Woodbridge: Sherlock of the sixties discusses famous Holmes role

Interview with former Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Wilmer at his home in Woodbridge. Interview with former Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Wilmer at his home in Woodbridge.

Monday, January 6, 2014
9:51 AM

Douglas Wilmer, who turns 94 this week, knows what it’s like to bear the frock coat, deerstalker and encapsulate the steely logic of history’s greatest fictional sleuth.

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Douglas Wilmer feature  As Sherlock Holmes (left) with David Burke (right)Douglas Wilmer feature As Sherlock Holmes (left) with David Burke (right)

More than nine million people are said to have tuned in to the long-awaited opening of the BBC’s new Sherlock series – eager to learn how the great detective faked his own death.

Mr Wilmer, whose depiction of Holmes drew even greater audiences in the 1960s, understands the national affection still felt for a character he famously portrayed.

“Although it couldn’t be less like my perpetration, the character and story remains fascinating to people,” said the former stage and screen actor, who lives with his wife, Anne, in Woodbridge.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation was one of many great roles Mr Wilmer filled – opposite some of the most accomplished actors of their day.

His filmography includes Olivier’s Richard III, Cleopatra, The Fall of the Roman Empire and Patton, plus appearances in Jason and the Argonauts, Octopussy and the Pink Panther films A Shot in the Dark and Revenge of the Pink Panther.

In 1964 he adopted the guise of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s production of The Speckled Band.

“I was reasonably well-known in television and had the right sort of look, voice and possibly the manner for Sherlock,” said Mr Wilmer, who made another dozen television appearances as the character, as well as a one-off return in Gene Wilder’s The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.

In the 1990s, he read a number of acclaimed Penguin audiobook versions of the stories.

After rising to fame, Mr Wilmer left London for Suffolk to take a break from the spotlight.

He said: “The moment I finished the series I went to Greece for a holiday.

“At the Oracle in Delphi I was followed by a man who sidled up to say I was ‘a bit far from 221b Baker Street’. Evidently, I thought, not far enough!”

Mr Wilmer moved to a cottage outside Woodbridge before settling in the town centre and opening Sherlock’s Wine Bar in The Thoroughfare – now an Indian restaurant, Zunaki.

His life and career are chronicled in a 2009 memoir, Stage Whispers, in which Mr Wilmer describes working with some of stage and screen’s all time greats.

Among them, Laurence Olivier, who he thought of not only the greatest, but also the most imposing.

“When I first met him he was absolutely charming, but he could be quite terrifying when in charge.

“One can get to know people intimately when working with them.”

You can order a copy of Mr Wilmer’s autobiography, Stage Whispers, from www.porterpress.co.uk.

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