Sherlock Holmes’ Rivals

(Above: Ingrid Hafner in ‘The Case of the Mirror of Portugal,’ also starring Jeremy Irons and Peter Vaughan. Photo courtesy of Acorn TV)

‘The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes’ Return on Acorn TV

We bet you’re familiar with the character of Sherlock Holmes, either through reading any of  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories or by watching any of the countless movie and TV portrayals of the famous private detective. Almost forgotten, though, are the numerous other deductive gumshoes first devoured by the public during the early 20th Century.

Britain’s Thames Television sought to rectify the situation in the early 1970s with an anthology series, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. The series aired on PBS stations in the mid-‘70s, but the 26 episodes then seemed to suffer the same fate as their source material by becoming mostly forgotten relics.

No more, thanks to subscription streamer Acorn TV, which is bringing The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes back to these shores, with season one dropping Monday, June 24, and season two on Monday, July 29.

Here’s a scene from episode one, “A Message from the Deep Sea,” starring John Neville (The First Churchills) as R. Austin Freeman’s fictional forensic scientist Dr. John Thorndyke:

We haven’t read Freeman nor most of the other authors adapted for The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. One exception: Jacques Futrelle, whose stellar creation — Professor Van Dusen, aka “the Thinking Machine” – is played by Douglas Wilmer in two episodes during season two. That’s a clever bit of casting since Wilmer had played Holmes in a 1965 BBC series.

Other episodes feature Donald Pleasence (the Halloween film franchise) as William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective Thomas Carnacki, and Judy Geeson (Mad About You, Gilmore Girls) and Elvi Hale as, respectively, Baroness Orczy’s Lady Molly of Scotland Yard and the same author’s sleuthing journalist Polly Burton. For a complete list of Sherlock’s rivals in the series, visit Wikipedia.

Incidentally, Jeremy Irons, Oscar winner for 1990’s Reversal of Fortune and currently in HBO’s Watchmen, made his first screen appearance in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes’ sixth episode, “The Case of the Mirror of Portugal.” Irons plays Nephew George, with Peter Vaughan (Maester Aemon in HBO’s Game of Thrones) starring as Arthur Morrison’s corrupt detective Horace Dorrington.

Acorn TV costs $4.99 monthly or $49.99 for a year, with a seven-day free trial. For more info, visit

About Les Luchter

Les Luchter is a former managing editor of Multichannel News, editor-in-chief of Cable Marketing, and news editor of Broadcast Week.

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