Selling Sherlock Holmes – The Pressbook for “A Study in Terror” (1965)

This is one of my favorite pressbooks because the marketing concept is so wacky and clearly an ill-advised attempt to cash in on the crime-busting efforts of television’s latest sensation Batman which had aired on the small screen in January 1966 and on the big screen in July of that year, a month before A Study in Terror found its way into U.S. theaters.

Rather than merely adapting the British exhibitors manual – the film had been released in Britain in October 1965 – Columbia, clearly deciding the movie was too old hat for American audiences, aimed to hijack some of the ideas currently being used for the Twentieth Century Fox television series/movie.

So potential moviegoers were treated to bizarre taglines such as “here comes the original camp-counsellor-in-a-cape” and “Flyaway Batman!” complete with the “Bam!” “Biff” and “Crunch” opticals that had become synonymous with the Batman television series. Not  content with that, the advertising team invoked Superman as well with a spoof tagline: “faster than a speeding computer…able to leap tall tales in a single stroke of genius.” A third  famous character was drawn into proceedings – “He’s James Bond in a cape.”

Also referenced was a famous movie campaign from two decades before. “Sherlock Holmes is Back and Jack the Ripper’s Got ‘Im” echoed the legendary tagline that welcomed Clark Gable back to the movies after his war stint “Gable’s Back and Garson’s Got Him.”

Interestingly, although exhibitors were supplied with a choice of several taglines, the core advertising image – a pistol-packing Holmes above a busty screaming victim – remained the same, contrary to the normal practice of devising a number of advertisements that allowed the exhibitor to choose the one most relevant to their customer base.

Outside of the spoof Batman ads, the campaign focused on the clash between the master sleuth and the villain. Other taglines spelled it out: “Sherlock Holmes takes on Jack the Ripper” / “Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper in a mad, mad thriller” / “Sherlock Holmes strikes back at the foulest fiend of them all, Jack the Ripper” and “The sleuth versus the slayer.”

Supplementary taglines were occasionally included: “girl after girl, he gives a new twist to the world’s oldest profession” / “the most savage killer of the century and the screen screams with suspense” / “the battle of wits is as terror sharp as the murder weapon.”

With copyline writers doing overtime, the Pressbook clocked up over 15 separate adverts. Pictorially, the emphasis appeared to be on cleavage and brutal murders of women.

With a virtual cast of unknowns, the Pressbook writers had to work hard to summon up interest in the principals. John Neville for example had been originally approached for a musical Baker Street and he fitted in shooting the film with his work in the theatre. Adrian Conan Doyle, son of the famed author, proclaimed that Donald Houston was “completely, utterly. right for the part.” The role of a disfigured girl was considered a “professional risk” for Adrienne Corri and Barbara Windsor announced she was going to turn brunette and concentrate on drama rather than comedy.

Another famous writing team was called into the promotional whirl, bestselling authors Ellery Queen writing the novelization of the screenplay.

On the basis that the detective was well-known, the marketeers felt safe enough exhorting exhibitors to persuade local libraries to hold a Sherlock Holmes Week and approaching bookstores to feature the other books in the series as well as the novelization. Another suggestion was a competition to name all ten stars who played the character. Sherlock Holmes fans were known as Baker Street Boys and “there may be a member or two in your community…who may prove tremendously helpful in radio/newspaper/television promotion.”

Another promotion focused on deerstalker hats and the hero’s interest in the violin and pipe-smoking lent themselves to tie-ups with retailers of such products.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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