The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — “The Demon Barber”

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The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes aired “The Demon Barber” on January 28, 1946. Sherlock Holmes first graced the radio airwaves in 1930 and would continue (with various excellent actors palying the roles of Holmes and Dr. Watson) until 1956. “The Demon Barber” features the most well known Holmes/Watson duo as both Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce reprise their popular film roles. From March of 1945 and for the next few years, new episodes were scripted by the writing team of Anthony Boucher (1911-68) and Denis Green (1905-54). A Holmesian aficionado, Boucher is most well known in science fiction circles as the co-founder of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, though he was instrumental in founding the Mystery Writers Guild and, along with other writing and editing achievements, won several awards in the mystery field. While Boucher would mail script concepts and outlines to Green, it was Green who would fill in the details. It was a successful partnership by all accounts. Green, by the way, also had a decent career in film, appearing in at least a dozen movies including parts in the classic 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner) and the 1944 serio-comic Mighty Joe Young, where he played the role of “The Great White Hunter.”

Boucher (photo at left, Denis Green at right) took his inspiration for this episode from the mid-19th century story about a serial killer named Sweeney Todd. Originally titled The String of Pearls: A Romance, it was published in eighteen weekly parts in Edward Lloyd’s The People’s Periodical and Family Library, from November 21, 1846 to March 20, 1847. Expanded to 732 pages for its 1850 book edition, it has been adapted, retitled, and imaginatively retold for book, stage, and numerous film adaptations. Scholars have debated whether the story was entirely fictional, whether the core idea was “borrowed” from a few passages in the works of Charles Dickens, or was indeed factually based. Be that as it may, the original story has “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” owning a barber shop with a trick chair. Once a patron is in this rigged barber chair, Sweeney Todd flips a lever, causing his victims to fall backwards through a trapdoor to end up in the basement. Should this fall not immediately dispatch the victim with a broken neck, Todd cuts their throats with his barber’s razor. In cahoots with Todd is the owner of a neighboring pie shop connected by a tunnel underneath both establishments. The patroness of the pie shop, one Mrs. Lovett, then carves up the corpses and bakes them into her meat pies.

“The Demon Barber” finds Holmes and Watson drawn into the present mystery via a stage play about the murderous barber, which begins with one of the actors convinced he has unknowingly committed bloody murders in the middle of the night ala the infamous Sweeney Todd, with a bloody razor he shows to Holmes as evidence of his guilt. How Holmes uncovers the dark truth makes for a dandy episode.

Play Time: 32:31

{As usual, nothing could keep the neighborhood SF gang from heading to their local newsstand for new issues of their favorite reading, not even the freezing cold of January 1946. As always, Astounding did not waver from its unbroken monthly schedule and was quickly grabbed up by several of our junior astronauts. fantastic Adventures ran from May of 1939 to March of 1953. From its inception through June of 1947 its schedule was erratic at best, but from September 1947 until its final 1953 issue it held strong to a monthly schedule. The issue below was the first of but five it would print in 1946. Weird Tales, from its first issue in 1923 through December of 1939 was, with a few rough spots, a monthly.  From January 1940 until its first “official” death in September of 1954 it maintained a bi-monthly schedule.}

[Left: Astounding, Jan. 1946 – Center: fantastic Adventures, Feb. 1946 – Right: Weird Tales, Jan. 1946]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.