by Kathleen Costa
If you have not yet watched this series there are spoilers in this article.
Paul Revere wouldn’t have been so worried had the British crossing to our shores been an army of detective dramas. He would have foregone his ride through the countryside, put on a pot of black-market tea and sat and enjoyed the invasion. He would have noticed a diversity in the era, setting and style of the lead detective and supporting team, but would have recognized that the programs shared the English twang, unique locations and intriguing characters. Paul would have become a convert!
An all time favorite of the British crime genre is Inspector Morse, airing 33 feature-length episodes from 1987-2000 and often directly based on the novels of Colin Dexter. The series follows the endearing curmudgeon Chief Inspector Morse (John Thaw), who with a fondness for opera, the classics, crossword puzzles, a vintage jaguar, real ale and his partner Sergeant Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately). For thirteen years, Morse and Lewis use their often contentious, mentor/apprentice relationship to investigate murder d’jour for the Thames Valley Police department frequently incorporating Oxford University as a crime scene or frequent stop for investigation.
Morse’s first name is a mystery throughout the series. He is only known as ‘Morse.’ However, it is finally revealed at the end of episode 31, “Death is Now My Neighbour.” While waiting for Lewis to buy a pint ale, Morse reveals it to his new friend, Adele Cecil. Enjoying puzzles, Morse had given her the anagram, ‘Around Eve,’ but she only found one recognizable word that couldn’t possibly be someone’s first name. Within earshot Lewis hears Morse explain his mother was a Quaker, who often name their children “Hope or Patience,” and his father had been obsessed with Captain Cook “…and his ship was called Endeavor.” Morse looked up, “Why aren’t you both laughing?” Lewis solemnly states, “You poor sod,” and suggests that Adele, “…call him ‘Sir,’ he likes that.”
Morse’s health becomes a serious concern in episode 32, “The Wench is Dead,” when he collapses at a crime conference suffering from bleeding ulcers. While “having a lie here” at the hospital, he becomes intrigued with a book on Victorian detective techniques given to him by the guest speaker/author highlighting the 1859 ‘Oxford Canal Murder.’ The case is recounted through flashbacks, and provided with the services of young novice detective, Morse re-investigates evidence mentioned in the book almost as a challenge to prove there is no such thing as an “open and shut case.” He determines there has been a “miscarriage of justice,” but with only a plausible solution, the author of the book holds steadfast to the original conclusions. Unable to find compelling evidence, Morse moves on, but with his passion and skill for puzzles, the truth quite cleverly reveals itself. The case referred to actually is based on an 1839 murder case, but there were no Morse-like detectives to question the original verdict and subsequent hangings, so history stands.
The series finale, “The Remorseful Day,” is truly final. Morse, two months away from mandatory retirement, has incidents of discomfort when he returns to full duty; Lewis, having passed his inspector course with ‘flying colors,’ shows impatience waiting for a position to open up.
An anonymous letter causes Lewis to reopen a cold case: a nurse known to Morse from his hospital stay was murdered and left tied up in bed. Lewis, shadowed by Morse, sorts through three more murders, “kinky rumpy pumpy,” and a blackmail scheme. But, having almost all the pieces, Morse collapses grabbing his chest and is rushed to the hospital. At his bedside Lewis learns the murderer’s identity. While his partner is off making the arrest, Morse dies in the hospital struggling to speak his last words, “Thank Lewis for me.” Lewis returns to the hospital, slowly removing the cover over Morse’s face, bending to kiss his friend’s forehead, “Goodbye, sir.”
The final scene of a foggy Oxford morning ends thirteen years of Inspector Morse. Yet the finality would be made worse fifteen months after this episode aired. John Thaw would loose his battle with cancer, leaving behind a memorable character for the ages.
Episodes can be found on YouTube, Hulu, and DVD, and might someday find its way back to local PBS stations presenting Masterpiece Mystery!
I give the series 5/5 Pints of Ale! John Thaw’s iconic portrayal receives 5/5 refills!
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