The Brettish Empire



A to Z

by Lisa Oldham

If you're a newcomer to the Brettish empire--or even if you're a longtime "resident"--you may be a trifle confused by some of the lingo:


"Damaged penguin"?

And, just who is "Mr. Binks"?

Jeremy Brett had a very unique way with words and a penchant for making unusual cultural references. So, here's a tour of the Brettish alphabet (for more complete info on Jeremy Brett, please visit my JB FAQ):


aerie - What JB called his Clapham Common penthouse. (Webster's Dictionary defines "aerie" as "a house or stronghold built on a height.")

"animated spider" - One of JB's picturesque nicknames for Sherlock Holmes ("I used to have parts like Byron or Browning, before suddenly being offered this genius, this animated spider, this brilliance."1)

Aren't We All? - JB's final Broadway role was in this 1985 revival of Frederick Lonsdale's 1927 play.


Bambi - Disney fawn to which JB compared himself. ("My dear boy, with directors, I am like Bambi! I just lay down and say, 'Tell me what to do.'"2)

"becomer" - How JB described his acting style--he "became" the character he was playing. ("In other words, you become the person you're playing...if I'm the sponge--you squeeze the liquid of yourself out and draw in the liquid of the creature or the person you're playing."3)

Berkswell - Village in central England where JB was born in 1933.

"bestest friend" - see "Stephens, Robert"

Bipolar disorder - Mental illness which plagued JB most of his life, but which wasn't diagnosed until he suffered a "breakdown" in 1986 after the death of his second wife, Joan Wilson. Also known as "manic depression."

Brett & Co. - Warwickshire tailors who made Jeremy Huggins' first suit. Also fitted young Jeremy with his nom de theatre (he took his stage name "Brett" from the label in the suit).

Brettfan - A fan of Jeremy Brett. Coined by Lisa Oldham in 1994, inspired by "railfan" (railroad enthusiast--I worked with one at the time). 

Burke, David - The first actor to play Dr. Watson opposite JB's Holmes. Left after the first 13 Holmes episodes to spend more time with his family and to work with the Royal Shakespeare Co.


Cadbury- JB was related to this world-famous chocolate-making family through his mother, Elizabeth ("Betty") Edith Cadbury Butler Huggins.

Cardiomyopathy - Heart condition which took JB's life in 1995

Central School of Speech and Drama - London school where JB studied acting

Clapham Common - South London neighborhood where JB lived for the last decade of his life

"The Colonel" - JB's father, Lt. Colonel Henry William "Bill" Huggins

Cox, Michael - British television producer who was the original driving force behind JB's Sherlock Holmes series, and an offscreen friend of JB's.


"Damaged penguin" - Another JB nickname for Sherlock Holmes. His Holmes wore primarily black and white, so JB thought he resembled a penguin.("And of course [Holmes is] such a giant, such a genius, such an--an isolated, damaged penguin..."4)

"Darling" - Actorish greeting which became a JB trademark. Rare is the Brett interview which doesn't contain the word "darling." A 1988 article about JB in the Canadian edition of TV Guide is even titled "It's Elementary, Darling."


Eton - Famous British school where JB was educated


Freddie - "Freddie Eynsford-Hill," the role JB played in the film My Fair Lady. Freddie charmingly wooed Eliza Doolittle (but inexplicably lost her to Henry Higgins).


Granada Television - Filmed JB's Sherlock Holmes series.


Hardwicke, Edward - Actor who took over the role of Dr. Watson after David Burke left the Holmes series. Son of actor Cedric Hardwicke.

Hepburn, Audrey - Cinematic legend with whom JB acted in War and Peace and My Fair Lady.

Huggins, David - British author (The Big Kiss) who is JB's son by Anna Massey

Huggins, Jeremy - JB's real name (full name - Peter Jeremy William Huggins)


ITV - Network which aired JB's Holmes series in Britain


JB - Fan shorthand for "Jeremy Brett"

Jiminy Cricket - Another Disney character JB compared himself to: "Holmes is so still and I'm like Jiminy Cricket."5


Keith, Penelope - British actress who co-starred with JB in TV version of Frederick Lonsdale's On Approval. Also JB's offscreen friend and bridge partner.


Lithium - Medication prescribed for JB's manic depression.


Manchester - City in northern England where Granada Television is located. Also, JB made his professional acting debut at the Library Theatre in Manchester.

Manic depression - See "Bipolar disorder"

Massey, Anna - British actress who was JB's first wife (1958-'62). Daughter of actor Raymond Massey.

