If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then self-replication must be its ultimate. Six years after Morse met his demise, his faithful sidekick Lewis got his own show (2006 – present) with Morse himself coming back into prequel form with Endeavour (2012 – present). In fact, the idea and execution of a younger Morse was so popular it was extended for four episodes and more are being made.
But highly regarded though the spin offs have been, there is really only one Inspector Morse. Played with understated relish by the incomparable John Thaw, the eponymous star was the antithesis of the swaggering renegade cop, the all action star with various ex wives and a colourful addiction or two. Instead we had the articulate, cultured, unmarried (and largely romantic failure) older lead, with his passion for opera, complex crosswords and Latin, who would drive around in a vintage Jaguar. His passions weren’t just character quirks, but helped maintain a detective style that was instrumental in dealing with suspects as well as solving crimes.
But though the distinct character was tour de force, this was far more than a one man vehicle. Ably supported by the younger, working class family man Lewis (Kevin Whately) with whom Morse acted as a sort of father-figure, and a complex and thought-provoking script that brought the erudite town of Oxford and its residents to life, this was high-end quality two hour drama.
Based on Colin Dexter’s novels (who had cameos in all but three of the episodes), it took only slight changes to ensure its success for the small screen, most notably giving Morse his Jaguar and making Lewis a younger and non-boxing Geordie rather than having Welsh roots. Morse’s unhappy childhood, high-class pursuits and endearing awkwardness around women are kept, and despite his gruff nature is a sensitive and honourable man. Unlike more traditional sleuths, Morse is far from infallible and sometimes takes too long to get to the right culprit. However, the well-intentioned Morse creates enemies by his refusal to conform, one of the factors that prevents him from obtaining a higher position. The fact Morse’s death relates to his long history of drinking and ignoring any warning signs over his health, when he is smart enough to know better, all but confirms his tragic hero status.
If you only see one episode of this superlative detective drama, it should be ‘Deadly Slumber’. The opening episode of series 7 deals with a married doctor who seemingly decides to end his life by leaving the fumes on while staying in the car in his garage. Morse is immediately suspicious as to why a doctor with a thriving practice would decide to kill himself, let alone on his own property when he is surrounded by all kinds of medical drugs at work. The coroner confirms Morse’s suspicions and the initial suspect is the father of a teenage girl killed after a minor procedure to remove a mole goes wrong and she dies. Stricken with grief, the devastated father, who had unsuccessfully sued the clinic and divorced from his wife, has a strong motive, a shaky alibi and plenty of money to spare from his lucrative betting business. Rather than just being an episode with all kinds of red herrings and cunning plot twists, it moves beyond that as Morse befriends the millionaire suspect and is desperate to find evidence that proves he wasn’t the killer. Perceptive, thought-provoking and ultimately, incredibly moving, it sums up what the show was always about.
They make try and make them like they used to, but traces rarely end up as good as the original.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: I liked that, it was good. What was it?
Chief Inspector Morse: That, Lewis, was Maria Callas.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Was it from “Cats”?
Chief Inspector Morse: No it most certainly was not.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: The wife wants to go to “Cats”. Dunno why, she’s allergic to them.
Chief Inspector Morse: Restored of course – look at that window.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: All that stonework, must take months to do the pointing.
Chief Inspector Morse: You’re not a bloody mason, are you?
Detective Sergeant Lewis: No such luck – I might have been a Chief Inspector by now if I was.
Chief Inspector Morse: “Were”, Lewis, if you “were”. You’ll never get on if you can’t master your subjunctives. Keep touching your forelock, we may be back in Oxford before lunch.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Shouldn’t that be “might”?
Paul Eirl: We’ve got a very important corpse on our hands.
Chief Inspector Morse: Yes, I preferred him as a suspect.
Claudio Battisti: In prison he came to know himself, to forgive himself, and then to reconstruct himself.
Chief Inspector Morse: Self, self, self – that’s Clark all right!
Adele Cecil: This anagram: “Around Eve”? I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but all I can come up with is “Endeavour”. And no-one’s called Endeavour. Surely?
Chief Inspector Morse: I told you, my mother was a Quaker. And Quakers sometimes call their children names like Hope and Patience. My father was obsessed with Captain Cook, and his ship was called Endeavour. Why aren’t you both laughing?
Detective Sergeant Lewis: You poor sod.
Adele Cecil: I’m not calling you “Endeavour”.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Call him “Sir”. He likes that.
Adele Cecil: Oh no. No, I’ll stick to “Morse” – like everyone else.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: This could take us half the night! I’ve been on the go since eight o’clock this morning.
Chief Inspector Morse: So have I, Sergeant.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Yeah, but I haven’t spent the last two weeks lying on a beach in Italy, have I?
Chief Inspector Morse: I spent my holiday engaged in cultural pursuits, Lewis, not lying on the beach.
Hotel Receptionist: Has something happened?
Chief Inspector Morse: Not much. Only theft, murder and quite possibly a suicide
Chief Inspector Morse: People crossing the river here, hundreds, thousands of years, thousands probably.
Detective Sergeant Lewis: Gotta cross somewhere
CAST AND AWARDS
John Thaw….. as Chief Inspector Morse
Kevin Whately…. as Sergeant Detective Lewis
Number of Series – 7 (1987 to 1993) + 5 specials (1995-2000)
Number of Episodes – 33
Years – 1987 – 2000
Baftas – 6 (out of 15)