The Brettish Empire


JBTV - Part I

JB in "Deceptions" (original press kit slide)

by Lisa Oldham

Hello Everyone,

This section begins a series on Jeremy Brett's television career. But, where to begin?! JB appeared in so many television productions, acting in dramas, musicals, comedies--everything but Westerns! (He once said he wanted to do the latter, but casting directors thought his accent was all wrong.) :->

When I first tackled Jeremy's TV career in TBE in 1997, I divided his performances into categories. These categories include suspense, "Huh?," made-for-TV movies/miniseries, "masterpieces" (the really good stuff, like Rebecca), and, of course, Sherlock Holmes.

Part of the reason I took this approach is because I hadn't yet seen many of JB's non-Sherlock Holmes TV performances, and there wasn't a whole lot of info available about most of them at the time. Over the years, however, more and more of Jeremy's performances have been released on DVD and excerpted on YouTube. Also, I've found more in-depth research material such as vintage Radio Times. Plus, sites such as the Internet Movie Database and the British Film Institute have created comprehensive Brett filmographies. So, I'll keep adding more info about Jeremy's TV performances as time goes by. 

And, you, the reader, can help, too. If you've seen any of JB's TV roles not mentioned here (particularly his early British appearances), please feel free to write a brief review and send it in for possible inclusion in a future "TBE." Thanks!


THE SECRET OF ONE DEADLY FERRYMAN WHO LOST HIS STRADIVARIUS...

...Or, "Some TV Suspense Films of Jeremy Brett"

Actually, two of these are films, and two are series episodes. Jeremy appeared in other tingly TV shows such as two versions of The Picture of Dorian Gray and an episode of the British series Supernatural as "Mr. Nightingale" (not to be confused with his later role as Florence's pop).

Mystery and Imagination - "The Lost Stradivarius" 
January 29, 1966 (Series Episode)

JB fiddles around

Long before he fiddled around as Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett played a violinist in the premiere episode of Mystery and Imagination, a hair-raising British series based on ghost stories from the late 19th century.

Holmes would have felt right at home in the series' gloomy Victorian setting. However, JB plays an Oxford undergrad named "Sir John Maltravers." As one might guess from the episode title, Maltravers finds a long-lost Stradivarius (behind the secret panel of his bookcase, no less!) When Maltravers uses the violin to play music written on an old manuscript, the music--and the malevolent spirit of the violin's former owner--begins to possess him. He flees to Italy, hoping to escape from his madness, but finds death instead. (Not exactly The Sound of Music...)

Unfortunately, this is one of those Brett guest appearances that we may never see. Reportedly, Mystery and Imagination hasn't been repeated since its original airing in the mid-1960's. The tapes may have been erased and re-used, which was a frighteningly common occurrence in '60's British TV. In fact, according to the British website Lost TV Shows.com, nearly every episode of Mystery and Imagination (including this one) is now considered missing. (Sadly, "Lost TV Shows" reports that the 1961 Armchair Theatre version of The Picture of Dorian Gray starring JB in the title role is missing as well, along with many of his other early British TV appearances.)

If Mystery and Imagination ever does materialize, be sure to heed the warning intoned at the beginning of each episode: "If there is anyone in the room who is of nervous disposition, please leave the room." (No, wait...if you did that, you'd miss JB!)

TRIVIA: British actress Patricia Garwood portrayed Maltravers' sister in The Lost Stradivarius. Ms. Garwood is married to writer Jeremy Paul, author of several Granada Sherlock Holmes scripts and the play The Secret of Sherlock Holmes. She also appeared with Jeremy B. in a television production of Beauty and the Beast. 

One Deadly Owner - 1973 (Film)

This film was first presented as an episode of the British TV series Thriller. It first aired in the US on November 6, 1973, on ABC TV's late night (11:30 pm - 1:00 am ET) Wide World of Entertainment series and often ran on local US television in the 1980's.

In One Deadly Owner, Jeremy plays fashion photographer (and '70's fashion victim) Peter Tower. Peter is seeing a model (played by a very young, pre-Knots Landing Donna Mills) whose dream is to own a Rolls-Royce. She buys one, but her dream becomes a nightmare when the car starts steering itself and replaying old news on the radio. Needless to say, it takes more than a tune-up to solve this mystery, which, as it turns out, should really be called One Deadly Passenger.

As "possessed vehicle" plots go, One Deadly Owner isn't as scary as Christine, but it's better than My Mother the Car.

Haunted - "The Ferryman" - 1974 (Series Episode)

You're probably wondering about that title. Shouldn't it be the "The Haunted Ferryman"?

Actually, Haunted was a spooky British series which aired in the late '60's. The show was revived with a couple of episodes in the mid-'70's, one of which was called "The Ferryman." Hence, the title Haunted: The Ferryman.