Mr. Binks (no relation to Jar Jar) - JB's beloved pet mongrel dog (also known as "'Bonkers' to his friends", according to JB in 1967)6

Motley - The Order of Service for JB's 1995 memorial service contained a cryptic "Message From Jeremy to His Friends": "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you and now on with the Motley, whatever that means." Fans have puzzled over this sentence ever since. Holmes producer Michael Cox thought that opera fan JB surely must have known of the aria On with the Motley from I Pagliacci.7 (The motley is the multi-colored costume worn by clowns and court jesters in plays and operas.) Also, I've learned that "Motley" was the collective name of three British costume designers. Motley designed costumes for scores of UK and US stage plays from1932 through 1976, so it's almost certain JB had heard of them. Perhaps that's what he meant--"On with the 'Motley'"? (On with the show?)


National Theatre (NT) - Britain's official theatre company. JB acted with the NT from 1967-'70. (He could have joined the troupe during its first season in 1963, but ran off to appear in My Fair Lady instead.)

Nicholas and Alexandra (1970) - JB wasn't in this film, but some newspapers listed it in his obituary anyway. Actually, some fans insist JB was in this film (in an uncredited bit part as a soldier), but apparently no one has ever seen him in it.


"Old Etonian" - Phrase which often preceded JB's name in British newspaper articles. ("Old Etonian Brett's life was dogged by bouts of depression."8)

"The Old Vic" (derived from the Victoria Tavern) - JB acted with this renowned British repertory company during its 1956-'57 season.

Olivier, Laurence - JB's great acting "god," whom he acted for and with at the NT.

Orlando - Role JB played in the NT's provocative all-male version of As You Like It (1967). He was one of the few actors in the play who actually portrayed a man (many--including Anthony Hopkins--portrayed women).


Pritchard, Linda - Companion who cared for JB during his final illness.


Quayle, Anthony - British actor who warned JB not to get too wrapped up in the character of Sherlock Holmes: "Take the cap off and hang it on the peg when you get home."9


"Roland Rat" - What JB called Edward Hardwicke's toupee (name borrowed from British children's TV character)

Roland Rat Superstar!


St. Martin in the Fields - Landmark church in Trafalgar Square where JB's memorial service was held on November 29, 1995.

"St. Peter" - JB's nickname for Peter Spina, the head of Mobil (who held the purse strings for Mystery!)

Savoy - Famous London hotel where JB wanted to meet Sherlock Holmes for tea. ("In the past, I have arranged to meet [Holmes] at the Savoy for tea, but neither of us turned up."10)

"SH" - Another JB nickname for Sherlock Holmes

Snoopy - JB jokingly claimed this cartoon beagle inspired his portrayal of Dr. Watson in the stage play The Crucifer of Blood.11 (He also cited Winnie the Pooh as an inspiration!)

Stephens, Robert - Late Shakespearean actor whom JB considered his "bestest friend."

Svengali - Little-known 1955 British movie in which JB made his feature film debut (most sources erroneously cite War and Peace as JB's debut film).


Tea Time - Cafe in Clapham Common frequented by JB.


"Upward and Onward!" - JB's personal motto12


"Valore et Virtute" ("Valor and Virtue") - The Huggins family motto.13


Wilson, Joan (a.k.a. "Joanie") - American public television producer who was JB's beloved wife from1977 until her untimely death from cancer in 1985. Produced Masterpiece Theatre and created Mystery! for PBS.


Xavier - Out-of-this-world villain played by JB in an episode of the kiddie sci-fi show Galactica 1980


"You-Know-Who" -Yet another JB nickname for Sherlock Holmes


Zat's all folks! :-)

Dancing letters courtesy of Arg! Cartoon Animation Studio

1"The Andrew Duncan Interview: Jeremy Brett." Radio Times, 19-25 March, 1994
2Bending the Willow, pg. 131, David Stuart Davies, Calabash Press, 1996
3National Public Radio interview, November 1991
4"And Here There Are Genuine Tears." Daniel Stashower, The Armchair Detective, Winter 1996
5The Television Sherlock Holmes, pg. 164, Peter Haining, Virgin Books, 1994 (3rd revised edition)
6"Lucky Penny Talks to Jeremy 'D'Artagnan' Brett." Lucky Penny, Diana - The Paper for Girls Who Love Good Stories, Issue 214, 25 March 1967.

7"And now...on with the Motley!" Michael Cox, The Sherlock Holmes Gazette, Issue 14, 1996
8"Holmes Star Jeremy Brett Dies From Heart Attack." Rob Scully, The Press Association Ltd., 13 Sept. 1995  
9"Holmes at Last." Tim Blanks, Canadian TV supplement (publication title/date unknown)
10Forward, by Jeremy Brett. The Television Sherlock Holmes, Peter Haining, Virgin Books, 1994 (3rd. rev. ed.)
11The Television Sherlock Holmes, pg. 146, Peter Haining, Virgin Books, 1994 (3rd. rev. ed.)
12"Upward and Onward!" Michael Cox, The Sherlock Holmes Gazette, Issue 13, 1995
13 Burke's Landed Gentry

Originally published: June 13, 1999.
Revised:  April 28, 2007

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"The Brettish Empire"/"TBE" Copyright Lisa L. Oldham.