Our little town has today lost one of it’s acting legends, in the form of the great Douglas Wilmer, who sadly passed away at the grand age of 96.
Douglas was born in London on January 8th 1920 and was educated at Kings School, Canterbury where he made his acting debut in a school production of Richard of Bordeaux. He would later go on to train as an actor at RADA where he was conscripted to the British Army to serve with the Royal Artillery in World War 2.
Douglas made his stage debut in 1945 and would go on to act on stage with the likes of Olivier, Redgrave, Gielgud, Quayle and many others.
His film debut came in 1955 in Laurence Olivier’s Richard III as the Marquess of Dorset. His astonishing film career spanned the next four decades with notable roles in El Cid, Cleopatra, Jason and the Argonauts, two of the Pink Panther films, two of the Fu Manchu films, Patton, Cromwell and the Bond film, Octopussy, to name but just a few.
However, it is perhaps the role of Sherlock Holmes for the BBC in 1964-1965 that he is most fondly remembered. When he was first offered the role he said “The part interested me very much because I’d never really, I felt, seen it performed to its full capacity. There’s a very dark side to Holmes, and a very unpleasant side to him. And I felt that this was always skirted round which made him appear rather sort of hockey sticks and cricket bats and jolly uncles… a kind of dashing Victorian hero. He wasn’t like that at all. He was rather sardonic and arrogant, and he could be totally inconsiderate towards Watson. I tried to show both sides of his nature.”
His association with Sherlock Holmes would not end there, and in 1973 for the BBC he played the role of Professor Van Dusen in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, then in 1975 he appeared in Gene Wilder’s The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother with Thorley Walters as Dr. Watson. His final television appearance came in 2012 in a cameo-role in the multi-award winning series, Sherlock, for the BBC.
I can remember as a child seeing him in the old Key Market supermarket in the town and asking my mother who that man was, to be told, “That’s the famous actor, Douglas Wilmer”. As a child his name meant very little to me but I was always fascinated by the fact that our little town had such a famous resident. He also owned and ran the aptly named, Sherlock’s Wine Bar, in the town during the 1980’s, which was very popular at the time.
One of my own personal favourite performances of his is in the second Pink Panther film with Peter Sellers, A Shot in the Dark, where he played the butler, Henri LaFarge.
A very warm, sincere gentleman with a wonderful sense of humour who will be very sadly missed in the town, but who’s legacy lives on for us to enjoy and for new generations to discover.