‘Jeremy Brett: Playing a Part’ reviewed

❉ Maureen Whittaker’s book is a testament to the definitive on-screen Sherlock’s long and varied career.

“You couldn’t get a more detailed and enjoyable account of an actor’s career if the man himself was sitting next to you at the dinner table. From his first breath on 3 November 1933 to his final role in Moll Flanders, broadcast a year after his death on Sept 12, 1995, nothing escapes this book.”

Before Sherlock became all cheekbones and collars, and Holmes was played by a steampunk Iron Man, and way before Henry Cavill went and upset Sherlockians with his Victorian beefcake, there was Jeremy Brett. To many, he is still the definitive on-screen Holmes. The Granada series of Conan Doyle’s stories ran for ten years, and ever since, he has been singled out as the most popular and Canon-faithful Holmes to appear on screen.

But although the role consumed him, Brett was more than just Sherlock Holmes, much more, and if anything establishes this, it’s Maureen Whittaker’s book, Jeremy Brett: Playing a part , with a foreword written by Brett’s first Watson, David Burke. There is a paperback and a hardback edition available, I plumped for the big boy hardback edition which comes in at 466 pages and weighs as much as a small child. The book is a testament to Brett’s long and varied career, did you know that he appeared on The Love Boat, The Incredible Hulk, The Champions, and Hart to Hart? In fact, we don’t even get to talking about Holmes until page 281!

You couldn’t get a more detailed and enjoyable account of an actor’s career if the man himself was sitting next to you at the dinner table. From his first breath on 3 November 1933 to his final role in Moll Flanders, broadcast a year after his death on Sept 12, 1995, nothing escapes this book. If Brett wore an unusual hat, had a bit part in Croydon pantomime, or wore an interesting pair of trousers, you can be damned sure it’s in this book, somewhere.

The book’s focus is on his performing life, but it does also touch on some parts of his private life, such as his father’s death and his various relationships. But my goodness, if Whittaker had included all of Brett’s trysts, the book would have been double the size and I would be in the hospital with a hernia.

The amount of research done by Whittaker is astounding and it pays off in spades, there are wonderful anecdotes, peppered with quotes from Brett, and so many pictures, it’s as if you’d opened a thespian Pandora’s Box.

The reverence and love for this actor bounce off the pages, so the material never becomes stilted or dull, which is unusual for such a large non-fiction book focused on a very singular subject. If you’re looking for a word to describe this marvellous book about this marvellous actor, then that word is definitive. Most definitely, definitive.


❉ ‘Jeremy Brett – Playing A Part’ by Maureen Whittaker, originally published 5 September 2020 by Mx Publishing. Available from Amazon UK | Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

❉ Nicko Vaughan is one half of Nicko & Joe’s Bad Film Club. Website: http://www.badfilmclub.com

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