“Earlier this month Jeremy Brett would have turned 78. Despite having a very varied and distinguished career as an actor, he is invariably best know for playing Sherlock Holmes in the Granada series. For me personally, he was and always will be; THE Victorian Sherlock Holmes.
He was mesmerizing in the role, a charismatic and talented actor who brought a multi faceted and certainly immensely challenging character to life, capturing his essence in a way I believe had never been done before so completely. He has ruined me for any other actor to play the role in period and when I reread the canon now I hear Jeremy’s voice in my head speaking Sherlock’s lines, not because I am most familiar with his version, but because his portrayal embodies Holmes’ character so completely.
It was Jeremy Brett who brought Sherlock Holmes into my life and as the founder of Sherlockology, I owe him a great deal. Were it not for him, I would not have watched that first episode on BBC One in July 2010 of ‘Sherlock: A Study in Pink’ and thus Sherlockology would never have come about. Therefore, I would like to indulge in a little tribute to the magnificently sublime and forever missed, Jeremy Brett.”
– Jules, Team Sherlockology
Peter Jeremy William Huggins, later to be known as Jeremy Brett, was born to Henry William; the decorated Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire, and Elizabeth Edith Huggins; from the world-famous chocolatier Cadbury family, on November 3, 1933, in Berkswell Grange, Warwickshire, England.
Educated at the prestigious English Public School Eton, he excelled at singing and was a member of the college choir, despite having been born with a speech impediment that was corrected later by surgery as a teenager. By his own words, he claimed to have been an "academic disaster" however, suffering learning difficulties that he attributed to dyslexia. Drawn to drama, his father expressed a desire for him not to use the family name on the stage as a student, feeling acting was a dubious profession, and demanded he should change his name for the sake of the family honour. Jeremy therefore took his stage name from the label in his first suit, “Brett and Co.”
Training as an actor at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, he became lifelong friends with actor Robert Stephens, know in the Holmesian world for his portrayal of the consulting detective in ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes’. They would go on to share rooms and roles, serve as each other’s best man, and sadly died within two months of one another. Jeremy made his professional acting debut at the Library Theatre in Manchester in 1954. His London stage debut would come two years later, with the Old Vic Company in Troilus and Cressida. In the same year he appeared on Broadway as the Duke of Aumerle in Richard II and went on to play numerous Shakespearean parts in his early career with the Old Vic and later with the Royal National Theatre.
A regular face on the British television screen, he was often cast in period roles, joking that, as an actor, he was “rarely allowed into the 20th century and never into the present day”. His feature film appearances were relatively few, however he was cast as Nicholas Rostov in ‘War and Peace’ opposite Audrey Hepburn only to reunite with her again for his role as Freddie Eynsford-Hill in the 1964 blockbuster film version of ‘My Fair Lady’. Although clearly adoring his costar, stating, "Audrey really is a darling. There’s something wonderful about her that no man can explain, but every man can feel!" his entire experience of the film was not so fulfilling.Although possessing a very talented singing voice, he was deeply hurt when the decision was made to dub his voice for his character’s song, ‘On the Street Where You Live’. He later was able to prove his vocal prowess however when he played Danilo in ‘The Merry Widow’ on British television in 1968.
Jeremy married British actress Anna Massey in 1958, and had a son together in 1959 named David Raymond William Huggins, but the marriage was not to last and ended in divorce four years later. He married a second time, to American public television producer Joan Wilson (a.k.a. Sullivan) in 1977 and was a stepfather to her two children, although saw little distinction between them and his own son, describing all three as "my children." He was deeply committed to Joan, he said of their relationship, "We had a once-in-a-lifetime love. She was an incredible person, the best wife a man could have. This was the kind of relationship where I would start a sentence and she would finish it. Sometimes you can see behind somebody’s eyes and feel as if you have known them all your life. That’s how it was." In July 1985, Joan died of cancer, shortly after he had finished filming Holmes’ death’ in ‘The Final Problem’ for the Granada Sherlock Holmes series. Devastated by her death, he struggled to finish filming. On set he was reported to have manic episodes and excessive changes of mood, until eventually grief and workload became too much for him resulting in a breakdown. He was hospitalised and diagnosed with manic-depression. It was a condition he knew would never be cured, but he wanted to go back to work, to play Holmes again making the comment "But, darlings, the show must go on".
During the last decade of his life, Jeremy was treated in hospital several times for his mental illness. His health and appearance visibly deteriorated by the time he completed the later episodes of the Sherlock Holmes series, but his ambition was to complete adaptations for all 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories and the four novels. Sadly, he never completed this task.
Jeremy died of Cardiomyopathy (heart failure) on September 12th, 1995. His heart valves were scarred by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever which were further damaged by the toxic buildup of the medication used to treat his bipolar disorder, and by his heavy smoking. Although he had been diagnosed with the condition in the same year of his death, he was told he needed a heart transplant, to which 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.
Jeremy wasn’t buried, but cremated, and as such, has no ‘final resting place’ for people to pay their respects to this extraordinary man. The best memorial we could bestow on him however, is for us to simply remember him and continue to watch the wonderful gift he left to us; his work.
The Complete Collection of the Granada series of Sherlock Holmes is available at Amazon UK as are My Fair Lady and War and Peace
There is also a campaign which aims to obtain a posthumous BAFTA for Jeremy Brett which you can read more about on their website www.bafta4jb.com
Lastly, we would like to share a short fan video with you we found on YouTube accompanied by the delightful song ‘Jeremy Brett’ by Poi Dog Pondering
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