The Brettish Empire

Jeremy Brett FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions


by Lisa Oldham

I'm frequently asked questions about Jeremy Brett.  Below are answers I've gathered from my  "Brett files," and, in some cases, from people with firsthand knowledge. Answers will be updated if I find more info. If you have any other questions or answers, please let me know!

JB in General

Q:  How tall was Jeremy Brett, 
and what color were his eyes?
A:  About 6'2"; hazel (brownish-green).

Q:  What was JB's real name?
A:  Peter Jeremy William Huggins.

Q:  When was he born?
A:  November 3, 1933 (Note:  A good many articles, and most of Jeremy's obituaries, said 1935, but 1933 is his correct birth year).

Q:  Where was he born?
A:   In Berkswell, near Coventry, England.

Q:  What were his parents' names?
A:  Henry William and Elizabeth Edith Huggins.  His father was a decorated Lt. Colonel in the Army; his mother was from the Cadbury family, world-famous for its chocolate.

Q:  Did JB have any siblings?
A:  He had three older brothers:  John, Patrick and Michael.  John is a minister who spoke at his youngest brother's memorial service on November 29, 1995.

Q:  What breed of dog was "Mr. Binks"? And when did Jeremy own him?
A:  Mr. Binks, according to what Jeremy said in interviews, was a mixed breed with a bit of Jack Russell terrier. Jeremy owned the pup during the 1960's.  In a 1991 NPR interview, Jeremy spoke of  "Mr. Binks...my little dog...he died 16 years ago." (1975). Jeremy also mentioned Mr. Binks in a 1967 interview and said the dog was known as "Bonkers" to his friends. I've seen several photos with Jeremy and Mr. Binks from this era, such as the one below. Plus, a TBE reader who was a neighbor of Jeremy's during the Sixties confirmed that JB owned the dog then. Which leaves a bit of mystery: In a print interview from the 1990's, Jeremy said when he was 15 (which would have been 1948) he took the elderly, ill  Mr. Binks to a veterinarian, who promptly put the dog to sleep.  Jeremy said he was so traumatized by the experience that he never owned another dog! Maybe there were two different dogs named Mr. Binks, or perhaps Jeremy just made the latter statement for dramatic effect? :0


The "paws" that refreshes--JB takes a literary break with Mr. Binks

Q:  Why did Jeremy use the name "Brett"?
A:  His father didn't want him using the family name on the stage (he thought acting was a dubious profession).  Jeremy took his stage name from the label in his first suit:  "Brett and Co."

Q:  Where and when did JB make his acting debut?
A:  In the repertory company of the Library Theatre at Manchester, England, in 1954.

Q:  What was his first feature film role?
A:  Jeremy made his feature film debut as a French art student in the 1955 British film Svengali.  He appears in a few scenes early in the film but neither his name nor his character's name is listed in the credits.  Jeremy's first credited feature film role was "Nicholas Rostov" in War and Peace (1956), starring Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn.

Q:  Was JB ever married?
A:  Yes, twice.  First, to British actress Anna Massey in 1958 (marriage ended in divorce, 1962), and second, to American public television producer Joan Wilson (a.k.a. Sullivan) in 1977 (Jeremy was widowed by Joan's death in 1985).

Q:  Did he have any children?
A:  Yes, a son named David Raymond William Huggins, born 1959.  He also had stepchildren, Caleb and Rebekah Sullivan, through Joan Wilson.  (JB often referred to all three as "my children.")

Q:  Is David Huggins an actor?
A:  David is an artist and a writer.  His first novel, The Big Kiss, was published in England in 1996.

The book is an adult, darkly satiric study of a yuppie whose life falls violently apart.  David has an acerbic wit, as illustrated by this excerpt from a 7/7/96 Independent on Sunday article:

"Absolut vodka provided the drink for the launch party of David Huggins' first novel, The Big Kiss, because Absolut got a mention in the book.  'It was a great party,' says Mr. Huggins, 'but I don't think they realised the book is a satire on these rather pathetic people who are obsessed with style and brands.  Certainly, putting free drink in front of people is a big draw--the obliterati came from miles around.'

"Mr. Huggins is already working on his next book.  'I guarantee that there'll be lots of drinking and smoking in it,' he says.  'I've got the launch party to  think about, after all.'"

David Huggins' second novel was Luxury Amnesia. The story "follows a group of degenerates and misfits (washed-up pop stars reduced to painting-and-decorating, spoilt delinquents, property speculators and mature Liberal Arts students) as they are sucked into a quicksand of extortion and criminality." 

(I bet that was some launch party! :->)

BTW, did you know that David once shared a flat with singer Adam Ant?  

