The Immortal Sherlock Holmes

The most famous detective who never lived.

Sherlock Holmes

The Immortal Sherlock Holmes
10 May 2021

Re-Imagined Radio presented Metropolitan Performing Arts and other community volunteers and their recorded performance of The Immortal Sherlock Holmes. Broadcasts and streams by our local, regional, and international partners. Archival recordings available for on demand listening.


Optimized for radio broadcast.


William Johnson as Sherlock Holmes
Consulting detective, the detective's detective, the best-loved character in detective fiction

Sebasitian Hauskins as Dr. John H. Watson
Friend and colleague to Holmes, and his biographer

Kristin Heller as Mary Watson
Wife of John Watson, narrator

Holland Huaskins as Billy
Holmes' employee

Greg Shilling as Inspector John Forman
A competent officer from Scotland Yard

Nick D'Ettorre as James Larrabee
A blackmailer

Laura Harris as Miss Alice Faulkner
A young and beautiful lady who was planning to avenge her sister's murder

Derek Nolan as Professor James Moriarty
The Napoleon of Crime

Greg Shilling as Alfred Bassick
One of Moriarty's top agents


Viola music by Michael Burris
Sound Design and Post Production by Marc Rose, Fuse Audio Design
Social Media by Regina Carol Social Media Management and Photography
Graphic Design by Holly Slocum Design
Produced and Hosted by John F. Barber
This episode was directed by Barbara Richardson


Literary History

Sherlock Holmes is the most famous of all fictional detectives and stories about his exploits are considered some of the finest of the detective fiction genre. But Holmes is not the first example of either.

Some scholars suggest ancient religious documents include questioning and cross-examination, puzzles, mysteries surrounding murders, a closed circle of suspects, and the gradual uncovering of the truth, all elements that might be seen as the beginning of detective fiction.

The Arabic literary work One Thousand and One Nights contains the oldest known example of a detective story, "The Three Apples," which creates suspense from its multiple plot twists. Two other stories in this collection, "The Merchant and the Thief" and "Ali Khwaja," introduce the earliest fictional detectives who uncover clues and present evidence to catch or convict criminals.

We can point to "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe as introducing the detective fiction genre to the English-speaking world in 1841. Poe's fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, was both eccentric and brilliant. When Dupin appeared in literature the word "detective" was not known in the English language, but his name was derived from the English words "dupe" and "deception." Two other stories by Poe, "The Mystery of Marie Roget" (1842) and "The Purloined Letter" (1844) provided further tales of detective Dupin.

Wilkie Collins, a protege of Charles Dickens, is said to have invented the modern English detective novel with publication of The Moonstone in 1868. Collins' novel introduced now familiar detective narrative elements like the red herring, the inside job, the skilled, professional investigator, the large number of suspects, the reconstruction of a crime, and the final plot twist.

Also in 1868, Monsieur Lecoq, a novel by Emile Gaboriau, established the detective fiction genre in France. Lecoq was adept at disguise, which became a key characteristic for other fictional detectives.

Appearance of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, first appeared in "A Study in Scarlett," a story by Scottish physican and author Arthur Conan Doyle published in 1887. A series of stories, beginning with "A Scandal in Bohemia," appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1891 and continued until 1927. Doyle based his character Holmes on Poe's Dupin, Gaboriau's Lecoq, and Dr. Joseph Bell for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk while a medical student at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. From Bell, Doyle drew Sherlock Holmes' acute observation, deductive reasoning, and forensic skills. LEARN more about this backstory.

Legacy of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes was not the first fictional detective, but he is perhaps the best known. Doyle was prolific, authoring four novels and fifty-six short stories about his fictional detective. This body of work are considered milestones in the literary genre of crime fiction.

The world-wide popularity and impact of Sherlock Holmes has profound effect on mystery and detective writing and popular culture with thousands of stories written by authors other than Conan Doyle being turned into films, television programs, stage and radio plays, video games, and other media for more than 100 years. Examples include Agatha Christie's fictional detective Hercule Poirot, as well as antihero gentlemen thiefs like A.J. Raffles and Arsene Lupin. Film adaptations starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, the BBC One TV series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and Elementary, set in contemporary New York starring Johnny Miller and Lucy Liu as a female Dr. Watson are other examples. In all, Holmes' popularity and his fame as a detective makes it easy for members of literary and fan societies to believe him real.

Arthur Conan Doyle grew tired of Sherlock Holmes and wanted to shift his writing focus to other stories. So, he killed off Holmes in "The Final Problem," first published in 1893. Holmesian fans would have nothing to do with this and Doyle was forced to bring his fictional detective back from the dead in The Hound of the Baskervilles, a novel published in The Strand Magazine between 1901 and 1902. Cleverly, Doyle set the time frame before Holmes' death, and so his character continued to live.

