Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Brett Holmes - A Scandal in Bohemia

Baker Street West; the camera pans down and away from the street sign as a Hansom rolls in from a side-street, the scene opening into a thriving, bustling London of the late Victorian era. A horse-drawn omnibus clip-clops towards us, a liveried driver in his landau taking his genteel couple for a ride. Pedestrians of all ages and station take to the pavement, tradesmen and paper sellers go about their business. Then, another view of the paper sellers with their lurid headlines. Some cheeky urchins are sent scarpering by a constable, all this overlooked from a top window by Sherlock Holmes himself, a whimsical smile upon his features.
Jeremy Brett, Rosalie Williams and David Burke play Holmes, Mrs.Hudson and Dr. Watson.
Two burglars rifle through the lounge of a surburban villa, intent in their hunt. But for what?. Even the painting of a beauteous woman doesn't escape the knife, slit open and searched. A noise and then a Coachman enters, his cudgel a poor match for the knives both trespassers hold. His Mistress, however, emerges with a pistol in hand. The same beauty as the despoiled painting, she coldly waves the men out through the window and instructs her man to fasten it. With a start, she sees her picture is destroyed.
Gayle Hunnicutt plays Irene Adler.
John Watson begins his narration; 'To Sherlock Holmes, she was always the woman. The beautiful Irene Adler; of dubious and questionable memory.'

Baker Street, night-time. Even at this hour, the street is busy, throngs of pleasure-seekers down from Regents Park or up from the theatre. A Hansom pulls up, depositing the returning Doctor John Watson from his visit to a country patient, a visit of several days in duration. As ever, in such cases, Watson confesses himself apprehensive as to the mood of his friend. Mrs. Hudson, the landlady fusses up, concerned for Doctor Watson's old wound; the soaking he received waiting for a cab can hardly have helped. Half-starved, Watson's hope for supper is dashed by the landlady's adherence to Holmes' injunction that no food is to be served until he has called for it. With such unhappy an omen, the Doctor is tempted to merely take the stairs to his room on the second floor, but courage, Watson!. Bracing himself for what he might find, he opens the door to the sitting room on the first floor, that famous chamber that has doubled as Holmes' consulting rooms for so many celebrated cases.

Sherlock Holmes sits in his basket chair, legs drawn up against the fire. With a look of disapprobation, Watson closes the window against the chill damp. The room itself is as usual – Holmes' desk piled high with books, papers. The draw is not fully shut, Watson spotting the hated needle. What is it tonight?; Morphine? Cocaine?. Impishly, Holmes reccomends a seven percent solution of cocaine. Both as friend and medical man, Watson is outraged at the risks his companion takes with his faculties. Holmes' mind rebels at stagnation; give him problems, work. Give him the most abstruse cryptogram, the most intricate analysis and he is in his proper atmosphere. Only then can he dispense with artificial stimulants.
Holmes and Watson - an original illustration by Sidney Paget from the Strand magazine.
Holmes is the only unofficial consulting detective in the World. Allowing himself a moment's conceit, he laughs at Watson's icy silence, flourishing a note. Here is his stimulant!. Watson is taken aback at the contents, but Holmes merely prepares for his visitor, lighting the candles on his shaving -stand he invites his friend to make observations. The note is undated, unsigned without address. Reading aloud, we hear;
Dear Mr. Holmes, there will call on you tonight, at a quarter to eight, a gentleman who desires to consult with you upon a matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of the Royal households of Europe have shown that you are one who may be safely trusted with matters which are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. This account of you we have from all quarters received; be in your chamber then.
"I carefully examined the writing" - Sidney Paget
Holmes opinion? he himself has no data, stating it a capital mistake to theorise before possessing any data. What does Watson deduce?; a man's writing, well-off, the paper is unusual – at Holmes' urging he holds the paper to the light, revealing a watermark. The maker's monogram, no doubt. Consulting his Continental Gazetteer Holmes finds the Papier Gesellschaft (Paper Company) is from Egria, part of Bohemia, noted for its glass and paper mills. Further; the note is by a German, 'This account of you we have from all quarters received'... only a German is so unkind to his verbs!.