(That tidbit of trivia and the quoted Luxury Amnesia plot info comes from the Faber website.)

David Huggins also wrote a third novel. It's titled Me, Me, Me and was published in Britain in November 2001. You can view the cover, read an excerpt, and even order the book here. The book's protagonist is a struggling writer whose grandfather is an actor (sound familiar?), so it should be interesting...

Click here for an article that provides a poignant, personal perspective on David Huggins' life with Jeremy.

In 2001, David married Madeleine Christie, a fashion journalist for Vogue magazine, and they have a son, Dan, who was born in 2002, and a daughter, Iris.

Q:  Does David look like Jeremy?
A:  Judging from photos I've seen--and from what people who've actually seen him tell me--David seems to favor his mother, Anna Massey.  However, others claim to see more of a resemblance to JB. 

Below is a recent (circa 2003) photo of David. It seems the older he gets, the more he looks like Jeremy:

For a portrait of a very young David with his mum, click here.

And, speaking of David's mum, Anna Massey: she's now an author herself. Her autobiography, Telling Some Tales, was published in the UK on April 20, 2006. 

Q:  Was JB's own singing voice used in My Fair Lady?
A:  No, even though he had a good singing voice and had sang in British stage and TV musicals. Brettfans kept wondering, though, because for years, Jeremy insisted he'd sung his own songs in MFL but that the "top notes" were "sweetened" by another singer. However, in a 1994 documentary about the making of MFL, he finally admitted his singing voice had been "dubbed" (replaced) with the voice of a singer named Bill Shirley. (This is also noted on the MFL soundtrack CD.) JB was in good company, though: MFL star Audrey Hepburn's singing voice was also dubbed (by Marni Nixon) in the film. I personally thought JB may have sung the intro to On the Street Where You Live (it sounded like his voice to me).  But, now I know it's definitely Bill Shirley's voice that's heard whenever Jeremy "sings" in My Fair Lady

Incidentally, the solution to this "mystery" was actually revealed 30 years before JB 'fessed up: Sheilah Graham mentioned it in her column way back in 1964! (See the third paragraph from the bottom.)

Q:  What was Jeremy's final role?
A:  "Mr. Fielding" in the feature film Moll Flanders (1996). Note:  JB was not in the 1996 TV mini-series of the same name.

Q:  When did Jeremy die?
A:  On September 12, 1995, in his sleep at his home in Clapham Common, South London.

Q: What caused his death?
A:  Cardiomyopathy (heart failure).  Jeremy's heart valves were scarred  by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever. They were further damaged by the toxic buildup of the medication used to treat his bipolar disorder, and by his heavy smoking.  

Jeremy was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in early 1995.  Told he needed a heart transplant, Jeremy replied, "That's far too dramatic, even for me!" The transplant didn't occur because doctors feared that  the anti-rejection drugs Jeremy would have needed the rest of his life would counteract the medications used to treat his bipolar disorder. Ironically, not long after Jeremy died, newspapers and medical journals began reporting on a new surgical technique which eliminates the need for heart transplants in some cardiomyopathy cases. And, now some heart failure patients are living with implantable artificial hearts.

Q: Where is Jeremy Brett buried?
A:  Actually, Jeremy wasn't buried.  He was cremated, and as such, has no "final resting place" for people to pay respects at.  Since we cannot give him flowers, perhaps the best memorial of all is simply remembering Jeremy.  "If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give." (George McDonald)

Another way to remember Jeremy is to make a generous donation to the British Heart Fund.

Donations may also be made online to Bipolar UK (formerly the Manic Depression Fellowship, which JB supported) or mailed to: 

Bipolar UK
11 Belgrave Road
London SW1V 1RB

If fans wish to remember Jeremy while in London, I suggest viewing his plaque at Wyndham's Theatre or visiting places which were significant in his life, such as the National Theatre and Clapham Common.

Q:  Is Jeremy's 1979 Rebecca mini-series broadcast anymore?  Is it available on video?
A:  "No" to both questions, unfortunately. A British home video website offered JB's Rebecca for pre-order a few years ago, then abruptly announced that the film was "out of print" and could not be sold. And, I was informed by two TBE readers that JB's Rebecca can neither be sold nor broadcast by the BBC because the network doesn't own the video or broadcast rights to the film. Until the copyright ownership quandary is straightened out, I'm afraid that JB's version of Rebecca will continue to languish in a vault somewhere. 

While this film isn't "officially" available on video or DVD, privately recorded copies are sometimes offered on eBay. But, buyer beware: these are usually copies of copies that were originally recorded when Rebecca was broadcast on US television years ago. 

