Edward Hardwicke, 1932 - 2011
The news that Edward Hardwicke died on the 16th May is sad and rather shocking, coming less than two weeks after the death of Jeremy Paul.
Edward Hardwicke was born in London and spent much of his childhood in Hollywood, where his father Sir Cedric Hardwicke lived and worked. He made his professional début at the age of ten in A Guy Named Joe, directed by Victor Fleming.
Back in England after the war, Edward completed his school education at Stowe, did his National Service in the RAF, and then went to RADA to train as an actor. In 1964 he joined the new National Theatre company under Laurence Olivier, and over the next seven years appeared in Othello and The Master Builder, both with Olivier, as well as The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Charley's Aunt, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Way of the World, A Flea In Her Ear, The Crucible, and Mrs Warren's Profession.
His subsequent career on stage and screen reflected that variety of drama and comedy. In the cinema he had important rôles in Shadowlands, The Scarlet Letter, Photographing Fairies (as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), Elizabeth and Oliver Twist. On television he is best known as Captain Pat Grant in Colditz (based on Pat Reid, author of The Colditz Story) and, of course, as Dr Watson to Jeremy Brett's often mercurial Sherlock Holmes in the Granada TV series, taking over the character from David Burke in 1986.
Other actors had broken with the unfortunate tradition that portrayed the good doctor as a bumbling idiot, but it was David Burke and Edward Hardwicke who finally established Watson in the public imagination as an intelligent gentleman, courageous, astute, honest and admirable. He said: "I think Conan Doyle is one of the few writers who has created a fictional genius. And I think anyone is going to appear stupid, or seem to be a bit slow, by comparison."
As Jeremy Brett's health deteriorated and his own performance became erratic, Edward Hardwicke sometimes seemed to be the one fixed point in the series, the anchor that saved it, usually, from its own eccentricities. When Brett commissioned Jeremy Paul to write a two-handed stage play, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, it was Hardwicke who played Watson, for a nation-wide tour and a long West End run: any other casting would have been unthinkable.
After Brett's death, Edward Hardwicke made recordings of half a dozen or so excellent readings from the Sherlock Holmes canon. It's not widely known that one of his early television performances was as Mr Davenport in the 1968 BBC production of The Greek Interpreter, with Peter Cushing and Nigel Stock. To our great benefit he never severed his connection with Holmes and Watson.