248. Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes Smokes a Peterson Churchwarden

I am honored this week to proffer R. Dixon Smith’s short memoir
documenting the Peterson churchwarden Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes smoked
in the acclaimed Granada Television series (1984-94).

I’m an American, but I lived in England—in Cambridge—for a number of years, and Jeremy Brett and I were good friends. I have some information about the Peterson churchwarden Jeremy smoked in the Granada Television Sherlock Holmes series, which aired between 1984 and 1994.

Much of the information concerning Jeremy’s pipes I picked up not from Jeremy but from David Round, Granada’s props buyer. JB was left-handed, by the way. Sherlock Holmes was not—all the major illustrators, starting with Sidney Paget, depicted Holmes as being right-handed. As a result, Jeremy had to learn to smoke his pipes and cigarettes right-handed. Jeremy had never smoked a pipe before he became Holmes. His older brother, John Huggins, a clergyman, was a lifelong pipe smoker. When Jeremy was named Pipe Smoker of the Year in 1989 and appeared on the cover of Pipe Smokers Welcome! magazine, his brother teased him mercilessly for being a non-pipe-smoker who wound up on the cover of Pipe Smokers Welcome!

Michael Cox offered Jeremy the role of Sherlock Holmes in 1982.  After some hesitation, Jeremy finally accepted the part later that year.  The series went into production in mid-1983, before which time Jeremy and David Round, Granada’s property buyer, went out shopping for pipes.  David bought several, and Jeremy, who’d never before smoked a pipe, was immediately drawn by the Peterson churchwarden.

(This shot from “A Scandal in Bohemia” shows Sherlock Holmes’s pipe collection to advantage: the gourd calabash he will smoke in “The Final Problem,” the 124 churchwarden (with oxidized stem and new bend), and in the pipe rack a second Peterson 124 Calabash with unmodified black stem (bowl and stem taken apart), a Peterson XL315 Calabash System, a long white clay and a straight pipe that might be a Dunmore Classic Range. And let’s not forget the persian slipper tobacco pouch hanging from the mantelpiece!)

Neither Jeremy nor David ever told me precisely which churchwarden they found.  What we know now is that Jeremy began the series smoking a slender canted Peterson Dublin (the 124) just as it was, but very soon was rebent by the property department.

This was the smooth Dublin calabash offered at the time of the series, from the 1979-80 Peterson-Glass catalog.

David bought two identical Peterson churchwardens that day, the second a back-up in case the first was dropped and broken.  It wasn’t, but they eventually began using the second pipe after the first disappeared.  Jeremy told me that two groups had toured the set the week the first churchwarden went missing, one of which was the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.  He felt certain that it was not one of their members who nicked it.  Some years later, David Round told me that “we aged both of them,” the “we” implying that it was the props department that performed the magic.  The stem, remember, wasn’t black; it was the same tan [oxidized] color as the bowl.

Note the aging effect (oxidation of the stem) performed by the property department.

I bought my own rusticated 124 churchwarden in 1987. I once told Jeremy that whenever I smoked mine, I imagined that I was JB as SH.  (A friend, but still a fan.)  He laughed and said simply, “That’s nice.”  I only found out that he wasn’t really a pipe smoker (he smoked cigarettes) when I remarked that we should smoke our pipes together.  He told me that Holmes’ pipes were at Granada in Manchester (some two-and-a-half hours north of London), and that he only smokes them when he’s filming.  He was, however, immensely proud of having been named “Pipe Smoker of the Year” in 1989.  When he appeared on the cover of Pipe Smokers Welcome!, they used the shot of him smoking the gourd calabash at Reichenbach.  He and Michael Cox thought it would make a clever in-joke, and it did.  In the close-up, he looks at the bowl and smiles, as if to say, “I know I don’t smoke this kind of pipe, and I know that you know that I don’t, but we’ve included it as a bit of a joke nonetheless!”

At the base of the Reichenbach Falls in “The Final Problem.”

What happened to the churchwarden after Jeremy’s death?  After completing The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with David Burke in 1984, Jeremy’s wife, Joan Wilson, the producer of WGBH-TV’s PBS series Mystery!, died of cancer.  Jeremy suffered an emotional collapse and was diagnosed with manic depression.  (The term bipolar is not used in England.  Even the bipolar foundation is called the Manic Depression Fellowship.)  Jeremy began taking lithium and soon began filming The Return of Sherlock Holmes with Edward Hardwicke.  About three years later Jeremy met Linda Pritchard, who became his girlfriend and companion for the rest of his life.  Several years after Jeremy died—he was only 61—David Round called me and asked if I could put him in touch with Linda.  He told me that he had come across the churchwarden and thought that Linda should have it.  I gave him Linda’s phone number and David sent her the pipe.  Linda eventually sold it.  She never told me who’d bought it, and I felt it inappropriate to ask.

