Inspector Morse Lives!
“—a poor policeman, but a very good detective.”
One of the greatest detective series of all time, created by the late Kenny McBain, Inspector Morse was born in 1987 and ended thirty-three episodes later in 2000. Inspector Morse starred John Thaw as Inspector (later Chief Inspector) Endeavour Morse, Kevin Whately as Detective Sergeant Robert Lewis, and James Grout as Chief Superintendant Strange.
The purpose of this page is to commemorate and, in some cases, memorialize the fine people that brought us the Inspector Morse series.
The series knew numerous noteworthy guest stars such as Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great and Small), Richard Briers (The Good Life/Good Neighbors), Geoffrey Palmer (Butterflies, As Time Goes By), Sean Bean (Patriot Games, Lord of the Rings), Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars I, II, III), and Sir John Gielgud.
The plots and action were cerebral, the characters excruciatingly developed and the conclusions ever poignant. Inspector Morse was based on some of Colin Dexter’s thirteen excellent novels; Dexter himself played a cameo in nearly every episode of this Independent Television (ITV) series.
Morse was a bit of a loner. Gruff, arrogant in demeanor, he suffered thoughtlessness and incompetence around him with difficulty. Once engaged to be married, he was ultimately abandoned by the woman (who turns up later in one of his cases).
An ubiquitous quirk of Morse was that he drove a classic Jaguar throughout the entire series. Reportedly, this stage prop was not a pleasure to steer.
My interest in Morse was piqued because like me Morse was classically educated in Greek and Latin, language and literature, a music lover and he sang in choruses and choirs. Morse graduated from Oxford University. The character reflects something of Dexter who was an English school examiner, loved crossword puzzles and an intellectual challenge.
The Inspector Morse theme music was composed and performed by Australian composer and musician Barry Pheloung. Underlying the theme is a cadence in a musical pun, implemented as Morse code spelling out m-o-r-s-e, and in some episodes, the names of other characters as well, including “whodunnit?” (Note to those who have actually used Morse code in radio communications: Mr. Pheloung is taking some liberty with the length of the notes used for some of the dashes making them sound like dots in places, for example, the O as compared to the M, although the actual spacing seems mostly correct.)
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Click here for the Morse theme courtesy of Mark Ashall, www.markashall.co.uk.
The following are some of the best links to Inspector Morse series...
The episode summaries on this page were copied by authorization and are copyright © 1997-2005 by “kingkong” from the Morsemania website listed above. I slightly fussed with some of them.
1. “The Dead of Jericho”, aired 6 January 1987
A friend of Morse’s, Anne Staveley, is found hanging in her home in the Jericho quarter of the town. The evidence points to suicide, but Morse has his own reasons for believing it to be murder.
2. “The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn”, aired 13 January 1987
Someone is selling the secrets of Oxford University’s examination-setting syndicate. Nicholas Quinn, a hard-of-hearing new member of the exam board is then found dead at his home, poisoned by cyanide, after he finding out something he shouldn’t when overhearing a conversation. During the investigation, Morse is repeatedly drawn to Monica Height, a woman who he fears may be mixed up in it all.
3. “Service of All the Dead”, aired 20 January 1987
Harry Josephs, the church warden of a small parish church is murdered there during a service, and Morse is called in. He discovers that a tramp who was thought to be the vicar’s brother was seen in the vicinity, and has now disappeared. When Morse and Lewis come to the church to question the vicar, he throws himself off the tower. As the bodies start piling up and the chase is on, Lewis discovers that Morse doesn’t have a head for heights.
...was not Inspector Morse in his personal life and yet who else could have played the Chief Inspector?
Unlike Morse, John was happily married 30 years to Sheila Hancock, also an actress. The couple had three loving daughters, Melanie, Abigail and Joanna.
Regrettably, John passed away at age 60 from cancer on 21 February 2002, only 15 months after the passing of his famed television personality (“The Remorseful Day”). Prince Charles, a fan of Thaw, sent flowers to Sheila the day after Thaw’s death.
Detective Sergeant Robbie Lewis becomes Inspector Lewis and picks up where his mentor left off. Indeed, first broadcast in England on the 29th of January 2006 and on the 30th of July in the United States, Kevin Whately plays Deputy Inspector Robert Lewis.
Read a synopsis of Inspector Lewis episodes, some of which have only come out in Britain as of this writing.
4. “The Wolvercote Tongue”, aired 25 December 1987
When a wealthy American tourist is found dead in her hotel, apparently from a heart attack, Morse suspects that it was not that simple. She was due to return a valuable artifact to an Oxford archaeological museum, and it is now missing. The most obvious suspect suddenly disappears, and then one of the tourist party’s lecturers turns up in the River Cherwell.
5. “Last Seen Wearing”, aired 8 March 1988
Valerie Craven, a 16-year-old schoolgirl from a wealthy family has been missing for six months, and was last seen leaving her private school, the Homewood School for Girls. Morse is convinced she has been murdered, but Lewis is less pessimistic. Their investigations reveal that there’s more going on at her school than meets the eye. But before Morse can unravel the mystery, the deputy headteacher, Cheryl Baines, is found dead at her home in suspicious circumstances.
