A couple of months ago, I was invited to attend the launch of a brand-new book in London. Unfortunately, I had to decline the invitation, because both my travel budget and my vacation time had been exhausted by earlier excursions. Too bad...for the book being launched was Bending the Willow--Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies.
But, never fear--several "TBE" readers were able to attend the launch, and have graciously agreed to share their stories with us.
First up--Paula Brown:
"The e-mail posting from publishers Chris and Barbara Roden said 'Fancy a trip to London?' It outlined the details of the book launch and said there was an invitation waiting for me. I thought about it for a few days. This would make our third trip to England this year and, as I'd retired, we were trying to economize. In addition, I had a commitment at home on October 24th and the launch was on the 23rd. In the meantime, Chris sent the invitation. Once I saw it, I knew I had to be there and e-mailed him back saying so. He wasn't surprised.
My husband and I left San Francisco on Monday, October 21st, and arrived at Heathrow mid-morning on Tuesday, October 22nd. As usual, we rode the Piccadilly line train into London. The London weather was beautiful - warmer than it was in San Francisco. Our hotel, The Hospitality Inn Piccadilly, overlooks Leicester Square and is a perfect base for central London and the West End.
We unpacked, rested a bit, and ran some errands in the afternoon, stopping by the Coach and Horses Pub in Covent Garden which is the only pub in London which 'imports' genuine draft Guinness from Dublin. Dinner that night was in Neal Street at the top end of Covent Garden in The Punjab Restaurant which had been recommended in the London Theatre News newsletter. It was wonderful. The service and food there are excellent. If you enjoy Indian food, we highly recommend it.
Wednesday the 23rd of October was warm and sunny. My husband had a leisurely morning nursing a sore knee and watching the Queen's progress on television as she was driven by coach from Buckingham Palace to Parliament to address the heads of the nation. Much like our 'state of the union' address, I believe. No one can put on a parade like the Brits. I've rarely seen so much pomp, ceremony, velvet and ermine. The traffic in London stopped dead, for the most part. Someone I was supposed to be meeting sat in a cab for 45 minutes, not moving. I ran errands on foot, which is the only way to get around London anyway, plus the Underground, of course.
Bedford Street and 'Crime in Store' is located about halfway between Leicester Square and Covent Garden and was an easy ten minute walk from our hotel. Our path took us down the small walkway beside Wyndham's Theatre where Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke starred in The Secret of Sherlock Holmes. In November of 1995 on the day following the Memorial to Jeremy held in London, The Regulars, a group of eight fans and friends of Jeremy's, dedicated a permanent tribute to Jeremy in the bar by the grand circle of the theatre. It consists of a lovely photograph of Jeremy taken by Marcus Tylor, and a plaque which reads:
1933 - 1995
I lost a friend whom I regarded as the best and wisest man I have ever known.
Anyone who wishes to view the plaque is welcomed by the theatre staff. And you may take photographs of the tribute, if you wish.
'Crime in Store' is about two thirds of the way down Bedford Street on the right hand side when approaching from the top of the street. The book launch began at 12:30. A lovely display of Bending the Willow was in the front window, and wine was being served to the guests as they arrived. The store is bright, has lots of floor to ceiling wood shelving, is well stocked and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly.
After a very nice introduction by Barbara Roden, author David Stuart Davies spoke briefly about the book, saying that he hoped the readers would find it to be what he endeavored to create - a fair portrait of Jeremy Brett. He also read a note from Edward Hardwicke expressing regret at being unable to attend due to a work commitment. Edward is playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the new film based on Steve Szilagyi's book Photographing Fairies. David looked resplendent in a black velvet pinstriped jacket and waistcoat with a purple shirt and a multi-colored tie and was soon enthroned at a corner table behind stacks of books he was autographing.
There were a number of Americans in attendance - Wayne and Francine Swift; Mary, Beth, and Daniel Humphreys; and "us," Frank and Paula Brown. The Sherlockian world was well represented by members of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London (including Roger Johnson and his lovely wife Jean Upton), the Northern Musgraves, and The Franco Midland Hardware Company, to name a few, plus Brett admirers from Scotland, France, and Italy. Barbara Roden's parents came over from Canada.
