Douglas Wilmer is described by many in the Society as the Sherlock Holmes. Born January 8th, 1920 in London, and educated at King's, Canterbury, Douglas Wilmer's film debut was in 1954, in Laurence Olivier's Richard III as Dorset. Established as a supporting actor, his best-remembered film role is Nayland Smith in the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu series, when he was cast after Nigel Green declined to continue in the part.
Produced by David Goddard in 1964, the BBC production of The Speckled Band was the first of Wilmer's appearances as Sherlock Holmes, with Nigel Stock as Watson. Wilmer and Stock were brought back in 1965 for twelve more episodes with a supporting cast that included Mary Holder as Mrs Hudson, Peter Madden as Lestrade and Derek Francis as Mycroft Holmes and guest stars such as Peter Wyngarde.
In 2015 the 11 complete surviving instalments were released on DVD by the BFI, with reconstructions of the two episides that exist only in part, all being handsomely restored and accompanied by generous extras.
"I think you could complain that my Holmes was unpleasant. I'm sure that on the face of it…Holmes was unpleasant…. It didn't mean that he had no heart, and in the books, you see, Watson says he has. Watson softened the impact"
One reviewer has described Wilmer's performance as:
"smooth and sardonic without seeming bitchy and rude. He's intelligent and quick on his heels without seeming neurotic and egotistical. All in all, he's exactly what Conan Doyle wrote. Even the physical resemblance to the Sidney Paget illustrations is startling" – a point picked up by a contemporary Times review. Nigel Stock's Watson was seen as more serious and intelligent than audience's familiar with the Nigel Bruce interpretation, a trend begun by Andre Morell in Hammer's Hound of the Baskervilles, and continued by actors such as James Mason, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke.
Bert Coules has commented:
"To a general, modern audience they would appear sorry things indeed: slow, clumsy, ill-rehearsed (they were taped as-live, with only the barest number of recording breaks) and (especially) saddled with some of the worst, most inappropriate, appallingly unatmospheric incidental music known to man. The writing on the shows was inconsistent, too. Wilmer tells a good story of how he and Stock, armed with a copy of the story and not much time, rewrote The Devil's Foot into something rather more Doylean than the screenplay they had been handed. It remains one of the better-all-round episodes."
In the event, Wilmer left the series, although Nigel Stock stayed on to play opposite Peter Cushing in 1968. However, the association with Holmes didn't end there.
In 1973, Wilmer played Professor Van Dusen in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes on BBC TV and in 1975 appeared in Gene Wilder's The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother with Thorley Walters as Dr. Watson.
An interview broadcast on Radio Orwell (Ipswich) on August 20, 1980, revealed that Wilmer ran Sherlock's wine bar in Woodbridge, Suffolk and in October 1990 Philip Weller edited "Under the Deerstalker and Other Hats": Conversations with Douglas Wilmer, published by The Franco-Midland Hardware Company, a slim illustrated volume (Share Issue No. 1) that was limited to 200 numbered copies. "This Company Share Issue is the transcript of an interview of an Honorary Director of The Franco-Midland Hardware Company, Douglas Wilmer. The interview took place at The 7% Convention, the first international Sherlock Holmes convention held in Britain, at the Shepperton Moat House Hotel on Saturday 25 August 1990."
In his retirement Douglas Wilmer enjoyed a revival in the Sherlockian world. In 1991 he was became an Honorary Member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and in 2000 the Baker Street Irregulars awarded him the Irregular Shilling and the titular investiture of "The Lyceum Theatre". He recorded a series of the stories on audio cassette (since reissued on CD) and appeared as a guest at several UK and US events, including the Society's Golden Jubilee Dinner in January 2001.
In 2009 Douglas Wilmer launched his memoirs, Stage Whispers, at the Society's March Meeting:
- Mr Douglas Wilmer in Conversation – Recording from the Society's March Meeting
- Stage Whispers, By Douglas Wilmer – Available on Amazon
In 2012 Douglas Wilmer made a great Cameo appearance in the final episode of Series Two of Sherlock on BBC Television.
Douglas died on the 31st March 2016, at the age of 96.
Notable film and TV appearances
- Sherlock (2012)
- Octopussy (1983) Fenning
- The Praying Mantis (1982) (TV) Maitre Fleury
- The Sword of the Valiant (1982) The Black Knight
- The Merchant of Venice (1980) (TV) The Duke of Venice
- Rough Cut (1980) Maxwell Levy
- The Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) Police Commissioner
- Black Knight (1977) (TV) Hildebrand
- The Incredible Sarah (1976) Montigny
- The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975) Sherlock Holmes
- The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) Vizier
- Antony and Cleopatra (1973) Agrippa
- Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) Headmaster
- Cromwell (1970) Thomas Fairfax
- The Vampire Lovers (1970) Baron Joachim von Hartog
- Patton (1970) Major General Francis de Guingand
- A Nice Girl Like Me (1969) Postnatal Clinic Doctor
- The Reckoning (1969) Moyle
- Hammerhead (1968) Vendriani
- The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) Nayland Smith
- The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) Nayland Smith
- Khartoum (1966) Khalifa Abdullah
- One Way Pendulum (1965) Judge/Maintenance Man
- Sherlock Holmes (1964) TV Series Sherlock Holmes (1964)
- Golden Head (1964) Detective Inspector Stevenson
- A Woman of Straw (1964) (uncredited) Dr Murray
- A Shot in the Dark (1964) Henri LaFarge
- The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) Niger
- Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Pelias
- Cleopatra (1963) Decimus
- El Cid (1961) Moutamin
- The Honourable Murder (1960) R Cassius
- Macbeth (1960) (TV) 2nd Murderer
- The Battle of the River Plate (1956) M Desmoulins French Minister, Montevideo
- Passport to Treason (1955) Dr Randolph
- Macbeth (1954) (TV) Murderer
- Men of Sherwood Forest (1954) Sir Nigel Saltire
- Richard III (1954) Marquess of Dorset Notable TV guest appearances
- Space: 1999 (1975) playing Commissioner Dixon in episode: Dragon's Domain
- UFO (1970) playing Dr Ward in episode: ESP
- The Avengers (1961) playing Dr Long in episode: Danger Makers
- Ghost Squad (1961) playing Inspector in episode: Gertrude
- Invisible Man (1958) playing Col Warren in episode: Crisis in the Desert