Inspector Morse is a British detective drama television series based on a series of novels by Colin Dexter. It starred John Thaw as Chief Inspector Morse and Kevin Whately as Sergeant Lewis. The series comprises 33 two-hour episodes (100 minutes excluding commercials) — 20 more episodes than there are novels — produced between 1987 and 2000. Dexter made uncredited cameo appearances in all but three of the episodes.
The series was first shown on Britain's ITV network, was made by Zenith Productions for Central Independent Television. Later, it was produced by Carlton UK Productions between 1995 and 1996. Towards the series end, it was made by Carlton and WGBH.
Every episode involved a new murder investigation featuring several guest stars, and showed a complete story. Writer Anthony Minghella scripted three including the first, The Dead of Jericho, which was filmed in the summer of 1986, and aired on January 6, 1987 featuring Gemma Jones, Patrick Troughton and James Laurenson. Its other writers included Julian Mitchell (10 episodes), Daniel Boyle (5) and Alma Cullen (4 episodes), and its directors included John Madden (4 episodes), Herbert Wise (3), Peter Hammond (3), Adrian Shergold (3) and Danny Boyle (2 episodes].
The series remains popular and is frequently repeated on ITV1 and ITV3 in Britain.
Morse was played by John Thaw, and the faithful Detective Sergeant Lewis by Kevin Whately. The character of Lewis was transformed from the elderly Welshman and ex-boxer of the novels to a much younger Geordie police sergeant with a family, as a foil to Morse's cynical streak. Morse's first name is not revealed except for the one occasion when he explains to a lady friend that his father was obsessed with Captain James Cook and for this reason his first name is Endeavour. On the other occasions, he usually answers "Morse. Everyone just calls me Morse" or dryly replies "Inspector", when asked what his first name is.
Thaw had a special appreciation of the fact that Morse was different from classic characters such as James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Morse was brilliant but he was not always right. He often arrested the wrong person or came to the wrong conclusion. As a result, unlike many classic sleuths, Morse does not always simply arrest his culprit; ironic circumstances have the case end and the crime brought to him. Also, Morse was a romantic—frequently mildly and gently flirting with or asking out colleagues, witnesses or suspects—occasionally bordering on the unprofessional, but had little success in love.
Morse is a character whose talents and intelligence are being wasted in positions that fail to match his abilities. Several references are made to the fact that Morse would have been promoted above and beyond Chief Inspector at Thames Valley CID, but his cynicism and lack of ambition, coupled also to veiled hints that he may have made enemies in high places, frustrate his progression despite his Oxford connections.
Morse is a highly credible detective and plausible human being. His penchant for drinking, his life filled with difficult personal relationships, and his negligence toward his health, however, make him a more tragic character than previous classic sleuths.
Morse's eventual death in the final episode "The Remorseful Day" is caused by heart problems exacerbated by heavy drinking, differing from the literary character's diabetes-related demise.
Morse had 'highbrow' passions: music (especially opera; Mozart and Wagner among his favourites), poetry, art, classics, British real ale, classic cars and cryptic crossword puzzles. When seen at home, Morse is usually listening to music, solving a crossword, reading classic literature, or drinking ale. While working, Morse subsists on quickly downed pints of ale in pubs, usually bought by Lewis who struggles to keep up. Many of his cases touch on Morse's interests and it is often his knowledge that helps him solve them.
In "The Death of the Self", the episode ends with Morse seeing one of the characters, an opera singer recovering from a long absence through stage-fright, make her 'comeback' performance at the amphitheatre in Verona, while in "Twilight of the Gods", he investigates the life of one of his opera idols, Gwladys Probert, a world-famous soprano. In "Who Killed Harry Field?", the murder victim is a painter, and in "The Way Through the Woods", Morse researches the pre-Raphaelite movement to aid his investigations.
In several episodes, Morse's crossword-solving ability helps him to spot where people have changed identities by creating a new name which is an anagram. In "Masonic Mysteries", he is maliciously implicated in the murder of a woman when his Times newspaper is placed in the victim's house, with his handwriting filling in the crossword. In the same episode, the writer names Morse's old Inspector from when he was a detective sergeant as 'Macnutt' in homage to D.S. Macnutt, better known as the famous and influential Observer puzzle setter 'Ximenes'.
In "The Sins of the Fathers", he investigates a murder in a brewery-owning family while, in the first episode, "The Dead of Jericho", he compares the life of a dead woman with that of Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus. The same episode also introduced his Jaguar Mark 2 car (which is damaged at the start and end of the story). His interest in classic cars is also explored in "Driven to Distraction" where, he suspects a car-salesman of murder. He so strongly seems to dislike Jeremy Boynton that he refers to Morse's own Jaguar as "she", which makes Morse convinced of his guilt.
