Tube Talk: Origins of Inspector Morse

June 27, 2012

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

Long-time fans of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! will no doubt remember Inspector Morse, the brilliant, curmudgeonly, opera-loving police detective who loved solving crossword puzzles almost as much as solving cases, and drove around Oxford in his eye-catching 1960 burgundy-red Jaguar Mark II.

The popular British series starred John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as his dedicated but put-upon subordinate Detective Sergeant Lewis. It debuted in 1987 and ran — more or less regularly — until 2000. Morse was killed off in 2000, and Thaw died in 2002, but the franchise was revived in 2009 with a new Oxford set series built around Lewis, now holding Morse’s position of Detective Inspector.

The sixth season of Inspector Lewis just aired in the U.K., but a Morse prequel called Endeavour premieres Sunday, July 1, on PBS.

What does the title “Endeavour” have to do with Morse, you ask? Turns out that’s the character’s first name. And all these years you thought it was “Inspector.”

As a prequel, Endeavour is set in 1965 at the start of Morse’s career, back when he was a lowly constable on the brink of quitting and possibly returning to academia. In his latest incarnation, Morse is played by Shaun Evans, who’s appeared on other British series that have aired in the U.S., including Whitechapel and Ashes to Ashes.

Call me a geek, but I’m excited we might finally uncover some of the mysteries of Morse’s past. Learning his first name is a start. But how did such a cultured and presumably well-educated young man like Morse wind up as a police detective instead of an Oxford educator? What made him such a loner and outsider? And perhaps most curious: Was he ever a Lewis to another Detective Inspector’s Morse?

If you want a glimpse of the young upstart attempting to fill Morse’s shoes, you can watch a short clip from the premiere episode online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/endeavour/index.html. (Look for the cool shot where young Morse adjusts the rear-view mirror — any Inspector Morse fans will get a chill.)

According to PBS, Thaw’s real-life daughter, actress Abigail Thaw, has a cameo role in the first episode as Dorothea Frazil.

With past Inspector Morse writers Colin Dexter and Russell Lewis involved with the new production, it seems a safe bet that Endeavour will make a worthy prequel to the iconic original series.

Programming note

Masterpiece Mystery! airs at 8 p.m., Sundays, on WTTW-Chicago and WHA-Madison.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the June 27-July 3, 2012, issue

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