The Shepherd

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The Shepherd
Covert The shepherd novel.jpg
First edition
AuthorFrederick Forsyth
Cover artistChris Foss
CountryUnited Kingdom
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages54 pp
LC ClassPZ4.F7349 Sh3 PR6056.O699

The Shepherd is a 1975 novella by Frederick Forsyth.


The Shepherd relates the story of a De Havilland Vampire pilot, going home on Christmas Eve 1957, whose aircraft suffers a complete electrical failure en route from RAF Celle (note: in fact, Celle had ceased to be an RAF station less than a month previously; see link) in northern Germany to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. Lost in fog and low on fuel, he is met and led (or shepherded) to a disused RAF dispersal field by the pilot of a De Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber of World War II vintage, who has apparently been sent up to guide him in.

His attempts to find a rational explanation for his eventual rescue prove as troublesome as his experience. However, some time after he lands at the airfield—the fictional RAF Minton—he learns that his saviour was Johnny Kavanagh, a wartime RAF pilot who had been stationed at Minton and who had guided crippled bombers home. The Vampire pilot also learns that Kavanagh disappeared over the North Sea in his Mosquito on his last mission, on Christmas Eve 1943, exactly fourteen years before.


Forsyth created this original work as a Christmas gift to his first wife Carrie after she requested a ghost story be written for her. Written on Christmas Day 1974, and published near that time a year later, the idea came while trying to think of a setting away from the typical haunted homes, and seeing planes flying overhead. Many have speculated references to preexisting RAF folklore. While Forsyth is a former RAF pilot and could have heard and adapted such a story (either with or without the intent to do so) no references or anecdotal evidence have been put forward to support such claims.

Notable readings and adaptations[edit]

The story has been broadcast "nearly every Christmas since 1979" in Canada on the CBC Radio One news programme As It Happens.[1] Read by Alan Maitland, the recording always airs on the last episode on or before Christmas Eve.

On 14 December 2014, actor Nigel Anthony performed an original adaptation by Amber Barnfather of The Shepherd, with music and sound effects, at St Clement Danes, the Central Church of the Royal Air Force, in London. The performance, in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund, was introduced by Frederick Forsyth. Sound design was by David Chilton, with a cappella pieces from the Saint Martin Singers.

On Christmas Eve 2016, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a new adaptation by Amber Barnfather for Between the Ears, performed by actor Luke Thompson.[2][3][4] Sound design was by David Chilton, with music and mouth/body percussion by the Saint Martin Singers specially recorded for the production at the church of St Giles in the Fields, and Vampire aircraft sound effects specially recorded at the Royal Air Force Museum London. Between the Ears: The Shepherd won a Gold Radio Award in the 2017 New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards.[5] In April 2017, Between the Ears won the ‘Most Original Podcast’ Gold Award at the inaugural British Podcast Awards.[6] For the 50th Anniversary special of As it Happens[7] Carol Off, Michael Enright, and Tom Power celebrated the tradition of reading The Sheperd by reading lines from the story.