Granada screenwriter/playwright Jeremy Paul attended the celebration, as well as Director Paul Annett. Bert Coules, of BBC radio fame, and his wife were also there. Linda Pritchard, Jeremy's companion, and a group of The Regulars were also present, the youngest being a darling baby girl named Katie who had a photo of Jeremy on the front of her t-shirt. Her parents met and married as a result of being part of The Regulars and fans of Jeremy's. The Regulars and Jeremy spent many fond hours together and they were remembered in his will.
The afternoon went well and the book sold well. My husband and I personally carried twelve copies back to the U.S. for ourselves and friends. Perhaps someone will write a review for the next TBE! [Someone did--see below!--LLO]
Wednesday evening we attended a film evening put on by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Part of the evening's entertainment was a very moving film tribute to Jeremy's performance as Sherlock Holmes prepared by David Stuart Davies, plus a screening of The Dancing Men. It was a lovely way to pay tribute to a remarkable man and a splendid actor.
The wake-up call was 0515 the following morning. We retraced our steps, traveling by Underground to Heathrow. As our 767 shuddered, pulled up off the runway through the morning fog, and banked hard to the left over the terraced houses and hedgerows, I calculated that we would travel a total of more than 24 hours to spend less than 48 hours in London. Worth it? Absolutely! We slept most of the way home except for two hours over the middle of the Atlantic when we watched a rather mediocre film called Moll Flanders the star of which, at least for me, was the late, great Jeremy Brett." [Hear, hear!--LLO]
"We had a wonderful time in London! And we thought about you while we were there taking pictures on Baker Street and seeing plays. When we returned we found the new TBE in our mailbox. It was SO good! Thanks for all your research... [You're most welcome!--LLO]
While we were in London we visited Marcus Tylor to see his pictures of JB. I had written him in advance, saying that we were coming and would like to buy some of his pictures, but that our sheet of proofs was so blurred that we couldn't tell what we wanted. Marcus very graciously printed out the full collection for us to choose from and invited us out to his house to choose which we wanted.
His pictures are WONDERFUL!!!!!!!! He can take American checques if you call your bank to find the exchange rate and also include a £6.50 fee that he has to pay each time he cashes an American checque. [See below for complete ordering information--LLO]
We went to Wyndham's Theatre and saw Jeremy's plaque and picture. We were expecting the huge picture that was in the SH Gazette, but it was really one of Marcus Tylor's small pictures. The manager was really nice, and took us up to see the tribute himself.
The SH Memorabilia Co. on Baker Street was good, as usual, but we found MUCH more to buy across the street at the SH Museum shop (underneath Mrs. Hudson's Restaurant). The atmosphere in the shop was great because they were playing a SH/JB video the whole time! We went to Abbey National and signed the guest book and got the little blue book [about Sherlock Holmes] that they hand out. (Daniel and Beth were ready to shoot me because it took so long.)
We ate again at the SH Pub, and visited Crime in Store Bookshop where David Stuart Davies was signing his books. It was so good to meet him. Everyone was friendly and spent time talking with us! We met Bert Coules and his wife, and Christopher and Barbara Roden, and Jeremy Paul. Paula and Frank Brown were there, too. Paula introduced us to Linda Pritchard, and we enjoyed talking with her for a long time. She was very friendly and fun to talk to. She seemed really interested, and was a most likeable person.
During our week in London we packed in six plays, a Handel concert by candlelight in period dress at the Barbican, and two movies--as well as the Tower, British Museum, a red bus tour, Madame Tussaud's, etc. By waiting at stage doors, Beth got autographs and her picture taken with Derek Jacobi, Peter Davison, and Liam Cunningham. We saw Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Uncle Vanya, As You Like It, The Mousetrap, and Dial M For Murder. The movies we saw were Emma and Twelfth Night. We ate mostly from grocery stores (fresh bread from bakeries and cheese and fruit--all kinds of wonderful food!) and didn't get a lot of sleep, but we had an action-filled trip!
Next time we'll take time to search libraries for JB articles and more video and bookstores for movies and Shakespeare records, tapes or CDs. There just wasn't time for everything... We did find The SH Compendium (JB pictured on the front) edited by Peter Haining, and Robert Stephens' autobiography, Knight Errant. There were Granada colour pictures at the SH Memorabilia Co. that I loved, but couldn't bring myself to pay £20 for (each) at this point. And we found a tape of Selections from Shakespeare with JB doing a speech from the The Merchant of Venice and a speech from Richard III."
