Sherlock Holmes
StarringDouglas Wilmer (1964–65)
Peter Cushing (1968)
Nigel Stock
ComposersMax Harris (1965)
Alan Fogg (1968)
No. of series2
No. of episodes29 Episode list
ProducersDavid Goddard (1964–65)
William Sterling (1968)
Running time50 minutes
Original release
Release1965 (1965) –
1968 (1968)

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 one 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.



Guest stars



In 1964, the BBC secured rights to adapt any five Sherlock Holmes stories with an option for a further eight[12] from the Doyle estate.[12] 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[12] following their 1959 film adaptation,[12] 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.[12]

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.[13][3] Giles Cooper wrote the adaptation and Douglas Wilmer was cast as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson, with Felix Felton as Dr. Grimesby Roylott.[3]

The hour-long pilot was aired as an episode of the BBC anthology series Detective[2][14] on 18 May[3] and was popular enough to re-air on 25 September[3] 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[3] and looked forward to portraying the legendary sleuth.

The part interested me very much because I’d never really, I felt, seen it performed to its full capacity. There’s a very dark side to Holmes, and a very unpleasant side to him. And I felt that this was always skirted round which made him appear rather sort of hockey sticks and cricket bats and jolly uncles… a kind of dashing Victorian hero. He wasn’t like that at all. He was rather sardonic and arrogant, and he could be totally inconsiderate towards Watson. I tried to show both sides of his nature.[15]

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

People complained that I wasn't sympathetic but I didn't set out to be. I don't regard Holmes as a sympathetic character at all. It would have been hell to share rooms with him."[14]

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"[16] and as filming progressed Wilmer altered his performance to reflect "a much more primitive person, more savage and ruthless."[16] Wilmer himself disputed this in a 2009 interview.

I don’t remember saying that, no. I wonder where you read that! Certainly we had the finest director on that first one, a very good director. I have seen those two recently because I thought I’d better look at them again before writing the book. I don’t remember being unhappy with my performance in the first one; looking at it this time, I thought it was rather better.[15]

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,[17] albeit in a different running order. The continued favourable reception led the BBC to proceed with the option of a second series.[17]

Hiatus and changing lead

In the late summer and early autumn of 1966, the Wilmer series was granted a repeat run and the success of the run convinced the BBC to take up an option on a second run of episodes.[17] BBC television drama chief Andrew Osborn reached out to Wilmer's agent about potential availability for a second series.[17] Wilmer declined the invitation after discovering the plan to reduce the number of rehearsal days.[15][18] Wilmer later stated that the series was "fraught with difficulty",[14] riddled with incompetence[15] and the scripts often came in late.[15] He claimed that the scriptwriters ranged from "the brilliant to the absolutely deplorable".[14] Some of the scripts were so lacking in quality that Wilmer himself rewrote them,[15] sometimes staying up until two o'clock in the morning rewriting.[14] 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.[18] Neville had previously assayed the role in A Study in Terror (1965) and Nigel Stock felt the film was quite good.[18] Neville had prior commitments to the Nottingham Playhouse and was unable to appear in a series at the time.[17]

Next, Osborn looked at Eric Porter.[18] 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.[18]

While the hunt continued for a new Sherlock Holmes, William Sterling was appointed to produce the second series.[17] Sterling created a wish list of "International Guest Stars" to appear on the programme[19] including Raymond Massey (an early interpreter of Holmes in the 1931 version of The Speckled Band)[19] as Jefferson Hope in A Study in Scarlet,[19] George Sanders as Mycroft Holmes in The Greek Interpreter,[19] Leo McKern (who later portrayed Professor Moriarty in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother)[20] as Black Gorgiano in The Red Circle (though an adaptation of The Red Circle never took place in the series)[19] and Hayley Mills as Alice Turner in The Boscombe Valley Mystery.[19] None of which came to pass as the budgets would not allow for it.[19]

Finally, Peter Cushing was approached to take over the role of Sherlock Holmes for the 1968 series.[3][18] 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[3] and looked forward to portraying the detective correctly.

