Wycliffe is a British television series, based on W. J. Burley's novels about Detective Superintendent Charles Wycliffe (pronounced "Wick-lif" according to the author). 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).
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). 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, perhaps to avoid possible actions for libel.
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.
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.
|From||To||Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|One||7†||24 July 1994||28 August 1994||17 February 2009||27 July 2009||2 February 2008||395 mins|
|Two||8||18 June 1995||6 August 1995||13 October 2009||5 April 2010||3 May 2008||400 mins|
|Three||8||9 June 1996||11 August 1996||29 June 2010||30 August 2010||2 August 2008||400 mins|
|Four||8||29 June 1997||17 August 1997||16 November 2010||18 October 2010||1 November 2008||400 mins|
|Five||7‡||17 May 1998||5 July 1998||16 November 2010||21 February 2011||28 February 2009||380 mins|
Notes: † 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.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original Air Date||Length|
|1||n/a†||"Wycliffe and the Cycle of Death"||Pennant Roberts||August 7, 1993 (1993-08-07)||95min|
|A bookshop owner in Penzance is brutally murdered, and Wycliffe discovers all is not well among the members of one of the area's most respected families.|
|1||1||"The Four Jacks"||July 24, 1994 (1994-07-24)||60min|
|A young female archaeology student is found naked in bed with gunshot wounds, and lies in a critical condition in hospital. As surgeons try to save her life, Wycliffe digs into the life of a famous novelist, who claims his life is at risk. Then, a man is shot dead while walking his dog on the beach, and Wycliffe is under pressure to act quickly if he is to prevent another murder.
- Based on the novel by W. J. Burley - Wycliffe and the Four Jacks.
|1||2||"The Dead Flautist"||Steve Trafford||July 31, 1994 (1994-07-31)||60min|
|When the body of an amateur flautist, Tony Miller, is found shot by his own gun on the secluded estate of Lord & Lady Bottrell, it is assumed that he killed himself. But Wycliffe senses there is more to the case than first meets the eye. As he unravels the dead man's last days, another mystery is revealed - the disappearance of a maid from the Bottrell household. Family feuds and illicit relationships are uncovered - and then, another body is found.
- Based on the novel by W. J. Burley - Wycliffe and the Dead Flautist.
|1||3||"The Scapegoat"||Russell Lewis||August 7, 1994 (1994-08-07)||60min|
|A Cornish undertaker's mysterious disappearance is linked to a disturbing summer ritual. Local gossip intensifies when the man's body is found, washed up on the rocks and begins a murder inquiry which ends with an effigy strapped to a burning wheel plunging off the cliffs.
- Based on the novel by W. J. Burley - Wycliffe and the Scapegoat.
|1||4||"The Tangled Web"||Andrew Holden||August 14, 1994 (1994-08-14)||60min|
|Wycliffe is brought in when an elderly bedridden woman is found dead, her body locked in a freezer, and a pregnant teenager, Hilda Clemo, from a bizarre family vanishes from her Cornish village. As fears for her safety grow, Wycliffe questions the family, whose feuding uncovers some dark secrets. Wycliffe has to unpick the tangled web of intrigue and greed.
- Based on the novel by W. J. Burley - Wycliffe and the Tangled Web.
|1||5||"The Last Rites"||Roger Bamford||Rob Heyland||August 21, 1994 (1994-08-21)||60min|
|When the Rev. Jordan arrives at the village church, he discovers the partially clothed body of Jessica Dobell, the church cleaner, spreadeagled below the cross. A satanic cult is thought to be behind the gruesome death, but Wycliffe believes responsibility lies elsewhere. There is an air of violent hatred in the village, not all of it directed towards the dead woman.
- Based on the novel by W. J. Burley - Wycliffe and the Last Rites.
|1||6||"The Pea Green Boat"||A. J. Quinn||Steve Trafford||August 28, 1994 (1994-08-28)||60min|
|When Harry Tremaine is killed in the explosion of his fishing boat, suspicion falls on the man's son, who stands to inherit everything, but Wycliffe remains unconvinced. There's also a local developer who wants to build a marina on the quayside Tremaine owned; Tremaine's partner has been having an affair with his wife; and there is a mysterious recipient of £500 in cash from Tremaine on the first day of every month.
- Based on the novel by W. J. Burley - Wycliffe and the Pea-Green Boat.
Notes: † pilot episode.