Jeremy plays Sheridan Owen, a rather prickly young author who's written a best-selling novel about a murderous ferryman wreaking havoc at an inn. Owen insists the book is fictional, but when his car breaks down in a storm, he and his wife find refuge at a quaint inn where everything eerily mirrors his novel. (Start Twilight Zone theme here.)

"The Ferryman" is actually pretty good. There are some chilling moments, such as when Owen faces off against the ferryman and nearly loses his life. However, the greatest suspense in "The Ferryman" occurs during what is fondly known as "the towel scene," where JB walks around in nothing but a Royal Velvet (you keep wondering if it's going to stay on...) ;->

Supernatural - "Mr. Nightingale" 1977 (Series Episode)

The plots of the British horror series Supernatural revolved around "The Club of the Damned," which sounds like a diabolical version of The Gong Show. If a prospective member frightened the group with a true terror tale, they got to join. If their tale failed to raise goosebumps, they got the hook--literally. JB played wizened old "Mr. Nightingale," whose membership (and life) was rejected because his story wasn't scary enough.

According to reviews of Supernatural, the series itself was rather ho-hum, and it hasn't been repeated since its original airing in the late 1970's. 

The Secret of Seagull Island (a.k.a. L'Isola Del Gabbiano) - 1981 (TV miniseries later re-edited into film)

Someone is mutilating and murdering blind women--and if you've seen Psycho (or virtually any other Hitchcock film), you'll probably figure out who it is pretty quick.

Which is not to suggest that this mediocre film is in any way, shape or form connected to Hitchcock. It's just a low-budget mishmash of various horror clichés--"the woman in jeopardy," "the 'normal' psychopath," "the mysterious island," etc., with a dash of The Phantom of the Opera thrown in for good measure.

Secret has some surprises, though, such as a spunky heroine who's not the usual helpless victim. And, there's the "bikini scene," where JB walks around in nothing but a skimpy bathing suit. (Worth the price of admission!) ;->

Jeremy gives a good performance as a tormented recluse--too bad it couldn't have been in a better film.

TRIVIA (10/28/2000):  I've heard that The Secret of Seagull Island (a.k.a. L'Isola Del Gabbiano) was originally shown as a five-part miniseries on Italian TV. If so, that means it was drastically edited for video release (hmm, wonder if the complete version is any better?)  ;->

MORE TRIVIA (2/5/2004): According to a 1982 article in the Canadian TV magazine Starweek, The Secret of Seagull Island was a "series" that became a "cult hit" on Home Box Office (HBO). Hmmm...long before The Sopranos and Sex and the City, there was Seagull with JB! :-> And, at the time, JB was reportedly considering doing a sequel to the film, which, unfortunately, was never made. 

EVEN MORE TRIVIA THAT'S NOT SO TRIVIAL (1/6/2013, updated 7/27/13) - IT'S TRUE: The Secret of Seagull Island was originally a miniseries, and the COMPLETE, nearly four-hour version was on YouTube under its Italian title L'Isola Del Gabbiano. It has since been removed. (Frankly, this is why I've become a bit reluctant to link to YouTube videos on TBE: they have a tendency to suddenly disappear.)


HUH?

(or, "Yes, That Really Is Jeremy Brett")

Regarding his TV career, JB once said that he "lunged from one guest shot to another." Actually, he lunged into some pretty bizarre guest shots. Jeremy was philosophical about guest-starring, though. He told a Canadian interviewer that he was the 19th actor to read for the part he played in The Incredible Hulk, and he was glad to get it. JB felt acting was relative--he claimed to be as excited about doing the Hulk as he was doing Hamlet.

The Champions - "A Desert Journey" - 1969

Okay, there are these three people, see? And they work for this super-secret agency called "Nemesis." Anyway, their plane crashes in Tibet, and they're rescued by a tribe who gives them great physical strength and mystical powers (e.g., they can keep in touch through telepathy-- much cheaper than long-distance). Thus rejuvenated, the terrific trio goes about keeping the world safe for democracy.

One of their assignments is to restore the exiled Bey of El-Hammi to power in his desert country. Just one hitch: The Bey doesn't want to go. (He's too busy throwing wild parties.) So, they nudge him a little by knocking him out and forcibly flying him back home. (I hope the UN doesn't hear about this.)

Guess who plays the reluctant ruler? Yep, Berkswell boy Jeremy Brett wears tan makeup and affects a slight Middle Eastern accent to portray the Bey.

"A Desert Journey" is wildly improbable, especially when one considers that JB was acting with the National Theatre at the time he made this guest shot. It's great fun, though. "Jeremy of Arabia" looks terrific, and soap fans will instantly recognize Stuart Damon from General Hospital as one of the Champions. (The theme music is catchy, too.)

