Sherlock in the Media


It would be a long list, indeed, to include ALL of the times that the character of Sherlock Holmes has been adapted to film and TV, much less to include writing, visual arts, music and radio. The Universal Sherlock Holmes (1995) by Ronald B. DeWaal lists over 25,000 Holmes-related productions and products, and it has been asserted that Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring characters in the history of pop culture.

Here, then, are a few of the more noteworthy adaptations:


The actor most associated with Sherlock Holmes on stage was William Gillette, who wrote, directed, and starred in a popular play entitled, Sherlock Holmes, in seven different productions on Broadway from 1899 (it was filmed in 1916), while the stories were still being published, up until 1930. Gillette’s depiction of Holmes–dressed in deerstalker hat and Inverness cape and smoking a large curved calabash pipe,–contributed much to the popular image of the character. The other stage actor of note was Harry Arthur Saintsbury, who played Holmes on stage in Gillette’s play more than 1,400 times during the first twenty years of the 20th century.

More recent productions include:

  • The Royal Shakespeare Company’s celebrated 1974 Broadway production starring John Wood
  • Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke from the 1980’s Granada television series who reprised their roles as Holmes and Watson in 1988-89 in a West End stage play, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, written by Jeremy Paul
  • The recent 2015 regional theatre stagings of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery in Washington, D.C. and Princeton.
  • And the musical, Baker Street, starring Fritz Weaver, a rare stumble from director Harold Prince back in 1965.


It has been estimated that Sherlock Holmes is the most prolific screen character in the history of cinema. As it happens, a silent Sherlock film that was thought to be lost for almost 100 years has just been found! For decades, Arthur Berthelet’s 1916 Sherlock Holmes film was thought to be lost; but it turns out it was just hiding.  

  • In 1916, Harry Arthur Saintsbury, who had played Holmes on stage more than a thousand times in Gillette’s play, reprised the role in the aforementioned film, The Valley of Fear.
  • The next significant cycle of Holmes films were produced by Stoll Pictures in Britain between 1921 and 1923. They produced a total of 47 two-reelers, all featuring noted West End actor, Eille Norwood in the lead with Hubert Willis as Watson. A later British series produced between 1933 and 1936 starred Arthur Wontner as Holmes.
  • John Barrymore played the role in a 1922 movie entitled, Sherlock Holmes, with Roland Young as Watson and William Powell in his first screen appearance
  • Clive Brook played Sherlock Holmes three times: The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929), as part of an anthology film, Paramount on Parade (1930), and Sherlock Holmes (1932).
  • In 1931 Raymond Massey played Sherlock Holmes in his screen debut, The Speckled Band.
  • Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce played Holmes and Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles which launched a 14 film series. Rathbone is regarded as the Holmes of his generation.
  • The 1974 novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a “lost manuscript” of a Holmes adventure, was also made into a film in 1976 starring Nicol Williamson as Holmes and Robert Duvall as Watson.
  • Robert Downey, Jr. appears as the detective in the Guy Ritchie–directed, Sherlock Holmes (2009), and its sequel , Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), with Jude Law as Dr. Watson, Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, and Jared Harris as Moriarty. Recent reports confirm that Lionel Wigram, producer of the first two films, is currently developing Sherlock Holmes 3 with the expectation that the original stars will return in their roles.
  • In the 2015 film, Holmes, Ian McKellen portrays the detective as a 93-year-old retiree, living in a countryside farmhouse with his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her son. As his memory deteriorates, he struggles to recall the last case of his career, which sent him into retirement.


There have been many television incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, varying in faithfulness to the source material from direct adaptations of Holmes stories, most notably “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” to new stories set in the present day and even the future.

  • One of the earliest television appearances was the 1951 BBC mini-series, Sherlock Holmes, starring Alan Wheatley as Holmes and Raymond Francis as Watson.
  • Three years later, the first American adaptation of Holmes and Watson, Sherlock Holmes, was produced by Sheldon Reynolds and starred Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion-Crawford as Doctor Watson.
  • In the 1960s, there was a BBC TV series entitled with Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock. Peter Cushing, who had earlier played the detective in the Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, later took over from Wilmer in the lead role.
  • The 24-part, 1980 series, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, starred Geoffrey Whitehead as Holmes and Donald Pickering as Watson.
  • In 1982, Granada Television aired an eight-part series entitled, Young Sherlock: The Mystery of the Manor House, which told the story of Holmes’ youth. The show starred Guy Henry as Sherlock Holmes.
  • Jeremy Brett starred as Holmes in a Granada Television adaptation screened from 1984 to 1994, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with David Burke and subsequently Edward Hardwicke as Watson.
  • In 2007, the BBC released Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, a children’s series focusing on the Baker Street Irregulars, and starring Jonathan Pryce as Holmes.
  • In 2009, the BBC began making Sherlock, a contemporary remake of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Three seasons of three 90-minute episodes each were broadcast in 2010, 2012, and 2014, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson. It is also rumoured that the new “Sherlock Holmes” BBC-TV 2015 Christmas Special that places Cumberbatch and Freeman back in time to the original Conan Doyle Victoria era, will be released to cinemas world-wide.
  • In 2012, CBS premiered the series, Elementary, another contemporary remake of the Doyle character set in the United States, starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson.
  • And debuting September 2015, Arthur Conan Doyle turns sleuth in the new PBS TV “Masterpiece Mystery!” mini-series, Arthur & George, with Martin Clunes as Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Edwards as his faithful secretary, Alfred.