"The launch went very well. My pal and I managed to find Crime In Store' quite easily and I'm delighted to say that the front window of the shop was full of copies of Bending The Willow with several posters of the delectable Jeremy as Holmes around. As we went in they were just opening up the crisps and nibbles for people to help themselves along with a glass of wine.
I must confess that I have never been to a book launch before so I was not quite sure whether you buy the book first and then the author signs it or visa versa. Anyhow, as we went further into the shop I instantly recognised a very dapper David Stuart Davies sitting at the far end of the store. I'd seen his picture in various copies of The Sherlock Holmes Gazette. I think we must have been near enough the first two to arrive. David happily signed our books and said he hoped we enjoyed reading it.
We then went to pay and were just chatting by the door when in came Linda Pritchard. My friend already knew Linda, so she threw her arms around her and then Linda turned to me. I'm ashamed to say that any questions I had instantly vanished as I just shook her hand and stared at her thinking 'This is Jeremy Brett's pixie' (I don't know if you'd heard him call her this in several interviews he did about a year before he died)...
More and more Sherlockians arrived and the shop filled up so we made our exit and found a quiet-ish place to stop for lunch and read the book. What do you think of it? There are many wild and wonderful stories and pictures in it about Jeremy. I particularly like the photo of him at Eton."
Thank you, Denise! (BTW, everyone seems to have a favorite photo in the book...mine is "Ralph the plumber." ;->)
"Sherlock Holmes is said to be a character who drives actors into actual madness. Solitary, brooding, even dangerous, Holmes is the drug addict, the thinking machine, the jury, the judge, and at times the executioner. The molten intensity of the character burns those who try to get close. Holmes overwhelms and possesses.
'Holmes is a very difficult man to live inside,' said the actor who perhaps knew him best, Jeremy Brett, in a 1985 interview. 'He's obsessive, and he's dazzling.'
In David Stuart Davies' new book Bending The Willow: Jeremy Brett As Sherlock Holmes (Calabash Press, 1996), we're reassured that Brett turned the tables on Holmes. In the end it was Jeremy Brett who possessed and defined the character for a new generation. It was Jeremy Brett who drove Holmes.
Bending the Willow is not a biography. It's a chronicle of the 10 years during which Jeremy Brett interpreted Holmes on screen and stage. It was a process which Brett called 'bending the willow,' sharpening the characterization within the scope provided by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Based on extensive conversations with Brett and members of the Granada Television team, Davies explores how the actor approached and fleshed out the character. It was not an easy undertaking. William Gillette, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee most ably danced that floor before Brett arrived in the hall. What gave Brett's performance its electricity was a combination of his classical training and the license to use his lively imagination. Consider Holmes' childhood, which is not provided to readers of the Holmesian canon. Brett believed that having details of a childhood was essential to his understanding of Holmes, so he created a personal history for the detective that Davies finds 'chilling in its vividness':
He was tied very tight as a child in the cot as they used to in those days to keep them quiet. Children were seen but not heard -- especially in the Holmes household which I've always placed in my mind in Cornwall......very remote. A bleak house. Never knew his father at all until he was 21. Saw him but never spoke to him. He had an elder brother who was fat and a little bit far ahead of him. They didn't have much in common either. They were kissed by their mother on her way down to dinner, but that's all. Isolation from an early age.....His father was a fat, ex-army toad, I think.
Davies resists the urge to psycho-analyze Brett, but quietly comments that 'there are in this litany resounding echoes from Brett's own life.' Against this childhood Brett fine-tuned some of his greatest performances, those of the first three series. In The Solitary Cyclist, when Sherlock Holmes examines Violet Smith's hand and face, Brett permits the character to experience a heartbeat of physical pleasure. He's likely never touched a woman before, and Holmes is thrilled and frightened. In The Greek Interpreter we see Sherlock step out from behind his brother Mycroft to meet Mr. Melas, the way Brett symbolically freed the detective from his sibling's shadow. Brett worked closely with his directors and script writers to reveal Sherlock Holmes. Series creator Michael Cox was eyewitness to an exchange between Brett and director Paul Annett:
I remember Paul saying to him one day, 'Jeremy, isn't there going to be anything of you in this portrayal?' JB responded well and said, 'What a good thought. You've pulled me up short and made me realise that I could be going too much into the area of a bizarre character.' Paul said, 'Don't, because there is a place in this for things of your own, Jeremy -- your magnetism, your ability to charm people, to deal with people --use those in playing Holmes. Don't put them aside....'
