Monday 26 September 2016

Sherlock Holmes actor Douglas Wilmer dies aged 96

Published 02/04/2016 | 00:06

Douglas Wilmer (right) as Sherlock Holmes
Douglas Wilmer (right) as Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes actor Douglas Wilmer has died at the age of 96.

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Wilmer donned the famous deerstalker and picked up the clay pipe in the mid-1960s to play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous creation.

In 2012, at the very end of his acting career, he made a special cameo appearance in an episode of Sherlock as an irate old man at The Diogenes Club alongside current Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Wilmer died in hospital in Ipswich on Thursday after suffering from pneumonia, Roger Johnson, spokesman for the Sherlock Holmes Society Of London, confirmed.

"He was a great actor, he was a gentleman, he had had a long and distinguished career," Mr Johnson said.

Aside from his starring role as the beloved fictional detective, Wilmer was best known as a supporting actor.

Sir Roger Moore has praised the parts he played in 1983 James Bond film Octopussy and TV show The Saint.

In the aftermath of Ronnie Corbett's death, Sir Roger wrote: "The day gets worse. I hear dear Douglas Wilmer has left us too. A fine actor and joyous to be in The Saint and Octopussy with."

The writer, producer and actor Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock's older brother Mycroft in the BBC's Sherlock, shared a photograph of himself with Wilmer.

He wrote: "An honour to have known dear Douglas Wilmer. A Sherlock for all seasons.The work was something, the man was all. RIP"

Wilmer first appeared as Sherlock Holmes in 1964, with Nigel Stock as his Watson.

After he left the show he was replaced in the lead by Peter Cushing - but he retained his affection for Sherlock throughout his career.

In 1973, Wilmer played Professor Van Dusen in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, and in 1975 he returned to play the TV detective - this time in a supporting role - in The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother.

Wilmer later opened Sherlock's wine bar in Woodbridge, Suffolk, and in the 1990s he recorded a series of Penguin audiobook versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Aside from Sherlock, Wilmer's best-remembered film role is as Nayland Smith in the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu series.

He also had parts in Jason And The Argonauts, Patton, and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, with an extensive career across film and television.

The Sherlock Holmes Society Of London described Wilmer on its website as, for some, "the seminal television Sherlock Holmes".

Describing his time appearing in the 13 BBC Holmes dramatisations in 1964-65, it said: "Although it was not a professional experience he much enjoyed - some scripts were not up to par and rehearsal time was at a premium - Douglas's portrayal was masterful.

"Incisive, drily witty, utterly in command of events, he looked and sounded exactly as Sherlock Holmes should look and sound."

Wilmer trained at Rada before serving in the Royal Artillery in Africa during the Second World War.

He debuted on the London stage in 1945 and broke into films in the early 1960s, appearing in big screen epics such as El Cid and Cleopatra.

The society said: "Douglas Wilmer will be remembered for his wit, his what-the-hell attitude to life, his generosity of spirit, his fund of often repeatable anecdotes and his delightful company."

He is survived by his wife Anne and daughter Katharine, the society said.

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