And so Sherlock Holmes remains immortal even though he never lived.

Re-Imagined Radio's Celebration of Sherlock Holmes

"The Immortal Sherlock Holmes" celebrates the greatest detective who never lived, yet will always be immortal. This Re-Imagined Radio performance has an impressive pedigree.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Stage Play Sherlock Holmes, 1897

In 1897, Doyle finished a script for a stage play entitled Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's literary agent, A.P. Wyatt, mailed the script to Charles Froham, in New York. Froham requested literary rights for dramatic use of the Holmes character and introduced Doyle to American playwright and actor William Hooker Gillette (1853-1937), suggesting Gillette would be perfect to rewrite Doyle's original stage play for American audiences who wanted melodramatic stories about stoic, strong heroes keeping their wits about them in both dangerous and romantic situations. Doyle agreed to allow Gillette to adapt his play any way he liked, with one stipulation. Wishing Sherlock Holmes on stage to model his demeanor in print, Doyle insisted that there would be no romance.

William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes, 1898

Gillette rewrote Doyle's original play, combining elements from Doyle's stories "A Study in Scarlet" (1887), "A Scandal in Bohemia" (1891), "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (1891), and "The Adventure of the Final Problem" (1893) and retaining only five characters, Holmes, Watson, Professor Moriarty, Mrs. Hudson, and a young boy, whom Gillette named Billy. Gillete introduced several new elements, like the Stepney Gas Chamber, which became the melodrama's most exciting scene.

And then there was the romance. Gillette communicated often with Doyle as he wrote his stage play. At one point he asked if Holmes might marry. The reason is unclear, but Doyle agreed to set aside his stipulation of no romance. So, Gillette, with Doyle's permission, did the one thing Doyle never did: he had Sherlock Holmes fall in love. Doyle's story "A Scandal in Bohemia" introduced Irene Adler, a talented young opera singer, who began a brief affair with the prince and future King of Bohemia, in Warsaw, Poland. The prince sent Adler compromising letters and a photograph of them together. The prince returned to Prague and prepared to become King. Adler moved to London, with the letters and the photograph. The future King of Bohemia hired Holmes to acquire the compromising materials. Adler outsmarted Holmes and escaped, leaving behind a note and a photograph of herself for Holmes to find. He did, and ever after admired Adler for her wit and cunning. Interestingly, in the story "The Five Orange Pips" Holmes comments to a client that he has been defeated on only a few occasions and only once by a woman. Perhaps this is a reference to Adler?

Gillette reprises this incident in his play, and introduces Miss Alice Faulkner, sister of Irene Adler, recently deceased. Faulkner has the package of papers, letters, and photographs and a desire for revenge against the prince of Bohemia. Holmes recognizes Miss Faulkner as Adler's sister. They embrace and fall in love. Doyle was uncomfortable with the romance, but he allowed it to proceed. Gillette and Doyle shared equal credits as the authors of Sherlock Holmes, or The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner.

Gillette's Contributions
Gillette's four-act play is noted for its technical achievements. Hidden elevators, trap doors, secret passageways, the famous fog of London, and special lighting effects, Gillette used them all to the best effect(s) possible. Gillette, in the leading role as Sherlock Holmes, is also noted for bringing the fictional character to life through his careful and conscientious appearance, economy of movement, and voice. Portrayed by Gillette, Holmes was quietly in command, graceful under pressure, even while struggling with his own boredom with life.

Gillette also introduced several props now considered Sherlock Holmes icons, including his curved pipe (easier to hold in the mouth while speaking and did not obstruct the audience's view of the actor's mouth), a splendid dressing gown, the violin, the magnifying glass, the Scottish deerstalker cap, and the phrase "Oh, this is elementary my dear fellow," later changed by the popular press to "Elementary, my dear Watson." Interesting trivia fact: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never used the phrase "elementary, my dear fellow" in his novels or stories about Holmes.

First Performance
Gillette gave a copyright performance of his play on 12 June 1899, at the Duke of York's Theatre in London, to establish his right to perform his play and protect its contents from being used by others. He returned to America where his play was first seen at the Star Theatre in Buffalo, New York, 23 October 1899. The cast included Gillette as Holmes, Bruce McRae as Dr. Watson, George Wessells as Professor Moriarity, Henry McArdle as Billy the pageboy, Katherine Florence as Alice Faulkner, and Judith Berolde as Madge Larrabee.

Further performances were offered in Rochester and Syracuse, New York, and Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. All were well received. Sherlock Holmes then moved to New York, where it opened 6 November 1899, at the Garrick Theatre, and ran for 236 performances, closing 16 June 1900.

At the turn of the century, America was just getting to know Sherlock Holmes. Gillette's melodrama, at three hours in length, gave audiences ample opportunities to steep themselves in the exploits, threats of death, thrilling escapes, and associations with all manner of criminals that made Holmes such a fascinating character.

