Is celebrated Sherlock Holmes actor too white for a blue plaque? Fears political correctness has robbed star of commemoration
- Jeremy Brett is regarded as the greatest ever Sherlock Holmes
- But he has been snubbed for a blue plaque by English Heritage
- Poet Stephen Spender was similarly snubbed for his own plaque
His portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is regarded as the greatest ever, and during a glittering 40-year acting career, Jeremy Brett starred opposite legends including Laurence Olivier and Audrey Hepburn.
But it seems he isn’t quite distinguished enough for English Heritage officials to place a coveted blue plaque outside his former home.
The actor failed to make the shortlist of those being considered for a plaque – at a meeting which called for greater racial diversity of those who are honoured.
The same panel also decided against including the poet Sir Stephen Spender on the shortlist, but instead recommended a little-known trade unionist and women’s rights activist be added.
While there is no evidence either Brett or Spender failed to make the cut on the grounds of ethnicity or gender, it raises the question of whether significant cultural figures are missing out on the honour for reasons of political correctness.
The revelation has angered Brett’s fans, who consider his to have been the definitive portrayal of the detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who has his own blue plaque in South-East London.
Old Etonian Brett enjoyed a distinguished career, starring opposite Olivier in The Merchant Of Venice and as Freddy in the 1964 film My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn.
The minutes of the meeting, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, do not give any indication as to why Brett was not thought suitable, but merely record a decision was taken not to shortlist him.
Anthony Horowitz, who was commissioned by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write the Sherlock Holmes follow-up novels The House Of Silk and Moriarty, said: ‘Jeremy Brett was by far the greatest Sherlock. For this work alone, with or without a blue plaque, he will never be forgotten.’
Details of the February 17 meeting also show a decision was taken not to honour Spender, who died in 1995. In 1965, he was appointed as the US’s equivalent of the Poet Laureate – the first non-American to hold the role. And in 1984, the year after his knighthood, the then US President Ronald Reagan quoted from his poem The Truly Great at a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
The documents also note: ‘The question of greater diversity in nominations was discussed. Given it was the public who made the nominations, there was an opportunity to communicate this more widely by linking promotional activity to Black History month.’ The committee also finalised plans to commemorate women’s rights campaigner Mary Macarthur.
Professor John Sutherland, who wrote the authorised biography of Spender, said: ‘It’s unfair he’s been overlooked. His poems of the 1930s are major works. I don’t recognise half of those recognised with blue plaques.’
English Heritage said: ‘The panel felt that, at present, Stephen Spender’s literary reputation was not strong enough for him to join poets such as John Betjeman, T. S. Eliot and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, all of whom have been commemorated.
‘The blue plaques panel considers about 60 suggestions a year. All nominations are taken seriously, but only a certain number – around 12 – can be put up every year.’