Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Sound of a Canonical Christmas

Perhaps the most dramatized of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories is the one we read at this time of the year, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” My wife and I recently listened to four radio versions spanning almost 50 years.  

All four used some or all of the great lines we remember from this story – “My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.” “No, no; the real name. It is always awkward doing business with an alias.” “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies.” “It is just possible that I am saving a soul” (or a variation).  

Apart from that, the four offered markedly different interpretations of the same tale. Here is a quick survey in chronological order: 

1948, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The story opens with a description of a snowy, late Victorian Christmas morning, then takes us to the contretemps involving Henry Baker on Goodge Street. Baker Street comes later. John Stanley sounds amazingly like the man he replaced in this series, Basil Rathbone, but is a much more Grinch-like Holmes than the Canon would support. Alfred Shirley is a less buffoonish Watson than Nigel Bruce. All in all, a good effort. 

1954, BBC and ABC. This British-American production featured the great Sir John Gielgud as Holmes and Sir Ralph Richardson as Watson. It starts on Christmas Eve with scene-setting description and moves quickly to Holmes making brilliant deductions from Henry Baker’s hat. Somewhat surprisingly, the scene on Goodge Street is related, not dramatized. Watson makes punch with lemon and nutmeg, a nice domestic touch. The story ends with Holmes and Watson toasting the Queen at the stroke midnight – Christmas day. 

1977, CBS Radio Mystery Theater. After a promising start – it actually begins on the second morning after Christmas, as does the story – this turns out to be the least satisfactory of the four productions. Watson, who shall remain nameless, goes the Nigel Bruce route. Henry Baker is renamed Henry Smith. Inspector Lestrade (not in the Canonical story) shows up at Baker Street to arrest Holmes for receiving stolen property – the carbuncle. This seems to be just a way to build suspense before the commercial. A new character called “The Smasher” is introduced, apparently to help stretch the program to 45 minutes. (The first two were 30 minutes.) 

1991, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This episode from the classic Clive Merrison-Michael Williams series on the BBC was the best of the four, in our opinion. Scriptwriter Bert Coules shows the right way to expand this tale to 45 audio minutes. He opens up the narrative without significantly changing the plot. We hear John Horner talking with his wife just before Inspector Bradstreet arrests him, for example. The program, which is set on Christmas Eve, ends with Watson inviting himself to a midnight supper at Baker Street. He apologizes for intruding, but he’s really doing it for Holmes. The awkwardness between the two men is perfect. The scene is tender, as my wife said, “without being cloying.” 

The first three programs are all available free at www.archive.org. click on the Old Time Radio logo. You can guy the Merrison-Williams version at Amazon USA or Amazon UK 


  1. Some others I also have in my collection of “The Blue Carbuncle” are versions by Carlton Hobbs and Norman Shelley (as Holmes and Watson, 1961), Barry Foster and David Buck (1978), Robert Hardy and Nigel Stock (1970), and Roy Marsden and John Moffett (1987)

    Another great episode to listen to this time of year is “The Night Before Christmas” (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, 12-24-45). I really wish that I could track down the lost (I assume) Rathbone/Bruce version of “The Blue Carbuncle” (1944). (For that matter, I’d really like to find a lot of other Rathbone/Bruce episodes, including their multi-part “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, of which only a fragment remains.)

    A really great place to clean up on most of the old Holmes radio shows is at www.theradiolady.com She has nearly 500 Holmes episodes as MP3 files, all contained on 6 CD’s, each priced at only $6 apiece plus shipping, and there are thousands of other OTR episodes as well. It’s where I filled in a huge chunk of my Holmes radio collection.

  2. Thanks for the wonderful information!