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Which Holmes (or Watson) Has Your Heart?

Narrelle Harris Dr John Watson Janet Anderton Art Sherlock Holmes

A few years ago, I was bustling about the old homestead, being all domestic (making dinner I expect) while an old episode of Poirot played in the living room.

And then I heard a voice speak. It was a warm voice. Kind, deep, caring. Whatever tension was in my body vanished in a rush of affection. I felt safe and infused with a sense of incredible wellbeing and the knowledge that whatever might be wrong in the world would be all right.

Naturally, this also confused me. Who the hell was speaking that his voice should reach directly into my cerebral cortex and make me feel so suddenly secure?

At first I didn’t recognise him under the grey beard, but a moment later I had a clear view of his eyes as he spoke again and I knew.

The Voice of Utmost Reassurance belonged to David Burke—the first celluloid John Watson I ever loved.

I adored Burke and Jeremy Brett together in the Granada series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. They were the duo who, in the 1980s, led me to the original Conan Doyle stories. Before then I hadn’t much cared for most screen versions of the stories. Holmes was always a bit archly avuncular; Watson a bit thick. Neither seemed to be enriched by the company of the other, and I was generally enriched by neither.

And then there was Jeremy Brett—sharp-edged but often kind; sometimes impatient yet oddly dreamy; a man of cold logic but also of philosophy, marveling at the pure good of flowers. He would declare sentiment an enemy to reason, but his endless fondness for his good friend was ever evident.

The Pavlovian response of security I have at the sound of David Burke’s voice is part and parcel of knowing that with his voice comes that of Jeremy Brett. All will be well, because Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are here to set things to rights, and if they can’t prevent crimes, they’ll yet seek justice for them.  And they’ll do so as fast friends, who do not have to have the same gifts in order to fight for the same cause or to stand by each other.

Through Granada’s Brett and Burke, I found the true heart of Arthur Conan Doyle’s singular detective and his just as singular biographer. I found a friendship that endures and that seeks adventure.

As much as I have loved later portrayals, including the early years of BBC Sherlock and the fabulous rapport between Joan Watson and Sherlock in Elementary, the Holmes and Watson that draw me time and again are my dear friends from Granada.

Of course I reread the stories regularly too. But when times are rough and the world seems more unpredictable and threatening than can be borne, I go to the Holmes and Watson of my heart.

I watch the Granada version of The Red-Headed League, where Holmes and Watson can’t contain their hilarity any longer and start laughing their heads off at poor Jabez Wilson. I look for Watson’s gleeful expression when Holmes grudgingly admits that perhaps Mrs Hudson’s spring cleaning is partly responsible for Holmes’s agitated mood at the start of The Resident Patient. I melt at the scene in The Empty House where Holmes lands in Watson’s surgery (Watson now portrayed by the equally lovely and reassuring Edward Hardwicke) and falls asleep mid-discussion on the surgery table, only to be gently tucked in by his good doctor.

All of these moments and more give me comfort, peace, pleasure and joy when I’m most in need of reassurance.

So right now, in a world full of modern iterations of Moriarty, Baron Gruner and Grimsby Roylott, I’ve been turning to my best beloved Holmes and Watson of an evening, and as always, they make me feel that friendship, loyalty, reason and justice will win against all comers. They are not just a comfort, but a beacon to show how times like these should be met.

Is there a version of Holmes or Watson you turn to when you want to visit an old favourite, for whatever reason?

Share with us the Holmes and Watson of your heart!



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  • SisterofWar on

    Which Watson and Holmes are “mine”? Well, was first introduced to the pair via the books when I was a child, but a very young me was disgusted when I read about someone so intelligent taking drugs (what can I say, it was the era of “Just Say No”). But as I got a older, and saw both some of the Grenada episodes, as well as a couple of Rathbone, on public television, I went back to the books and found that Holmes was much more identifiable to me. He was almost inhumanly smart, but with a human’s failings. And the Watson of literature wasn’t the sometimes-forgettable sidekick that Rathbone’s version had made of him – it was his eyes, his heart, his voice that gave Sherlock to the world. And he was a man with failings, just as human as Holmes was. I’ve read Doyle’s work, as well as versions from countless other authors (call them pastiches or fanficiton, the authors still have their own love for the Detective and the Doctor shining through). I’ve enjoyed many incarnations of that pair on the large screen and the small, and there were parts of all of them that touched what I saw when I read those books.
    Ultimately, I don’t have a set of actors who embody Holmes and Watson, but rather sets of moments – Cumberbatch’s rapid-fire deductions at Sherlock and Watson’s first meeting; Law asleep against Downey’s shoulder as their Holmes and Watson wait in gaol; even the interactions in the amusingly silly Young Sherlock Holmes have a spark of what those characters are to one another, and to me. So really, my Sherlock and Watson are all Sherlocks and their Watsons.

  • Lin TPurr on

    For me, it’s a tie between my first screen Holmes, Basil Rathbone, and the first two seasons of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch. Rathbone was brilliant as Holmes and I immediately fell in love with the character. That’s what led me to read the stories. The only problem with Rathbone’s Holmes was his Watson. As he was written in those films he was truly painful to watch, a bumbling clown and comic foil to Holmes. In no way could he have written the accounts of Holmes adventures. There was only one scene that I fondly recall where he got the better of Holmes. It was at the successful end of their case and they were sitting in 221B relaxing. Holmes had a glass dome containing a fly on the table next to him and he was plucking various notes on his violin as Waston was trying to read the paper. Finally, Watson asked him what the hell he was doing. Holmes replied that he was trying to find a musical note whose frequency would kill the fly. After watching him another few minutes Waston lost his patience and, folding up his newspaper, he lifted the dome and swatted the fly. Then he gave Holmes a look that said, ‘you can be incredibly stupid sometimes.’ Holmes looked irritated for a moment but then smiled to acknowledge his friend’s wisdom in this case. Martin Freeman is the perfect Watson to Benedict’s endearing Holmes.

  • Juliet on

    Depends on what you mean by “of your heart”. I first fell in love with the literary Holmes and Watson when I was nine. But they were a bit less immediate and real than a movie or TV version. Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke became the perfect embodiment of canonical Holmes and Watson for me, and that hasn’t really changed.

    But if you mean the pair that got my engines running and sent my imagination soaring, it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. They made me believe that a non-platonic bond between the two men was plausible. I agree that Martin Freeman is a wonderful Watson. He has expertise in areas that Sherlock does not, like interpersonal relationships and marksmanship and the ability to diagnose and treat injuries and illness in real people. He’s not a bumbler or at all dumb. He’s not Sherlock’s dog, following behind and attacking on command, and he doesn’t just accept Sherlock’s rudeness, selfishness and arrogance without confrontation. He’s the man I want Watson to be. I love Benedict’s cheekbones, multicolored eyes and dramatic coat, but he isn’t the Sherlock of canon, who was courteous and gentlemanly and even empathetic. He is, however, a fascinating and sexy Sherlock who allows Watson and only Watson to become an intimate, and who gradually becomes more human and more vulnerable as his bond deepens. And there is no doubt that they love each other deeply, in a way that you don’t see very often in 21st century males who aren’t brothers or friends from childhood or gay partners. It is harder for me to see these two as good friends than it is for me to see them as passionate lovers who will finally discover that truth at some point.

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