THERE is something about Jeremy Brett that makes you want to put the word ``darling'' at the end of every sentence, darling. I mean really, all those Etonian vowels, the West End dressing room with that darling basket of fruit, the darling bouquet of lilies from all those darlings on opening night. ``Oh, I mean really. It's the most divine theater in London, and the show is just a great joy,'' says Mr. Brett with a wave to his dresser. ``See you anon, my dear.'' ``Right,'' says the actor, swiveling to face the interviewer in question, ``Now, tell me....''
Brett is the latest - some say greatest - interpreter of Sherlock Holmes. Ever since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle unleashed the fictional detective on the British reading public more than a century ago, the enigmatic Baker Street sleuth has been portrayed in hundreds of films, radio dramas, and stage plays - not to mention a ballet, a musical, and an oratorio - by more than 100 actors, most notably, Basil Rathbone in those early 1940s films.
Then in 1982, along came Brett with a campy portrait of the cerebral detective in Britain's Granada-TV series, ``The Return of Sherlock Holmes'' (seen locally on the Public Broadcasting System's ``Mystery!'') that all but broke the mold. The 25-story series - one of the few faithful adaptations of Conan Doyle's canon - was a critical and commercial success that sold to more than 50 countries, including the Soviet Union and China. (The six latest episodes, beginning with ``The Sign of Four,'' premi`ere Thursday night on PBS.)
In a very crowded field, Brett was suddenly the definitive Sherlock Holmes. For the debonair Englishman, an often out-of-work classical actor who had migrated to Hollywood during the 1970s, surfacing in lesser mini-series and the road tour of ``Dracula,'' it was the definitive dream come true.
``Oh, it's a dream. Don't be fooled when actor says he's afraid of being typecast. That's rubbish. What are you in the business for? If you're not successful, it's disaster.''
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