Everyone associates Liverpool actor Tom Baker with the sci-fi series Doctor Who, but in 1982 he played a very different role.
Baker assumed the mantle of arch-detective Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s four-part adaptation of the Hound of the Baskervilles.
But Liverpool’s association with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s archetypal English sleuth goes back much further than the 1980s.
In 1901, American actor William Gillette brought his play Sherlock Holmes to Liverpool’s Shakespeare Theatre. The cast included future Hollywood legend Charlie Chaplin.
Gillette’s portrayal of Holmes helped create the modern image of the detective. He was the first to adopt the deerstalker cap and curved pipe which have since became synonymous with the Baker Street crime-fighter.
Gillette went on to play Holmes more than 1,300 times over three decades on stage, cinema and radio.
In 1914, the first screen adaptation of Sherlock Holmes – A Study in Scarlet – was filmed on Southport beach. It was meant to double for the plains of Utah crossed by a party of Mormons.
The silent movie, set in America, starred James Bragington as Holmes and was directed by George Pearson. He later helped pioneer the moving camera shot.
Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet in 1887, the first of four novels and 56 short stories about Holmes and his faithful companion Doctor John Watson.
The Sherlock Holmes author has his own connections with Merseyside. After he qualified as a physician, his first posting was on the steamer Mayumba which sailed between Liverpool and the West Coast of Africa.
George Pearson would not be the last director to choose Liverpool as the location for filming Sherlock Holmes’ adventures.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the ITV series Sherlock Holmes was shot extensively in Liverpool and the Wirral. It starred Jeremy Brett in the title role with Liverpool actor David Burke as Watson. Gayle Hunnicutt played Irene Adler.
Locations included Sefton Park, St George’s Hall, the Port of Liverpool building, Stanley Dock and Knowsley Hall as well as HMS Plymouth in Birkenhead.
Stanley Dock was the setting for explosive action scenes in director Guy Ritchie’s big budget movie Sherlock Holmes in 2009. Robert Downey Jnr was cast in the title role with Jude Law playing Watson.
Moving right up to date, the 2021 Sherlock Holmes’ spin-off The Irregulars was filmed in Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter and Sefton Park. Falkner Street was repurposed as Holmes’ famous base, 221B Baker Street.
A Netflix Original, The Irregulars tells the story of the shadowy misfits recruited by Holmes to solve some of his cases. They became known as the Baker Street Irregulars.
In the Netflix series, they are portrayed as street kids with serious crime-solving talent, while a delinquent Holmes takes the credit for their success.
Unlike The Irregulars, the 1980s series Sherlock Holmes stuck more closely to Conan Doyle’s original work. Many regard it as one of the best interpretations of the Baker Street detective.
Jeremy Brett was masterful as the quirky, sometimes irascible, Holmes while Burke was the perfect foil as the unflappable Watson. He was later replaced by Edward Hardwicke.
The series ran in different forms from 1984 to 1994 with Brett becoming a national figure. In 1989, he won the rare accolade of pipe-smoker of the year!
Tom Baker had already appeared as Holmes before he played the detective in the BBC version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1982. He had previously donned the classic deerstalker in a 1977 episode of Doctor Who entitled The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
Baker revealed that the actual hound used in filming the Baskerville saga wasn’t too scary at all. ‘The dog engaged by the BBC was gentler than Mother Teresa,’ said Baker. ‘It had to be coaxed with sausages to attack Nicholas Woodeson.’
Woodeson played Sir Henry Baskerville in the production while Terence Rigby appeared as Watson. He went on to play Inspector Layton in the 1983 version of The Sign of Four with Ian Richardson as Holmes.
Ian Hart is another Liverpool actor with a link to Sherlock Holmes. He played Watson in the 2002 BBC version of The Hound of the Baskervilles and reprised the role in another BBC adaptation, The Case of the Silk Stocking, in 2004.
Born in Knotty Ash, Hart found international fame playing Professor Quirrell in the 2001 movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He was also the voice of Lord Voldemort in the film.