The second series of Wycliffe was originally aired on ITV in the summer of 1995.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Length|
|2||1||"All for Love"||Martyn Friend||Steve Trafford||June 18, 1995 (1995-06-18)||60min|
|A hunt for John Bonetti, an escaped prisoner from HMP Bodmin, takes a dramatic twist after the discovery of a body. Wycliffe and his team race against time to recapture him.|
|2||2||"The Trojan Horse"||Patrick Lau||Steve Trafford||June 25, 1995 (1995-06-25)||60min|
|Alex Keir is distraught when his wife Alison goes missing, but Wycliffe is sceptical of his grief, until a ransom note is found. The case of apparent kidnapping then takes a dramatic turn when Mrs Keir is found dead and smelling of alcohol at the wheel of a crashed car.|
|2||3||"Charades"||Martyn Friend||Jonathan Rich||July 2, 1995 (1995-07-02)||60min|
|Wycliffe and his team investigate the death of a man found blasted by a shotgun at a Cornish holiday home. They discover evidence of ill-feeling between the dead man and his brother-in-law.|
|2||4||"Lost Contact"||Patrick Lau||Isabelle Grey||July 9, 1995 (1995-07-09)||60min|
|When a man's virtually unidentifiable body is washed ashore, Wycliffe is baffled when two separate women claim it is that of their missing husbands.|
|2||5||"Four and Twenty Blackbirds"||Julian Jones||July 16, 1995 (1995-07-16)||60min|
|When a farmer goes missing, leaving his sheep and house unattended, the local police call in Wycliffe. Discoveries of arson and bloodstains lead the team into a farming community struggling to survive.|
|2||6||"Happy Families"||Steve Goldie||Sian Orrells||July 23, 1995 (1995-07-23)||60min|
|When a schoolgirl is found dead in a science laboratory after a school disco, Wycliffe tries to discover through her family and friends whether it was suicide or murder.|
|2||7||"Wild Oats"||July 30, 1995 (1995-07-30)||60min|
|When an attempt is made to steal a headless skeleton from an archaeological dig, Wycliffe discovers an estate steeped in archaic values. The identification of the skeleton unsettles the land-owning Rawle family, whose days of sovereignty in the community are fading.|
|2||8||"Breaking Point"||Michael Morris||Steve Trafford||August 6, 1995 (1995-08-06)||60min|
|Surfer Anne Carter is found in a deep coma when she is washed ashore. The assumption that she is a victim of a freak accident have to be revised when Wycliffe and his team investigate, and uncover a host of sinister facts and conspiracies. Their task is hindered by an obvious leak to the press, which puts DI Lane in a precarious position.|
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.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Length|
|3||1||"Dead on Arrival"||Michael Morris||Steve Trafford||June 9, 1996 (1996-06-09)||60min|
|An abandoned lorry with five corpses at the ferry terminal and a man on the run bring Wycliffe's silver wedding anniversary celebration, which their children have laid on as a surprise, to an abrupt halt.|
|3||2||"Number of the Beast"||Michael Morris||Jonathan Rich||June 16, 1996 (1996-06-16)||60min|
|When unexplained killings rock the Bodmin community, locals become convinced that the "beast" is back.|
|3||3||"Slave of Duty"||David Edwards||Jonathan Rich||July 7, 1996 (1996-07-07)||60min|
|A dead man found buried under a pile of 100-year old wood provides an intriguing case.|
|3||4||"Total Loss"||David Edwards||Isabelle Grey||July 14, 1996 (1996-07-14)||60min|
|When a fishing boat goes down taking one of the crew with it, Kersey and Lane discover a fishing community that is struggling to survive under the strain of legislation, as well as a new competitive edge to their working relationship.|
|3||5||"Crazy for You"||Martyn Friend||Tom Needham||July 21, 1996 (1996-07-21)||60min|
|A psychiatrist's wife is murdered in a seemingly unprovoked attack. Wycliffe finds that proving a motive can be harder than catching a killer.|
|3||6||"Faith"||Martyn Friend||Sian Orrells||July 28, 1996 (1996-07-28)||60min|
|The discovery of a baby's body leads the team to a bizarre pagan sect.|
|3||7||"Last Judgement"||John Glenister||Carolyn Jones||August 4, 1996 (1996-08-04)||60min|
|When a magistrate known to Wycliffe is found hanged, everything points to suicide but Wycliffe's instincts tell him otherwise.|
|3||8||"Old Habits"||John Glenister||Scott Cherry||August 11, 1996 (1996-08-11)||60min|
|When a young woman is found strangled, a pathologist is struck by the similarities to a string of other unsolved murders. Wycliffe and his team have to unearth 11-year old evidence to see if they can trace a link.|
