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From Gillette to Brett IV gave Jeremy Brett something to think about

The fourth in our series of recaps of #G2B4 is a continuation of the first.

Up next was Bert Coules, the English writer and producer-director who served as Radio Dramatist for the BBC Sherlock Holmes starring Clive Merrison and Michael Williams, the only two actors in any medium to appear as Holmes and Watson in all 60 canonical stories. Coules is the author of 221 BBC, published by Gasogene Books, a volume that takes the reader behind the scenes of the BBC series and includes a history of other radio adaptations of Holmes and Watson. 

Drawing from his vast knowledge, experience, and love of audio drama, Coules made an eloquent case for the power and profundity of audio dramatizations of the Canon. He began with the pivotal year 1930, in which Conan Doyle died; Holmes made his radio debut; and NBC broadcast Edith Meiser's series of adaptations. Having noted the 1943 version of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," starring the great Arthur Wontner, Coules then "put a bit of volcano in it" by playing for conference-goers several clips of rare broadcasts. Highlights included a sample of "The Speckled Band," starring Cedric Hardwicke (father of Edward) as Holmes, and another of William Gillette himself, in a radio version of his celebrated hit, Sherlock Holmes, a play which had earlier been represented in David Stuart Davies' lecture, via an excerpt from the HBO revival starring Frank Langella.

Coules laid down the practical rules for writing good audio drama. His example of the kind of writing that has failed to capitalize on the evocative power of sound: "My word, Virginia, that's a strange thing for an attractive 35-year-old brunette like you to say!" He concluded with a conference exclusive, a video clip of Merrison and Williams in the studio rehearsing "The Solitary Cyclist," that wowed the attendees. If you have not yet explored the work of Bert Coules, you owe it to yourself to do so.

After a break, the conference reconvened for the screening of the definitive version of "A Scandal in Bohemia," the initial episode of the incomparable Granada Television series, starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and directed by the conference's next speaker, featured guest Paul Annett.

Thirty years have passed since this little film first graced the television screen, and it was pleasant to note how well it has weathered the test of time. Brett and his first Watson, David Burke, are still superb; Wolf Kahler's King of Bohemia is still a lumbering mass of arrogance; Gayle Hunnicutt's elegant and striking Irene Adler is still the stuff that dreams are made of; and the thunderous applause when Holmes turns briskly away from the king's outstretched hand was gratifying, to say the least. Once the familiar strains of Patrick Gowers' score had played the closing credits off, Annett took center stage, where he was joined by the Wessex Press's own Steven Doyle.

The interview that filled the next forty-five minutes was nothing short of glorious for fans of the classic series. Doyle's questions seemed to "anticipate all my wants" [SILV], and drew gem after gem from Annett's recollections of the all-important early days of the Granada series. One can only hope a recording or transcript of the interview may someday be made available, along with the unexpected thrill it featured: previously unseen footage of costume and makeup tests for Jeremy Brett and David Burke.

In the last few minutes, Doyle opened the floor to questions, and the audience responded enthusiastically on topics from Jeremy Brett's use of facial tics to convey the action of Holmes' mental machinery, to Annett's experience directing The Beast Must Die, based on James Blish's outstanding short story "There Shall Be No Darkness," and starring Peter Cushing, Charles Gray, and Michael Gambon.

Gambon's Professor Albus Dumbledore would have felt right at home in the Tudor Room of the Indiana Memorial Union for the banquet that followed; indeed, nothing but a banquet would have seemed appropriate after the Doyle/Annett show, and fortunately the feast was already scheduled. It was accompanied by a moving tribute to the late Michael A. Hoey, son of Rathbone's Inspector Lestrade, Dennis Hoey, and author of Sherlock Holmes and The Fabulous Faces: The Universal Pictures Repetory Company.

Conference-goers mingled and made merry until the time had come for a return stroll to the IU Cinema for the screening of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), the second outing of Rathbone and Bruce, a ripping yarn bolstered by the chilling Professor Moriarty of George Zucco and a fine damsel-in-distress turn by the always-reliable Ida Lupino.

In introducing the film and advocating on behalf of the Rathbone-Bruce series, Professor James Naremore did a top-notch job, as one would expect from a film scholar who has received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and who has recorded DVD commentaries for not one, but two, films of Orson Welles (Mr. Arkadin and Touch of Evil). The Adventures went over with the audience every bit as well as The Hound had done, and attendees dispersed afterward to various late-night gatherings and after-parties; some were even reported to have gone to bed.

The conference program declared:
"Half the fun of events like From Gillette to Brett IV is visiting with distant friends or shopping for Sherlockian treasure. With that in mind, over four hours of free time… have been built into the day." 
On the one hand, the organizers were precisely correct: It is at least half the fun. On the other hand, they seem to have erred: The free time felt more like four minutes! Or perhaps it's a subjective problem; time does have a tendency to fly when one is breakfasting with Ray Betzner (vincentstarrett.com) at the Runcible Spoon, home of some of the crispiest bacon north of Kentucky; likewise, hours can turn to minutes when one lunches with Henry Boote at a café that makes onion rings fit to write grandma about, then walks it off by dropping in on the pub where Hoagy Carmichael wrote "Stardust."

Where does the break time go when spent over coffee with the Baker Street Babes' Ashley Polasek and 221B Con's Crystal Noll? Back at the Lilly Library, a certain gracious lady and I were seated near each other when the Sacred Fragment of the Reichenbach letter was borne before us; it seemed we both felt as Booth Tarkington did, when he wrote to William Gillette: "I would rather see you play Sherlock Holmes than be a child again on Christmas morning." These are the moments when time slips away.

Crystal, Ashley and their entourag

On Sunday a closing brunch gave attendees a time to reflect and to enjoy one another's company as the event drew to a close. Some even tried to say goodbye while in the midst of comparing schedules to determine the place and time of their next Sherlockian meetings. But the interval between now and January seems blissfully short, so as Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes observed: "This time, we will say, 'Au revoir.'"

Some photos courtesy of Wessex Press (Facebook)