Just then, a brougham draws up, driven by a pair of horses – if nothing else, there's money in this case. Nervous, Watson goes to leave, but Holmes is lost without his Boswell and won't hear of it. Placing Watson in an advantageous chair, Holmes exhorts his full attention, clearing some clutter hurriedly as a steady, reassured tread ascends the stairs, to the loud indignance of Mrs. Hudson. Mr. Holmes will not see anyone without appointment.
Hurling the last of the untidiness behind Watson's chair, Holmes instantly strikes a pose of studied casualness. A remarkable figure strides in, be-cloaked and masked, a large jewelled clasp at his breast, a collar of lustrous fur at the neck of a Bavarian shirt. Holmes soothes the landlady's ruffled feathers and she leaves the pair to be addressed by the singular fellow, though he seems hesitant at the sight of Watson and refuses to take his hand, adopting the expression of a man fearing a rupture.
"A Man entered" - original Illustration by Sidney Paget
Holmes enquires the name of his client; he introduces himself to be the Count Von Kramm, a Bohemian Nobleman. He would prefer to be alone with Holmes, but the detective is not swayed; it is both or none. Reluctant acceptance follows, with the Count binding both men to confidentiality for at least two years. The Count confesses the title he has given is not his own, a fact that Sherlock Holmes is already well aware. The matter is delicate and affects the House of Ormstein, hereditary Kings of Bohemia, a fact that Holmes is also aware, using 'Your Majesty' in addressing his visitor. Divesting himself of the mask, the 'Count' admits he is indeed the King. Barely had he begun speaking than Holmes knew his client was none other than Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein, Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein and hereditary King of Bohemia, the finest blade in Europe. (His friends call him Bill.)
"He tore the mask from his face" - A Paget original illustration.
Beckoning Watson to sit, the King places the facts before Holmes. Ten years previously, during a visit to Warsaw, he made the acquaintance of the well-known American adventuress Irene Adler. As Watson hurries to fetch her from the index, Holmes infers the King was enamoured of the lady, then wrote her letters which he wishes to regain. Tracing Miss Adler to her birth in New Jersey during 1858, Watson hands Holmes the relevant index. Perusing the entry Holmes learns she is a contralto, appearing at La Scala, the opera houses of Petersburg and Warsaw. Now retired, she lives in London and makes occasional appearances on the concert stage. Reminiscing, the King recalls a dalliance with Miss Adler, in which he danced with her while a quartet played blindfolded to preserve his privacy.
The King recalls dancing with Irene Adler, Wolf Kahler plays the King.
There being no secret marriages or official papers, Holmes asks how any surfacing letter of blackmail might be authenticated. The writing? - forgery!. The King's private writing paper? - stolen!. His own seal? - imitated!. The stumbling block is a photograph of the King with Miss Adler. The offending image is reproduced below and I must warn readers of the abominable content.
The definition of scandal has changed somewhat over the years.
Light-heartedly, Holmes chides the King for his indiscretion, but the Bohemian is unrepentant; she was bewitching, clever and daring. His reminisce takes us through their happy times pistol shooting and riding in the Royal parks where she showed her spirit by matching his jump over an estate worker's cart. Now she refuses to return the photograph, despite five attempts to recover it by theft. Twice, burglar's in the King's pay have ransacked her house, to no avail. Despite the tone of the King's voice – perhaps because of it, Holmes lets out his short, characteristic laugh, to the fury of his Royal client. The King is about to wed, to Clothilde Lothman von Saxe-Meningen, second daughter of the King of Scandinavia. A shadow of doubt as to his conduct would end their betrothal. And Irene Adler?. Adler threatens to send the Scandinavian Royal Family the photograph. The reason she has not yet done so? - she has said she will send it on the day the betrothal is publicly proclaimed. This the King will do on Monday, but he leaves London on Friday. Holmes has three days. The King, posing as the Count von Kramm will be found at the Langham Hotel. For expenses, he leaves three hundred pounds in gold and seven hundred in notes!. Handing Holmes Miss Adler's address, the King leaves, acknowledging Watson's formal bow and Holmes' lack of deference with a look of outrage.