What are the things that spring to mind about Sherlock Holmes? The way he keeps saying, "Elementary, my dear Watson," and the number of times he puffs that meerschaum pipe. But they are both untrue![21]

Unlike the Wilmer episodes, this series was produced in colour.[18] Economic cut-backs required the production to abandon plans for celebrity villains such as Peter Ustinov, George Sanders, and Orson Welles.[3][22]

The initial plan was for 90% of the programme to be shot on film on location.[23] Production began with a two-part version of The Hound of the Baskervilles giving Cushing another go round at the tale.[3] This version was the first actually filmed on Dartmoor[3] and the cost ran £13,000 over budget[23] causing the BBC to scale back their intentions and the bulk of the remainder of the series was shot on studio sets.[23]

As filming continued Cushing found himself facing production difficulties[3] the likes of which had prompted Wilmer to forgo another round. Wilmer summarised a later conversation with Cushing:

I asked him how he had enjoyed doing the Holmes series. He replied tersely to the effect that he would rather sweep Paddington Station for a living than go through the experience again. He had my sympathies![15][24][25]

Filming time was cut back.[3] Cushing stated that the hectic schedule affected his performance.

Whenever I see some of those stories they upset me terribly, because it wasn't Peter Cushing doing his best as Sherlock Holmes - it was Peter Cushing looking relieved that he had remembered what to say and said it![3]

Twelve of the Cushing episodes except the episodes The Second Stain, The Greek Interpreter, Black Peter, and The Blue Carbuncle were repeated between July and September 1970, again in a different running order.


Detective (1964)

No. overall Title Written by Directed by Original air date Status
1 "The Speckled Band" Giles Cooper Robin Midgley 18 May 1964 Survives

Sherlock Holmes (1965)

No. overall No. in series Title Written by Directed by Original air date Status
2 1 "The Illustrious Client" Giles Cooper Peter Sasdy 20 February 1965 Survives
3 2 "The Devil's Foot" Giles Cooper Max Varnel 27 February 1965 Survives
4 3 "The Copper Beeches" Vincent Tilsley Gareth Davies 6 March 1965 Survives
5 4 "The Red-Headed League" Anthony Read Peter Duguid 13 March 1965 Survives
6 5 "The Abbey Grange" Clifford Witting Peter Cregeen 20 March 1965 First half missing; second half survives
7 6 "The Six Napoleons" Giles Cooper Gareth Davies 27 March 1965 Survives
8 7 "The Man with the Twisted Lip" Jan Read Eric Tayler 3 April 1965 Survives
9 8 "The Beryl Coronet" Nicholas Palmer Max Varnel 10 April 1965 Survives
10 9 "The Bruce-Partington Plans" Giles Cooper Shaun Sutton 17 April 1965 First half survives; second half soundtrack only survives
11 10 "Charles Augustus Milverton" Clifford Witting Philip Dudley 24 April 1965 Survives
12 11 "The Retired Colourman" Jan Read Michael Hayes 1 May 1965 Survives
13 12 "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" Vincent Tilsley Shaun Sutton 8 May 1965 Survives

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (1968)

No. overall No. in series Title Written by Directed by Original air date Status
14 1 "The Second Stain" Jennifer Stuart Henri Safran 9 September 1968 Missing
15 2 "The Dancing Men" Michael and Mollie Hardwick William Sterling 16 September 1968 Missing
16 3 "A Study in Scarlet" Hugh Leonard Henri Safran 23 September 1968 Survives
17 4 "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (Part 1) Hugh Leonard Graham Evans 30 September 1968 Survives
18 5 "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (Part 2) Hugh Leonard Graham Evans 7 October 1968 Survives
19 6 "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" Bruce Stewart Viktors Ritelis 14 October 1968 Survives
20 7 "The Greek Interpreter" John Gould David Saire 21 October 1968 Missing
21 8 "The Naval Treaty" John Gould Antony Kearey 28 October 1968 Missing
22 9 "Thor Bridge" Harry Moore Antony Kearey 4 November 1968 Missing
23 10 "The Musgrave Ritual" Alexander Baron Viktors Ritelis 11 November 1968 Missing
24 11 "Black Peter" Richard Harris Antony Kearey 18 November 1968 Missing
25 12 "Wisteria Lodge" Alexander Baron Roger Jenkins 25 November 1968 Missing
26 13 "Shoscombe Old Place" Donald Tosh Bill Bain 2 December 1968 Missing
27 14 "The Solitary Cyclist" Stanley Miller Viktors Ritelis 9 December 1968 Missing
28 15 "The Sign of Four" Michael and Mollie Hardwick William Sterling 16 December 1968 Survives
29 16 "The Blue Carbuncle" Stanley Miller Bill Bain 23 December 1968 Survives