TRIVIA: It was announced in November 2007 that The Champions would be adapted into a feature film produced by Tom Cruise's production company, but no such film has been made.

The Protectors  - "...With a Little Help From My Friends" - 1973

The Protectors is like The Champions in-so-much as three people go around battling evil, etc., except The Protectors don't have superpowers.

I haven't seen this episode, but complete details about it can be found by clicking on the episode title above.

Young Dan'l Boone - "The Trail Blazer" 1977

JB, up to no good

This here show's 'bout young Dan'l Boone, who had famous kinfolk named Pat and Richard.

Young Dan'l Boone aimed for authenticity. This CBS series was filmed on location in Tennessee. (An authentic log cabin used in the series can be seen here--scroll down to the "Dan'l Boone Cabin" topic). 

A hunky young actor named Rick Moses was cast in the title role, reportedly because he resembled the real Boone.

Unfortunately, not even Moses could lead Young Dan'l Boone out of the Nielsen wilderness. It was massacred in the ratings by NBC's Little House on the Prairie and cancelled after just four airings. 

JB guest-starred in the premiere episode, "The Trail Blazer." I vaguely recall watching YDB, but I didn't even know what a Jeremy Brett was back then, so I may have seen the episode he was in--I don't remember. (Anyway, I probably turned back to Little House on the Prairie during the first commercial break.) However, I've since learned that JB played "Langford", a British spy working for the French who tries to kill young Dan'l as he attempts to blaze a trail to the Cumberland Gap.

Incidentally, Jeremy had doubts about YDB from the start. He later told an interviewer that the series' main selling point was its rustic setting: "They sold it on the scenery." 

A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times (9/12/77) was also dubious about the series:

"Young Dan'l Boone...features some lovely and authentic settings, but in other respects is bland and uninteresting. The acting is lackluster, and David P. Harmon's script, while creating an unusual  adversary relationship between two villains bent on killing Boone (guest stars Len Birman and Jeremy Brett), loses credibility early on by failing to explain why one of the would-be assassins passes up an easy opportunity to perform the deed. Of course, if he had, CBS would have been left without a series. But no one would have been worse off for that. Young Dan'l Boone is diversionary, and nothing more."

JB with fellow baddie Len Birman in "Young Dan'l Boone" 1977

Thus, unloved by critics and ignored by viewers, Young Dan'l Boone met an untimely end, with no hope of immortality via syndicated reruns (too few episodes were made). Today, it is nearly forgotten, except by Brettfans who would give their eye teeth to see "The Trail Blazer"...

...BUT: I didn't have to give any teeth when I saw "The Trail Blazer"--and here's my review--complete with video! :)

TRIVIA: The theme song to Young Dan'l Boone was recorded by The Mike Curb Congregation.

MORE TRIVIA: Interestingly, young Dan'l Boone was never called that until this show came along, according to an online article about the real Boone: "Another show in the late 1970s called Young Dan’l Boone lasted only four episodes but provided the first widespread use of the colloquial name 'Dan’l.' Boone was never referred to as 'Dan’l' until 20th Century folksy nostalgia led to the nickname."

Original publicity still from Young Dan'l Boone - 1977
A lighter moment from Young Dan'l Boone, with Rick Moses, Ji-Tu Cumbuka & JB

The Incredible Hulk - "Of Guilt, Models and Murder" 1978

Professor David Banner is zapped with radiation, causing him to morph into this big green guy (known as "the Hulk") whenever he gets upset. Banner hits the road in search of a cure (and presumably clothes--his garments are torn to shreds whenever he becomes the Hulk). Banner helps people he meets along the way and tries to stay one step ahead of a reporter obsessed with catching the Hulk.

In "Of Guilt, Models and Murder," David Banner hears a woman screaming from a mansion. He runs to help her, but is attacked by guard dogs. GRRR! He becomes the Hulk and storms into the mansion. He "de-Hulks" to find himself beside the now-dead woman. He concludes he must have killed her when he was the Hulk.

The next day, Banner sees a televised news conference held by suave cosmetics mogul James Joslyn (JB). The dead woman was Joslyn's girlfriend. Joslyn blames her death on a hulking green monster. David thinks Joslyn's story doesn't quite add up, though, and sets out to discover what really happened.

Banner becomes Joslyn's valet. He learns the true monster is Joslyn's scheming mistress, played by a semi-blonde Loni Anderson. Banner and the Hulk foil the villains, and he continues on his quest for a cure.

This is better than it sounds. Bill Bixby lends his usual sensitivity to the role of David Banner, and JB plays his usual charming bad guy.

TRIVIA: Jeremy explained in a 1984 British magazine interview how he came to get his role in The Incredible Hulk: "They needed somebody to play a guy with a deep voice who was in cosmetics in Chicago. I put on my blazer and went along with 18 others to read. After the audition they said, 'Welcome to the Colonies'. I had the part and was suddenly afloat in Hollywood." 

