The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Type of publication
Twelve stories, approx. 94,000 words
Ronald Howard, left, and Howard Marion-Crawford in the first small-screen rendition of the sleuthing duo.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Beyond the golden age
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1954–1955): Also called Sherlock Holmes; television series featuring Ronald Howard, Howard Marion-Crawford, Archie Duncan
Nostalgic fans consider the 1940s, when Nigel Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were ever-present on film and radio, the golden age of Sherlockian drama. But there have been so many great, more faithful and more interesting adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective stories since then that the lustre has gradually faded somewhat from the Rathbone-Bruce era.
Those B-movies may have been cutting edge and thrilling at the time but in retrospect they seem somewhat melodramatic and farfetched.
Sherlock in the living room
With the advent of widespread television viewing in the 1950s, Sherlock Holmes made a surprisingly easy transition to more credible renderings. The way was opened up in part by a well-acted British TV series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which ran in thirty-nine instalments from 1954 to 1955.
Starring as Holmes in these black-and-white, half-hour episodes is Ronald Howard (son of Leslie Howard and unrelated to the later American director of the same name). In his mid-thirties Howard is younger than most Holmeses, which is probably closer to Doyle's character. Howard plays the famous sleuth more affably than many, but he is quite believable and engaging.
Backing him, nearly stealing the show as Watsons often do, is veteran Brit actor Howard Marion-Crawford. His Watson is far from buffoonish as Nigel Bruce's was, but rather he is a competent and knowledgeable aid to Holmes, along with being a stand-in for everyman. You could well imagine him as the painstaking chronicler of Holmes's career.
Both of the leads are sometimes upstaged by Scottish character actor Archie Duncan as probably the best—and funniest—Inspector Lestrade up to that time.
The series starts with the first meeting of Holmes and Watson, in a manner that is more faithful to the books than any other adaptation I can think of, almost exactly as in Doyle's novel A Study in Scarlet. But the initial episode in which this occurs is called "The Case of the Cunningham Heritage"—which proceeds nothing like A Study in Scarlet and with only passing resemblances to any of Doyle's original stories.
Episode "The Case of the Neurotic Detective" from the series starrring Ronald Howard.
Still it's a promising start and the continuing series does not disappoint. The three dozen or so cases are created anew, adopting only odd bits from the Doyle canon—with only two exceptions that I can tell.
"The Case of the Red Headed League" is a straight adaptation of the story of the same name, though much condensed.
"The Case of the French Interpreter" is also relatively faithful to the original story, apart from changing the titular nationality from Greek. This change may have been inspired by the circumstance that the series was actually shot in France.
Unfortunately, a half hour for each episode does not allow any complexity of mysteries, but the writing, acting and production in this show make the most of the limited time to bring Sherlock entertainingly to the small screen for the first time.
— Eric McMillan