Sherlock Holmes is all the rage these days. Of course, he’s always been popular but currently we have the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes franchise in cinemas; we have the modernised BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman; and CBS in the US is planning a similarly modernised series of its own.
Taking their leads from Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, various people have tried to imagine what Sherlock’s childhood would have been like, primarily with the intention of entertaining children. The most famous attempt is Steven Spielberg and Barry Levinson’s 1985 blockbuster Young Sherlock Holmes and The Pyramid of Fear, which imagines Homes meeting Watson (and Moriarty) at school.
There’s also been a recent series of books by former Doctor Who New Adventures writer Andy Lane called – appropriately enough – Young Sherlock Holmes.
But beating them all was Granada TV, which back in 1982 gave us the Sunday afternoon serial Young Sherlock: The Mystery of the Manor House. Here’s about the only set of clips that I can show you.
Starring the now ubiquitous Guy Henry (Casualty, Holby City, Cassius in Rome, the TV producer in Extras) in his first ever TV role, the nine-part Young Sherlock is a far less action-packed tale of Sherlock Holmes’ childhood than Levinson’s version. It’s told in flashback, when Doctor Watson discovers a suitcase of audio recordings made by Sherlock Holmes during his retirement that chronicle the cases he solved during his formative years.
Coming home from school when a typhoid outbreak shuts it down, the 17-year-old Sherlock is confused to discover his home – the Manor House of the title – has actually been sold to the seemingly honourable Turnbulls. Sherlock then has to use his neophyte detective skills to discover the sinister secrets of the new occupants and he uncovers a plot involving a priceless diamond and an attempt to replace Queen Victoria herself.
Despite being aimed at children, The Mystery of the Manor House is a slow-moving, badly written, lifeless affair. It makes a few nods to the original stories, including violin playing, the magnifying glass, the deerstalker (yes, yes, I know), a pre-Mr Hudson Mrs Hudson, a hint at how Sherlock gets his drug habit, and an explanation of how he eventually ends up at 221b Baker Street. Moriarty, as always, gets a look-in, too, and there’s the presence of one ‘Jasper Moran’ in the story as well. Henry is an engaging Holmes, but as written, he lacks charm and replacement sidekick ‘John’ isn’t exactly Dr Watson. And at nine episodes, the story is just too long and not a huge amount happens. Indeed, Henry describes the production as, “The dullest of my entire life.”
So what happened next, when this was so clearly intended to be the first of many adventures for young Sherlock? Simple – Jeremy Brett. Granada, which made Young Sherlock, decided it was going to dramatise the Arthur Conan Doyle stories and cast aside Young Sherlock in favour of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Probably a wise move, don’t you think?