MORE TRIVIA: Jeremy told another  interviewer that Lou Ferrigno (the Hulk) injured his foot during this episode and his stand-in did some of the Hulk stunts. JB said he saw two Hulks running around and thought he was seeing double!

EVEN MORE TRIVIA: The working title of this episode was "The Playboy Murder". 

EVEN MORE TRIVIA: Jeremy reportedly went on unsuccessful "cattle call" auditions for television shows such as M*A*S*H and Starsky and Hutch before he finally landed his role as James Joslyn in Hulk

Some episodes of The Incredible Hulk (including Of Guilt, Models and Murder) are also available on home video/DVD--click here for more info. 

View "Of Guilt, Models and Murder" here!

 

Hart to Hart - "Death in the Slow Lane" - 10/06/79

Jennifer and Jonathan Hart are a rich, handsome couple with a cute dog and a wisecracking chauffeur. But, don't get too close to this seemingly harmless pair --someone always seems to end up dead when they're around.

The unlucky stiff in this outlandish episode is the antique auto dealer in London who sells Jonathan a flivver as a surprise for Jennifer's birthday. Jonathan outbids another couple for the car and they're so miffed, they shoot the dealer after Jonathan leaves.

Back in the States, Jennifer is less-than-thrilled with her "new" car. The couple who tried to buy the car in London attempt to buy it from her. She's keen to get rid of the clunker, but Jonathan dissuades her from selling.

After unsuccessfully attempting to steal the car, the couple pesters the Harts at an old-time auto rally. The woman sweet-talks Jonathan, and the man (played by JB, if you haven't guessed already) sweet-talks Jennifer. Everyone at the rally is dressed in antique finery, and Jeremy actually looks a bit like Freddie from My Fair Lady. You half expect him to start singing On the Street Where You Live. (Maybe if he had, Jennifer would have let him have the car.)

But, Jennifer doesn't budge, and the bad couple finally just takes the car. At last, we learn why they want it so desperately. (Are you ready for this?) They're really spies, and they want to disassemble the car because:  it can be reassembled into a communications device! (No, I'm not making this up!)

Needless to say, the Harts thwart the spies' nefarious plans and everything ends up just peachy-keen.

UPDATE! (12/04/05): The complete first season of Hart to Hart (including JB's episode) is now available in a 6-DVD set. Check it out on Amazon.

TRIVIA: In the script for Death in the Slow Lane, the character JB plays and his female cohort are described as follows: "They are both in their mid-thirties, elegantly dressed. The woman is strikingly beautiful; her name is Louisa Clement. The man is well-built, almost athletic in appearance. His name is Mason Parks." (Jeremy was actually 46 at the time, but he was still built pretty well. ;->)

MORE (NOT SO TRIVIAL) TRIVIA: Jeremy would work with Stefanie Powers again six years later in Deceptions (which see). Jeremy and Stefanie were good friends off-screen. She wrote a tribute that was read by actress Judy Parfitt at Jeremy's memorial service in 1995. 

Ms. Powers also warmly remembered Jeremy as part of a tribute in Scarlet Street

"I am happy to be counted as one of Jeremy's friends...for indeed I have loved him, too! He was a prince...sometimes a princess, but always among the crowned heads of theater and film! Among his sterling performances was one of his best roles...that of friend...he was my cheerleader and I miss him more than I can say.

"Goodnight...and goodbye my prince!"

Galactica: 1980 - "Spaceball" - 1980

What's the worst TV series?

Everyone has their own opinion, but to my mind, if Galactica: 1980 isn't the worst TV series ever, then it comes mighty close. And, "Spaceball" is probably the worst episode of the series. (I don't know for sure; I couldn't bear to watch every episode.)

Galactica: 1980 began in 1978 as Battlestar Galactica, an expensive attempt to bring Star Wars-style sci-fi to television. BG told the epic tale of a "rag-tag" race of space-refugees battling an evil empire while searching for "a shining planet called 'Earth'."

BG had lots of zoomy space action, but it was still cancelled. The fans wanted Galactica back; the ABC network wanted a "family" show to run in its early Sunday evening time slot. So, in an attempt to make everyone happy, the series was reconstituted to focus on a band of Galactican children who'd been sent to Earth for safekeeping. (One suspects it was also cheaper to set the series on Earth than to keep building all those costly starship models.) 

