Review: Jeremy Brett - Playing a Part - Maureen Whittaker

Firstly, I state up-front that I am reviewing a complimentary copy of this book.

For me Jeremy Brett is, and always will be, the definitive Sherlock Holmes. He is the Zeus of that Pantheon. No one can touch him. He usurped Basil Rathbone as the Holmes of my imagination and it will be nothing short of miraculous for someone to take his place. His adherence to the Holmes of the page never ceases to amaze me.

Yet, like many of his devotees, I knew little about his acting work away from Baker Street. I knew he was in My Fair Lady but that was about it.
The striking cover

For some time my sole reference was David Davies' book Bending the Willow; but I was aware that I needed other sources for a more rounded picture of the man sans Deerstalker.

Maureen Whittaker's amazing tome takes us all the way from Brett's childhood right through until his final roles. You cannot avoid being amazed at the sheer range of what he did prior to the call to Baker Street (and after). 

From War and Peace to Battlestar Galactica it's all here. One thing that disturbed me was that I had watched more than one of the programmes Brett had been in, after seeing him in Holmes, without recognising him. That was forgivable to an extent for the roles where he was younger but less so for those that followed. It made me wonder was it the role of Holmes that really made him stand out or was that just my perception? I came to the conclusion, after reading this book, that my perception was clearly to blame. This book opened my eyes to his broad body of work as well as his personality.

This book is mostly a performance biography but does not avoid topics such as Brett's romantic entanglements as well as the death of his father. Would I have liked a shift more towards his non-performance life? Perhaps a little but I think the balance between the two has been correctly struck.

The book comes in several formats. Paperback and hardback. Colour and monochrome. The colour hardback is steep in price but, I would argue, worth it for a true Brett fan. If your devotion is less acute, you may be happy with the lower price format. 

Up until now my sole resource on Brett was the excellent Bending the Willow. Now with Whittaker's book I believe I have all I'll need on Brett for the foreseeable future.

Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here


  1. Great review, Dan, Thank you. Imagine how much larger the book would have to be with even more information? As one of the editors, I think of it as the encyclopedia of Jeremy Brett. Thanks again.

  2. A very, very informative review. I shall order my copy shortly.

  3. Just a real treasure trove. I totally agree with your assessment, Alistair. As a huge fan of Jeremy, I, too loved this book and really appreciate the comprehensive work Maureen put in to assemble the details,the chronology, the anecdotes, the photos. I did have an inkling of his range, I actually saw him onstage as Watson in LA, and also in Aren't We All in NYC, and knew of the Shakespeare work. But you are right, the range of his roles is surprising. I also enjoyed reading of his generosity and impish humour. Delightful book for fans.


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