The Abergavenny Murder

I am, as regular viewers will attest, currently a bit keen on Mr Sherlock Holmes. So when I saw that Radio 4 were embarking on another series of "The Further Adventures" of the singular gentlemen I was most certainly interested. Holmes, in these plays, is Clive Merrison and he does a superb job. He is bombastic where Holmes should be bombastic and withdrawn when the man shrinks into the background, the better to watch and observe. His Watson was Michael Williams who sadly passed away a year or two back. Watson was played, as Watson should be played, as an able sidekick. He is a doctor, never forget that, and therefore a man of intelligence. But never too much intelligence or he runs the risk of overshadowing the master. Although Watson is a self-effacing man and, as the author of the classic texts, he could have downplayed his own part in proceedings out of modesty.

BBC Radio undertook a complete dramatisation of what Holmesians (or Sherlockians – both terms are permissible) call the "canon". The 56 short stories and four novel(la)s written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over a thirty plus year period. It is the first time this has ever been done for the simple reason that many of the stories were thought to be impossible to adapt. To be blunt, sometimes not a lot happens and what does happen isn’t terribly interesting. But the BBC – employing writer Bert Coules and several others (including Peter Ling who some of you will recognise) – went ahead and produced a full set of Holmes adaptations to the amazement and delight of listeners. Coules was the main writer so it wasn’t a surprise that he was then entrusted with writing "The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" – brand new stories to be made as a sequel to the originals. With Michael Williams passing away, Andrew Sachs replaced him as Watson and that brings us up to date with the story that I listened to last night, "The Abergavenny Murder".

What makes this story special, and the reason I’m writing about it, is that it is a two hander. Aside from a very brief appearance by the soon-to-be corpse, the entire play takes place in more or less real time in Holmes and Watson’s study in Baker Street. A man arrives, utters a few well chosen words and dies. Holmes summons the police but, feeling rather down at recent successes by what he believes to be the imbeciles at Scotland Yard, he decides to solve the mystery before they arrive. Except that he doesn’t know the first thing about the case. He doesn’t know who the man is, why he came to Baker Street or what he was so obviously afraid of. Using his deductive gifts he (with the aid of Watson) piece together the main details, clue by clue. When the evening papers arrive, they read an almost verbatim account of the crime they have logically pieced together.

It is extremely good stuff. The main criticism is that some of Holmes’s dialogue is out of character. Remember, these stories are meant to be a sequel to the canon rather than a pastiche or spoof of the original stories. Some of the lines he is given are impossible to reconcile with Conan Doyle’s version of the character. There are only two or three but they stick out like sore thumbs. What is more annoying is that they serve no purpose. They could’ve been snipped out at the writing, reading, recording or editing stage and the play would’ve been even better for it.

But enough of me waffling on. With Lycos having upped my server space and bandwidth, and with "The Abergavenny Murder" not currently available to buy, I am going to briefly offer it for download. If you have never heard Clive Merrison’s Sherlock Holmes then this is your chance to try it. You won’t be disappointed. Ignore the handful of chronically bad lines and you will find the best Holmes outside of Jeremy Brett. The file is an MP3 and will be up for a week or so. If you like it then check out the Radio 4 website where each week’s episode is available to listen to for seven days as part of their archive. If you really like it then support the fledgling Holmes releases on CD. The BBC Radio Collection have issued the complete canon on cassette but are only now dipping their commercial toe in the shiny disc market. We must hope they are successful and that I can get all 64 of those round delights.

The Abergavenny Murder.MP3 (20Mb, 64kps)

[no longer available for download - CD released 21/06/04 - support the Radio Collection!!]