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The world's first consulting detective
Sherlock Holmes (radio)
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Sherlock Holmes Vol.1 (audio)
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Sherlock Holmes Vol.1 (audio)
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Sherlock Holmes on Radio
By William Nadel (Baker Street Irregulars) and Anthony Tollin

The world's most famous fictional detective debuted in the pages of the 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual, and soon came to embody of the intellectual ideals of the Victorian Era. However, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Great Detective owes a great deal of his continued popularity to American radio. All but one of Conan Doyle's canonical stories were out of print when the author died on July 7, 1930, but the popularity of the American radio broadcasts quickly led to the reprinting of Doyle's original stories.

The stately Holmes of England was first brought to the airwaves on October 30, 1930 by Edith Meiser, a Broadway actress-turned-radio director who lobbied for years to bring the Great Detective's adventures to radio. "Sherlock is perfect air material," she proclaimed in 1936. "There are not too many clues. Holmes, you know, was the first deduction artist. Doyle, a scientist at heart, believed in mental, rather than physical action. Therefore Sherlock has excellent radio pace. It's uncanny how smoothly it works out for radio adaptation." For the first broadcast, Meiser recruited William Gillette, the acclaimed actor-playwright who had written and starred in the famous 1899 Sherlock Holmes stage play, and forever bequeathed to Holmes his own likeness and the trademark deerstalker hat, Inverness cape and meerschaum pipe. Gillette was succeeded the following week by Richard Gordon, who voiced the role for several years before being succeeded by Louis Hector, Basil Rathbone, Tom Conway, John Stanley and finally Ben Wright. Orson Welles voiced the Great Detective in a 1938 broadcast of CBS' legendary "Mercury Theatre on the Air" (with Ray Collins as Watson), while the crime fighting duo would be impersonated on the BBC by Carlton Hobbs and Norman Shelley for 17 years (and also by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson).

The character of Dr. John Watson was originally portrayed on American radio by Leigh Lovell, and later by Nigel Bruce, Alfred Shirley, Ian Martin, Wendell Holmes and finally Eric Snowden. In the radio scripts by Edith Meiser and her successors, the role of Watson was expanded, and the good doctor grew into the charming figure that would become the model for the character in Hollywood films. "I fell in love with Dr. Watson and I allowed myself to flesh him out into a rather cozy, warm gentleman with a sense of humor," Meiser recalled in 1985, "and I began to be aware that Dr. Watson was getting more fan mail than Sherlock Holmes, and we always had to keep that a secret from the detective."

After several seasons as a Hollywood-based series, Holmes returned to the airwaves September 28, 1947 in a New York-based production with John Stanley starring as the Great Detective. Although his Holmesian tones were almost identical to the legendary Basil Rathbone's, Stanley was a far more-polished radio performer and his portrayal of Holmes was among the finest in history of the long-running series. Stanley had been born and raised in London, less than half a mile from Baker Street, and had relocated to the United States after two years on the London stage. "My father had told me so much about his native New England that I decided I just had to see it," he explained in 1947. After working as an actor, announcer, and scriptwriter at Providence's WJAR, Stanley moved to network radio. A devoted fan of Conan Doyle's stories, John Stanley attended several gatherings of the Baker Street Irregulars and even authored a monograph on the handguns used by Holmes and Watson that appeared in the July 1948 issue of Black Mask.
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