John Thaw’s life – ‘ghostly return’ to eerie link to wife’s late husband

Fans are eagerly awaiting the final series of ITV drama Endeavour, which begins tonight (February 26, 2023).

The Inspector Morse prequel has delighted viewers since 2011, with the series paying sweet nods to the character that inspired it all and the actor who played him – John Thaw.

John Thaw was beloved by generations of fans, with the actor appearing in hit TV series including The Sweeney and Home To Roost, to name a few.

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As the final series of Endeavour begins, Daily Star takes a look back at John Thaw's life and career.

Dennis Waterman bond

John Thaw was already a huge star by the time he appeared in Inspector Morse, after appearing in a number of TV programmes and theatre production.

He made his stage debut at the Liverpool Playhouse in A Shred of Evidence, before landing roles in Z-Cars, The Avengers, Redcap and Semi-detached.

However, he became fondly known as detective Jack Regan in police drama The Sweeney between 1975 to 1978, opposite the late Dennis Waterman – with the duo even making an appearance together on The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special in 1976.

The two actors had a close bond off-set too, with Dennis Waterman saying in his Life and Times documentary: "We knew we were doing something really quite special and very different from British television.

"There was no worry then, which I think was a help. There was no great panic about whether it was going to be a success in the ratings.

"We just knew we had very good scripts, we had great directors, and we thought we weren’t that shabby. John [Thaw] and I were great mates and, it sounds horrible, but it was just a joy to go to work every day."

John later took on the role of Henry Willows in Home To Roost opposite Emmerdale star Reece Dinsdale between 1985 to 1990.

However, Inspector Morse became one of the actor's defining roles, with John appearing in the programme between 1987 to 1993, with specials airing until 2000.

Along with appearances in Kavanagh QC, The Glass, Hidden Treasure, Goodnight Mr Tom, as well as theatre productions such as Twelfth Night, Peter Pan, The Two Of Us and Henry VIII, John led a stellar career that delighted generations of fans.

It is no surprise too that in 1993 he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

'Presence on Emmerdale set'

Emmerdale Paul Ashdale actor Reece Dinsdale revealed that the soap's set was the same location that he and John Thaw filmed Home To Roost – and that he can still feel John's presence there.

Speaking to Daily Star, Reece is now convinced that the Inspector Morse star still walks the corridors of the studios, saying: "Sometimes I walk down the corridors at the Emmerdale studios and I just remember these were the same hallways where John and I walked 30 years ago while filming every episode of Home To Roost.

"There are definitely ghosts. It feels like another lifetime. I'm losing so many fine friends and colleagues these days. So sad."

Famous daughter

John was married twice during his life, including to theatre stage manager Sally Alexander between 1964 to 1968, with who he welcomed a daughter called Abigail.

He later married actress Sheila Hancock from 1973, after the couple met in on the set of theatre comedy So What About Love.

John and Sheila welcomed a daughter called Joanna, with John also adopting Sheila's daughter Melanie Jane from her first marriage to actor Alexander Ross.

However, daughter Abigail would go on to follow in her famous father's footsteps, becoming an actress in theatre productions such as Ladies in Lavender and Private lives.

She has also landed TV roles in The Bill, Pie in the Sky, Midsomer Murders and film The Inbetweeners 2.

In a sweet link to her father's work as Inspector Morse, Abigail also played a newspaper editor in the 2011 Christmas special edition of Morse prequel Endeavour – a role she has continued to play in subsequent series.

Abigail described working on the series as "gorgeous" to the Oxford Mail, as many of the cast and crew had previously worked with her father.

She also added that John would have been "very proud" of the show.

However Abigail also admitted to The Radio Times: "Going to work on Endeavour doesn’t feel like a homage to my father, but it does give me a jolt every now and then.

"It happens, funnily enough, when I’m in Oxford, where I think about him a lot more. I’m tired after a few days’ filming and think, ‘Blimey, he did this for months.’ I never realised when I used to go round to see him for Sunday lunch and a gossip."

Health battle

In 2001, John was diagnosed with cancer, with the actor saying in a statement: "I am receiving treatment for cancer of the oesophagus.

"As soon as this has been completed, I intend to return to work. Sheila and I appreciate everyone's support and understanding, but would now be very grateful if our privacy as a family could be respected."

Members of John's family had previously been diagnosed with cancer, including his wife Sheila, who had battled breast cancer in the eighties.

Both of John's parents also died from the disease, and Sheila's first husband Alexander Ross had also died of oesophagal cancer, according to The Guardian.

John underwent cancer treatment including chemotherapy, but was later informed in the same year that his cancer had spread.

Tragic death

Inspector Morse legend John sadly died on February 21, 2002 at the age of 60 years old.

Following his death, John's wife Sheila released a statement saying: "John died with his family around him.

"We have all been so grateful for the thousands of letters and messages from people wishing him well.

"Everyone including the media have been wonderful during this difficult period and I would like them all to know how much their support and understanding has meant to him and to all of us."

Fans and friends from the world of entertainment paid tribute to the beloved star, with Happy Valley's Sarah Lancashire describing him as a "national treasure."

Sarah, who worked with John on ITV drama The Glass, said: "It was a privilege to have worked with John but an even greater one to have known him, albeit briefly, as a friend."

Clive Jones, the chief executive of Carlton, which made Inspector Morse, Goodnight Mister Tom and Kavanagh QC, said John was "one of the great actors of his generation."

"He was universally the viewers' choice," he added.

On what would have been his 81st birthday, daughter Abigail took to Twitter to share a sweet throwback snap of the two of them together when she was a child.

She paid tribute to her father, as she captioned the post: "Would have been 81 today. Happy birthday dad. Not a day goes by…"

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