‘I share my home with a ghost’ - says Suffolk actor and writer
- Credit: Archant
Would you flee into the night, never to return, if a ghost pulled off your bedcovers? Not John West
When you get the chance to visit a haunted house, you don't turn it down, do you? How haunted? Well, John West says he was in bed when someone - or something - once whipped the duvet right off his slumbering body.
It wasn't the only time this alleged Victorian ghost (identified, he says, by a couple of mediums) made her presence felt.
More recently, film director Jason Figgis kipped down on the living room floor. John says the ghost lifted the corner of his house-guest's duvet in the middle of the night and tugged Jason's foot.
Was John terrified when he was the subject of paranormal meddling?
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"I did say out loud 'I know I've got to share this place with you, but don't ever do that again', and it's never actually happened since," he says.
"It's not so bad now but, when I first moved in, you'd hear knocks and bangs. I heard a woman sigh. I do think that after a while they get used to you and not a lot happens. Jason was new to here, so she probably wondered..."
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John says those mediums also noted the presence of a ghostly child: a little girl in Victorian/Edwardian clothing.
"I live on my own and people say 'how can you?' It doesn't bother me. I can sit down and watch ghost films at night with the light off."
We're in his sitting-room, above a high street hairdressing salon. Parts of the flat date from the 17th Century. Er... just us, or has the duvet-snatching visitor joined us?
"I don't feel anything around at the moment. She's obviously happy!"
John recently brought out a new book: Britain's Haunted Heritage. It includes chapters on places such as the Tower of London and incidents like "The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor". There's also a goodly amount of local intrigue: from the Red Barn Murder of Maria Marten at Polstead and events at Borley rectory ("once said to be the most haunted house in England") to the alleged paranormal history of Langenhoe church, near Colchester.
The author's interest in matters ghostly began in the 1970s and was down to his mum.
She had many paperbacks about ghosts. "I was fascinated by the covers, with pictures of ghostly women and castles, and giant spiders," says John.
Since then, he's read much and visited numerous places said to be haunted. He writes for magazine Psychic News.
"I've never actually seen a ghost in front of me, but I've had odd experiences." When he lived in Lincolnshire, he'd hear a dog running up the stairs and into the room. "It actually 'followed' me down here, when I lived at Wickham Market." Later, it suddenly stopped.
He also tells of a "timeslip experience" in Hereford when looking round a ruined priory. "The modern sounds began to phase out and it was as if the building was becoming whole again. I actually got a bit scared. Then the modern sounds came back."
With 'The Queen'
It's not just his pursuit of the paranormal that has made the past few years interesting for John, who lives about five miles from the coast in east Suffolk.
He's added to his CV a list of film work as an "extra", including a couple of episodes of Detectorists in 2017.
They were filmed near the Ransomes Europark industrial estate in Ipswich. John played a foreman on a building site where a historic mosaic is uncovered.
"We had to do endless takes of me coming out of this office and speaking to someone, then walking behind him. I even had a line - 'Get your hat back on' - and most of it was cut!"
In May, 2018, he was in scenes for comedy film Yesterday. The screenplay was by Richard Curtis and the director was Danny Boyle.
None of his scenes - including one with star Lily James in a Halesworth café that called for many "takes" - made the final cut. Actually, part of him did: "in the DVD, as an 'extra'... the back of my head!"
The following July, John had work in comedy/drama film The Personal History of David Copperfield, and the Netflix royal series The Crown.
In the latter, he portrayed a reporter in the 1960s, among a gaggle of pressmen on the stairs. "But then I turn up at Duxford - the biggest promotion in history. I'm suddenly a member of the Labour Cabinet and thinking 'how did that happen?!'"
John acknowledges that the life of an extra (or "supporting artist", as some prefer to call them) can be a tad frustrating, what with all the waiting around and knowing there's a good chance your work won't make it onto the screen.
"I did feel sorry for this old boy (on Yesterday) who was there until 4am, doing a scene in an amusement arcade. It was cut. And you think 'For a couple of hundred quid... was it worth it?'" he laughs.
Nevertheless, John enjoyed his stints - meeting stars such as Olivia Colman, Danny Boyle and Lily James, all of whom he found friendly and down to earth.
Being an extra also gave John an insight into film production - his new challenge.
It's come about after he forged his friendship with Dublin-based director Jason Figgis, who has in the past worked with figures such as John Hurt and Alan Rickman.
Jason came to Suffolk while making a documentary about late photographer Simon Marsden, whose work was decidedly gothic. John offered to help publicise the film, for free, and Jason credited him as associate producer.
The director, who fell for the Suffolk countryside, asked John if he could find a local location to set new film Winifred Meeks. He could: a Victorian house in Dunwich.
As well as being co-producer, John acts in the film - a landlord who rents his haunted house to a writer. John's partner, Julie Abbott, plays the ghost of Seaview House.
The film is in post-production, and they're looking for a distribution deal.
It's the first film from a production company Jason and John have created: Figgis-West. There is likely to be a Suffolk-set film coming, featuring A-list names. "I can't tell you who, yet, because I'll get into trouble!" says John, who will be producing it.
Fittingly, Winifred Meeks was filmed at Hallowe'en.
"That house was haunted, actually. I heard a child crying in the night, and Jason heard a woman rowing with someone. Apart from us in the house, there was no-one.
"Lara Belmont (lead actor) found a child's handprint on the outside of a bedroom window, and that was on the second storey. That was the morning after I heard the child cry. So that was weird..."
Britain's Haunted Heritage is published by JMD Media at £12.99