The fourth series of Wycliffe was originally aired on ITV in the summer of 1997.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Length|
|4||1||"Strangers"||Alan Wareing||Peter Hammond||June 29, 1997 (1997-06-29)||60min|
|Tragic events unfold after a wedding with a bizarre guest list: the bride and groom, who have only known each other for three weeks, advertised for guests to attend the ceremony in Penzance. Next day, one of the couple is found stabbed to death in their luxurious honeymoon hotel.|
|4||2||"Close to Home"||David Edwards||Isabelle Grey||July 6, 1997 (1997-07-06)||60min|
|A man is stabbed to death in a pub car park by a stranger, a petty criminal not known to be violent. As Wycliffe investigates, the victim turns out not to be the upstanding businessman he seemed to be.|
|4||3||"On Account"||David Edwards||Kevin Clarke||July 13, 1997 (1997-07-13)||60min|
|Wycliffe and Kersey exchange strong words as they investigate a disturbing case involving the contamination of jars of baby food in a local supermarket by a blackmailer. Meanwhile, the disciplinary enquiry into Wycliffe's team continues to run its course.|
|4||4||"Lone Voyager"||Michael Bayshaw||Philip O'Shea||July 20, 1997 (1997-07-20)||60min|
|Wycliffe probes the disappearance of a lone yachtswoman, whose boat is discovered scuttled on the seabed.|
|4||5||"Seen a Ghost"||Michael Bayshaw||Isabelle Grey||July 27, 1997 (1997-07-27)||60min|
|A dark family secret comes to light when a girl deliberately runs over a woman on a pedestrian crossing. The results of the enquiry board are revealed.|
|4||6||"Bad Blood"||Alan Wareing||Scott Cherry||August 3, 1997 (1997-08-03)||60min|
|A couple facing eviction from their tied cottage are suspected of murder when the landowner is suddenly killed. Wycliffe must act quickly to identify the killer before locals take the law into their own hands.|
|4||7||"To sup with the Devil"||Graeme Harper||Carolyn Jones||August 10, 1997 (1997-08-10)||60min|
|When a local pub landlord is bludgeoned to death, Wycliffe can find few people with a good word to say about him. A police informant points the finger at the victim's former wife and her new husband, but when DI Lane mishandles the situation, Wycliffe and Kersey are forced to stage a dramatic rescue.|
|4||8||"Old Times, New Crimes"||Graeme Harper||Arthur McKenzie||August 17, 1997 (1997-08-17)||60min|
|Pursued by the press, under the spotlight of an internal investigation and lacking support from his superiors, Wyclife's problems multiply when an old case resurfaces, and DCC Stevens seems out to prove Wycliffe is no longer up to the job.|
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, the production company (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.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||Length|
|5||n/a†||"Dance of the Scorpions"||Paul Harrison||Arthur McKenzie||December 27, 1997 (1997-12-27)||90min|
|Wycliffe clashes with his superiors over the way he is handling a gruesome double murder case, after a building society manager and his wife are gunned down.|
|5||1||"On Offer"||Jack Shepherd||Arthur McKenzie||May 17, 1998 (1998-05-17)||60min|
|In a police nursing home, Wycliffe ponders the future after the attempt on his life. Meanwhile, Kersey investigates a salmon poacher's suspicious death. Acting DCI Lane is tempted to move on and up.|
|5||2||"Time Out"||Alan Wareing||Peter Hammond||May 24, 1998 (1998-05-24)||60min|
|A prostitute sparks a murder hunt when she tells Kersey that one of her clients confessed to killing another prostitute, but how believable is she?|
|5||3||"Standing Stone"||Jack Shepherd||Carolyn Jones||May 31, 1998 (1998-05-31)||60min|
|The wife of one of Kersey's friends goes missing after an evening class and later her tutor is found murdered. Kersey's relationship with Lane threatens to lead him into deep waters.|
|5||4||"Feeding the Rat"||Alan Wareing||Isabelle Grey||June 7, 1998 (1998-06-07)||60min|
|Wycliffe is recovered and back at work. A local climber is killed in a cliff fall, and an unreliable informant claims he was pushed. A re-enactment of the fatal climb only adds to the suspicions.|
|5||5||"Scope"||Alan Wareing||John Milne||June 21, 1998 (1998-06-21)||60min|
|Wycliffe is awarded the Queen's Medal for Gallantry. He then investigates the murder of a policeman whose wife had been having an affair with another officer.|
|5||6||"Land's End"||Alan Wareing||Kevin Clarke||July 5, 1998 (1998-07-05)||60min|
|Lane investigates two drug dealers' deaths and defends Wycliffe against corruption allegations, after a woman from his past suddenly appears demanding help.|