Sherlock Holmes — “New Year’s Eve Off the Scilly Islands”

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Sherlock Holmes (1930-1955) aired “New Year’s Eve Off the Scilly Islands” on December 28, 1947. Of the 275+ OTR episodes presented here since 2009, only five belong to the most famous detective of all time, so this New Year’s Eve episode is not only a welcome one for Holmes and Watson devotees, but timely as well, for it aired for the first time 67 years ago tomorrow.

As always, Dr. Watson tells this harrowing tale, the 1912 New Year’s Eve adventure involving he and Holmes enjoying their holiday vacation, only to be rousted from their comfortable boarding house and Mrs. Hudson’s stuffed goose, to then find themselves aboard the steamship Gigantic and made aware of the evil arsonist known as Smokey Joe who, it has become known to them, will set the ship afire at midnight. A number of other of her Majesty’s ships have been “lost” at sea recently, with untold thousands of deaths as a result. Only one thing is common to them all — they carried a large percentage of the Queen’s gold, and with more such financial losses the entire British Empire would surely crumble as its wealth slept heavily at the bottom of the world’s oceans. When the Gigantic (also carrying a load of gold in one of the ship’s locked holds) receives a dire warning and is threatened with being set afire, the plot begins to thicken as time grows short. Enter Holmes and Watson who must unravel the series of clues and then thwart the destruction of the ship and passengers — all before midnight, and they have but an hour to do so. What manner of shrewd deductions leads Holmes to the answer? The only way to find out is to listen to Watson as he relates his and Holmes’ “New Year’s Eve Off the Scilly Islands.” Performed before a live audience, it was reported that lines outside the theater were long for one of this particular theater’s final live radio performances, that being of the incomparable Sherlock Holmes.

In one incarnation or another, Sherlock Holmes on American radio would span the years 1930-1955, though newer adventures have aired over the years here and in the UK unto the present. From September of 1947 through June of 1948 Watson was played by Alfred Shirley and Holmes was admirably played by John Stanley, both of whom star in this episode. [Photo at left: John Stanley & Alfred Shirley, respectively.]

Stanley, a Holmes aficionado, through diligent research even penned an article in the July 1948 issue of Black Mask, about the various guns used by Holmes and Watson in their adventures. Such was the dedication shown by any number of writers and actors involved with Sherlock Holmes in its early radio days, including F&SF co-founder Anthony Boucher, who would co-script quite a number of Holmes radio dramas.

Play Time: 29:21

{In the mood for more detective fare after listening to Sherlock Holmes save the British Empire, there was no shortage of detective and crime magazines on the drugstore shelves in December of 1947 for eager young fans to decide amongst, several examples of which are shown below. Note that the issue of Popular Detective has a story by Sam Merwin, Jr., known to SF fans primarily–though he wrote SF as well–as the editor of both Thrilling Wonder Stories and then Fantastic Universe. Note also that the magazines below were all bi-monthlies at the time.}

[Left: Black Mask, Nov. 1947 – Center: Phantom Detective, Nov. 1947 – Right: Popular Detective, Nov. 1947]