In "Cherubim and Seraphim", he investigates the suicide of his niece and discusses with her English teacher about her interest in the poet Sylvia Plath, who also killed herself. The teacher defends the teaching of Plath's poetry to students and says that her suicide will not influence students to do the same. In "Second Time Around", investigating the killing of a retired detective, Morse is haunted by an early case of his in which a young girl had been murdered and an obvious suspect could very well be innocent.
Colleges and Locations
Beaumont College (in the TV episode, "The Last Enemy") and Lonsdale College (in The Riddle of the Third Mile, the book on which "The Last Enemy" was based) are both fictional Oxford colleges. The real Brasenose College and Exeter College were used to represent Lonsdale, while Corpus Christi was used for Beaumont. Both fictional names are from real streets in Oxford. There is a Lonsdale College at Lancaster University. St Saviour's College in the episode, "Fat Chance" is also fictitious, though New College was used as the location for it. Merton and University College were used for the fictional Beaufort College in the episode, "The Infernal Serpent". Christ Church appears in "The Daughters of Cain" as the fictional Wolsey College. Eton College was used extensively as an alternative set to depict various parts of Oxford through the series, notably the county court in the episode, "The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn", while the nearby school of St John's Beaumont, Old Windsor, became the Foreign Examinations Syndicate in the same episode, with both external and internal filming taking place there. Many of the generic locations used throughout the series, including Morse's house, were situated in Ealing, London amongst the residential streets to the north of Ealing Broadway. Some scenes were also filmed at Brunel University, London.
The Regency red Jaguar Mark 2 2.4L car (with number plate 248 RPA) used by Morse throughout the television series became synonymous with the main character, despite Morse's driving a Lancia in the original novels. The Jaguar was given away in a competition a year after filming ended, and in 2002 it was auctioned for £53,200, many times the going rate for a "normal" 2.4. In November 2005 it was sold again for more than £100,000.
Back from the dead
Rod Ker 12:01AM BST 28 Apr 2007 in The Telegraph
As ITV presents an Inspector Morse weekend, Rod Ker investigates the fate of the great man's Jaguar MkII
In November 2000, 12 million people tuned in to see Inspector Morse become the 82nd dead body featured in a TV series that had gripped the nation for 13 years. "Thank Lewis for me," were his famous last words, finally recognising the contribution to crime-solving made by his loyal sidekick.
I misspent my youth watching John Thaw in The Sweeney, and could never quite come to terms with him as a crossword-solving, opera-loving intellectual, so I still half-expected him to leap up again, grab someone's lapels, and snarl "You're nicked, sunshine!" But no: Morse was gone, and the last episode was very moving.
Long-suffering Sergeant Lewis was subsequently promoted and recently returned in his own series, but the other star of the show, a Regency red Jaguar MkII with an incongruous black vinyl roof, joined Morse in TV heaven. It's ironic that a car that appeared in the opening scene of the first programme, and became something of a national institution, was really there by accident.
As dreamt up by author Colin Dexter one wet weekend in Wales, circa 1973, the chief inspector drove an old Lancia. When the books were being turned into screenplays, the production team was unable to find a suitably clapped-out example. (This seems somewhat unbelievable, because in the mid-1980s Britain was full of decrepit Lancias; they could have had the one rusting in my parents' garage for nothing!)
However, just as it looked as though Morse and Lewis would have to weave through Oxford's apparently corpse-littered streets on a tandem, someone spotted an old Jaguar 2.4 MkII at a scrapyard. A couple of hundred quid changed hands, and after some superficial tarting up (the camera always lies) an inadvertent star was born. It's no surprise that a machine virtually snatched from the jaws of a crusher frequently caused problems during filming. John Thaw admitted the Jag was "a beggar to drive" at the best of times. After 15 years of cosmetic bodging the car was as close to death as its master, and often had to be pushed or towed into position while on location.
A year later, 248 RPA was given away in a competition. The winner, an Oxford law graduate, soon sold his prize, after which some patching-up work was done. In 2002 the car was auctioned for £53,200, many times the going rate for a "normal" 2.4. The new owner was the director of a property company, who soon decided he wanted a car that wasn't a beggar to drive. Respected classic specialist David A C Royle & Co set about restoring the bodywork and uprating the mechanicals.
