First episode date
24 July 1994
Country of origin
No. of episodes
Final episode date
5 July 1998
Jack Shepherd Jimmy Yuill Helen Masters
Mark Thomas (1993) Nigel Hess (1994–98)
Alan Clayton (1993) Stephen Matthews (1994–97) Jenny Reeks (1994) Michelle Buck (1997–98)
No. of series
5 + 2 Specials in; 1993 and 1997
Jack Shepherd, Helen Masters, Jimmy Yuill, Tim Wylton, Lynn Farleigh
Wycliffe is a British television series, based on W. J. Burley's novels about Detective Superintendent Charles Wycliffe. It was produced by HTV and broadcast on the ITV Network, following a pilot episode on 7 August 1993, between 24 July 1994 and 5 July 1998. The series was filmed in Cornwall, with a production office in Truro. Music for the series was composed by Nigel Hess and was awarded the Royal Television Society award for the best television theme. Wycliffe is played by Jack Shepherd, assisted by DI Doug Kersey (Jimmy Yuill) and DI Lucy Lane (Helen Masters).
- Setting and characters
- Murder investigations and police themes
- List of episodes
- Series 1
- Series 2
- Series 3
- Series 4
- Series 5
- Home Media
Each episode deals with a murder investigation. In the early series, the stories are adapted from Burley's books and are in classic whodunit style, often with quirky characters and plot elements. In later seasons, the tone becomes more naturalistic and there is more emphasis on internal politics within the police.
Setting and characters
The Cornish setting is an important feature of the series, providing both picturesque landscapes and glimpses into the local way of life. Many characters work in the tourist industry. Problems of the region such as the struggling fishing industry, long-term unemployment, and prejudice against new age travellers are shown in various episodes. Wycliffe and his team are responsible for a large geographical area and often have to spend time away from home during an investigation. This can cause problems for Wycliffe, who is shown as a contented family man, married to a teacher (Lynn Farleigh) and with two teenage children; it also makes it difficult for Lane and Kersey, who are both single, to form relationships outside work.
Wycliffe's beat appears to cover mainly central and west Cornwall. There are frequent mentions of certain major towns, including the city of Truro, Newquay, Camborne and Penzance (these places were also used as locations). But others in the same area, such as Falmouth, St Austell and St Ives, figure much less frequently. It is reasonable to assume that, as a Detective Superintendent, Wycliffe is the head of CID for one division, the boundary of which appears to run approximately from Padstow on the north coast to St Austell and Carlyon Bay on the south. He does not deal with places in north and east Cornwall, such as Bude or Launceston. Bodmin (actually mainly Bodmin Moor) features strongly in one episode, about the so-called Beast of Bodmin (which is said to be a big cat), but that's about as far east as Wycliffe ever gets. In the final episode ("Land's End") Wycliffe refers to Wadebridge, near Bodmin, as being on "the other side of the county".
(Devon and Cornwall Constabulary is no longer organised as Divisions. In real life, the Major Crime Investigation Team in Cornwall, which would presumably be headed by Wycliffe, is based at Newquay, but his Divisional HQ appears to be somewhere in the Camborne area.)
One of the recurring characters who appeared in 22 episodes, Detective Constable Ian Potter, was played by Adam Barker (son of Ronnie Barker). Adam Barker was jailed in 2012 for possessing child pornography; he had been on the run for eight years.
Wycliffe's hobby of playing jazz piano reflects Jack Shepherd's interest in music. Shepherd did all his own piano playing in the series. Helen Masters became pregnant at the beginning of Series 5 and scripts were adjusted so that her character, Lane, could also be pregnant. Many of the smaller places mentioned are fictional.
Murder investigations and police themes
The series shows detective and forensic work in a reasonably accurate way, but the emphasis is more on the human stories surrounding the murders. Wycliffe is a quiet, thoughtful man, a skilled observer of people and an astute interviewer, and these qualities enable him to solve the crimes.
Internal police politics provide slow-burning story arcs in the later series, with Wycliffe constantly having to deal with red tape, budget restraints and a blustering, image-obsessed Deputy Chief Constable. Lane is offered promotion, though she later realises she is being used to fulfil sexual equality quotas in the force rather than being judged on her ability; as a result there are tensions between her and Kersey, though they have previously been close. Kersey is the subject of an internal investigation and is forced to reconsider his future career after being accused of causing the death of a prisoner in custody.
Wycliffe's frequent meetings with the Deputy Chief Constable, Stevens, are slightly odd. In real life, there would almost certainly be a Detective Chief Superintendent as the head of CID throughout the force, who would report in turn to one of a series of Assistant Chief Constables, each with a particular responsibility such as Operations or Personnel. The Deputy Chief Constable is normally too senior to be troubled with operational details, unless a major crisis occurs.
The police force is described as "South West Constabulary", which is a fictional title. However, assuming that SWC covers at least Cornwall and Devon (which is a real force area), it is also strange that Stevens is so often on hand, and even appears to have an office in the Divisional HQ. Such a postholder would really be based at County HQ (in the case of the real life Devon and Cornwall Constabulary the HQ is at Exeter) and not be so free to get in Wycliffe's way.
A feature-length 'special' was filmed between Series 4 and Series 5, which ended with Wycliffe being shot by a criminal. During Series 5, he is shown struggling to recover from the trauma of this injury; the darker tone of this series culminates with Wycliffe falsely accused of a crime and only proven innocent at the last moment.
On occasion, the plot of an episode could anticipate events in real life. In the episode "Dead on arrival" (Series 3, Episode 1), broadcast on 9 June 1996, several illegal immigrants were found to be suffocated in an airtight container lorry. Four years later, fifty-eight illegal immigrants did indeed suffocate in a lorry in Dover, an event which inspired the Hong Kong action film Stowaway.
List of episodes
Wycliffe ran for five series from 24 July 1994 to 5 July 1998, and included a pilot episode (originally shown on 7 August 1993) and a Christmas special shown between the fourth and fifth series.
† includes the pilot episode originally aired on 7 August 1993.
‡ includes the Christmas special originally aired on 27 December 1997.
The first series of Wycliffe was originally aired on ITV in the summer of 1994.
The pilot episode was originally aired one year earlier than the commissioned first series, in the summer of 1993. The cast of the pilot differs from that used for the commissioned series; Jack Shepherd plays Wycliffe in both the pilot and the commissioned series.
† pilot episode.
The second series of Wycliffe was originally aired on ITV in the summer of 1995.
The third series of Wycliffe was originally aired on ITV in the summer of 1996. There was a short hiatus in the third series due to ITV's coverage of the Euro '96 football tournament.
The fourth series of Wycliffe was originally aired on ITV in the summer of 1997.
The final series of Wycliffe was originally aired on ITV in the summer of 1998. The Christmas special was originally aired about five months earlier in December 1997.
The fifth and final series saw Jack Shepherd directing two episodes: "On Offer"; and "Standing Stone". During the filming of this series, Jimmy Yuill fell ill with meningitis. While he was in hospital the production company (HTV) terminated his contract. Though he made a full recovery, HTV refused to allow him to return to the programme, apparently for insurance reasons. This caused considerable ill-feeling, and Jack Shepherd made it clear he did not wish to continue as Wycliffe. ITV did not recommission the programme.
† Christmas Special.
All five series were released individually on DVD in the UK by Network between 27 July 2009, and 21 February 2011.