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Friday, June 22, 2012

The Sound of Sherlock

When I recently drove from Cincinnati to Laurel, MD, for A Scintillation of Scions V and back, my wife Ann was unable to accompany me. But I had good company nonetheless: In both directions I was listening to Sherlock Holmes radio plays from the Golden Age of radio.

First up were 20 episodes of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in "The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" from the mid-1940s, the same period during which they were making the famous films. Unlike the movies, the radio plays -- written by Denis Green and Anthony Boucher -- were true to the Victorian time period of the original tales.

Many Sherlockians are familiar with this series, and fondly remember Nigel Bruce hawking Petri wine while in character as Dr. Watson.

A great feature of the tapes -- yes, cassette tapes! -- that I listened to was the informative introductions that preceded each episode. In many cases they were the memories of individuals who had worked on the program or their spouses.

My favorite cassette had "A Scandal in Bohemia" on one side and very clever sequel, "The Second Generation," on the other. They were broadcast on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17, 1945. In the sequel, set 20 years later while Holmes is in retirement, Irene Adler's daughter proves that art in the blood is liable to take the strangest form as she turns out to also be a worthy adversary to Sherlock Holmes.

I also listened to a number of episodes from 1948 with John Stanley as Holmes and Alfred Shirley as Dr. Watson. They were all written by the legendary Edith Meiser, who was involved with Holmes on the radio for 20 years. A number of these were adaptation of canonical stories, and well done indeed. In fact, the conclusion to "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" was an improvement over the original.

Fortunately, almost 22 hours in the car didn't exhaust my stash of Holmes radio plays. I'm almost looking forward to my next solo car trip.


  1. Anthony Boucher wrote a number of the SH radio programs. I got to hear many of them when I was researching the biography. Boucher also wrote for the EQ radio show, and I'll get to hear more since I'm writing about Ellery Queen next!

  2. I love those old broadcasts and like you, they kept me awake on many a long drive. Funny thing is that I mentioned the voice of Harry Bartell in my review of a Matthew Elliott script for Jim French Productions, and I got back an email mentioning the last time Mr. Bartell worked on The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for the production company. (Mr. Bartell was the announcer who chatted with Nigel Bruce)