The latter merely concerns himself lighting a church warden and hustles the hungry Watson out to the stair, assuring him Mrs. Hudson may provide a sandwich, imploring him not to be disturbed until the following afternoon. Finding the King's mask where he threw it, Holmes cannot resist trying it for size.
"A drunken-looking groom" - Sidney Paget illustration of Holmes' disguise
The following day and in Serpentine Avenue a rough groom, red-headed and coarse of manner strides, taking pause to gaze at Briony Lodge, before coming upon a mews off a lane to the side of the house. One of the ostlers sees the groom standing there and engages him in conversation. A first-class groom, but out of work eight weeks because of the booze, he rises to the challenge to strap a mare. Taking control of the horse, he begins with the brush.
Later, Holmes – for it is he, divests himself of his red-headed groom as he tells Watson of his day. Spending a few hours at the mews, he learned Irene Adler had turned many a head, living quietly. She drives out at five, to return by seven each evening. She has one male visitor – a frequent one; a Mister Godfrey-Norton of the Inner Temple. A lawyer for a frequent companion may be seen as ominous. Is she his client?. In character as the florid groom, Holmes added hedge cutting to his repertoire, pausing for a pipe and a paper, apparently unaware of the gaze from Miss Adler at her window. However, when she sits at her piano to sing, Holmes is captivated. Just then, a hansom arrives, with an energetic young man he presumes to be Mister Godfrey-Norton. As Holmes watches in his disguise, the man seems to be persuading Miss Adler of some danger or pressing need. Leaving, the young fellow dashes to his cab, bound for the Church of St. Monica on the Edgware road – and in a hurry. No sooner departed than Miss Adler's own carriage is brought up and she, too is bound for the church. Stooping to collect hedge cuttings, our groom is smitten by her beauty.
"I found myself mumbling responses" - Sidney Paget
Holmes continues, detailing how he too took a cab, promising a sovereign if the cabbie could get him to the church within twenty minutes. Although driven at speed, both carriages were there already. Going into the church, Holmes is inadvertently pressed into service as a witness to the marriage, the licence for which expires at mid-day in a few minutes. Afterwards, Mrs. Godfrey -Norton calls the groom up and thanks him for being there. How fortunate that he remained close by. She presses a sovereign on the reluctant man, more as souvenir than payment. Now back in his normal personage, Holmes announces he intends to wear the sovereign on his watch chain as a memento. The happy pair parted company afterwards, he for the Inner Temple, she for Briony Lodge. Holmes will need Watson, but he must be prepared to break the law and run the chance of arrest. He is happy to do so in a good cause.
Irene Norton, nee Adler, thanks the Groom for his service.
Night falls and the bookseller lights the lamps outside his shop. Watson hails a cab and gestures urgently for his companion to join him from inside the hall of 221b. Under way, Watson cannot help, but remark on Holmes' disguise. A rather feeble clergyman, his shock of snowy-white hair and spectacles make him as unrecognisable as his florid groom of before. How will Holmes do it?; others have failed to retrieve the photograph. With a smile, Holmes announces he will allow Mrs. Godfrey-Norton to show him the photograph's hiding place, but they approach the scene Holmes has set and will walk the rest of the way.
Serpentine Avenue is, indeed unusually busy for the time of night. A knife-sharpener plies his trade, servants gossip, while a pair of soldiers gaily escort their girls, groups of hooligans lounge about the place. Holmes rehearses the signal with Watson and then Mrs. Godfrey-Norton nee Adler's carriage rolls up. Almost immediately, John the Coachman is accosted by a group of layabouts who argue over which opened the door for the lady. To the former Miss Adler's horror, the toughs begin a vicious fight, while, unseen, Watson slips into the grounds of Briony Lodge. A simple-minded clergyman fusses up, bespectacled and quite unsuited to the brawl now taking place. Gallantly, he steps forward, determined to protect her from the ruffians. Ungallantly, one of them strikes him a heavy blow with a stick. As the thugs run for it, a gentleman examines the prostrate form of the elderly man. He is breathing, but will need attention. Irene orders her protector brought into the house.
"He gave a cry and dropped" - Paget.
As he 'comes to' – Holmes reaches for his spectacles, keen to preserve his disguise. Willard, a servant appears with medical supplies, but the Lady of the house will have none of it, insisting on attending to her gallant friend in need herself. Holmes has a close shave when she tries to dress his 'wound', but his call for a bandage is well-received and his deceit is preserved. Peering in through the window, Watson is almost rumbled – I do beg pardon, Watson is almost espied by Mrs. Godfrey-Norton. This is no empty-headed creature, however; she remarks on the odd amount of people milling about for such a quiet turning as this. What has appeared a genteel exchange is, in actuality a meeting of two unique minds, the courtesies and politeness all part of the game. Feebly, Holmes suggests the gang was pre-arranged as an attempt to rob her, but she remarks her purse would not pay them all. Shamming a feint, Holmes asks for air and the window is obligingly opened. At a convenient moment, Holmes gives the nod and Watson lights a plumbers smoke rocket, tossing it into the front room.

