Actors can make or break a role, especially with such iconic characters as Holmes & Watson. The choice of Richardson & Gielgud (Watson and Holmes, respectively) was brilliant and their interpretations a delight. After the rather disappointing performances (at least to me) of John Stanley and Alfred Shirley having two great actors made quite a difference.
Gielgud and Richardson accurately portray the characters as Sir Arthur created them. These were two men that admired and trusted each other, though having two very different personalities and upbringings. You never get the feeling, as you did with many actors who looked to the later films by Rathbone and Bruce for inspiration, that Holmes barely tolerated Watson and actually felt he was a burden on occasion. In these performances the two men were obviously friends with a great affection for each other.
These British programs adapted the original Conan Doyle stories, rather than a mixture of old and new, as had the American programs. The Scottish born John Kier Cross wrote the adaptations. Cross started his career writing various programs for radio, including those for children, at the BBC in the late 1930s, going on to do work in American television years later (among them scripts for Alfred Hitchcock’s anthology program). His work on the Sherlock Holmes series included Doyle’s tale of when Holmes & Watson met and both “The Final Problem” and “The Adventure of the Empty House”. The last two dealt with the apparent death of Holmes and his miraculous ‘resurrection’ some three years later.
I was surprised to discover that in the episode based on “The Final Problem” Orson Welles guest-starred in the role of Professor Moriarty. According to the notes accompanying the Radio Spirit collection, Welles had actually been approached by the show’s producer to play Holmes, but was unable to do so because of his schedule. Gielgud was then offered the role, with Welles agreeing to appear for this one program. Fascinating that Welles would play the very villain he faced as Holmes a little more than twenty-five years earlier.