 The original Rupert Press edition of  A Study in Celluloid.

I was well known in Sherlockian circles, for, although my principal occupation was that of bluegrass musician, I also ran Rupert Books, the UK’s leading specialist in Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle.  The business was founded in 1983, and I added a publishing imprint to it in 1997, later publishing Linda Pritchard’s book, The Jeremy Brett-Linda Pritchard Story:  On the Wings of Paradise, as well as Michael Cox’s award-winning book on the creation and production of the series, A Study in Celluloid:  A Producer’s Account of Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.  When I told Linda that I would have bought Jeremy’s churchwarden for my own collection, she told me that she knew that but had feared that I might have sold it through Rupert Books.  She was concerned that if it got out that she’d sold the pipe, she’d have faced heavy criticism from the Sherlockian world.

When I published A Study in Celluloid in 1999, I held the book launch at Murder One, London’s leading crime- and detective-fiction bookshop.  There I was, all the books on display, when I received a call from Sandra Cox, Michael’s wife, telling me that Michael had taken suddenly ill; his doctor had warned him not to travel by train to London, lest she have to hospitalize him the following day for pneumonia.  The launch had been given a lot of publicity, and numerous members of the Granada team were coming to celebrate.  Amongst those present that evening were John Hawkesworth, the commissioning script editor, who’d worked on David Lean’s The Third Man in 1948; Jeremy Paul, who’d written many of the scripts, including “The Speckled Band,” “The Naval Treaty,” and “The Musgrave Ritual”; Patrick Gowers, who composed the theme and incidental music; John Bruce, who directed several early episodes, including “The Speckled Band” and “The Dancing Men”; and David Burke.  Both Watsons were to have been there, but I’d received a call from Ted Hardwicke in France the day before; he wasn’t going to be able to make it, because the film he was shooting had run behind schedule.  All those books and no author.  And then I thought of Dr. Watson.  I called David [who played Watson first in the series], who immediately asked me what he could do to help.  I asked him if he would autograph the books, and so he did.  That’s the story of how Dr. Watson saved the book launch!

Isn’t it fascinating that Jeremy fell under the spell of the 124 churchwarden that had been in the Peterson catalogue since 1945?  To me it almost suggests inevitability—the perfect actor in the perfect Sherlock Holmes series, at least the only series to be completely faithful to Conan Doyle’s stories—smoking the perfect Peterson pipe!

The first series was shot in 1983 and 1984, and was televised in the UK in 1984 and 1985 and in the States in 1985 and 1986.  I was a member of the Norwegian Explorers, the University of Minnesota chapter of the Baker Street Irregulars.  After giving a talk on the series’ first season to the Explorers, I was commissioned by the curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota—the largest institutional collection of Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle material in the world—to write a monograph on the subject, to be published by the University of Minnesota Libraries Special Collections.  In the course of my research, I wrote to Michael Cox at Granada Studios in Manchester (this before the advent of the internet).  Michael sent me loads of information and many stills, including the order in which the first thirteen episodes were shot, and this led to a friendship that lasted until Michael’s death.

Jeremy & Dixon

Once I completed the monograph, I sent it to Michael prior to publication, and after reading it he passed it on to Jeremy.  At that point Michael put me in touch with Jeremy, and we corresponded now and again until we finally met in 1989, after a performance of The Secret of Sherlock Holmes.  We hit it off and spent the following afternoon together, until he had to get ready for that night’s performance.  He told me that he’d re-read my monograph that morning and had called Michael and discussed it.  The result was that he urged me to continue and write the definitive history of the Granada series.  I didn’t, but David Stuart Davies and Michael Cox did.  We kept in touch by post until, several years later, I moved to England and we resumed our friendship.  By then Jeremy’s health had become precarious, but we managed the occasional lunch and visits to pubs, plus glorious, rambling telephone conversations.  And then, suddenly, in 1995, Jeremy went to sleep and never woke up.

I’ve always hoped I might be able to interest Kapp & Peterson in issuing a stamped, numbered Jeremy Brett commemorative churchwarden, replicating the bend, the unbanded 124 bowl and even the tan-colored mouthpiece. If you’re at all interested, please leave a comment as this will help Mark and I know the feasibility of such a project.

R. Dixon Smith

For Further Reading

Dixon: For those interested in pursuing the creation and making of the Granada Series, may I suggest A Study in Celluloid, still available from Gasogene, as well as  David Stuart Davies’ Bending the Willow:  Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, both indispensable studies of the Granada series.  [Mark: I would also recommend Dixon’s own monograph, Jeremy Brett and David Burke:  An Adventure in Canonical Fidelity, which is a wonderful story-to-cinema comparison of the first Granada series as well as selected earlier cinematic portrayals of Holmes and Watson.]

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