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Interview: Jack Shepherd on Wycliffe and his lead role in Classic Ghosts at Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: January 20, 2014

Actor Jack Shepherd

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PARANORMAL forces threaten to scare you senseless and chill your bones at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre next week.

Jack Shepherd – best known for playing Detective Superintendent Charles Wycliffe in the five-year TV series – takes the lead role in Classic Ghosts, an adaptation of two spine-tingling tales.

The Signalman, penned by a certain Charles Dickens, is set in 1880 and is an unnerving story of a tormented signalman who is haunted by visions of an impending disaster on his isolated stretch of line.

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come To You, My Lad is no less creepy. The ghost story, penned by master storyteller MR James, is a narrative which centres on Professor Parkins, a Cambridge academic on an out-of-season holiday at a bleak English east coast hotel in 1907.

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At an old graveyard near a deserted beach he finds an old bone whistle and on cleaning it he discovers an inscription which awakens a disturbing supernatural force.

For award-winning veteran actor Jack it opens up a fascinating debate on supernatural goings-on.

“The belief in ghosts is exciting, this idea of something that is mysterious that is out there,” he says.

“Both stories are both brilliantly written and in both cases there could be a psychological explanation.

“You could look at it from a psychological point of view on suicide or you could look at it by focusing on the spooky side of things.

“I’m not going to tell you which way I looked at it and often the audience will look upon it very differently anyway.”

While he doesn’t elaborate on his approach to the role he does say that from a personal point of view he does approach the supernatural world with a great degree of caution.

“I’m a natural sceptic,” he says. “The only experiences I have ever encountered took place between my two marriages.

“Perhaps my psychological state made me liable.

“The encounters themselves are quite complex to explain but one time I was at a jazz musician’s house and I saw this hand banging a gong close to the ceiling attached to a string.

“There was no possible way for anyone in the room to reach it. That night I drove back to my flat and I felt as though someone was with me. “Later I found out that the jazz musician’s father had lost an arm in that room.”

The Everyman Theatre is no stranger to paranormal activity with parts of the venue said to be so haunted staff fear to visit them.

With sightings that include a vision of a portly man dressed in a 1940s suit and tie, it’s perhaps little wonder they are running ghost tours after four of the evening performances.

For Jack, who speaks slowly, often giving long pauses before thoughtful answers, it would merely add to the spectacle.

At 73, he has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in film, television and stage and clocked up a whole host of awards including the coveted Laurence Olivier Theatre Award.

His career path was carved out not of a desire to be a star but one of pragmatism. “I always wanted to be an artist at school and I would have become a teacher but I decided I wasn’t good enough for it,” he says.

“Acting was my only sensible option. I never wanted to become a star, I just like to be involved in the creation of plays.”

So what of Wycliffe which ended amid controversy when production company HTV refused to reinstate Jimmy Yuill who made a faster than expected recovery from meningitis.

“They wanted to save themselves a bit of money as he recovered quicker than they expected,” he says. “But I don’t think he’d want me to talk about that.”

Would he return to the role?

“It was a good piece of drama and I do feel nostalgic about it but it’s a bit of a shadow with the best episodes on ITV 3.

“I think that’s testament to the quality of writing.”

n Classic Ghosts runs from Tuesday until Saturday. Tickets cost from £14. Call 01242 572573.

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