What do you make of Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor who missed out this week on a National TV Award for Sherlock?

I like him. I like Sherlock. I don't think it's the best thing that's been on British telly since Brideshead, as some of its extreme fans do, but it's entertaining.

The problem is how gratingly rude Cumberbatch's Sherlock is. For the saddo purists – and there are plenty of us out there – this is sacrilege. Conan Doyle's Sherlock is abrupt and cutting, but minds his manners. Shoehorn him into the 21st century and he becomes arch and cheeky; Holmes was never that.

Loading article content

So who is the quintessential screen Holmes? For said saddo purist, there is only one candidate: Jeremy Brett. Holmes may have been played by some memorable actors, from box-office stars such as Robert Downey Jr, Roger Moore and Michael Caine, to Hammer Horror regulars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee; some would say Basil Rathbone in his famous cape was the best because he created a template so many others have followed. For my money, Brett stands top-hatted head and tailored shoulders above them all.

He starred in Granada's Holmes between 1984 and 1994 and is still perfect in the role. The richly toned, chocolatey voice, imperious manner and displays of melancholia and energetic mania, made him the definitive Holmes. To inhabit the character so completely, Brett pored over every word Conan Doyle had written about the detective, building up a written log of characteristics and habits he faithfully adhered to. He did away with the outward symbols – deerstalker, cape and magnifying glass – and concentrated on becoming Holmes.

Brett died in 1995, but brought to life the world's most famous detective more vividly than anyone had before – or since.