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!