The other 'resounding echo' which rings throughout the book is Jeremy Brett's battle with manic depression, a diagnosis which some medical experts claim he shared with Holmes, based upon the description of the great detective left us by Doyle. 'Sadly, the deterioration of Jeremy Brett's health plays a significant part in the remaining saga of Granada's Sherlock and the struggle that Brett underwent in attempting to be Holmes and to remain sane," Davies notes.
Aside from the well-known physical changes produced by prescription medications he took, Brett experienced severe personality changes. Overnight, he gave himself the choppy haircut viewers associate with The Devil's Foot episode. He raced headlong with half-formed plans and ideas. He showed uncharacteristic rudeness toward others. At one point, he angrily told Davies 'unkind things' about several friends and co-workers, people Davies knew Brett truly cared for. 'When I returned home there were five messages on my answering machine, all from Jeremy, begging me to forgive him for his churlishness and to forget the unkind comments he had made.' Brett pleaded, 'I wasn't myself.'
And Brett went along with some of the quirkier scripts, such as the rain-soaked nightshirt scene in The Eligible Bachelor and the kiss in The Master Blackmailer, which a healthy, sane Brett would have resisted. Davies tempers the horror of the disease with Brett's good humor. Anecdote after anecdote shows the actor's comic streak, and his love of laughter.
Jeremy Brett's friendships enriched and sustained him throughout his Holmesian years. Edward Hardwicke and David Burke cooperated with Davies, and are delightfully Watsonian in their loyal devotion to Brett. Series creator Michael Cox remains a staunch supporter. Linda Pritchard was his fan, friend and unfailing advocate. It's good to know he was in their capable hands.
If the book has a shortcoming it is that we want to know much more about Brett's friendships and working relationships, particularly with Rosalie Williams ('Mrs. Hudson'), Colin Jeavons ('Lestrade'), makeup artist Sue Milton, and Dame Jean Conan Doyle to name just a few. Brett told Davies about a conversation he had with Dame Jean, who approved of his portrayal of her father's best-known creation:
'The only thing I do have in common with Sherlock Holmes is a kind of enthusiasm: mine is for life, his is for work. He's dead when he's not working -- in that sense he is like an actor. But I've had a fascinating time playing him. I said to Dame Jean that I've danced in the moonlight with your father for ten years. The moonlight, not the sunlight -- Holmes is a very dark character.'
Dark indeed. That's why we relied so on a sunny man, a Jeremy Brett, to illuminate the shadowy aspects of Holmes and to bring him into the light where we could get a better look. With Bending the Willow Davies gently directs this light back onto Brett, enabling us to clearly view the actor's passion for a character--and the resulting personal and professional achievement."
Thank you, Sonia, for your perceptive review.
MARCUS TYLOR PHOTOGRAPHY offers over 30 headshots taken of Jeremy backstage at Wyndham's when he was performing in The Secret of Sherlock Holmes in 1988. Jeremy is wearing a black sweater, and Tylor snapped the photos in very low light in only about 20 minutes. Tylor describes the photos as "moody" and "atmospheric" (Jeremy barely cracks a smile in any of them), but JB's charm shines through. As Tylor says, "We agreed to take the pictures of Mr. Brett and not of Mr. Holmes, something of which I have come to realise is very rare." The JB tribute photo at Wyndham's comes from this series of photos. Marcus' address is: 4D Wellington Road, London E11 2AN England; telephone 0181 530 6013. Request a proof sheet. Photos are hand-printed 10 x 8 reprints from the original negatives; each photo is five pounds each, plus two pounds postage and packing for Europe (four pounds for rest of the world for airmail). Marcus can take American checks if you call your bank for current exchange rate and include a 6.50 pound check cashing fee.
Until next time,