Roger Rees has passed away at the age of 71. In America, he’s probably best known as Robin Colcord, Kirstie Allie’s romantic tycoon in Cheers. I loved him as the larger than life British ambassador, Lord John Marbury, in The West Wing. A busy actor, folks might see him on screen in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Scorpion King or Gray’s Anatomy. More recently had had a guest run on Warehouse 13.
He was accomplished on the stage, winning a Tony Award for his performances in Nicholas Nickleby; he also starred in a tv mini-series.
But his Holmes ties were almost significantly deeper. When I read a Holmes story, the voice I hear inside my head is that of Clive Merrison, star of the Bert Coules-helmed BBC radio series. But that voice could very well have been Roger Rees’.
Coules sold the BBC on a two hour radio adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I’ve never heard a name, but the original Holmes chosen was an actor well-known from several television series’. And the day before recording was to begin, he backed out.
Scrambling madly to find a new star by 10:30 the following morning, Rees’ name was a popular option. But it was said he didn’t do radio. A call was made to his agent, no circumstance is too daunting in a disaster!
Turns out Rees had long wanted to play Sherlock Holmes and no one had ever asked him to do a radio show. He was in!
With Crawford Logan as Watson, the show was recorded and broadcast in the summer of 1988.Critic Malcom Hay said that “Roger Rees radiated intelligence as Sherlock Holmes.”
Coules then pitched A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four as follow-up productions. He got the green-light for both, but with a caveat. The muckety-mucks wanted Holmes and Watson recast!
Now, I think that Clive Merrison and Michael Williams were nothing short of superb and I’ve got the entire series on cassette (yes, I’m old). So I can’t knock the royal decree. But I will say that I’ve heard Rees’ Hound and it’s good. And had he been given the opportunity to record the entire Canon, he likely would have gone down as one of the great radio Holmes’.
Rees’ Hound may still be floating around on the internet. Here is a two hour Screen Actor’s Guild interview with Rees.
I liked seeing Roger Rees on screen. I even remember his appearances in the funny but short-lived Boston Commons. Like Ian Richardson, a fine actor who deserved a broader fame here in America.
And if you’ve not listened to any of the Clive Merrison radio series’, you are missing a great part of the Sherlock Holmes history. Bert Coule’s excellent 221 BBC is absolutely worth a read.