This is the one Watson on whom I know there will be some argument. There were other Watson’s but when you get down to it the two best were David Burke and Edward Hardwicke. David Burke played the part with Jeremy Brett first in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” in 1984. Because of personal decisions Burke pulled out of the series, but before he left, he recommended his replacement, Edward Hardwicke. Hardwick would go on to play Watson with Brett in: 11 one hour episodes for “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” in 1986, “The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes” in 1991, “The Memoirs of Sherlock
Holmes” in 1994 and in the two one hour films, “The Sign of Four” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. The “Hound” was one of the best versions ever and Hardwicke did a sterling job (though I have yet to see a decent “Hound from Hell”).
Hardwicke had a hard act to follow in Burke. Both men played Watson as courageous, intelligent, honest, quick witted and with a sense of humor; not taking Holmes too seriously when he didn’t deserve to be. The difference between the Burke and Hardwicke could be found in the last statement. Burke seemed to be having more fun with the part. Hardwicke seemed at times too intense. The problem is that they were both so good that it seems to rankle a bit to say anything negative. Hardwicke on his worst day was superb.
When the series had run its course and Brett was too ill to really work much it was
Hardwicke who used Watson to keep the shows together and interesting. I would dearly have loved to have seen him and Brett in their stage production, “The Secret of Sherlock Holmes”. It must have been an amazing production. In addition, Hardwick made some six audio recordings of Doyle’s tales.
Edward Cedric Hardwicke (AKA Edward Hardwick in some billings) was born on 7 August 1932 in London to Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Helena Pickard. Edward spent much of his youth in Hollywood where his famous father was busy in the movies. After WWII he returned to England, he was now 15 and went to Stowe School. In 1951 and 1952 he was in the RAF and trained as a pilot. After the service he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He played at the Old Vic, The Oxford Playhouse and the Nottingham Playhouse and in 1964 joined Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre.
Edward had made his film debut at the age of ten in1943 in the movie “A Guy Called Joe” with Spencer Tracy. His next film would not be until 1954 in “Hell Below Zero” and by 1959 he was making his mark in TV. In addition to the role of Dr. Watson, Hardwicke was best known as Captain Pat Grant in the TV series “Colditz” based on Pat Reid the author of the book and real hero of WWII. In all, he would have113 credited film roles. His list of stage productions fills four pages of type.
Edward Hardwicke passed away just a few months ago, 16 May 2011. He left behind his wife of 16 years, Prim Cotton, two daughters and a stepdaughter. He was an exceptional talent that was under appreciated.