A man who revelled in wonder of his being


Leslie Shepard, who died on August 20th, aged 87, was a folklorist, documentary film editor, devotee of comparative religions, encyclopaedist, editor and author.

Born in the East End of London, Leslie received only an elementary education. As a very young man, he worked in the office - not on the floor - of an asbestos factory in east London. His lungs were badly affected, but he was lucky, after the second World War, to spend some two years in Switzerland where the mountain air did wonders for him.

During the war he was a conscientious objector and worked with the Civil Defence in Britain.

As did so many of his generation, he went to "the pictures" once a week and became interested in films. He recalled a visit with his mother to Murnau's Faust in the picture palace at West Ham, London, in the late 1920s, as the start of his lifelong love of cinema.

After a spell at Paul Rotha Films, he started Data Films with some friends, making mostly documentaries. He later made many industrial and educational films for the Central Office of Information.

From his youth he enjoyed singing (he played the guitar) and listening to jazz and blues. Over the years he became something of an authority on folk songs from both sides of the Atlantic.

He also started his collection, which later became vast, of musical instruments from all over the world. With the help of a friend in the US, he popularised the Kentucky mountain dulcimer in Britain.

During his spell in Switzerland he had learnt about yoga and Indian philosophy.

He later spent a year or so studying them in depth at an ashram, an old temple on the bank of the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalayas. (He could stand on his head until he over was 65!)

It was at about this time also that his interest in the occult was awakened, and he later became a specialist on the subject, editing (and writing most of it!) the massive three-volume Encyclopaedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. This occupied him, through three editions, from 1977 to 1991.

As a young man, Leslie combed the streets of the East End, buying obscure books and similar items, and became interested in chap books and their writing. After publishing his first book, The Broadside Ballad: A Study in Origins and Meaning, in 1962, he went to work for University Books and Gale Research Company in Detroit as editor.

He wrote forewords and prefaces to nigh on a hundred books. He compiled and edited The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories (1977) and The Dracula Book of Great Horror Stories (1981). He was the author, among other things, of John Pitts: Ballad Printer of Seven Dials, London (1969), The History of Street Literature (1973), Bram Stoker: Irish Theatre Manager and Author (1994), and wrote most of the essays in the commemorative collection Dracula: Celebrating 100 Years (1997) which he also co-edited.

He and a couple of friends tried unsuccessfully in 1959 to repeat the voyage of the Vikings to the St Lawrence Seaway, but were almost shipwrecked during a gale halfway between Orkney and the Faroes. Their journey, on the Maid Nellie, a 28ft sailing cutter, to the new world, ended in Stromness, Orkney.

Leslie moved to Ireland in 1969-70, where he strengthened his interests in both classic silent cinema and the Irish author of Dracula, Bram Stoker. He cofounded the Bram Stoker Society in 1980, serving as its chairman for almost 25 years, and gave numerous seminars and talks.

The advent of video enabled him to acquire a formidable collection of his much-loved classic silent films.

In 1993, after a spell in hospital, he slowed down slightly, then gradually speeded up until in his final years he was a very busy man. He died quickly, which is exactly how he would have wanted to go.

His interests were many and various. Music: folk, American folk, early jazz, blues, Indian classical, European renaissance. Religion: Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, plus many others. Yoga, Thai Chi. Occult and paranormal: clairvoyance, fairies, reincarnation, telepathy, teleportation, Ufology.

He leaves a daughter, Jill, a grandson, and great-granddaughter.

Leslie Shepard: born June 21st, 1917; died August 20th, 2004.