With Holmes raising the cry of 'Fire!' the crowd outside enthusiastically takes up the call. Panicked, Irene dashes to the fireplace, opening a hidden compartment and pressing the electric button concealed within. Flushed with anger at her error, Irene sees Holmes for what he is, but says nothing. Kicking the smoke rocket from behind a screen, Holmes reveals it a false alarm and John the Coachman goes to tell the crowd the engine will not be needed. Shaken, the lady asks Holmes who would do such a thing. He answers 'The gang', for reasons of revenge. She cannot imagine such feelings. On a deeper level, of course, she has asked the purpose of the charade and Holmes has told her; revenge. (Reading between the lines, this is the most subtle of exchanges in the series and both improvement and embellishment on the original story.) Making to leave, Holmes is offered the use of her carriage, but declines. At least his name and address?. He is just a humble servant of the all-seeing providence...

Safely in the carriage with Watson, Holmes allows himself a laugh of triumph. Does he have the photograph?. No, but as promised the lady showed him the hiding place. Watson worries the moment may be lost, but Holmes is confident of success, intending to return in the morning as himself, with the King and Watson in attendance. Pulling up at 221b Holmes is still jovial, unaware of the carriage that draws up around the corner and the slim figure who alights. As Holmes unlocks the front door, a youth in an Ulster and bowler passes and wishes Holmes a good night!. Startled, Holmes looks after the receding figure, but the incident is forgotten as a bemused Mrs. Hudson admits her tenants.
As above...
...so below; Paget's original is mirrored by the Granada production

Morning; the King's carriage arrives at Briony Lodge and the Royal party enters. His Majesty doubts Irene can love her new husband, yet Holmes hopes she does. If she loves another, she cannot love the King and have no reason to ruin his marriage. To Holmes' surprise, the door is opened at the first knock by a triumphant Willard. Addressing Holmes by name, she informs him her mistress has left by the 5:15 train from Charing Cross for the Continent. She has left England, never to return. Rudely the party pushes past Willard, who allows herself a private smile of victory. Urgently, Holmes enters the lounge, opening the secret panel and pressing the button to open the hidden recess above. Inside, a photograph and a note. 

The Photograph left for Holmes to find.
The King examines the photograph, declaring it to be the wrong one. Indeed, the image depicts Irene Adler sitting alone. His Majesty demands the letter, but it is addressed to Holmes!;

 My Dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes,

         You did it very well. You took me in completely until after the alarm of fire I had not a suspicion, but then when I found that I had betrayed myself, it flashed into my mind that I had been warned against you months ago. I'd been told that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you, yet with all this you made me reveal what you wanted to know. Even before when the presence of so many people in the street had sounded an alarm in my instinct, I could not think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman. (From here onwards the letter is narrated by the Woman herself) 
         But you know, I have been trained as an actress myself and male costume is nothing new to me. Yes, it was I who followed you to your door, just to make sure that you really were the celebrated Mister Sherlock Holmes. It was I who rather imprudently wished you good-night – then I started for the Temple to see my new husband. We had married in secret in case we had to leave the country to elude the King. Your appearance on the scene was the signal for flight; you are too formidable an antagonist.
         You will find the nest empty when you call tomorrow. As to the photograph, your client may rest in peace; I love – and am loved, by a better man than he. (Holmes hands the letter to The King to finish reading) The King may do what he will without hindrance from one whom he has cruelly wronged. I kept it only to safeguard myself and to preserve a weapon which would always secure me from any steps he may take.

