Simanaitis Says

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HOLMES ON THE WIRELESS PART 1

DEVELOPMENT OF the wireless coincided with Sherlock Holmes’ retirement from being the world’s first consulting detective. His last bow, chronicled by Dr. John H. Watson and cleverly enough titled “His Last Bow,” came in August 1914, only four years before Britain’s first live public wireless program took place in June 1920.

This broadcast from the Marconi factory in Chelmsford, about 30 miles northeast of London, featured Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. It’s unknown whether Holmes, residing some 60 miles south of London on the Sussex Downs, had a receiver, necessarily home-built at the time. On the other hand, he was a lover of classical music and an avid experimenter, albeit of chemicals….

Holmes’ Earliest Wireless Programs. The earliest Holmes programs, be they “wireless” or “radio,” are lost to the aether. However, radio and film history buff/Sherlockian R.R. King investigated American newspapers and found reference to Watson’s “The Sign of the Four” being broadcast on November 9, 1922, by the WGY Players. WGY is an AM radio station in Schenectady, New York, that started broadcasting earlier that year.

Image from R.R. King, Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club.

King also found reports of a 1929 NBC radio series called “Retold Tales,” which included “The Sign of the Four” and “A Study in Scarlet.” Various newspaper accounts suggested the program was aired on, among others, WJZ, New York City; KWK, St. Louis; WKY, Oklahoma City; KOA, Denver; and KSL, Salt Lake City.

On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, by John Dunning, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Holmes’ Own Program. According to John Dunning’s On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, NBC’s Red Network gave the world’s first consulting detective his first dedicated series. Its premiere, on October 20 1930, was “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” with famed Sherlockian actor William Gillette portraying Holmes.

William Gillette, 1853–1937, American actor, known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on stage, film, and radio.

Edith Meiser, the Other Woman. Just as Irene Adler was the woman to Sherlock Holmes, actress/Sherlockian extraordinaire Edith Meiser deserves to be known as the other woman.

Edith Meiser, 1898–1993, American actress, writer, Sherlockian extraordinaire. Image from Island Fling.

Meiser wrote radio adaptations of Watson’s chronicles, including this first Gillette broadcast and subsequent portrayals by others including Basil Rathbone. She also had a hand in selecting players and even arranging sponsors for the programs.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Basil Rathbone and his pal Nigel Bruce step up to the microphone. So do a couple of knights and talented folks from Seattle. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

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