Stage and screen actor Douglas Wilmer, best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in the 1960s BBC series, died today at Ipswich Hospital in Suffolk, England following a short illness. He was 96. The Sherlock Holmes society made the news public.
Born in London in 1920, Wilmer, trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, served in Africa during World War II prior to making his stage debut in 1945. His first major film role came in 1955 as part of the cast of of the Sir Laurence Olivier-directed Richard III, and he went on to appear in supporting roles in dozens of films, including El Cid (1961), Cleopatra (1963), and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), among others.
A lifelong fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Wilmer was cast in that role for the 1960s BBC television series, appearing in the 1964 pilot and the show’s 11-episode 1965 first season alongside Nigel Stock as Watson. Wilmer was however highly critical of the show’s production, saying in a 2009 interview that it was full of “incompetence,” noting late scripts and a tiny amount of time for rehearsals. He subsequently refused to return for a second season and was replaced by David Niven.
However, his performance as Holmes influenced later versions of the character immensely. He was cast again in that role at the insistence of Gene Wilder in the 1975 comedy The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. He also portrayed the Sherlock Holmes-influenced character Professor Van Dusen in the ITV production The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, and later had a cameo appearance in the 2012 episode of BBC’s Sherlock “The Reichenbach Fall.” Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss paid tribute to Wilmer on Twitter after the news was announced, saying “An honour to have known dear Douglas Wilmer. A Sherlock for all seasons. The work was something, the man was all.”
Among his other film credits, he appeared in Jason and the Argonauts, the Pink Panther films A Shot in the Dark and Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and the James Bond film Octopussy.