Hear the Vintage Sherlock Holmes Radio Drama, Starring John Gielgud, Orson Welles & Ralph Richardson

Can there ever be such a thing as too much Sher­lock Holmes? Since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s cre­ation of the char­ac­ter in 1887, he’s nev­er gone out of style; there are often sev­er­al adap­ta­tions of Sher­lock Holmes—in film, tele­vi­sion, and otherwise—running simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and I nev­er hear any­one com­plain about Holmes over­load. In fact, Holmes holds the Guin­ness World Record for the most-por­trayed lit­er­ary char­ac­ter ever, with over 70 actors (but alas, no actress­es, yet) play­ing the bril­liant detec­tive in 254 screen adap­ta­tions. And that’s not even to men­tion the thou­sands of detec­tives and detec­tive-like char­ac­ters inspired by Holmes, or his many cameo appear­ances in oth­er fic­tion­al uni­vers­es.

Com­ments sec­tions may quib­ble and snipe, but it seems to me that we’ll nev­er run out of oppor­tu­ni­ties to make more Sher­lock Holmes films, tele­vi­sion shows, video games, ful­ly immer­sive holo­graph­ic vir­tu­al real­i­ty sim­u­la­tions…. But there’s one medi­um that seems to have slowed when it comes to adapt­ing Holmes—and every­thing else lit­er­ary: Radio. (Though sev­er­al pod­casts have picked up the slack.) And as much as we love to see the arch looks on Holmes actors’ faces as they aston­ish and per­plex their var­i­ous Watsons—radio is a medi­um well suit­ed to the dia­logue-dri­ven dra­ma of Conan Doyle’s sto­ries. One clas­sic demon­stra­tion of this is a series of Holmes radio plays that ran from 1939 to 1947 and starred for a time per­haps the quin­tes­sen­tial screen inter­preters of Holmes and Wat­son, Basil Rath­bone and Nigel Bruce.

The New Adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes, as it was called, took a light­heart­ed approach to the char­ac­ters and, as one review­er puts it, could feel “quite rushed,” with the actors giv­en lit­tle time to rehearse. Although the orig­i­nal series has many mer­its, in the ‘50s, NBC decid­ed to improve upon it, tak­ing the radio tran­scrip­tions of the Conan Doyle sto­ries and re-record­ing them with new actors. Which actors? In many episodes, two of the finest British stage actors of their gen­er­a­tion: Sir John Giel­gud as Holmes and Ralph Richard­son as Wat­son. And in one episode, an adap­ta­tion of “The Final Prob­lem,” the pro­duc­ers found to play their Pro­fes­sor Mori­ar­ty an actor whose voice dom­i­nat­ed some of the most pop­u­lar radio broad­casts of the age: Orson Welles.

You can lis­ten to “The Final Prob­lem” with Giel­gud, Richard­son, and Welles at the top of the post; hear all of the 1950’s New Adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes episodes (125 in all) just above, and down­load them at the Inter­net Archive. And, fur­ther up, hear thir­ty-two broad­casts of the orig­i­nal New Adven­tures star­ring Rath­bone and Bruce. Like all com­mer­cial media then and now, each episode fea­tures its share of… well, com­mer­cials. But they also fea­ture some very fine voice act­ing and excel­lent music and sound design. Most impor­tant­ly, they fea­ture the genius of Sher­lock Holmes, who will live for­ev­er, it seems, in our imag­i­na­tive media, what­ev­er form it hap­pens to take.

These fine record­ings will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read the Lost Sher­lock Holmes Sto­ry That Was Just Dis­cov­ered in an Attic in Scot­land

Down­load the Com­plete Sher­lock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mas­ter­piece

Arthur Conan Doyle Dis­cuss­es Sher­lock Holmes and Psy­chics in a Rare Filmed Inter­view (1927)

Sher­lock Holmes Is Now in the Pub­lic Domain, Declares US Judge

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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