In the middle of the channel, Irene Godfrey-Norton opens the case to gaze upon the photograph of her and the King from so long ago. With her husband looking on, she tosses it - and her past life, to the waves.

There is more, I leave another photograph which you might care to possess – and I remain Dear Mister Sherlock Holmes very truly Yours.

Irene Norton, nee Adler.

'What a woman... what a Queen she would have made.' The King is philosophical. Is it not a pity she was not on his level?. The acid tone of his voice lost on the King, Holmes remarks that from what he has seen, she was indeed on a very different level to His Majesty, apologising for failing him. The King insists her word is inviolate and the photograph as safe as if it were in the fire. How can he reward Holmes?. Pulling an emerald and gold ring from his finger the King makes to offer it, but Holmes has only one reward in mind; the photograph of Irene Adler. The King agrees and stiffly, Holmes wishes him a good morning and turns on his heel leaving Watson to take the King's hand in gratitude.
"This photograph!" - Holmes names his price for aiding the King, by Sidney Paget
And that is how a great scandal threatened the Kingdom of Bohemia. Watson finishes his narrative by mentioning that although Holes used to scoff at the intellectual powers of women, he has ceased the habit. Whenever he refers to Irene Adler, it is always under the honourable title of 'The Woman'. It is not that he displayed any love, for such emotions are abhorrent to his cold, precise mind. There is only one woman to him; Irene Adler of dubious and questionable memory. As Holmes plays a solitary lament on his violin, he sets it aside to gaze into the fire in contemplation.

Finis.


That Granada Television reproduced Baker Street in an impressive outdoor set should tell us something of the commitment behind this production. For forty-one episodes, from 1984 until his death in 1995 Jeremy Brett made the role his own. Just as Basil Rathbone defined Holmes for the 1940's, so Brett came to epitomise the role for the 1980's and beyond. I myself confess his portrayal is my favourite – his mannerisms, affectations and sense for the dramatic irresistably reminiscent of Conan Doyle's original. The British Pipesmokers' Council awarded Brett it's 'Pipe Smoker of the Year' award in 1989; smoking was ubiquitous in the Victorian era and his character made much use of various pipes, cigars and cigarettes to add thoughtfulness as required. Brett's exaggerated mannerisms, flourishes and harsh laugh were all used to maximum dramatic effect; a pleasure to watch. There were two Watsons; first David Burke who was replaced by Edward Hardwicke when he and his wife were invited to join the RSC. Both actors portrayed Watson as written by Conan Doyle; far from the bumbling Watson played by Nigel Bruce, both played Watson as intelligent and a useful ally as well as chronicler of Holmes' adventures.
Jeremy Brett and Gayle Hunnicutt.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ran from 1984 until the followuing year, The Return of Sherlock Holmes from 1986 to 1988, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes ran from 1991 to 1993, with the final series, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes screening in 1994. Each story is faithful to the original, with later stories departing on trivialities such as Holmes' use of the cocaine needle. With a large children's audience, the producers felt – and Brett agreed, to show Holmes turning his back on the drug. In the episode 'The Devil's Foot' Holmes is shown burying his needle on a Cornish beach.

Late in 1986, Brett was diagnosed with manic depression (Now called Bipolar Disorder). Prescribed lithium tablets, he pained weight and retained water. A heavy smoker, with a heart condition, the later episodes in the series are heartbreaking to watch. He required oxygen on set and collapsed during production. His method of acting the part involved immersing himself in the role, staying in character in between sets and obsessing over script details. Gradually, he came to refer to Holmes as 'You Know Who' or simply 'Him.' After his death, he was voted the greatest Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps no other tale of Sherlock Holmes deserves this rating more;

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