Thursday, July 7, 2011

Happy Birthday, John H. Watson, M.D.!

Watson and Holmes in the original drawings by Sidney Paget.

Nigel Bruce as Watson in all fourteen films with Basil Rathbone as Holmes.

Ian Hart as Watson in the PBS Mystery production of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Richard Roxburgh as Holmes.

David Burke as Watson in the Granada television production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett as Holmes

Edward Hardwicke as Watson (he took over from Burke and made the role his own) beginning with The Return of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

Martin Freeman as Watson in the newest, modern day version of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes.


Today - July 7th - is the birth date (supposed) of John H. Watson (b. 1852 ), doctor, army surgeon, wounded soldier, dedicated friend, trusted and devoted side kick to the greatest detective who ever lived, Sherlock Holmes. As much as Holmes always bridled at the very idea of Watson's case-book chronologies, I wonder where the world of detectivizing and literature would be today if not for Watson's insistence on telling tales.

Arthur Conan Doyle knew what he was doing by having the Holmes stories narrated in the first person by an interested on-looker. Stories told by Holmes himself would have been, admittedly, nothing but humorless, romance-free tracts on crime-fighting in Victorian England with particular attention paid to the copious and various minutia of scientific clue-gathering, tobacco particle by bit of ash, by bit of indigenous earth by depth of footprint.

Thank goodness for John H. Watson. Without him there would be no stories. Without him, you could say, there would be no Sherlock Holmes.

The role of Watson hasn't changed much over the years, even as the stories based on the original canon have expanded and morphed into modern day scenarios - he remains the devoted helpmate, ready to lend a hand, move into 221-B Baker Street between marriages and/or run off with Holmes to solve a case on nothing more than a moment's anxious notice. His devotion to his friend is complete and unstinting. For my money, this friendship is what makes Holmes, who would otherwise be nothing more than a brain encased in a walking/talking shell, human. Though occasionally short-tempered and impatient with Watson, Holmes' affection and devotion for his friend is, I believe, as deeply felt and returned.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe that Watson was Holmes' savior. There was always that something about Holmes that made me think he did not want to, essentially, disappoint Watson's hero-worship. Though Holmes is, of course, as self-involved and selfishly self-centered as any genius, he does come to realize, I think, that with Watson at his side,  he [Holmes] is a better man.

Okay, enough mush.

Today we celebrate the birthday of a man who would have probably been embarrassed to be called 'great' and yet, in my book, he evidenced his greatness by the very unimaginative, naive and sheer simple goodness of his nature and his complete devotion to that most difficult genius whom he called "...the best and wisest man whom I have ever known."

We should all be so lucky to have such a friend.


  1. Hello Yvette:
    As you say, central to it all. And, as a plot device, essential.

    Sadly, we are not any too convinced about Martin Freeman.

  2. Jane and Lance: I'm not a hundred percent sold on him either but I wanted to include one of the more current interpretations and I simply could not stand that awful frenetic thing with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

  3. It's terrible, but I'm not sure I realized that Burke and Hardwicke were two different people. They do look a lot alike, but had very different voices. I might have a slight preference for Burke. He had that sweetness and unquestioning loyalty thing down pat.

  4. Edwards Burke (sadly recently deceased)is the quintessential Watson alongside the wonderful Jeremy Brett. No interpretation I have ever seen or ever will see will be as dear to my heart as those Granada adaptations

  5. Congratulations, Dr Watson!

    Who is your favourite, Yvette?

  6. Esri Rose: I admit I first resented Hardwicke since I so loved David Burke in the role. There was always just something so appealing about his gentle voice.

    But then Hardwicke grew on me and I learned to love him as well. In the end, it was hard for me to imagine anyone else in the role.

    He made it his own.

  7. Lucy Nation: Yes, I agree. The Granada versions are the very best ones. They are the most faithful to the original stories (except for a few inventions at the very end of the last series of episodes which I refused to watch) - something about vampires or some other such nonsense.

    The series are available for Instant Watch on Netflix and I do watch, all the time. :)

  8. Dorte: Oh, if forced to choose absolutely FORCED, I'd pick Edward Hardwicke over David Burke only because he played the part longer, I believe, and I had more time to grow used to his interpretation.

    He just played it in such a gentle way. Sort of like Burke, but slightly different. Of the two I'd say that Burke was the more emotional and Hardwicke the more reserved. It is still very difficult to choose. I love them both.

  9. A brain encased in a walking, talking shell?

    Interesting concept.

    I suppose Dr. Watson did help Holmes to be human.

    And in her fascinating books on Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, Laurie King makes him human vis-a-vis his relationship with Mary.

  10. Thank you for such a wonderful post!

    I think Martin Freeman is doing superb job playing Dr.Watson. He reminds the viewer that J.H.Watson is the ex soldier who is capable of taking any kind of chances and protecting Holmes both mentally and physically.

    I also like Russian Watson very much. The actor looks a bit too young as Watson but very charming and charismatic in a way.

  11. Kathy, sorry I overlooked this comment way back when. But it occurs to me that today July 7, 2012, it is again John Watson's birthday. :)

    I love the Mary Russell books by Laurie R. King!!!

  12. eyan: Thanks for dropping by and I'm so glad you enjoyed my post from last year. Good of you to leave a comment even after all this time.

    I kind of imagine that Holmes would not have lived as long as he did and as well as he did without the aid and comfort of John Watson.


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