Boscombe Valley Mystery.[17] None of which came to pass as the budgets would not allow for it.[17]

Finally, Peter Cushing was approached to take over the role of Sherlock Holmes for the 1968 series.[11][16] Having already played Holmes in the Hammer films adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), Cushing was eager to play the role again. Like Wilmer, Cushing was an avid fan of Doyle[11] and looked forward to portraying the detective correctly.

Unlike the Wilmer episodes, this series was produced in colour.[16] Economic cut-backs required the production to abandon plans for celebrity villains such as Peter Ustinov, George Sanders, and Orson Welles.[11][20]

The initial plan was for 90% of the programme to be shot on film on location.[21] Production began with a two-part version of The Hound of the Baskervilles giving Cushing another go round at the tale.[11] This version was the first actually filmed on Dartmoor[11] and the cost ran £13,000 over budget[21] causing the BBC to scale back their intentions and the bulk of the remainder of the series was shot on studio sets.[21]

As filming continued Cushing found himself facing production difficulties[11] the likes of which had prompted Wilmer to forgo another round. Wilmer later asked Cushing how he had enjoyed making the series:

Filming time was cut back.[11] Cushing stated that the hectic schedule affected his performance.

Twelve of the Cushing episodes[24] were repeated between July and September 1970, again in a different running order.


As it was standard practice at the time for the BBC to wipe tapes and reuse them,[25] of the Cushing series only six episodes are known to exist.[25] The Wilmer series was more fortunate with all but two episodes complete.[26]

The Cushing series was a success and the BBC's Andrew Osborn was interested in making a third series.[16] Had this third series commenced, the plan was to dramatise stories from The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, a short story collection written by Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickson Carr,[16] but was not eventually made.

German remake

The West-German WDR channel produced Sherlock Holmes (1967-1968), a six-episode series based on the scripts from Detective and Sherlock Holmes.[29] Erich Schellow starred as Holmes, and Paul Edwin Roth as Watson.


The initial 1965 series attracted over 11 million viewers per episode.[11] The 1968 series was more successful, with upwards of 15.5 million viewers[16] and one episode topping the top 20 programmes chart.[16]

Reviewing the series for DVD Talk, Stuart Galbraith IV wrote, "To my surprise I generally preferred the Wilmer episodes to those starring Peter Cushing, even though I consider myself more a fan of Cushing while I merely admire Wilmer as an excellent actor. ... This series may seem downright prehistoric to some, but I found it to be surprisingly atmospheric, intelligent, and engaging, and Wilmer and Stock make a fine Holmes and Watson, in the top 25% certainly."[30]

Galbraith further said of the Cushing episodes, "The 1968 Sherlock Holmes television series isn't really up to the level of the best film and TV adaptations, but it's still fun to see cult character actor Peter Cushing sink his teeth into the role again, and the adaptations themselves are respectable, just not distinctive."[31]

Home media

In 1996 BBC Video released a single VHS cassette in the UK, containing The Speckled Band and The Illustrious Client.

In 2002, BBC Learning released The Hound of the Baskervilles on DVD, for sale by direct mail order in the UK only. The episodes was re-released by BBC Video for retail Region 2 sale in 2004, along with two further discs containing A Study in Scarlet and The Boscombe Valley Mystery, and The Sign of Four and The Blue Carbuncle respectively. The Region 1 release of these issues as a single box-set followed on 15 December 2009. These six episodes are the only ones to survive from the Cushing series.[25]

Following the success of the Cushing release, the Region 1 Wilmer collection was released on 14 September 2010. This set contains all the surviving complete episodes from the 1965 series, but not the two incomplete episodes.[32]

The BFI released a Region 2 collection of the Wilmer episodes on 30 March 2015. The set includes all surviving episodes and reconstructions of the incomplete episodes, as well as five audio commentaries, an interview with Wilmer, an illustrated booklet, and other special features.[33]

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