The Brettish Empire

TBE Extra -- September 13, 1995

"It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished."--Dr. Watson in The Final Problem.

I know how Dr. Watson must have felt.

As you may already know by now, Mr. Jeremy Brett passed away yesterday. He died peacefully in his sleep after years of battling depression and heart disease. He was 59.

Although I didn't have the privilege of knowing Mr. Brett personally, like most of you I feel as if I've lost a dear friend. He first came to my attention as Sherlock Holmes; later I further discovered the range of his talent in roles such as Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and Max De Winter in Rebecca. Mr. Brett is indeed gone, but the immense legacy he leaves behind will live on for us to enjoy.

Incidentally, I intend to continue with The Brettish Empire as long as you, my friends, want me to. TBE has always been a labor of love for me, and it seemed to fill a void for Brettfans on the Internet. Now, it can serve as a tribute to our "friend" and favorite Holmes, Jeremy Brett. I have scanned the databases at my disposal for articles about Jeremy's passing. So far, I've found three, which I will share with you as time and space allow. If I find any more information, I will pass it along ASAP. God rest your soul, dear Jeremy.


LONDON (AP)--Jeremy Brett, the actor who brought the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes to life on television, has died at the age of 59.

Granada Television said Brett, star of 41 episodes of its Sherlock Holmes series, died of heart failure in his sleep early Tuesday at his London home.

'He was an actor of immense talent who has given us the defining characterization of Sherlock Holmes for years to come,' said Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Mystery! and Masterpiece Theater. "He'll be missed terribly by us and by millions of viewers who loved him in this role."

Brett's portrayal of Holmes was regarded as one of the finest ever. Tall and dark, with a hawk-like profile and piercing eyes, he seemed made for the part.

'A finer Sherlock Holmes has never, and will never, exist,' said Sally Head, Granada's controller of drama.

The role was a little intimidating at first.

'The hardest thing in the world is to play someone who is almost an ancient monument,' Brett told the Evening Standard in 1988.

When the television series became a hit and he filmed more of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, Brett didn't worry about being typecast.

'What a part to typecast in. I can't tell you the difference it's made; it's lovely,' he told The Associated Press that same year.

Brett was born Peter William Jeremy Huggins, one of four sons of an army colonel, and was educated at Eton and the prestigious Central School of Drama in London. When he took up acting his father asked him to change his name.

He acted with The National Theater from 1967 to 1971 and did many other stage and television roles before taking on Sherlock Holmes.

His films include War and Peace and My Fair Lady, and on television, he played Max de Winter in Rebecca and Robert Browning in Robert and Elizabeth.

Brett was divorced in 1963 from his first wife, actress Anna Massey, with whom he had a son.

He became depressed after his second wife Joan Wilson, a producer of Masterpiece Theater and Mystery! on public television, died of cancer in 1985. Brett suffered a nervous breakdown, but recovered and went back to his portrayal of Holmes. He had another bout of depression and was hospitalized in 1994.

'I am totally saddened by Jeremy's death. He was a great friend and a really remarkable actor,' Edward Hardwicke, who played Holmes' partner, Dr. Watson, said Wednesday.

June Wyndham Davies, who produced most of the Sherlock Holmes TV films, said Brett was 'the definitive Sherlock Holmes', a man deeply loved by his cast and crew.

Funeral plans were not immediately announced."


Jeremy Brett's distinguished features became known to millions through his captivating and critically acclaimed portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

He played the character, with whom he said he had nothing in common, for nearly 10 years and made more appearances in the part than Basil Rathbone.

Brett brought a power sense of dark drama to the role and performed it with a theatricality that distinguished him from his predecessors. To many critics, his portrayal was definitive.

He once said: 'Holmes was threatening me. He became the dark side of the moon because he is moody and solitary and I am sociable and gregarious. It got dangerous for me.'

Born Peter Jeremy William Huggins, he was the fourth and youngest son of a Warwickshire army colonel.

He was educated at Eton and studied acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

When he declared his intention to become an actor, his father would not allow him to use the name Huggins. Brett allegedly adopted the name of his tailor.

His early career was a meteoric success.

Good looks helped him to secure many successful leading stage roles and a part in the film version of My Fair Lady.

His wedding to actress Anna Massey in 1958 was a society event. But they divorced four years later. They had one son.

During the 1970's Brett was much less of a headline-maker, contenting himself with parts in television dramas, including work in the United States and Canada.

He began playing Sherlock Holmes in 1984 and it proved a major relaunch of his career. The Granada ITV series were watched avidly by millions of devotees.

There was a huge critical acclaim for Brett's acting throughout the 41 adventures and for many he became the epitome of Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective.

But in 1985, following the death from cancer of his second wife, American producer Joan Sullivan, whom he married in 1978, he suffered a much publicised nervous breakdown.

After recovering in a psychiatric hospital, he returned to continue playing Holmes at his very best for several more years. His popularity was undiminished.

However, in November 1993 he fell ill filming for a new series and was diagnosed as suffering from a heart problem.

Brett's last public words were heard 10 years ago by listeners to BBC Radio 4, when he made an emotional appeal on behalf of the Manic Depression Society.

He spoke about his life with the disease and how he adapted to coping with violent mood swings.

Holmes fans paid tribute to the actor many felt portrayed the true version of the detective.

Phillip Weller, a senior official of the Franco-Midland Hardware Co., a society which gets its name from a Holmes story, said Brett 'developed the part enormously.

'It's a very introspective role and Jeremy was very sensitive to Conan Doyle's original text.

'His portrayal has set a new standard by which all subsequent perfomances will have to be judged,' he said.

Well, it looks like I'll only be able to include the above articles. Just one more bit of Brettnews before I go: Sonia Fetherston has provided a bittersweet follow-up to the "Sir Jeremy" article in TBE #11. It seems Jeremy was on the list for next year's O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). The Hounds of the Internet posting from which this news came concluded as follows: "I had enjoyed a very pleasant correspondence with Brett, I'm happy to say. He seemed to me a 'verray parfit gentil knyght.' Most of all, I loved his enthusiasm for the Canon, and how delighted he was with the opportunity of portraying his hero. I'm going to miss him a lot. Adieu, Mr. B.--Lee Eric Shackleford."

We're going to miss him a lot, too...

--Lisa :-(

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