I was only just into double-figures when Jeremy Brett made his first appearance as Sherlock Holmes in 1984 so I feel positively ancient compared to the new generation of Holmes fans. For me, in the pantheon of great Holmes actors Brett occupies the throne but I acknowledge that it is a generational thing. For the generation before me Douglas Wilmer was number one and for the generation before them it was probably Basil Rathbone.
For the younger generation it is very much a certain Mr Cumberbatch. Why him and not RDJ? Well, I think you need to make a minimum number of appearances before you can be the Holmes of a generation and it is for this reason that Robert Downey Jr will not enter the pantheon (although his appearances will be remembered). A certain Mr Miller might manage it in the eyes of some if Elementary runs for a decent time but I honestly think that Benedict Cumberbatch’s claim on the throne is pretty secure (at least in the eyes of anyone under 30).
|Rathbone, Wilmer, Brett & Cumberbatch - some of the pantheon's finest|
But how famous would BC be without today’s social media and how famous would Brett and Wilmer have been if Twitter and Facebook (or indeed the internet itself) had been around to not only celebrate them but to also unite fans in their appreciation?
People have told me that there was a significant Brett fan movement in the 1980s and 90s but it managed to pass me by. He has a huge following now but, at the time, I considered myself to be alone in my appreciation of him. In 1994, when Brett last appeared as Holmes, the internet was only just really coming into being and fans probably communicated through good old-fashioned post/mail (aka snail mail) and the letters pages of magazines.
In some respects the lack of technology may have been a bonus to Brett and those before him. It may have been a comfort to know that there was a certain amount of clear blue water between them and their fans. Perhaps this is why Cumberbatch keeps away from social media (at least as far as we all know). Perhaps he wants to maintain a certain amount of distance, a certain amount of mystery, a certain amount of sanity?
I find it especially amusing to speculate what it would have been like for Basil Rathbone had he and Twitter been able to encounter each other. He made no secret of how he came to dislike the character and people’s inability to see him as anyone other than Holmes. How on earth would he have coped with immediate (and sometimes ill-thought out) critiques of his performances on the internet? How would he have coped with knowing that if he ever lost his temper with a fan the news would be global in minutes?
I suspect, not well…..