Douglas Wilmer, who may have been best known for playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's 1964 TV series Sherlock Holmes, died on March 31 at the age of 96.
Douglas Wilmer was born on January 8 1920 in London. He spent a good portion of his childhood in Shanghai, China, where his father worked as an accountant. He attended King's School in Canterbury, and Stonyhurst College. His training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) was interrupted by World War II. He served in the Royal Artillery in West Africa. Eventually he received a medical discharge due to having contracted tuberculosis.
Douglas Wilmer made his stage debut in repertory in Rugby, Warwickshire. In the late Forties and the Fifties he appeared frequently on stage. He made his television debut in 1954 in the BBC production It Is Midnight, Doctor Schweitzer. He made his film debut in 1955 in Lord Laurence Olivier's Richard III. In the Fifties he appeared in recurring roles in the TV series St. Ives, The Black Tulip, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Diary of Samuel Pepys. He guest starred on such shows as The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Count of Monte Cristo, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Dial 999, The Invisible Man, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Interpol Calling, Armchair Theatre, and Hallmark Hall of Fame. He appeared in the films The Right Person (1955), Passport to Treason (1956), Pursuit of the Graf Spee (1956), and An Honourable Murder (1960).
The Sixties would see Douglas Wilmer at the height of his career. It was in 1964 that he first appeared as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series of the same name, playing opposite Nigel Stock as Dr. Watson. Despite being shot on a rather low budget, the show proved very popular in the United Kingdom and left a lasting impression. Even though he only remained with the series for 13 episodes, the Sherlock Holmes Society of London considered Mr. Wilmer to be the definitive Holmes. Douglas Wilmer left the show in 1965. Douglas Wilmer also had a very good film career in the Sixties. He appeared in some very high profile films, playing Moutamin in El Cid (1961), Pelias in Jason and the Argonauts (1964), and Henri LaFarge in A Shot in the Dark (1964). He played Nayland Smith in Harry Alan Towers's films The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966) and The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967).
In the Sixties Douglas Wilmer also guest starred on such TV shows as On Trial, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, Armchair Theatre, ITV Television Theatre, Ghost Squad, The Saint, The Avengers, The Baron, Journey to the Unknown, and U.F.O. He appeared in the films Cleopatra (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), The Golden Head (1964), One Way Pendulum (1965), Khartoum (1966), Hammerhead (1968), A Nice Girl Like Me (1969), The Reckoning (1970), Patton (1970), Cromwell (1970), and The Vampire Lovers (1970).
In the Seventies Mr. Wilmer reprised his role as Sherlock Holmes in the comedy film The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975). He also appeared in the films Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971), Journey to Murder (1971), Antony and Cleopatra (1972), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), The Incredible Sarah (1976), Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), and Rough Cut (1980). He guest starred on such shows as Love Story, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, The Protectors, Affairs of the Heart, Space: 1999, Romance and ITV Playhouse.
In the Eighties Douglas Wilmer appeared in the films Octopussy (1983) and Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1984). He guest starred on the TV shows Shine On Harvey Moon and Blind Justice. His autobiography, Stage Whispers, was published in 2010. His last screen appearance as in a cameo in the Sherlock episode "The Reichenbach Fall" as an old man at the Diogenes Club.
For many Douglas Wilmer will always be the definitive Sherlock Holmes. There can be no doubt that of the many actors who played the role he was among the best. That having been said, Douglas Wilmer played many other roles throughout his career. Not surprisingly, Douglas Wilmer played a number of similar characters throughout his career. He was Nayland Smith in two Fu Manchu movies. He was Emir Al-Mu'tamin in El Cid. In The Vampire Lovers he played vampire hunter Baron Hartog.Of course, not all of his roles were heroic in nature. In Octopussy he was MI-6's art expert, Fanning. In Unman, Wittering and Zigo he was the headmaster of a school. Douglas Wilmer even played villains on occasion. Indeed, among his best known roles was that of the villainous Pelias in Jason and the Argonauts. Douglas Wilmer was a fine actor who could play a wide range of roles, and one who was good even when a particular film in which he appeared might not have been.