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.


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

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ITV3 celebrates its 10th birthday

Happy birthday, ITV3. The channel is 10 years old and is celebrating with a weekend of 10 favourite dramas starting on Saturday 1 November.

They should really have called it ‘ITV Crime’ because it has become the home of ITV’s most popular police dramas. Consequently, the birthday weekend will feature Marple, Endeavour, Inspector Morse, Lewis, A Touch of Frost, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders.

The channel’s very first show on 1 November 2004 was also a crimer, Inspector Rebus, based on Ian Rankin’s novels and starring John Hannah.

Its most popular show to air during the first decade was an episode of Foyle’s WarThe Hide went out in March 2013 and was watched by 1.8m viewers.

Since 2008 ITV3 has also been the home of the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards, celebrating the very best of British and international crime thriller fiction and drama.

This year’s event takes place this Friday – CrimeTimePreview will be there covering and Tweeting about it – and it will air on ITV3 on 27th October. Hosted by Bradley Walsh, the awards are the culmination of the six-week Crime Thriller Club series on ITV3, a studio-based show focused on crime fiction and television with high-profile guests, quizzes, bluffer’s guides and peeks behind the scenes of popular dramas.

So, congratulations ITV3. Watching you has been bloody murder.

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Cops Shows and Thrillers Online – Lovefilm and Netflix

We’re no longer slaves to the TV schedules now that many of us have catch-up TV services and an ever-increasing amount of choice on subscription services such as LoveFilm and Netflix. Here’s a quick survey of what’s currently available for fans of TV crime shows and thrillers.

Lovefilm Instant – 5000 movies and TV episodes
Available on: internet-enabled TVs, PS3, Xbox 360, computers and iPads
Price: £4.99 a month (introductory offer). 30-day free trial
Check out online: LoveFilm

Overview: Amazon-owned service, familiar to everyone through its DVD postal service, but which now offers Lovefilm Instant. Currently has bigger selection of TV shows than Netflix.


State of Play: the 2003 conspiracy thriller with John Simm and Kelly Macdonald.  
Prime Suspect: various series including the 1991 original smash hit original with Helen Mirren.  
A Touch of Frost: various stories with David Jason.
Cracker: the still much-missed series about profiler Robbie Coltrane, from series one, which went out in 1993.
Inspector Morse: from 1987’s very first episode, The Dead of Jericho, starring John Thaw.
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, Return of Sherlock Holmes, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: the classic ITV series with Jeremy Brett and David Burke. 

Recent/current hits

Hustle: the BBC’s first series with Adrian Lester, Marc Warren.  
Appropriate Adult: award-winning drama about Fred West, starring Dominic West and Emily Watson. 
Lewis: various episodes with Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox.
Wallander: the UK (Kenneth Branagh) and Swedish (Krister Henriksson) versions.
Poirot: various episodes with David Suchet.  
Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes: the 1970s and 80s reboot with John Simm, Philip Glenister and Keeley Hawes.
Above Suspicion: a couple of series with Kelly Reilly.  
The Jury: 2011 courtroom drama with Julie Walters.  
Castle: series one about the mystery novelist and the cop with Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. Whitechapel: Jack the Ripper in modern day London with Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis.
Zen: the excellent crime drama set in Rome with Rufus Sewell.  
Spooks: various series, with Rupert Penry-Jones, Hermione Norris and Peter Firth.
Vera: last year’s cop drama with Brenda Blethyn.
New Tricks: the Beeb’s hugely popular retirees are back on duty, from 2003’s series one, with Amanda Redman, Dennis Waterman, James Bolam and Alun Armstrong.


The Prisoner: The Patrick McGoohan original from 1967.
The Saint: with Roger Moore.
Starsky and Hutch: the original from 1975, with David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. 

Gone and forgotten, but worth a second look?

Family: 2003 mini-series about a crime family, starring Martin Kemp.

Vincent: 2005 private eye series with Ray Winstone.
Blue Murder: the 2003 series with Caroline Quentin.
Serious and Organised: drama from 2003 with Martin Kemp and Danny Dyer.
Diamond Geezer: 2005 prison drama with David Jason.  
Jericho: 2005 period detective drama with Robert Lindsay.  
Messiah: chilling cop drama with Ken Stott from 2001.  
Lincoln Heights: 2007 US police drama with Russell Hornsby. 
Kidnapped: US drama from 2006 about the teenage son of a wealthy New York City family being abducted.
Rose and Maloney: Rose Linden investigates possible miscarriages of justice. From 2002, with Sarah Lancashire.

