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Classic TV Crime: S01 E01 – Wycliffe – The Four Jacks – Jack Shepherd


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.


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).

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.

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, was based at Newquay during the period in which the stories are set, but his Divisional HQ appears to be somewhere in the Camborne area.)

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