What with Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse books, dying today – peacefully, aged 86 – it seemed like the right thing to do to watch a TV Inspector Morse. I suppose the rightest thing would have been to read one of the books, but doubt I’d be able to polish one off in an evening. I’m not sure I’d want to; savouring Dexter’s adept use of the language is one of the pleasures. Dexter himself used to fit in nightly bursts of writing in-between listening to the Archers and his nightly visit to the pub. He’d write a page a day, 360 days a year. It all added up. No need to rush these things.
Which Morse to watch? And it will be a Morse; not a Lewis or an Endeavour. No offence to either shows, but I fancy a dose of the original. A drop of John Thaw. He’s been dead 15 years now, John Thaw; 15 years back in February. Morse himself was killed off on TV in 2000 (1999 in the books). His creator wasn’t in any hurry to follow him. Dexter gave up the booze – on doctors’ advice due to diabetes – around the same time as he gave up Morse. Neglected diabetes was what knocked off the great detective in the books. Dexter obviously had a better survival instinct that his creation.
Apparently Morse and Dexter had a number of vices in common: beer drinking, crossword solving and a love of classical music for example. But they were also very different in character; Dexter was self-effacing, gentlemanly and quiet, compared Morse’s short-tempered, arrogant and stand-offish nature.
So yes, definitely proper John Thaw Morse, not either of the two pretenders. Not Robbie Lewis or Morse junior.
Did you know that Lewis in the books was originally older than Morse and Welsh? Dexter later said that he much preferred Kevin Whately’s interpretation and so incorporated the younger Geordie iteration of the Sergeant into the later books.
But I’m letting myself get distracted: which episode? There are eight series worth, 33 episodes. I discount the ones based on the books, I know them too well. I also reject anything from the third series. I don’t like the Dr Grayling Russell (played by Amanda Hillward) who replaced Max DeBryn (played by Peter Woodthorpe) as the regular pathologist in the series. She was soon written out as the production team came to the conclusion that it was a bad idea to give Morse a regular love interest. Which suited me as I really resented the loss of Max and she, the character not the actress, seriously got on my tits.
I also decided to avoid any of the later episodes not based on the later Dexter books as they tend towards the bizarre including devil worshippers, trips to Australia and the unlikely spectacle of Morse attending a rave. There was a fair bit of shark-jumping in some of those later episodes. Mad as cheese, some of them.
I eventually settle on “The Setting of the Sun”. Series 2, episode 3. The first episode not directly based on a Morse novel, although based on an idea by Colin Dexter. It’s got Max in it, not Grayling-bloody-Russell, and has a strong cast including Amanda Burton (playing a femme fatale), Derek Fowlds (playing a German) and the mighty Robert Stephens (playing one of his many variations on Robert Stephens, which is always a good thing).
Best of all I can’t remember whodunit.
And in there, somewhere, will be Colin Dexter. He had a non-speaking cameo appearance in nearly every episode of Morse and many episodes of Endeavour and Lewis. A small vanity on his part, but a pleasing one. He only stopped doing them this year, missing out on this year’s series of Endeavour due to ill health.
I won’t spot him in “The Setting of the Sun”. I never spot his cameos.
Still, it’s nice to know he’s still in there somewhere. Waiting to be found.