The ploy didn't work: Battlestar Galactica fans loathed Galactica:1980, and the show was swiftly cancelled--again. (Of course, having the CBS warhorse 60 Minutes scheduled in the same 7:00 pm time slot didn't help, either. ABC could have presented World War III and it would have been swiftly cancelled, as well. ;->) 

Anyway, Galactica: 1980 is sort of like "The Sound of Music Meets E.T." The kids have superpowers, so they're disguised as a touring scout troop to keep the authorities from getting nosey. Of course, the authorities get nosey anyway--it's hard not to notice when an urchin hurls a baseball into the next county. In addition to dodging government agents, the tots must also elude villains beaming down from outer space.

One such villain is Xavier, played by JB. Xavier looks fantastic in his flight suit. But, since he's actually impersonating an innocent Galactican officer (Lt. Nash) and he speaks through clenched teeth in an odd, Bela Lugosi-like accent, you know he's up to no good. Indeed, he threatens to kill the kiddies if the Galactican elders don't give in to his demands. First, though, the bambinos must play a game of baseball to save an orphans' camp. (It's a long story...)

Xavier is foiled, of course, but then he escapes, or gets vaporized, or something--by that time, my eyes had glazed over and my brain had grown numb so I don't rightly remember...um...er... what was I talking about?

Oh, yes--Galactica: 1980. Did I mention this is probably the only time you'll ever see Jeremy Brett fire a laser gun?

Anyway, the complete Galactica: 1980 series Region 1 DVD is now available at Amazon.com

The Love Boat - "Ace's Valet" - 1984

Yes, Virginia, JB really did appear on The Luuuv Boat (as the late ABC announcer Ernie Anderson pronounced it in the promos).

The Love Boat was like an hour-long cruise line commercial with a plot. Actually, three plots. Big-name guest stars (running the gamut from Charo to Andy Warhol) portrayed cruise passengers, and it was such a big ship there was room for three different story lines per episode. The action shifted between each plot until everything was resolved at the end of the episode, which was also the end of the cruise. And, naturally, each plot dealt with luuuv.

Jeremy's Love Boat story line is called "Ace's Valet." JB plays "Ernest Finley," a rather Holmes-like valet assigned to serve his employer's grown son, "Ace." Finley treats Ace like a child, insisting that he drink his milk and keep his cabin tidy. Ace is too old for a nanny and chafes under Finley's constant (but well-meaning) supervision. To Ace's great relief, Finley proposes to a woman from another story line and quits his valet job.

Although best known as a dramatic actor, Jeremy Brett demonstrated a flair for comedy. It's always fun to see his lighter side, even in a trifle like The Love Boat.


OF TV-MOVIES AND MINI-SERIES

An Act of Reprisal - 1965 (Film)

This is a forgotten treasure that's worth seeing, if you can find it.

Jeremy plays "Harvey Freeman," an ineffectual British official stationed in politically tense Cyprus. Freeman escapes the growing unrest by tooling around in his Jaguar and sailing.

Freeman is forced into action when a riot occurs. He has a teen-age boy arrested. Then, Freeman is kidnapped by guerrillas, one of whom is the sister of the jailed youth.

Freeman's captors humiliate him, calling him "Freemiss" and using him as a beast of burden. Slowly but surely, the woman guerrilla begins to feel sorry for Freeman. Inevitably, they fall in love.

But, the couple comes from opposing worlds, and their love can't save them from the hatred of others.

Jeremy Brett gives a fine performance, skillfully tracing the development of the passive, shallow Freeman into a courageous, caring human being.

Although An Act of Reprisal seems to have vanished from today's airwaves, it was a fixture on local television during the 1970's. A perusal of vintage TV schedules from various US cities reveals such capsule plot descriptions as "A Greek Cypriot falls in love with a British officer in this variation on Romeo And Juliet" and "Personal lives are torn apart by ethnic hates during The Greek-Cypriot Civil War."

And, it was screened by the AFI/USA Independent Showcase in Los Angeles in 1991. Reviewer Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times described An Act of Reprisal as "a shelved film, unseen for more than 25 years...But as a 26-year-old movie that had virtually no release beyond some TV syndication, there's something weirdly impressive about it."

Wilmington continued, "The film was directed by Robert Tronson, who is little known except for his British documentary work; the producer, Wilbur Stark, was then a successful TV packager; writer John Vlahos had won an Emmy for The Defenders...

"An Act of Reprisal may be obvious, but it's never boring. It has potentially provocative themes, lively acting and perhaps most impressively, evocative black-and-white landscape cinematography by Basil Meros. In this conflict, which pits British against Greek, and Greek against Turk, a sensitive British commissioner (Jeremy Brett), kidnapped by Greek partisans, falls in love with one of his captors: Eleni (Ina Balin), the sister of a boy he's had imprisoned for a recent bombing.

"It's one of those movies in which every character, action, conversation or bit of landscape is symbolic. Everyone or everything exists to expose some crucial political or moral attitude.