Q:  Where can I find some of Jeremy's non-Sherlock Holmes appearances?
A:  Check out eBay.

JB and Sherlock Holmes

Q:  How long did JB play Sherlock Holmes?
A:  From 1983 through 1994 in the Granada television series.  He also played Holmes in the 1988-'89 British stage play The Secret of Sherlock Holmes. Incidentally, he played Dr. Watson in a 1980 production of Crucifer of Blood at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

Q: Did Jeremy actually hate playing Sherlock Holmes?
A: JB initially thought he was horribly miscast as Holmes, because his "sunny" personality was so different than the detective's moody nature.  (He also had reservations because the character had already been portrayed so many times.)  Early on, Jeremy said things like "I wouldn't cross the street to meet Holmes," meaning that he thought he had nothing in common  with the character.  However, such quotes are often taken out of context and used as "evidence" that JB "hated" Holmes.

Actually, Jeremy was perhaps the staunchest defender of Doyle's original stories on the Sherlock Holmes set.  Also, he devised an elaborate back-story for Holmes as preparation for the play The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, demonstrating his deep insight into the character.

But, like any actor who's played the same character for many years, Jeremy tired of  Holmes now and then. All good actors fear typecasting (being cast in the same type of role over and over). Also, playing Holmes was emotionally and physically draining for Jeremy because JB was a "becomer," the kind of actor who strives to "become" the character he's playing (somewhat like "Method" acting).

Jeremy had the added burden of martinet critics who loudly (and often harshly) objected whenever his interpretation of Holmes didn't match their cherished ideal of the make-believe sleuth. Jeremy was also battling mental illness during his stint as Holmes (see below). But, Jeremy later said things like, "Holmes  wouldn't cross the street to meet me" and even wanted to film the entire Holmes "canon" (which, sadly, wasn't to be).

Q: Did Jeremy have a "nervous breakdown" because his second wife died?
Q: Did Jeremy have a "nervous breakdown" because he thought he really was Sherlock Holmes?
Q: Did Jeremy fake a "nervous breakdown" so he wouldn't have to play Holmes anymore?

A: Actually, there is no such thing as a "nervous breakdown" (this is a non-technical term used by laymen). Joan Wilson's death from cancer triggered Jeremy's first recognized bout with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression), a condition he'd apparently had most of his life.  A sufferer can live for years with mild, manageable symptoms (e.g. mood swings) until a traumatic event (such as the death of a spouse) sends them into a manic depressive crisis.

That's apparently what happened to Jeremy.  He went back to work on the Sherlock Holmes series soon after Joan Wilson died.  Overwork and unresolved grief, as well as his underlying bipolar disorder, caused Jeremy to be hospitalized for what was erroneously described as a "nervous breakdown" in early 1986.  That's when his manic depression was finally diagnosed.  Jeremy's condition was treated with medication, but he battled the disorder the rest of his life and was institutionalized several times.  It's highly unlikely he would have gone to such drastic lengths simply to avoid playing Holmes--there are much easier ways to quit a job!  At any rate, he played the role through the end of the Granada series in 1994.

Q: Why does Jeremy have a different, shorter hairstyle in some Holmes episodes?

JB's hair comes a cropper

A:  Jeremy decided that he and Holmes needed a change and so he lopped off his hair. However, his do-it-yourself  "do" caused the Granada Studios hairstylists much consternation because it was too short to be slicked back into his usual Holmes style. Which is apparently what Jeremy wanted. In a 1988 interview he claimed: “…I have to gel my hair. Now, gel is a very nasty thing to wear on a daily basis especially when it’s as severe as it has to be. And sometimes when I have been filming I’ve had to gel twice in one day. And you really feel like a… It sets like cement, and it’s very uncomfortable. And, I thought if I could get the same effect with short hair - and, I think, to a large degree I did – then I wouldn’t have to gel… gung my hair. So that’s why I did it and I think it worked. I think it made a nice change.” 

Plus, he felt there was a precedent for his new hairstyle in one of the Sidney Paget illustrations from the original Holmes stories: “...the one where [he] is drawing up his knees up under his chin. He is smoking the small clay pipe he uses when in one of his meditative moods.”


Also, according to the same 1988 interview, he was apparently inordinately upset by a British television critic's innocent remark that Holmes looked like NoŽl Coward with his slicked-back hair when Jeremy removed his groom disguise in A Scandal in Bohemia

Of course, by this time, JB was in the grip of bipolar disorder and subject to mood swings and irritability, which may have skewed his thinking and some of the answers he gave in this very candid interview.

