Born: January 8, 1920;

Died: March 31, 2016

DOUGLAS Wilmer, who has died of pneumonia aged 96, was just one of around 100 different actors who have played Sherlock Holmes, including Peter Cushing and more recently Benedict Cumberbatch.

So when the Sherlock Holmes Society of London announces on its website: “Douglas Wilmer is described by many in the Society as the Sherlock Holmes,” then that is praise indeed.

Wilmer first took on the role of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective in a BBC dramatisation of The Speckled Band in 1964, with Nigel Stock as Watson. It was one of the earliest television adaptations.

“The part interested me very much,” Wilmer said a few years ago. “There’s a very dark side to Holmes and a very unpleasant side to him. And I felt that this was always skirted round … He was a surprisingly unfashionable individual for a Victorian writer to portray, completely unsentimental in a very sentimental age.”

Wilmer’s take on Holmes proved popular not just with aficionados but with the general viewing public and the BBC commissioned a further 12 programmes. It helped that he looked the part, aristocratic and rather aloof, with sharp, angular features, though he had already played Holmes on radio. The surviving 11 episodes have recently been restored and released on DVD.

The BBC wanted more of the same, but Wilmer grew tired of the role and ultimately the profession. He was frustrated by what he considered poor scripting and would rewrite them himself. Peter Cushing took over as Holmes at the BBC and Woolmer retreated to the village of Woodbridge in Suffolk, where he opened a wine bar called Sherlock’s.

However, he did continue to appear on television and in films occasionally right up until recently. He played Holmes one more time, in a cameo in Gene Wilder’s 1975 film The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, and he made a guest appearance as a member of the Diogenes Club in the Cumberbatch reboot in 2012.

Wilmer was born in London in 1920, but spent much of his early childhood in Shanghai, where his father worked as an accountant. He went to boarding school in England, won a scholarship to RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and served with the Royal Artillery in West Africa during the Second World War, before being invalided out with tuberculosis.

His acting career began in theatre and he visited Scotland in the late 1940s and early 1950s with productions of Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth and Othello. He also played Macbeth in a 1958 BBC production for schools.

On stage and screen he worked with such legendary figures as Donald Wolfit, Laurence Olivier and Alec Guinness. He was Lord Dorset in Olivier’s film of Richard III in 1955 and went on to appear in a string of historical epics, including El Cid (1961), Cleopatra (1963), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) , Khartoum (1966) and Cromwell (1970).

Other notable roles include Professor Van Dusen in ITV’s The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes in 1971 and an art expert in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy. On news of his death, Roger Moore tweeted: “A fine actor and joyous to be in The Saint and Octopussy with.” Wilmer is survived by his third wife.