Contrary to rumours that this distinguished conveyance was to be blinged up with alloy wheels and blacked-out windows, which would have been akin to old "Morose" drinking canned lager and using his Wagner LPs as frisbees, the aim was to eradicate some classic foibles.
One of the worst features of MkIIs is their crunchy Moss gearbox. A new one was due, along with better brakes - 2.4s aren't fast, but they're heavy, and it's best not to have time to listen to Götterdämmerung while stopping for traffic lights.
Unhappily for the owner, his firm collapsed, and 248 RPA was handed to administrators, who deemed that finishing the restoration would yield the best price, so work resumed.
The Jaguar's re-emergence in sparkling condition coincided with it being voted Britain's favourite famous car in a poll by the Post Office, ahead of the Italian Job Minis, Herbie the VW Beetle, 007's Aston Martin DB5 and a host of others. A rare honour for any car, it even appeared on a commemorative edition stamp. The auction therefore attracted interest from around the globe, and part of our national heritage could have ended up abroad, but the winning bidder this time was Ian Berg, a Yorkshire businessman who had originally hoped to buy the car at the 2002 sale.
Understandably, the price he paid is a (big) secret, but Ian knew he'd done the right thing when he was immediately offered more by a failed bidder, who apparently wanted to plant RPA in a Las Vegas casino (that sound you can hear is Morse revolving in his grave at 5,000rpm).
The car isn't for sale at any price, but is available for occasional guest appearances, weather permitting. Obviously, ITV's Morse Weekend - today and tomorrow on ITV3 (Freeview) - wouldn't be complete without it, so in recent weeks the Jag has been filmed posing in its former Oxford haunts and outside the Albert Hall for the "Music of Morse" concert.
RPA is back in Yorkshire now and the Bodleian Library is out of range, so my plan was to drive to a country pub where Morse's "There's always time for one more pint" theory could have been investigated - not by the chauffeur, of course, which is why Lewis always drank OJ. Alas, after weeks of sunshine we were thwarted by a deluge. Water mixes as badly with old cars as it does with beer, so the endeavour had to be cancelled. A remorseful day, indeed.
Star cars for hire
Morse's Jaguar retired to Yorkshire by chance, but another two TV stars are long-term residents for good reason. The 1970 Triumph Herald 13/60 convertible driven for many years by Edie (Thora Hird) in Last of the Summer Wine lives in Holmfirth, where the series was shot. Although this car seemed to be suffering for its art in the series, it survived unscathed.
Nearby lurks the Austin Goodwood that transports Heartbeat's redoubtable Peggy Armstrong (Gwen Taylor) about her daily business. On screen, this car looks like a scrapyard refugee, the sort of pre-war banger that could still be found on the roads in the 1960s, when MoT tests were a formality. Again, appearances can be deceptive, because it's actually in very good condition and had to be "patinated" before joining the programmes.
Anyone planning a whimsical wedding will be delighted to know that both cars are available for hire through swcch.co.uk.
Inspector Morse set for TV comeback as young man
Wednesday 4th May 2011 in Oxford By Rhianne Pope
in Oxford Mail /http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk
Author Colin Dexter has confirmed ITV plans to make a prequel to long-running series Inspector Morse.
The legendary Oxford detective inspector will soon return to screens after an 11-year-absence.
The one-off drama will focus on Morse’s early years, studying classics at St John’s College, Oxford.
Mr Dexter, pictured, said: “I wrote a short story for the Daily Mail... all about him coming to Oxford to study.
“It ran in the paper over three consecutive days. Morse did wonderfully at language and literature, but did not very much like philosophy or ancient studies, so he dropped out and joined the police.
“ITV came to me and said it would be marvellous if we could do something with those stories.
“I was not terribly enthusiastic at first, but I thought it would be a nice story to tell.”
Inspector Morse ran for 33 episodes over 13 years. Nearly 14 million people tuned in to watch the final episode in 2000, when Morse died from a heart attack. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the very first episode, starring John Thaw as the grumpy inspector, in 1987.
Mr Dexter, 80, said: “Morse was in his 40s when we first met him, but I suspect he’ll still have a lot of the same character traits.”
ITV has not yet started casting for the role.
Mr Dexter said: “I don’t really have any actors in mind who could play him. I have never really had much to do with the casting.
In May 2011 ITV announced that it was to make a prequel—a two-hour special Endeavour, with author Colin Dexter's participation, portraying a young Morse. Set in 1965, Shaun Evans plays the young detective constable Morse who is preparing to hand in his resignation when he becomes embroiled in an investigation involving a missing school girl. It was broadcast on 2 January 2012