I’ve recently finished watching The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, which was produced by Thames Television in the early 1970s, based on Hugh Greene’s edited book compilation and featuring a series of other fictional detectives who were vying for readers at the same time as Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation.
Although the acting, stage sets and “special effects” are now amusingly dated in places, at the time it was a success, winning a BAFTA and spawning a second series. Its qualities are sufficient to make it still enjoyable to watch, especially if you prefer the emphasis on storytelling over speed and grandiose special effects.
Which leaves me puzzled as to why the range of Holmes rivals featured in this series have not had more life in novels, TV and films since, save for some of them appearing in Michael Cox’s very enjoyable Victorian Detective Stories.
After all, Sherlock Holmes has been a consistent high profile success for the last 40 years since this series appeared on TV, spawning many remakes in different formats and styles. And usually when one idea is proving successful, there’s a deluge of identikit variations following in its wake as others seek to cash in on the current in thing.
It’s easy to imagine several of the detectives from the first season being made into a later stand-alone hit. The blind detective, the detective who is great at working out how crimes are done because he’s committed them, the female duo making their way in a world dominated by men… the list goes on.
Many of the episodes do show the clichés of the Holmes – Watson – Lestrade combination at work, it is true. Oh look, it’s another Scotland Yard detective who isn’t that bright and get rescued by the private detective he knows.
But since when has deploying clichés on a classic winning formula stopped the producers of drama? In amongst the brilliant novelties, taking a well rehearsed formula with standard characters (the not so clever sidekick, the token clever woman, and so on) makes up a large part of drama output.
All the odder, then, that the rivals of Sherlock Holmes haven’t provided a richer source of ideas for authors, playwrights and screenwriters. In the meantime, enjoy this older effort to give them a new lease of life.
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