Leslie Shepard

Writer, editor, film-maker and collector
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Leslie Shepard, film-maker and collector, writer and editor, once wrote, "I am rather like the young hero in Stephen Leacock's story who leapt on his trusty steed and galloped madly in all directions!" Of the many diverse aspects of his life, it was for his devotion to early cinema, however, that he was best known.



Leslie Alan Shepard, film-maker and collector, writer and editor: born London 21 June 1917; married Jeanne Horn (died 1969; one son, one daughter); died Blackrock, Co Dublin 20 August 2004.



Leslie Shepard, film-maker and collector, writer and editor, once wrote, "I am rather like the young hero in Stephen Leacock's story who leapt on his trusty steed and galloped madly in all directions!" Of the many diverse aspects of his life, it was for his devotion to early cinema, however, that he was best known.

Shepard's film collection was as renowned as his various book collections, for he owned numerous early titles generally unavailable elsewhere. Unlike many collectors, however, he was immensely generous in sharing his rarities, and enriched the lives of hundreds of collectors throughout the world. "It gives me great pleasure," he maintained.

He was born in 1917 in West Ham, London, leaving the Day Continuation School for Commercial Subjects in 1933. His passion for cinema had begun early, from experience with 9.5mm film and Pathé's library of abridged classics, and from having been taken to see F.W. Murnau's 1926 Faust at a local picture palace; he remembered its full orchestral accompaniment for the rest of his life. In 1941, he joined Paul Rotha Productions, working in the cutting room; while there, he met the legendary German screenwriter Carl Mayer.

A conscientious objector during the Second World War, Shepard served on a Civil Defence stretcher party. He embraced no formal religion but was sympathetic to the basic truths of many religions, and was a self-described "unpolitical humanitarian". Later, instead of Christmas cards, he would send chap-books to his many friends - short monographs on such topics as yoga, economic perils or "The Search for Wisdom" (the last originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4's "Thought for the Day" in 1977).

From 1942 to 1944 Shepard was assistant organiser and scriptwriter of a bi-monthly newsreel for the Ministry of Information. He helped found Data Film Productions, London, serving from 1945 to 1948 on its board of management. In 1947 he became production manager for Mining Review, a monthly news film produced for the National Coal Board, and in the Fifties worked on various industrial and educational films for industry and the Central Office of Information. He became production controlling officer and supervisor of documentary films and Public Service Television items for BBC and independent television.

He collaborated with the German singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn, with whom in 1956 he issued an LP on the Folkways label in America, Vox Humana, on extending human vocal range and interpreting its psychotherapeutic effects on dramatic performance.

In 1958 Shepard studied yoga, Hindu metaphysics and Indian classical music in India, where he lived for six months in a scorpion-infested temple on the banks of the Ganges River. Yoga exercises were undertaken to repair his lungs, which had been damaged when he worked as a young man in an asbestos warehouse. The following year he was cinematographer, cook and carpenter in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Atlantic in a 28ft cutter via the Viking route, the earliest sea route to America.

Shepard's literary and publishing career was just as diverse. In 1965-66 he was London Editor for University Books, New York, for whom he wrote forewords, prefaces and introductions to more than 70 books. For Gale Research Company, Detroit, he served as editor and researcher from 1966 until the end of his life. The books he edited on Hinduism played a significant part in the welfare of the Hindu community in the United Kingdom.

Publications edited by Shepard include The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories (1977), Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology (1978), Living with Kundalini: the autobiography of Gopi Krishna (1993) and Dracula: celebrating 100 years (1997). His own works include The Broadside Ballad: a study in origins and meaning (1962), John Pitts, ballad printer of Seven Dials, London, 1765-1844 (1969) and The History of Street Literature (1973).

Shepard founded the Bram Stoker Society and co-founded the Standing Committee of Jews, Christians and Muslims. He spoke at ecumenical conferences, was for many years a lecturer on silent cinema, and assisted as researcher for several silent-film documentaries produced by Kevin Brownlow, David Gill and Photoplay Productions. He was a lifelong bibliophile, his library including a unique collection of broadside ballads and related ephemera. And he was an early British populariser of the Kentucky mountain dulcimer: his lecture "John Jacob Niles, American Folk Singer" was broadcast in 1963 by the BBC's Third Programme.

R. Dixon Smith

Comments