hree years ago a young film producer, Sheldon Reynolds, asked me if I would like to go to Paris to make a film series about 'Sherlock Holmes'. Why Paris? It seemed odd divorcing this essentially British grand amateur of detection from his London surroundings. Why not Baker St.? It was a foolish question. He had built Baker St. at Epinay, his French Studios. He had employed the man who had designed the permanent Baker St. Exhibition. He had had a duplicate shipped to France and there erected at Epinany.
In face of such enthusiasm there remained only one doubt. One's own suitability for the role of the detective. Since Holmes was only a young man when he met Watson in the laboratory at Bart's Hospital----and the series was to begin with this first meeting of Holmes and Watson----there was no problem of adding grey hair. But did I look like the man? Reynolds was convinced I did---and he produced the Sidney Paget illustrations of the tall spare figure---showing me a fair-headed youthful Holmes. Dismissing my initial doubts,
I accepted the role---and left for Paris, trying to think myself into the part.
It was not going to be easy. The work was arduous--a film every four days---and I had to bring my family over and set a new pattern of life for them, a new home in a strange new land, to say nothing of the problems of language and going to school. Fortunately we travel fairly easily and we all made a happy and interesting life there. The films we made were well received and had the approval of the Baker Street Irregulars, who applauded the veracity of our stories and surroundings---as they had never done with any other Holmes films before. And the public of all ages seemed to like them. Now they have been shown, dubbed into a dozen languages, in many countries. But film-making in France is different from elsewhere
Text and photos borrowed from "Hollywood Album"
Twelfth edition; Edited by Ivy Crane Wilson
---and most agreeably different in the matter of working hours. None of this early rising to face an 8 a.m. call at the studio. No one would dream of starting work in French studios before twelve! And so it turned out to be.
I left my home at Herblay at about eleven, drove the eight miles to Epinay and was ready on the set at twelve.
We worked until 7:30 and finished.
Of course, the wonderful thing about this twelve to seven-thirty working day was that it gave one time to recover. I hope this won't be misinterpreted. One could go into Paris at night after the day's work was over and see the sights----knowing that one could sleep until ten o'clock the following morning. This didn't really work out in my case---as my children are rather early risers. But after they had gone off to school one could doze off again---and surface gradually. And having experienced the insular and barbaric practices of our own studio routines, where actors and actresses grope their way to studios, beating dawn by a short head---I was delighted with the new system---or the old continental system if you like.
After completing the films we came back to London---a solemn, quiet place after Paris. As a matter of fact,
I very nearly didn't come back. I had sent the family on by air---and loaded to the roof with all our family possessions, including lots of interesting and no doubt dutiable commodities purchased in France, I set out in the car for Boulogne. I reached the embarkation point and was about to drive my heavily laden car on to the ship, when a French official beckoned me into a little office. It seemed there was a spot of trouble with my passport. I had no exit visa---and how long had I been in France---and for what purpose had I come? I thought of the darkness of the Cherchee Midi prison---I visualized myself bereft of nationality, waiting heavily while officials pondered my bewildering and somewhat ordinal case. But all the man said was: "I am sorry, M'sieur--but you will have to go back to Paris and apply for permission to leave France!" "But, wait!" ----I explained to him, as the boat siren boomed imminent departure---"I have a family in London---they have gone there to await my arrival, but they have no clothes, no sleeping things, no mattresses"---why, even the baby's pot was in the car! The situation was frightful---My children needed me, etc., etc.,----I was their father, etc., etc. Nobody had told me about an exit visa...a lot of nonsense---red tape---hopeless officialdom muddling up people's lives etc., etc...
The man smiled up at me---his wry, Gallic face highly intrigued at my predicament. "I could---under special circumstances I suppose---issue an exit visa." "What circumstances?" I asked. "Seventeen thousand five hundred francs---that is what it costs..." Quickly I got out my wallet. I counted a total of nineteen thousand francs. Just home, I thought---but only just. I handed him the money. Slowly he counted it, handed my change, filled out a form. Then he played his trump card.
"Lucky for you---that you could spend this money in France. You could have been arrested for taking more than five thousand francs out of the country!" It was the perfect Gallic anti-climax. But as I hurried on to the boat I realised...it was a happy one for me----even though in this case, Sherlock had been out-Sherlocked!