Planned continuation

The Cushing series was a success and the BBC's Andrew Osborn was interested in making a third series.[18] 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,[18] but was not eventually made.

Unused scripts

Missing episodes

The series was unfortunately subject to the tape-wiping and "junking" practice that often occurred in early British television during the 1950s and 1960s. The film tapes and video tapes of the period were expensive and most British television broadcasters at the time didn't plan to air many domestic reruns, hence the tendency to wipe tapes, in order to reuse them for filming. Another related issue was poor archiving of episodes. Tens of television series lost at least one or several episodes, or above half of their episodes in this manner. In some cases, entire series and serials are presumed completely lost. The lack of home video technology at the time also exacerbated the problem: There was less of an incentive to publish the series after broadcast for public consumption, and outside of specialised film studios, there was virtually no way to record programmes while they were being broadcast. This is why much of the unofficially recorded material that survives from lost or missing episodes exists only in the form of audio recordings.

Sherlock Holmes is not unique in its losses, as many broadcasters regularly cleared their archives in this manner. Until the BBC changed its archiving policy in 1978, thousands of hours of programming, in all genres, were deleted. Other affected BBC series include the most famous present-day running series Doctor Who. Other non-running series that have lost episodes include Dad's Army, Z-Cars, The Wednesday Play, Till Death Us Do Part and Not Only... But Also. ITV regional franchisees, such as Rediffusion Television and Associated Television, also deleted many programmes, including early videotaped episodes of The Avengers. Since the latter half of the 1970s, British television networks, television fans and enthusiasts, and official institutions such as the British Film Institute have developed an effort to recover and restore missing episodes of many 1950s and 1960s television programmes.

The Wilmer series survives largely intact to this day, with only two episodes incomplete.[28] "The Abbey Grange" is missing its first half, while "The Bruce-Partington Plans" is missing its second half. The 2015 DVD release of the first series reconstructed the incomplete episodes as best as possible. For "The Abbey Grange", Douglas Wilmer was engaged to read the original story. For "The Bruce-Partington Plans", a sound recording was included of the second half of the episode, recorded off the television during the programme's original transmission. This was matched with publicity photographs for the episode and images of the script to reveal the end of the story and enable a complete viewing experience.

The 1968 series with Cushing was less fortunate, with many episodes now believed lost, despite the fact that it was made in colour and was shown abroad as late as 1975 (Spain). Only a handful of the episodes have survived, namely "A Study in Scarlet", "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (two parts), "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", "The Sign of Four" and "The Blue Carbuncle".[29] These were saved partly because they were chosen as samples of the series for distribution abroad. All surviving episodes are available on DVD, with a Blu-ray release pending.[30] In 2019 brief extracts from the episodes "The Second Stain", "The Dancing Men", "The Naval Treaty" and "Black Peter" were found in Belgium by Dutch historian Reinier Wels,[31] and independently, an audio recording of "The Solitary Cyclist" was found by David Stuart Davies. The clips were included as a bonus feature on a DVD release of a TV interview with Peter Cushing, available in combination with a book.[32]

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.[33] Erich Schellow starred as Holmes, and Paul Edwin Roth as Watson.