William Gillette postcard

After closing in New York, Sherlock Holmes toured theatres in the Eastern United States from 8 October 1900 to 30 March 1901. Gillette and other cast members moved to England where Sherlock Holmes premiered at the Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool, 2 September. On 9 September, Sherlock Holmes opened at London's Lyceum Theatre where it ran for 200 performances, ending 12 April 1902.

Film Adaptations
In 1916, Sherlock Holmes was adapted as a silent film with the same title staring Gillette as the detective with whom he was so directly identified. One of the earliest American film adaptations of the famous fictional detective, the film was long thought lost, but was discovered in The Cinémathèque Française, Paris, in 2014, where it had been archived but incorrectly labeled. Gillette's play was adapted as a film again in 1922 with John Barrymore as Holmes. Another film adaptation of the same title, in 1932, by Paramount, starred Clive Brook, and was the first all talking Holmes film. Brooks was the first to speak the phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson" now part of both the British and American English lexicons.

Radio Adaptations
Gillette appeared in two radio adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories. The first was "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," the premiere episode of a series titled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes broadcast by WEAF radio, New York, 20 October 1930 (30:00, episode 1, no surviving recording known). Gillette read the part of Sherlock Holmes. This was the first time Holmes was portrayed on radio as part of a continuing series. The script was adapted by Edith Meiser from the original stage play version of the story by Conan Doyle.

The second radio adaptation was also by Gillette, then 82 years old, who led a 50-minute performance (9:00-10:00 pm) of his own Sherlock Holmes for Lux Radio Theatre, broadcast by WABC in New York, 18 November 1935 (episode #55, no surviving recording known). Lux Radio Theatre was, and still is, noted as a classic radio series, offering radio adaptations of plays and movies, often using the original stars reading their parts. The script was written by Edith Meiser. The cast included Gillette as Holmes, Betty Hanna as Alice Faulkner, Reginald Mason as Dr. Watson, and Charles Bryant as Professor Moriarty. Gillette's performance marked the sixtieth anniversary of his first appearance on stage, the thirty-sixth year since he had first played Sherlock Holmes, and his last appearance before a radio microphone (Los Angeles Times. "Famed Star Due on Air," November 18, 1935, p. A14.; see also Zecher, Henry. William Gillette, America's Sherlock Holmes, Xlibris, 2011, pp. 555-557.).

The Mercury Theatre on the Air's Sherlock Holmes, 1938

In 1938, The Mercury Theatre on the Air adapted Gillette's four-act, three-hour theatrical melodrama as a one-hour radio episode staring Orson Welles (1915-1985) as Sherlock Holmes. The Immortal Sherlock Holmes was broadcast 25 September 1938 as episode #12 of The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The cast included Orson Welles (Sherlock Holmes), Ray Collins (Dr. Watson), Mary Taylor (Alice Faulkner), Brenda Forbes (Madge Larrabee), Edgar Barrier (James Larrabee), Morgan Farley (Inspector Forman), Richard Wilson (Jim Craigin), and Eustace Wyatt (Professor Moriarty). READ the script here. Listen to a recording of this broadcast.

Re-Imagined Radio's The Immortal Sherlock Holmes, 2021

From this lineage Re-Imagined Radio crafted its own adaptation of the Holmesian legacy as The Immortal Sherlock Holmes. We retained the suspenseful conflict between Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarity from the original Gillette-Doyle melodrama. And, we added some other changes.

For example, all but four of Doyle's novels and stories featured John Watson as the narrator. Our celebration gives this role over to Mary Watson, wife of Dr. Watson.

Additional inspiration comes from The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes: A Fantasy in One Act by William Gillette (Ben Abramson, Chicago, 1955), and Sherlock Holmes: The Painful Predicament of Alice Faulkner, a graphic novel by Bret M. Herholz (Alterna Comics, 2009) based on William Gillette's melodrama. A particularly strong reference source was William Gillette, America's Sherlock Holmes by Henry Zecher (Xlibris, 2011).

LEARN more about Sherlock Holmes radio dramas at John Barber's Radio Nouspace website.

Zecher, Henry. William Gillette, America's Sherlock Holmes. Xlibris, 2011.


"5 Things To Do in the Coming Week." The Columbian, 6 May 2021, D1.
#4. Turn on your radio
Re-Imagined Radio presents two new radio plays: "The Immortal Sherlock Holmes" on Monday and "Exuberance Is Beauty" on May 17. The hour-long episodes, featuring voice actors, Foley artists, musicians and sound engineers, will be broadcast at noon both days on Vancouver's KXRW-FM (99.9 FM) and Portland's KXRY-FM (91.1 FM or 107.1 FM). The performance will also be available online via the stations' websites and archived at

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