"The star-crossed couple's progress from city to mountains and back to the city, pursued by British police, turns into a compressed socio-historical pilgrimage involving a fiery partisan leader, brawling guerrillas, a rebel Greek priest (Yanni Voglis), Eleni's madly jealous lover and a chattering Turkish wayfarer (George Moutsios), a comical fellow who acts as if he has eyes for the priest.

"None of the filmmakers won any recognition for An Act of Reprisal, though, on the basis of this assignment, director Tronson had at least as much talent for this kind of thing as Mark Robson or [Stanley] Kramer himself.

"What makes the movie interesting now is that it evokes the early '60s, with hints of a lot of sources: Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Graham Greene's political thrillers and the Playhouse 90 topical dramas. (Writer Vlahos worked twice for Playhouse 90.)"

Wilmington concluded, "The film may not deserve too much praise, but it certainly didn't merit eclipse. Though calling it an interesting rediscovery may seem like damnation with faint praise, it's true."

An Act of Reprisal can be found on YouTube, but as I said above, I'm a bit reluctant to post YT videos here, as they tend to vanish without warning. A search of the title on YT should lead you to this long lost gem. :)

Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill - 1974 (Miniseries)

JB & Lee Remick in 'Jennie' (or is that 'Jen-KNEE'? ;->) 

"Jennie" (played by Lee Remick) is Jennie Jerome, the American socialite who married British statesman Randolph Churchill and became the mother of future prime minister Winston Churchill.

As Randolph Churchill grew increasingly ill with syphilis, Jennie turned to Count Karel (Charles) Kinsky (JB), a dashing Austrian nobleman and diplomat. Count Kinsky had become a hero in British society by being the first amateur rider to win the famous Grand National steeplechase. Although Jennie was emotionally dependent on Kinsky and he was practically a substitute father to her sons, she remained loyal to Randolph.

Kinsky waited in vain for Jennie's hand, and reluctantly married an Austrian countess two weeks before Randolph Churchill died. Count Kinsky himself died in 1919, shell-shocked and broken after fighting on the Russian front during World War I.  

Jeremy Brett, excellent as always as the Count, appears in the early episodes of this British miniseries. 

Lee Remick's bravura portrayal of Jennie earned her a BAFTA in 1975 for "Best TV Actress in a Drama." And, only weeks before her untimely death from cancer in 1991, she received the Blenheim Award from the International Churchill Societies.

TRIVIA: JB isn't the only future sleuth in Jennie. Warren Clarke (Winston Churchill) went on to co-star in Dalziel and Pascoe.

Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill was released on DVD in North America on June 29, 2010. More info here, a review (w/JB pic) here and a video preview here

Madame X - 1981 (Film)

I finally got to see this film. I was expecting a slick soap opera a la Deceptions (see below), with Jeremy Brett portraying a charming villain.

Surprise! This version of Madame X is tastefully done and features a moving performance by Tuesday Weld in the title role. And Jeremy plays a good guy!

Ms. Weld's character, Holly Richardson, starts out as the luminous young wife of a rising politician. Unfortunately, she gets entangled in a compromising situation that leads to the accidental death of a man with whom she had a brief fling. Her haughty mother-in-law (who has never liked her) fears a scandal will jeopardize her son's political career and arranges for the distraught Holly to vanish, so the sordid incident won't become public and bring ruin to her, her husband and their young daughter.

Holly knows her mother-in-law means business, and she reluctantly agrees to be exiled under an assumed name in Europe for the rest of her life, permanently separated from her husband and child (who know nothing of the incident and think she perished in a sailing mishap). 

The young woman sadly wanders the globe, ending up in Dublin, Ireland, where she attempts suicide. Her life is saved by Terrence Keith (JB) a kindly, widowed cardiologist--who cooks! Dr. Keith ends up falling in love with his mysterious patient, whom he knows as Barbara. He senses she has a tragic past, but he doesn't care, and begs her to marry him. The good doctor is baffled and saddened when she refuses his proposal. 

Holly then moves on, drifting from country to country and from lover to lover, all the while sinking deeper and deeper into alcoholism.

Finally, another scandalous event unexpectedly reunites Holly with her family. But, she refuses to divulge her true identity to them, since her husband is now a presidential candidate and her daughter a promising lawyer. They know her only as: "Madame X". 

Yes, Madame X is a tearjerker, but it's well-acted and worth watching. Although Jeremy appears only briefly, he graces his few scenes with tenderness and humor. He has a mustache, which makes him look like sort of a cheerier version of "Max DeWinter" from Rebecca

Dr. Keith also diagnoses Holly/Barbara with a damaged mitral valve and explains to her how the valve works. Jeremy's own heart valves were damaged by rheumatic fever, which makes this scene extra poignant.  

And, for those who think Jeremy "couldn't" sing--well, just wait until you hear him croon his special version of  "Molly Malone". :-> 

Another plus is that all of Jeremy's scenes are grouped together...no fast-forwarding all over the film to find them. 

