One of the best Watsons

Posted by Tory Historian Thursday, May 19, 2011 ,

It is a curious feature of this blog that the most likely postings that other blogs might link to are those about detective stories. One posting about the clerical mysteries of D. M. Greenwood has elicited at least two links from widely differing blogs. One from the very fine Clerical Detectives and another from the slightly more dulalee Mystery Mile, whose author a soi-disant atheist who is fascinated by theology, socialist and anarchist (which two are incompatible) shows some lack of understanding of conservative thinking. Still, his own writing is interesting and a link is a link is a link.

It would be good to think that people have also linked to the posting about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creations but, so far, no evidence of that has surfaced. We return to that subject after the sad news of the death of Edward Hardwicke, one of the best Dr Watsons to the best Holmes, played by Jeremy Brett.

One of the oddest things about Watson is how misunderstood he is by so many people. This obituary in the Telegraph, for instance, describes him as "the bumbling foil" to Holmes. As a number of comments point out, this is far from the truth. (A much better obituary in the Guardian.)

The Watson of the stories is steady, decent, intelligent though not a genius, courageous, a successful doctor, a man anyone would want to have around and one whom Holmes appreciates though when in a bad mood he does make derogatory comments. Holmes's appreciation of his friend and colleague is not the affectionate sarcasm of Poirot towards his genuinely stupid friend, Captain Arthur Hastings.

Where on earth did the myth of the stupid, bumbling Watson come from? Partly, one suspects, it is the influence of Agatha Christie's Hastings; partly it is the fault of Nigel Bruce in those execrable films with Basil Rathbone (such as The Hound of the Baskervilles).

All that began to change with Nigel Stock, in TH's opinion the best Watson, played to both Douglas Wilmer and Peter Cushing (an excellent Holmes). Jeremy Brett had two Watsons, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke who restored the original character of the sturdy, steady, perfectly presentable Watson. The most interesting interpretation was Michael Williams's on radio with Clive Merrison. Tory Historian possesses tapes of several episodes and enjoys listening to them. There seems to have been a clear decision made by the producers to make Watson's role bigger and more important - in a number of episodes he is an almost equal partner. A long way from Nigel Bruce's genuinely bumbling idiot but not too far from Edward Hardwicke's interpretation.


  1. S.M. MacLean Says:
  2. The death of Edward Hardwicke is very sad news indeed.

  3. Krystina Says:
  4. I found out about Mr. Hardwicke's death just the other day. It is sad indeed, my brother and I have fond memories of his Watson, even though we only saw the particular Holmes episodes in which he was two years ago or so.

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