Netflix – films and TV programmes
Available on: internet-enabled TVs, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, computers, iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch
Price: £5.99 a month. Month-free trial
Check out online Netflix

Overview: This leading global internet subscription service launched in the UK in January 2012. It has 20 million streaming customers in 47 countries.

Dexter: the first three series in the drama about Dexter Morgan, the serial killer who targets other serial killers. Starring Michael C Hall and Jennifer Carpenter.

24: series 1-8 of the Emmy-winning thriller starring Kiefer Sutherland.

Breaking Bad: the first three series of one of the absolute best crime dramas of recent years, starring Bryan Cranston as the chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer who decides to produce his own high-grade and illegal crystal meth to secure his family’s future.

Prison Break: from 2005, it’s the tale of a man trying to bust his wrongly imprisoned brother out of jail, starring Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell.


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Endeavour with Shaun Evans PREVIEW

Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse. Pics: ITV

Rating ★★★★½

ITV1, Monday, 2 January, 9pm

Story: 1965. A schoolgirl is missing in Oxford. A young detective constable is drafted in from the anonymous Midlands new town where he is stationed to help with the investigation because he knows the Oxford area. It is a case that will shape Endeavour Morse’s life and career.

He only ever used to be known as Morse, the detective finally revealing his christian name after Inspector Morse had been on air for 10 years in 1997. Now as everyone knows, Morse was named after Captain Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour and the moniker can be plastered all over this impressive two-hour prequel.

John Thaw

The much-loved original, which ran for 33 episodes from 1987-2000, starred John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as his sidekick, Lewis, setting the standard for UK police procedurals. Thaw died relatively young at 60 in 2002, and while Lewis, of course, is still with us, the temptation to resurrect Morse somehow was too good to let slip away.

Shaun Evans and Roger Allam
This much anticipated new mystery is a scandal on a suitably large scale, involving bent cops, murder and a corrupt government minister. The cast – including Shaun Evans as Morse and Roger Allam as his boss/mentor DI Fred Thursday – are actors who bring depth to the lead roles, and the period setting is understated. And for Morse fans, the hero’s background is fleshed out well.

The young Endeavour is called on to assist in an investigation into the disappearance of 15-year-old schoolgirl because he is familiar with Oxford, where he did Greats but didn’t finish his degree. DS Arthur Lott makes it clear to Morse and his fellow draftees that they are there to ‘take up the slack’, do the grunt work, and leave the detecting to him and Thursday.

Morse and Thursday

But Morse immediately stands out as a serious-minded detective with a questioning nature – which sets him at odds with Lott. It is Morse who works out that the missing teenager had a lover who was communicating with her through crosswords in the local paper. ‘Codswallop,’ says Lott, but Morse is proved right.

Colin Dexter

Abigail Thaw

Fans will appreciated the crossword touch, which would also appeal to the creator of Morse and crossword lover Colin Dexter, now 81, who makes a Hitchcockian cameo in a pub garden. The drama is actually written by Russell Lewis, who has done a good job of embellishing the Morse story.

We learn how Morse got his taste for beer, classical music and the famous maroon Jag. Shaun Evans captures much of the character’s melancholia, particularly when the case blows up in his face and he develops an infatuation for the opera singer wife of a suspect.

John Thaw’s daughter Abigail
The production has so much of the original’s DNA in its make-up that several of the behind-camera crew had also worked on Inspector Morse, and there is even a role for John Thaw’s daughter, Abigail, who plays an employee of the local paper.

Scandalous parties and cover-ups

What begins as a missing person inquiry snowballs into a murder, a suicide and a scandal in which high-level politicians and policemen are attending sex parties with under-age girls. The story has a lot more grit to it than many of the originals or Lewis, and less of the chocolate-box obsession with Oxford spires and quadrangles.

Charlie Creed-Miles is the nasty spiv
Roger Allam is warmly authoritative as Thursday, the ex-soldier and solid copper who is willing to bend the rules to slap down spivs such as Teddy Samuels (Charlie Creed-Miles) and dodgy cops such as Arthur Lott.

It’s a sharp and inspiring tribute to Morse on the 25th anniversary of its very first episode. Surely, a series will follow.

Cast: Shaun Evans Endeavour, Roger Allam DI Fred Thursday, Flora Montgomery Rosalind Stromming, Harry Kershaw Miles Percival, Charlie Creed-Miles Teddy Samuels, Danny Webb DS Arthur Lott, Jack Ashton DC Ian McLeash, Richard Lintern Dr Rowan Stromming, Patrick Malahide Richard Lovell, John Light Dempsey, Abigail Thaw Dorothea Frazil, Michael Matus Brian St Clair, Emma Stansfield Sharon Vellie, James Bradshaw Dr Max De Bryn, Terence Harvey DCS Crisp

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