Q: Why is Jeremy heavier in some Holmes episodes?
A:  Apparently, the medication prescribed to control Jeremy's bipolar disorder built up in his system over time and wreaked havoc on his heart, causing him to retain water.  This explains his bloated appearance in many later episodes.  When Jeremy's heart began to fail, his medication was adjusted.  Heart medicine and diuretics were prescribed, and his weight returned to nearly normal (unlike his health, unfortunately).

Q:  What happened to Jeremy's first Dr. Watson, David Burke?
A:   He left the Holmes series to spend more time with his family, and to concentrate on stage work.  He's still active in British stage and television productions.

Q:  What is the framed picture that Jeremy holds during one of the nightmare sequences in The Eligible Bachelor?
A:   It is a reproduction of an 1848 portrait of Christ known as "The Veronica" or "St. Veronica's Handkerchief," painted by Austrian artist Gabriel Max.  It was inspired by an image that was said to have appeared on a cloth St. Veronica used to wipe Jesus' face as He walked to His crucifixion.  Jesus' eyes are closed in the portrait, but, supposedly, if one stares at them they will suddenly open.  A few years ago I saw a copy of this portrait displayed at an antiques show (which is where I learned the above information).  I immediately recognized it as the picture from The Eligible Bachelor.

Q:  Is Granada going to make more Holmes episodes, with a "new" Sherlock?
A:  Eventually, someone will film a new Sherlock Holmes series, but it probably won't be Granada.  Even before the series with Jeremy Brett was completed, Granada's marvelous Baker Street in set in Manchester UK was walled up, roofed over, and made a part of the studio tour.

Incidentally, the set was later completely demolished, except for one part: the entrance to 221-B Baker Street. Now, this doorway stands on another street--Coronation Street, to be exact. The doorway, complete with its famous address, can be glimpsed in the background of the pizza parlour scenes on this long-running British soap (which was filmed adjacent to the Baker Street set on the Granada lot). Coronation Street's production chief explained, "It's a superstitious thing because it's a chunk of history, the doorway to Sherlock's lodgings, and we're hoping it might bring us luck." (Info from The Passenger's Log, The Sydney Passengers, Autumn & Winter 2003.) 

Also, the British television industry has changed drastically since the Brett Holmes series began in 1983. There is greater emphasis on ratings and profit. Granada moved on to gritty crowd-pleasers such as Cracker and Prime Suspect, as well as the sexually explicit Moll Flanders mini-series. Sadly, thoughtful period drama such as Sherlock Holmes is the exception rather than the rule these days.

Q: I've seen a JB bio called The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes--The Tortured Mind of Jeremy Brett by someone named Terry Manners. Should I buy it?
A: I'll let the following comments from a Sherlockian newsgroup help to answer this question:

"I have a friend who knew JB quite well, and he was rather angered by the book. He didn't feel that it presented a fair or fully-rounded portrait of Brett, being more concerned with sensationalism and gossip."

"There were numerous errors that could have easily been checked for accuracy."

"Lacking any real insight into his subject's life, the author stoops to such gimmicks as describing Brett's final moments--from Brett's [point of view]."

"Simply put: A BIOGRAPHY SHOULD NOT READ LIKE FICTION. If not for the pictures, I would have thrown this book in the Thames."

"...an insult to JB's memory and to his loved ones...Avoid this book at all costs."

"Save your money!"

"If you have only [$30+] to spend and must have a book on JB, spend it on Bending the Willow [by David Stuart Davies]. A much better insight, and the better written of the two."

UPDATE! (03/04/01) - Unbelievably, The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes--The Tortured Mind of Jeremy Brett was just released (or more likely it escaped) in paperback. By coincidence, I recently found a review of the hardback edition in Issue 19 (1997) of the Sherlock Holmes Gazette. Here is what reviewer Lesley Skoyles thought of this execrable book (review edited for length):

"...I hated it...What I disliked most about this book was that it seemed to me to belong to the worst school of cut and paste biography and it read more like a work of fiction than a well-researched study. To me, a good biography is a reasonably objective, balanced, reliably researched account of its subject's life, with sources credited accurately. And by these standards, Terry Manners' book fails miserably.

"The author acknowledges that many people refused to speak to him when he was writing the book, and these key figures in Jeremy Brett's life and career are notable by their absence in the finished work. Manners does claim to have spoken to some of Jeremy Brett's friends and colleagues, although much of the material remains unreferenced and uncredited, which made me question the book's veracity. In addition, many sections of the text bear a startling resemblance to material by others.

"...Overall, then, this is a poorly researched book which is riddled with errors of fact, and, for me, it bears all the marks of having been written hastily to cash in on the death of its subject. I may be wrong; perhaps the author wanted to bring an understanding of manic depression to a wider audience, which is an admirable aim. If so, it could have been accomplished with a greater degree of tact and sensitivity. I feel that the book adds nothing to an understanding of the work of a fine actor and that it will appeal solely to the morbidly curious. To anyone who admired Jeremy Brett's work - not just his Sherlock Holmes - I would urge you to ignore this book completely."

More evidence...Here's an excerpt from a review by Tony Earnshaw in the Spring 1997 (Number 19) issue of  The Ritual, the Bi-Annual Review of The Northern Musgraves Sherlock Holmes Society:

"Author Terry Manners' book is the worst kind of life story--a shallow, sometimes salacious, always disappointing selection of anecdotes, press cuttings and reviews which gloss over the real story...Then there are the frequent half-baked psychological evaluations of Brett's state of mind. Given that the majority of his family, friends and colleagues refused their cooperation, on what does Manners build his case? It's the worst kind of speculation." 

Actress Gale Garnett, who knew Jeremy, reviewed Manners' book for the Toronto Globe and Mail in 1997. Garnett noted:

"In our newly, and most probably brief, heightened awareness of the relationship between celebrity and privacy, there would appear to be one clear reason why Brett's genuinely close friends and long-time colleagues declined to speak with Manners. As was widely known within the theatre and television community, for the last years of his life (if not longer), the actor was plagued by severe, and frequently delusional, manic depression, as well as the incremental heart problems that would eventually kill him. He had wanted to be known for his work (and his capacity for generosity and loving friendship). He had hoped to be a film star, but his dashing, Edwardian-Ruritanian good looks and natural grace put him at odds with the John Osborne and Arnold Wesker-led ascendancy of what he called, realistically rather than disdainfully, 'the kitchen sink boys.'  The northern hordes and butch yobs who would become stars in this time included Albert Finney, Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris. They changed the face of British theatre and film forever, leaving Jeremy Brett in their wake and noting, 'I am afraid I am as English as an oak tree.' Manners water-skis over the surface of these career questions, musing and quoting without going very deeply into either context or response. When depth and resonance are attempted, mostly the prose becomes purple and joins the 'assumed inner voice' school."

Garnett succinctly concluded: "Jeremy Brett would likely have loved to have been involved with a book about his life and work. This is not that book."

And, finally, a quote from Nicholas Utechin's review in the Summer 1997 issue of The Sherlock Holmes Journal: "...Should I be anything other than very wary indeed about this publication?" 

Clearly, if one wants to buy a JB bio, Bending the Willow or Michael Cox's A Study in Celluloid would be a far wiser choice. But, of course, that choice belongs to the consumer. I just wanted the consumer to be aware of the overwhelmingly negative reviews The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes has received not only from Jeremy Brett's fans, but also from people who actually knew and worked with Jeremy. 

And (contrary to what one of my "critics" has conjectured), it's not the CONTENT of this book which bothers me. Rather, it's that the whole book was obviously "phoned-in", with little real effort exerted in either the research or the writing. It's shallow, superficial, and silly. 

Personally, I'd much prefer to read--and I think Jeremy Brett deserves--an intelligent, thoughtful, balanced, well-researched, and well-written biography. The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes doesn't fit that description at all. Unfortunately, though, it's the only full-length Jeremy Brett biography available at the moment. (The other bios mentioned above focus mainly on his tenure as Sherlock Holmes.) 

Interestingly, Terry Manners would now like to help you write your own biography! (And, notice which of Manners' books isn't mentioned on this site.)

Q:  Where can I find an original copy of Bending the Willow?
A:  In a flea market in Fiji? A bookstore in Beijing? ;-> Unfortunately, the original 1996 hardback edition of Willow is long out of print. Reportedly, only 2500 copies were issued and they quickly sold out. Most original owners are loath to part with this treasured tome. However, it can occasionally be found on the secondary market, e.g. eBay. Be prepared to take out a loan or sell the good china, though--second-hand copies of Willow typically sell online for a small fortune.  

Luckily, Calabash Press finally saw the light (and the dollar signs?) and reissued a "revised and updated" paperback edition of BTW in 2002. It can be purchased on Amazon.com if you have a lot of extra cash lying around (you might have better luck on eBay). ;->

Bending the Willow was reissued yet again in 2010, in hardback with "a final afterword;..a new reminiscence from David Burke; and a number of new photographs from the series..." Better grab it while you can.

Q: Where can I find Patrick Gowers' music for JB's Sherlock Holmes series?
A: Right here. This original soundtrack recording, once discontinued and almost as hard to find as a first edition of Bending the Willow, was recently re-issued. 


Last updated: May 26, 2011
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