Sheila Hancock: “The last Morse was a masterpiece of acting”

But the 81-year-old actress says her late husband John Thaw's response was always "I got away with it"

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Sheila Hancock is 81 years old but told an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival yesterday, “I actually don’t feel any different to when I was 18.”

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And the actress certainly hasn’t allowed old age to hold her back, publishing her debut novel, Miss Carter’s War, just last Thursday.

“It’s a fact. I don’t feel sad about it. I could just about be alright until I’m 90 if I don’t go ga-ga before then but I don’t want to waste time. I’m greedy for new experiences, I always have been. The thing I liked most about this was learning something – I tried to learn how to write a novel. I did my best and I have an editor who helped me.”

Hancock – who was speaking at a Radio Times event – added that being an octogenarian had emboldened her to attempt writing fiction for the first time.

“I regret desperately that I’ve grown up with this idea that people from my background can’t do things… My first reaction is always trepidation and the wonderful thing about old age is you think, ‘oh, what the hell. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ll be dead soon.’ And even if they hate it, I’ve had a go.

“I find that very liberating and you get very selfish when you’re old. I don’t have to answer to anybody now, I don’t have to make sure my husband’s alright, I look after my grandchildren occasionally but I spoil them, you don’t have to stay late at parties – you can say, ‘I’m awfully bored, I’m going now’.

“It’s a wonderful excuse – I use it all the time. If I don’t want to do something then I’ve got a limp because I’ve got a bad hip. I haven’t.”

The novel follows two best-selling memoirs written by Hancock following the death of her second husband, actor John Thaw, from oesophageal cancer in 2002.

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“John’s story was much more amazing than mine,” she said. “He came from a simply dreadful background and ended up achieving what he achieved but like him, his phrase was always ‘I got away with it’. The last Morse – which I thought was a masterpiece of acting – I said ‘fabulous’ and he said, ‘I got away with it’.”