Editor of Sherlock Holmes, The Detective Magazine, June 1997.
Now, you were introduced to Holmes through the movies and not particularly through the books ?
Davies: Initially my first memory is the radio, the British radio, with Carlton Hobbes and Norman Schelly. I was obviously very young. And then the Rathbone films were shown on television at a very sort of influential period, early teens. And that coincided with my reading The Hound of the Baskervilles in the school library. And the two things together....
So you saw The Hound ?
Davies: No, I didn't. I saw the Universal series, and read The Hound. No, The Hound wasn't shown, it was banned on British television until the '70's. Because of the line: "Watson, the needle." That's true!
Interview de David Stuart DaviesBut you were banned from pursuing Conan Doyle !
Davies: Absolutely! They said at that time, and we're talking about the '70's now, he wasn't important enough a writer. I'd have to go elsewhere, so almost as an antidote to that my strong interest was the films, and I started to write what I considered to be an article, and then it grew and became "Holmes, the Movies." (Davies' first published book) Now, Brett would have disagreed that Conan Doyle was not a writer of note, not worthy to be studied. He thought he surely was ?
Davies: Absolutely, yes. He revered him, certainly as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and he was also impressed by some of his other writings as well. And he saw, and quite rightly, that without Doyle and his magic, none of this; none of this (both arms gesturing an inclusive circle) would be taking place. We all have good ideas from time to time. It might be a simple one like, "Let's knock that wall through, and we can have a bigger room." to "I think we ought to get an exercise bike so we can loose some weight." At some point Doyle just had this good idea, (snapping fingers) just out of nowhere. And that good idea has influenced so many people. In different ways, writers, actors, just enthusiasts, readers if you like, for a hundred years! Presumably, like a lot of things, it wouldn't be as simple as one thing. But something must have just clicked (snap!) with him, and that's incredible, because it's the same thing as I say, "Let's knock the walls out...". "Let's go to France for our holiday..." But for him, "Let's invent Sherlock Holmes."
Before we get into the Granada productions and their influence on all this, lets go back to the early Holmes movies. I grew up on Basil Rathbone as Holmes. He was always Sherlock Holmes to me.
Davies: That's a good title for an article,"He Was Always Sherlock Holmes to Me." I knew it! Kathryn (White, his wife) should be here! She would wax on that. She is very much still in the Rathbone camp. I think to some extent, so am I. It's very difficult to compare, because what Brett had was scripts of fidelity to the Canon, a fairly accurate Watson, or a very accurate Watson, depending on which you view (the better of the two), and wonderful color, and everything else. Whereas Rathbone was in the '40's, set in modern times, and the scripts weren't so hot. Watson was loveable, but totally inaccurate.
Poor old Nigel Bruce, he did the best with what he had.
Davies: Interestingly, in my afterword for the Tangled Skein, which I ditched by the way, I said I always hear the voice of Rathbone when I'm writing dialogue, and it's interesting that Edward Hardwicke has said something very similar. In recording the tapes of the Holmes stories, he hears Rathbone's rather than Brett's voice when he's doing it. I mean, I think Jeremy Brett was brilliant. They're on a par, if you like, but there is something about Rathbone that is still very magical.
Is there an actor you wish had played Holmes, or one that should ?
Davies: Well, there are one or two potentials which I would like to see. Daniel Day Lewis I think might make a very good Holmes. Brett was very keen that he should (play him). (laughing) I would respond more heartily to the question, "Are there any actors who shouldn't have played Sherlock Holmes?"
Well, we have a whole list of those, don't we ?
Davies: Yes. I think top of my list always is Edward Woodward, but it's very difficult I don't know, but I think the next Holmes might need to be an unknown, and it would be nice to have a young Holmes. I don't mean by that a teenager, like in Spielberg (Young Sherlock Holmes), but someone in his late twenties. Sort of the age Holmes was when he and Watson met. Now, to Granada and Jeremy Brett. Together they have given Holmes new life, but it hasn't been easy, right ?
Davies: Exactly. For instance, when Michael Cox suggested doing the stories, they at first said, "Oh, no. Not Conan Doyle. Not the old Sherlock Holmes..." And he showed..."if you do it properly..." "you know."
You've been successful in getting Michael Cox to write about the productions in your magazine, The Gazette (now Sherlock Holmes : The Detective Magazine) Tell us about that.
Davies: In the next issue, Michael Cox writes about two episodes of the Granada series, and he asked me, "What should I put in as my spiel at the beginning?" I told him I was always fascinated about the finance of the show.Each episode was budgeted for half a million pounds, and he was always having to juggle the money. For example he said if they were filming in a stately home, a national trust property, it would cost a thousand pounds a day just to use the property. But in doing that we may actually save money, because in using a national trust property we don't have to redecorate the entire house. Everything is already there. So, depending on the script, you might get a less extravagant episode. For instance, "The Norwood Builder" was quite a cheap episode as compared with "The Greek Interpreter" which has a lot of railway sequences at the end and was very expensive. So they balanced out. One not costing as much as the other, but together they cost a million pounds. And that's before 1990, so today it would cost a lot more. I thought the music for the entire series was outstanding.
Davies: The Patrick Gowers, oh indeed. Well, at Brett's memorial service at St. Martin's in the Fields Patrick Gowers' daughter, who is a violinist, played the Reichenbach theme, basically the main theme of the production. There wasn't a dry eye anywhere. I read in an issue of The Gazette about the plaque to Jeremy in the Wyndam's Theatre (London) put up by the Regulars, so I took the time to go by and see it and take a picture. It's quite touching really.
In preparing your new book, Bending the Willow, you must have visited Brett several times on the Granada sets.
Davies: Yes. Mostly at the Granada set in Manchester. The first time was with the London Sherlock Holmes club for a special showing of "The Sign of Four" hosted by Michael Cox. That episode was actually filmed on 35-mil stock, all the others being on 16-mil, and it's the only episode with a stereo soundtrack.
For me, the main point of Bending the Willow is to show the desire on everyone's part to present Doyle's stories as faithfully as possible. The writers, Michael Cox, Brett himself all seemed to work so hard at that. Would you agree ?
Davies: Well, I don't think that goes with all of them. It's certainly true with Brett and Cox. The writers less so, and also with the directors, as time went on, less so. And with June Wyndam Davis. Not as a criticism of her, but she was a television lady, and was after pretty pictures. She more or less said as much to me.
She took over for the second series ?
Davies: She started after "The Return", technically the second series, yeah. Michael did the "Casebook" and then he bowed out. And what surprised me, as Brett shared with me, was that the directors seemed to want to make their mark as a director, and therefore they weren't interested in being accurate. Didn't Brett himself pull them back into literary accuracy at times ?
Davies: He would. When he was well. And when he was not well, he would say, "OK. Whatever." I mean, the classic example to me was in "The Eligible Bachelor", I think it was called. Now Brett's illness was up and down as you well know. Well, I interviewed him on the day before he did the scene where he goes out into the rain and sits in the gutter. He was excited about that, very much so. And he was describing it like a child. (Mimicking Brett's voice:) "Tomorrow I'm going to get wet!" Seriously!
Then afterward, when the whole thing was over, he said, "Oh, that scene...I wish I'd not done it." And the writers had put that in. The director thought it was wonderful. They had hired this fire brigade to spray the water down on the street. A big expense for such a small thing, and it was very un-Sherlockian.
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