Number 10 - "Bloodline" (video title: The Secret Lives of the Prime Ministers - "Pitt: The Younger Girl Scandal") - Limited Series Episode - 1983

JB as William Pitt the Younger, 1983

JB made a Pitt stop in this episode of the six-part British series Number 10, which dramatized the public and private lives of various prime ministers, all of whom lived at Number 10 Downing Street (which is still the PM's residence in London). 

Jeremy portrayed William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), the Tory PM whose father (also named William Pitt) had earlier served as prime minister. Young Pitt was in fact England's youngest PM (taking office at age 24) and introduced Britain's first income tax, which helped make up for lost revenues caused by declining trade during the war with France. 

In Bloodline, Pitt the Younger loses his heart to Eleanor Eden, a lovely lass nearly 20 years his junior. 

Although William is passionately devoted to Eleanor, he believes marriage is out of the question. Not only is the beleaguered PM in the midst of a national crisis, he's also in fragile health and deeply in debt. 

The PM's advisors fear a scandal will erupt, since tongues are already wagging about Eleanor's frequent (and often unchaperoned) visits with William. They implore Pitt's older brother, John, to broach the matter of marriage with him. 

John learns that William has another reason for avoiding wedlock. 

William reveals that he'd promised their dying father that he would never marry or have children, to avoid perpetuating the insidious strain of insanity--"the dark blood"--rooted in their family tree. (William's father and many of his other paternal relatives were plagued by mental illness, and the younger Pitt kept his own tendency toward instability in check with massive doses of port.)

William tells John: "I swore an oath to father as he died. We are two kinds, we Pitts, two bloods. There's the icy blood of the Grenvilles, which comes from our mother. Then there is the other--the blood of Diamond Jack Pitt, who founded our dynasty. It's a wild blood, unmanageable, unpredictable. It brings genius with it; it also brings strange fancies. An uproar in the mind, a tumult, a heat in the brain. You have the good fortune to be totally Grenville in your temperament, the Pitt strain passed you by. I took it all..."


William Pitt (JB) explains to his older brother why he must never be a father

So, instead of following his heart, Pitt abruptly ends his relationship with his beloved Eleanor. 

True to his word, William Pitt the Younger never married. Years of overwork and stress eventually weakened him. Then, the gout he'd suffered since childhood destroyed his kidneys, and the toxic port he'd relied on to treat the gout destroyed his liver. He died tragically at the age of 46. 

Jeremy Brett's sensitive portrayal of a public man with private demons transcends the somewhat overwrought material. He makes Pitt's anguish palpable. 

As usual, Jeremy prepared for his portrayal by delving into his character's background. In an interview for the Canadian TV magazine Starweek, Jeremy said he'd discovered that Pitt drank a bottle of port daily as a remedy for gout, a habit that emaciated the PM's body, but which left him with a "warm, resonant voice." JB also learned that Pitt had "huge feet," so the actor wore "these large shoes and I slopped around a bit."

JB admitted, "[Pitt] was not the most attractive of characters but he was a brilliant statesman." 

He added, "It was very exciting to play this extraordinary, thin, little, worn-out thoroughbred with this brilliant brain." (Another exciting moment occurred when Margaret Thatcher, then the presiding PM, visited the set.)

Number 10 was later released on video under the racier title Secret Lives of the Prime Ministers, with Jeremy's episode being retitled Pitt: The Younger Girl Scandal. Of course, it's now long out of print, but it does turn up infrequently on eBay. 

UPDATE: Good news--Number 10 was released on DVD in North America on June 30, 2009! More info and an excellent review (with possibly the worst pic I've ever seen of Jeremy Brett) here

If you wish to learn more about William Pitt or any of the other PMs profiled in Number 10, I highly recommend the tie-in book Number 10 - The Private Lives of Six Prime Ministers authored by Terence Feely, the creator and writer of the series. In addition to being a very interesting read, it's profusely illustrated with historical images and with stills from each episode. Although it's no longer in print, it can still be found on many used book sites. A comprehensive biography of Pitt has since been published, and Pitt was portrayed in the 2006 film Amazing Grace, which is about his friend, William Wilberforce

Florence Nightingale - 4/7/85 (Film)

JB and the cast of "Florence Nightingale" 1985

This is, of course, the story of Florence Nightingale, the brave British nurse who fought for decent medical treatment for soldiers wounded during the Crimean War.

Just one question: Where was Jane Seymour when this film was being made? Ms. Seymour was then "the queen of TV-movies and miniseries," and being British, she would have been a natural as Nightingale. Instead, Florence is played by Jaclyn Smith, former Charlie's Angel and current K-Mart brand name. Ms. Smith is earnest and sincere in her role, but she never quite gets the hang of a British accent. This shortcoming is especially obvious because her co-stars are authentic British actors such as Claire Bloom, Timothy Dalton--and Jeremy Brett.

