Inspector Morse — Killer TV No.32


ITV, 1987-2000

‘Richards didn’t kill her, but I’ll tell you who did. Do you want to know?’ – Detective inspector Morse
‘Are you taking the piss?’ – Detective sergeant Lewis
‘No, no, I’m not. The man who killed Anne Staveley is called Sophocles.’ – Morse
‘Who’s he when he’s at home?’ – Lewis
‘Look, I want you to do a couple of things for me, and then I’ll explain everything.’ – Morse
‘… Do I know this Sophocles? – Lewis
‘Only if you loved your mother, Lewis.’ – Morse
John Thaw, Kevin Whately, James Grout
Identikit: The cases of detective inspector Morse and his sergeant, Lewis, set in the university town of Oxford.

logos

TV schedules, particularly in the UK, are jammed with detective procedurals shot in twee locations, most of which are televisual Horlicks – Midsomer Murders, Rosemary and Thyme, etc etc etc. Inspector Morse, however, got the formula right, and remains an outstanding success that UK television honchos would today still sell their children to replicate – hence the spin-offs Lewis (based on Morse’s successor and former deputy) and Endeavour (1960s-set prequel). The picturesque setting of Oxford was not too gratingly prim, being fairly pertinent to the stories in that Morse was a product of the university (though he didn’t complete his degree). In fact, he is so sharp intellectually that it was inevitable that he should end up a loner in his profession, even baffling his sidekick Lewis most of the time, such as when he alludes to a dead woman’s oedipal predicament in the pilot (quoted above). Based on Colin Dexter’s novels and brought to the screen by Tony Warren, Anthony Minghella and Kenny McBain, the secret to the show’s success was not just the procedural/whodunit mechanics of the mysteries, but the character of Morse and John Thaw’s affecting performance. He was more than the sum of his habits, however – beer, 1960 Mark 2 Jag, crosswords and Wagner. There was always a hint of melancholy about the singleton detective that made viewers root for him. His distinctive character was evident from the very first story, The Dead of Jericho – the real ale, his looking for love (the woman he is wooing in the pilot ends up dead), the mystery of his christian name, the classical music and gruffness. To some extent there was a lack of emotional depth to the drama in that Morse’s character did not develop much beyond these traits during seven series and five specials. But the intricate stories, boldly given two-hour slots in which to unfold by ITV, and the chemistry between John Thaw and Kevin Whately as Morse and Lewis added up to a staggeringly popular formula.
Spin-offs: Lewis, a sequel starring Kevin Whately, ran for several seasons from 2006. Endeavour, the prequel starring Shaun Evans, had its pilot in 2012.
Classic episode: Second Time Around from 1991. Morse believes the murder of a retired detective may be linked to a cold case from 18 years before – an investigation Morse was involved with concerning the murder of an eight-year-old girl, and which still haunted him. 

Watercooler fact: John Thaw, who died at the early age of 60 from cancer of the oesophagus, was a hugely popular TV actor in the UK who won numerous awards for his portrayal of Morse, including two Baftas and three National Television Awards, the latter being voted for by viewers.

More of the Killer 50

Follow @crimetimeprev

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: