After their first two films in 1939, Rathbone and Bruce also starred in the American radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The series proved enormously popular, and ran from 1939 to 1946.
The series is generally credited with keeping Rathbone and Bruce’s portrayal of the characters alive during the three-year gap in the films, and helped the characters reach a wider audience. It remains questionable whether the film series would have even been resurrected without the radio series having continued in the meantime.
Two hundred and twenty episodes were made, of which around one hundred and fifty are now thought to survive, with over fifty of them being freely available on the Internet. The episodes are all in the public domain.
Given the limited number of Conan Doyle stories, script editor Edith Meisner wrote a large number of original scenarios for the series. As with the film series, even the wholly original stories would lift plot elements and lines of dialogue from the canon. Unlike the film series, the radio episodes retained their Victorian setting right up until the very end of the run, with each episode opening as the radio announcer would talk to an elderly, retired Dr Watson, now somewhat improbably living in a bungalow in California, and he would reminisce about one of Holmes’ cases.
When Rathbone stepped down from the film role in 1946, he also left the radio series at the same time. Nigel Bruce, however, continued for another year, and the 1946-7 series gave him top billing alongside Tom Conway, who took over the role of Holmes. Conway was partly cast because he had a voice remarkably similar to Rathbone’s, and 39 episodes were made with the Conway-Bruce partnership.
It should be noted that the series was not specifically created for Rathbone and Bruce – the Sherlock Holmes series, under various titles, ran on American radio from 1930 to 1950 with a variety of actors in the lead roles. However, the duo proved by far the most popular and long-serving actors in the lead roles, and were no doubt helped by their being the only actors in the radio series to also play their roles on screen (although the late William Gillette, best known as Holmes on stage, had been Holmes in a 1916 film, and had starred in the very first radio episode in 1930).
The radio series is very highly regarded by enthusiasts of Old Time Radio, being one of the more popular series subscribed to today. However, there are frequent interruption for sponsors’ messages, particularly endorsements of Petri wine by the radio announcer, and occasionally, Dr Watson.
Read more about this topic: Sherlock Holmes (1939 Film Series), Other Rathbone-Bruce Appearances As Holmes and Watson
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