you know my method, watson

by Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design , Maplewood, N.J.)

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Penguin Books, 1986
Illustration and Design: Paul Davis (b. 1938)/Paul Davis Studio

---Here is the poster version, from which this cover is adapted:

This is what’s called a TV tie-in (or movie tie-in) design. Davis is adapting the look of the PBS Mystery! season promotional material for that year that he did for The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Every year, for several years, PBS would commission posters to promote their season of programming—especially Masterpiece Theatre and Masterpiece Mystery!, including both complete season and individual programs, which had been underwritten by Mobil. PBS would use many prominent designers—like Ivan Chermayeff and Seymour Chwast, and of course Edward Gorey, who would often do the “season” poster, that would list all of the different programs that were included under the Mystery! banner (the show he is specifically associated with, as he had done the animated series introduction with Derek Lamb) and in 1986 included Arthur Conan Doyle’s Return of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, P. D. James’s Inspector Dalgliesh adaptations, as well as a few stand-alone productions.

Davis did the individual poster work for Sherlock Holmes, done in much the same dramatic style as he had done for many years for Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre, with fully painted portraiture of the actors playing Holmes and Watson—in this case Jeremy Brett (1933-1995) and Edward Hardwicke (1932-2011) who had replaced David Burke (b. 1934) who played Watson in the PBS/Granada Television’s first series, the 1984-85 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (and was portrayed in the first incarnation of this poster for that series). However, I could never quite figure out why Davis’s design was done in a retro-contructivist style, other than that it had been a popular “general” design motif in the 1980s, thanks in no small part to the influence of Paula Scher’s design work which exploded all over mainstream packaging in the 1980s after she left CBS Records, and who liberally applied retro-contructivism to that work.

Constructivism references the nineteen teens and twenties in Europe and in particular, Russia, and the stories included in The Return of Sherlock Holmes were published by Conan Doyle in 1905, with the first adventure taking place in 1894—firmly rooted in England’s late Victorian period.

Regardless, the design is attention-getting, and much better than what generally is applied by publishers to Conan Doyle’s great detective (who far too often rely on cliché imagery, although they—and PBS—did err towards Holmes in the trademark deerstalker cap, which Brett only wore in adventures that took place in rural locales a la “Hound of the Baskervilles”). Incidentally, and Robert Downey, Jr. notwithstanding, Brett’s portrayal of Holmes remains definitive.
Here is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which preceded it. Note actor David Burke positioned as Watson (makes more sense in the composition):

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