The initial 1965 series attracted over 11 million viewers per episode.[3] The 1968 series was more successful, with upwards of 15.5 million viewers[18] and one episode topping the top 20 programmes chart.[18]

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."[34]

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."[35]

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.[29]

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.[36]

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.[37]


  1. ^ Haining, Peter (1994). The Television Sherlock Holmes. Virgin Books. pp. 94–95. ISBN 978-0-86369-793-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 52–54. ISBN 9780857687760.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Haining, Peter (1994). The Television Sherlock Holmes. Virgin Books. pp. 61–67. ISBN 978-0-86369-793-7.
  4. ^ a b Haining, Peter (1994). The Television Sherlock Holmes. Virgin Books. pp. 64–65. ISBN 0-86369-793-3.
  5. ^ a b Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 187. ISBN 9780857687760.
  6. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. pp. 242–243. ISBN 9780857687760.
  7. ^ a b c Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 242. ISBN 9780857687760.
  8. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 142. ISBN 9780857687760.
  9. ^ Redmond, Christopher (2009). Sherlock Holmes Handbook: Second Edition. Dundurn Press. p. 243. ISBN 9781459718982.
  10. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 249. ISBN 9780857687760.
  11. ^ Redmond, Christopher (2009). Sherlock Holmes Handbook: Second Edition. Dundurn Press. p. 244. ISBN 9781459718982.
  12. ^ a b c d e Barnes, Alan (2002). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. pp. 41–42. ISBN 978-1-903111-04-8.
  13. ^ Barnes, Alan (2002). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. pp. 138–143. ISBN 978-1-903111-04-8.
  14. ^ a b c d e Smith, Daniel (2011). The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide. Castle Books. pp. 79–81. ISBN 9780785827849.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Coniam, Matthew (10 May 2009). "An Interview With Douglas Wilmer". Movietone News. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  16. ^ a b Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 188. ISBN 9780857687760.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 245. ISBN 9780857687760.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Barnes, Alan (2002). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. pp. 178–186. ISBN 978-1-903111-04-8.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 246. ISBN 9780857687760.
  20. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 13. ISBN 9780857687760.
  21. ^ Radio Times, 19 September 1968.
  22. ^ Earnshaw, Tony (2001). An Actor and a Rare One. Scarecrow Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8108-3874-1.
  23. ^ a b c Boström, Mattias (2018). From Holmes to Sherlock. Mysterious Press. p. 349. ISBN 978-0-8021-2789-1.
  24. ^ "Peter Cushing (1919-1994)". Archived from the original on 24 August 2006. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  25. ^ Boström, Mattias (2018). From Holmes to Sherlock. Mysterious Press. p. 350. ISBN 978-0-8021-2789-1.
  26. ^ Coward, Simon; Perry, Christ; Down, Richard, eds. (2011). The Kaleidoscope BBC Television Drama Research Guide, 1936-2011. Kaleidoscope Ltd. p. 2206.
  27. ^ Coward, Simon; Perry, Christ; Down, Richard, eds. (2011). The Kaleidoscope BBC Television Drama Research Guide, 1936-2011. Kaleidoscope Ltd. p. 2210.
  28. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 190. ISBN 9780857687760.
  29. ^ a b Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 250. ISBN 9780857687760.
  30. ^ David Stuart Davies [@DStuartDavies] (13 September 2022). "Tomorrow I'm off to London to join friends and colleagues Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman to provide commentaries for a forthcoming Blu Ray release of the five existing episodes of the BBC Sherlock Holmes series from the sixties. A daunting prospect but exciting..." (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  31. ^ "VRT solves Sherlock Holmes-mystery: Lost BBC-fragments found in our archive".
  32. ^ "Sherlock Holmes on radio and television: the Peter Cushing interview".
  33. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 191. ISBN 9780857687760.
  34. ^ "Sherlock Holmes - The Classic BBC Series Starring Douglas Wilmer : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video". Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  35. ^ "The Sherlock Holmes Collection : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video". Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  36. ^ "Sherlock Holmes News". 21 May 2010. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
  37. ^ "BFI Sherlock Holmes Press Release" (PDF). BFI. 17 February 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2015.