Jeremy Brett (1935-1995)

Jeremy Brett, the actor who has died aged 59, was one of the most accomplished and versatile leading men of his generation. Born Peter Jeremy William Huggins at Berkswell near Coventry on 3rd November 1935, the son of a distinguished army officer, Lt Col HW Huggins, Brett was educated at Eton and after studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama, began his career at the Library Theatre, Manchester in 1954. He made his first London appearance two years later, as Patroclus in Troilus And Cressida at the Old Vic.

Over the next four decades, Brett made numerous stage appearances in England, North America and Canada, in productions of Macbeth, Romeo And Juliet, Richard III, Hamlet, As You Like It, The Merchant Of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Terrence Rattigan’s Variations On A Theme, Turgenev’s A Month In The Country, Marlowe’s Edward II, John Mortimer’s A Voyage Round My Father and Noel Coward’s Design For Living among many others.

Brett also cultivated a career in film and television. On the large screen he had parts in War And Peace (as Nikolai Rostov, 1956), The Wild And The Willing (1962), The Very Edge (1962), My Fair Lady (as Freddie Eynsford-Hill, 1964), The Medusa Touch (1978) and, most recently, Mad Dogs And Englishmen (1995). On television he took the name part in The Picture Of Dorian Gray, and also appeared in Rebecca, The Barretts Of Wimpole Street, The School For Scandal, The Good Soldier, The Baron (as Jeff Walker in The Seven Eyes Of Night), The Champions (as The Bey in Desert Journey) and Galactica 1980 (as the villainous Xavier in Spaceball). In 1972, he guest starred as Prince Kahan in the …With A Little Help From My Friends episode of Gerry Anderson’s The Protectors.

However, it was for his definitive portrayal as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes in a series of productions by Granada Televison that Brett became known to millions in the 1980s. He first appeared in the role in 1984 in A Scandal In Bohemia, the first episode of The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes. Four further series followed, The Return Of Sherlock Holmes (1985), The Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes (1991) and The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes (1994), along with five feature length productions, The Sign Of Four (1987), The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1988), The Master Blackmailer (1992), The Last Vampyre (1993) and The Eligible Bachelor (1993).

His last stage appearance was also as Holmes in The Secret Of Sherlock Holmes at Wyndham’s Theatre in London in 1988 and later on tour. Here he co-starred with Edward Hardwicke (Dr. John Watson in the Granada Productions from The Return Of Sherlock Holmes onwards) in a dramatic two-hander that explored Holmes’ troubled psyche and addiction to cocaine. After collapsing with heart trouble last year while filming The Cardboard Box, the final episode of The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes, Brett said, “I would be risking my heart, head and neck if I was to stick it on the block again playing Holmes.”

Brett married actress Anna Massey in 1958 but the union was dissolved in 1963. He later married American television executive Joan Wilson Sullivan (producer of Masterpiece Theatre for PBS) in 1977, but her death from cancer in 1985 plunged Brett into a depression from which he never recovered. His last performance was in a film dramatisation of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, yet to be released. He died in his sleep, of heart failure, at his home in Clapham, South London early in the morning of 12th September 1995.

Originally published in FAB 22.