JB plays Florence's father, William, who's upset about his daughter running off to the battlefield. He'd rather she just stay safely at home and knit tea cozies. But, Florence believes she has a calling from God, and neither her father's concern nor Dalton's marriage proposal will stop her.

Florence Nightingale has aired in the US on the former Gospel Music Channel (now UP) as part of their "Stories That Inspire" movie series. And, in the UK, it has aired on Movies24 (where the lovely family portrait above came from). Florence Nightingale is nearly three hours long, but it moves fairly quickly and holds one's interest. (It will probably inspire youngsters to read more about Florence.) It's also another episode of "fast-forward theatre"--Jeremy's scenes are sprinkled throughout the film.

UPDATE: Florence Nightingale was released on DVD in North America (Region 1) on May 5, 2009. Order your copy on Amazon

Deceptions - 5/27 -5/28/1985 (4-Hour Miniseries)

Lollo in disguise with JB - original press kit slide from "Deceptions"

Jeremy is reunited with Hart to Hart co-star Stefanie Powers, only this time he's not after her car--he wants her objets d'art so he can smuggle drugs in them.

But, that's only half the story. You see, Ms. Powers plays twins, flamboyant art dealer Sabrina and unassuming housewife Stephanie. After celebrating a birthday in Italy, the pair decides to trade places as a lark. The lark turns tragic when one twin goes "boom," leaving the survivor to solve her murder and bring the killer to justice.

Jeremy's "Bryan Foxworth" is as smooth as the silk ties he wears. Don't be fooled by that charming exterior, though --Bryan is bad to the bone.

Deceptions is a gloriously glossy soap opera which climaxes with a breathtaking car chase through London. It airs occasionally on the US Encore "Mystery" channel, and sometimes still pops up on "Lifetime" (which used to run it about once a week). Incidentally, there is another film called Deceptions starring Harry Hamlin which also airs on Lifetime--this is not the one with JB. 

TRIVIA: Deceptions could have been titled Delays. According to a British TV trade publication, Deceptions was originally offered by Consolidated Productions to HBO, which didn't like the script.

Deceptions was then successfully shopped to NBC,  which was seeking a major miniseries for its spring 1985 schedule and the important May "sweeps" ratings period. NBC commissioned a new script by Hollywood veteran Mel Shavelson and provided nearly 80% of the budget of Deceptions, now a UK/US co-production between Consolidated and Columbia Pictures TV. 

Stefanie Powers, NBC's first choice to star in Deceptions, wasn't initially available. Luckily, she suddenly became free to film. Roddy McDowall was set to play "Bryan Foxworth", but had to drop out, and the role was given to, ta da, Jeremy Brett. 

The film also went through four--count 'em--four directors. Scriptwriter Shavelson started to direct Deceptions, but was removed as director after only three weeks due to "creative differences." The film's British director of photography, Ernest Day, replaced Shavelson. However, Deceptions was already four days behind on its tight seven-week shooting schedule, and it lagged even further behind under Day's pokey direction. Plus, the US Director's Guild objected to the film being directed by a member of the technical crew. So, American director Rob Chenault took the helm, after yet another director filled in until he arrived in Europe! 

As if all that wasn't enough, the early winter weather in London and Venice (where the film was being shot on location) was colder than normal and planned exterior shots had to be moved indoors. Some of the exteriors were actually filmed in Marina del Rey, California. 

Also, Stefanie Powers was essentially playing four different roles (the twins, and the twins impersonating each other), which meant extra time was needed for her make-up, hair, and costume changes, and for split-screen camera set-ups. The process was explained in an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

"'I just assumed from a technical point of view that since identical twins are a split egg and their DNA is exactly the same, that if you plopped them into situations, their reactions might be the same,'" Miss Powers said. 'So I just functioned under the notion that there might be slightly different body language, but their instincts would be the same.'

"What was most difficult, she said, was playing the twins together. In some scenes, a stand-in (a dancer expert at copying body movements) would be seen from the rear only. But many scenes had Miss Powers playing both twins in the same picture through a split-screen process that had her responding to a videotape of herself."

Deceptions was edited and post-produced as it was being filmed, and was completed only a month before it aired. 

Thankfully, everything turned out okay in the end. In fact, this soap really cleaned up in the ratings for NBC--the first two hours beat coverage of the famous Indianapolis 500 auto race on ABC! And, the final two hours beat the powerful CBS Monday night line-up of Kate and Allie, Newhart, and Cagney and Lacey


Originally published (as TBE Vol. III #7): August 12, 1997.
Last updated: July 27, 2013.

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