Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce
Although screen representations of Sherlock Holmes had been produced for nearly 3 decades, it really wasn't until about 1930 that Sherlock Holmes made it to American radio audiences.
These early recordings appear to be lost (although `lost' recordings still turn up from time to time), and starred Richard Gordon as Holmes and Leigh Lovel as Dr. Watson. The shows were sponsored by George Washington Coffee, and aired on Wednesday evenings.
American sponsors at first worried that the cerebral Holmes would be too sophisticated for American audiences, but due to the lobbying of Edith Meiser, a Broadway actress with a passion for Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, the show was given a time slot on the NBC radio network.
Meiser would pen more than 300 adaptations, first from the cannon works, and then original stories in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle. So adept was she at writing these scripts that she received high praise from Doyle's family.
Holmes would remain on the radio, in one form or another, for decades to come.
Orson Welles, the boy genius of radio, played Holmes in a Mercury Theatre broadcast in 1938, which is one of our earliest surviving Sherlock Holmes radio presentations.
The Immortal Sherlock Holmes
After their success on the big screen, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce teamed up to do The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, again penned by Edith Meiser, which ran from 1940 to 1947.
The format was curious, as each show began with the sponsor's (Petri Wine) spokesman who would show up at Dr. Watson's home (now retired in California), and Watson would relate another adventure over a glass of the sponsor's product.
In 1947 Rathbone left the show, despite a handsome offer from the sponsor, because he feared he was becoming type cast as Holmes.
Rathbone was replaced for a year by Tom Conway, but Nigel Bruce took top billing as Dr. Watson (seniority, I suppose).
Tom Conway was George Sander's slightly less famous brother, who is probably best remembered for taking over the role of The Falcon from Sanders after the third movie (They killed off Sanders and had the falcon's brother take over).
In 1949, Nigel Bruce left the show, and a new cast consisting of John Stanley and Alfred Shirley took over. The series was running out of steam, however, and would only run another year.
During the 1950's John Gielgud played Holmes for BBC radio in the 1950s, with Ralph Richardson as Watson.
Luckily, many of these shows have survived, and are available for downloading. The audio quality of some of these isn't the best, but given that some of them are nearly 70 years old, that is to be expected.
Some high sound quality Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce episodes can be downloaded here. A word of warning, these files are rather large.
If you are on dialup, you'd be better off going to the second set of files.
A partial listing includes:
391106 - Bruce-Partington Plans
400311 - The Retired Colourman
440515 - Adventure Of The Missing Bloodstain
450326 - The Book of Tobit
450402 - The Amateur Mendicant Society
450409 - The Viennese Strangler
450423 - The Notorious Canary Trainer
450430 - Unfortunate Tobacconist
450507 - The Purloined Ruby
450514 - On the Flanders
A mixture of shows that aired from from 1938 to the early 1960's may be found HERE. The audio quality (and file sizes) are lower, but most are quite listenable.
SH_1938-09-25_Case of Alice F
-SH_1940-10-08_The Copper Beac
For Holmes addicts, there are scores of hours of these shows available on the Internet Archive. There are also audio books of Sherlock Holmes' adventures, as well.
A listing of Holmes related audio files can be found HERE.
If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, there are literally hundreds of hours of recordings available for you to enjoy.
Next time, Sherlock Holmes on TV.