6. “The Settling of the Sun”, aired 15 March 1988
The tranquil cloisters of Lonsdale College, Oxford are shattered when a Japanese student on a summer course is discovered brutally murdered in what appears to be a ritual killing. Morse realises that he has unwittingly provided all his murder suspects with a watertight alibi, as they were all at a dinner he was attending, and he suspects he has been set up. Investigations reveal that more than one of the college staff have reasons to be anti-Japanese, and that the drugs squad had been watching the man.
7. “Last Bus to Woodstock”, aired 22 March 1988
When Morse investigates the apparent murder of a young secretary, whose body is found in a pub car park, he uncovers a complex web of relationships, passion and corruption. The lies and unhappiness of the people Morse questions confirm his belief that the bachelor life is not so bad.
8. “Ghost in the Machine”, aired 4 January 1989
Morse and Lewis are sent to investigate the apparent burglary of some erotic paintings belonging to a local baronet, Sir Julius Hanbury, who also seems to have disappeared during the election of the new Master of Courtney College, for which he is a candidate. When Morse discovers his body, it at first looks like murder, but then, Dr. Russell, the new pathologist, suggests it may have been suicide. Soon after there is a real murder, but what is the connection with the first death?
9. “The Last Enemy”, aired 11 January 1989
A body is found in the canal and the only clue to its identity points to a connection with one of the university’s colleges. It happens that intense rivalry for one of the most prestigious posts in the university has led to murder. But which one of the highly respected contenders is the calculating killer?
10. “Deceived by Flight”, aired 18 January 1989
Morse discovers that cricket is the last thing on the mind of the Clarets XI old boys’ team when their annual match is brought to an abrupt halt by the untimely death of one of their players. Morse was at school with many of the players.
When Morse had refused to give out his first name back in school, he was dubbed “Pagan” Morse (because he had no Christian name). His sobriquet is renewed throughout this episode.
11. “The Secret of Bay 5B”, aired 25 January 1989
When playboy architect Michael Gifford is found strangled in his car in bay 5B of the Westgate multi-storey car park, the only clues are his diary and the car-park ticket. The list of suspects grows and grows as Morse and Lewis uncover a love triangle involving the dead man, who had had a number of lovers, but became very possessive and threatening when they tried to break off their relationships. Meanwhile, Morse considers asking Dr. Russell out for a romantic evening.
12. “The Infernal Serpent”, aired 3 January 1990
Morse investigates the tangled web of evidence surrounding the mysterious death of an eminent environmentalist, killed just minutes before he was to give a controversial lecture at Oxford’s Beaufort College. He finds skeletons can be hidden in even the most respectable of academic families, as well as conflicts of interest between academic sponsors and the work of the college.
13. “The Sins of the Fathers”, aired 10 January 1990
Called in to investigate the murder of Trevor Radford, the managing director, at the family-run Radford Brewery, Morse becomes immersed in the complex internal politics of the Radford family and the mystery surrounding a hostile take-over bid for the brewery by a conglomerate, Farmers of Banbury, run by Morse’s old friend George Linacre.
14. “Driven to Distraction”, aired 17 January 1990
The apparently motiveless murder of two young women points to a psychotic killer. Morse’s speculations on what they might have in common leads him to a local garage owner, Jeremy Boynton, who knew them both, and who arouses his suspicions and dislike. Convinced that Boynton holds the key to the crime, Morse begins to hound him, despite having no firm evidence. Morse is also faced with the possible loss of his beloved red Mark II Jaguar.
15. “Masonic Mysteries”, aired 24 January 1990
Morse finds himself at the top of the suspect list when his lady friend, Beryl Newsome, is stabbed at a dress rehearsal for the local amateur dramatic society’s production of the Magic Flute. Then Lewis starts uncovering more incriminating evidence, and Morse becomes the target of direct attacks. Who is it that wants to get at Morse so badly?
16. “Second Time Around”, aired 20 February 1991
The mysterious death of a former deputy police commissioner brings Morse into reluctant contact with an old rival, Chief Inspector Dawson. Morse and Lewis, in uneasy tandem with Dawson, spot a link with the unsolved murder of a young girl 18 years earlier. To find the latest killer they have to unravel the first case again.
17. “Fat Chance”, aired 27 February 1991
Morse finds himself attracted to a female cleric when he is called upon to investigate the suspicious death of Victoria Hazlett, a woman deacon, while sitting an examination at Oxford. St Saviour’s College is about to appoint Oxford’s first ever female chaplain, and emotions are running high among the more conservative clerics. Nevertheless, Morse and Lewis find it hard to believe such feelings could lead to murder.
18. “Who Killed Harry Field?”, aired 13 March 1991
An artist, fun-loving drinker and raconteur, Harry Field seems like a man after Morse’s own heart. But when Morse and Lewis investigate his mysterious death, they discover that he was not such a lovable character. He had few original ideas and was a copious imitator of the style of other artists, but all his paintings seem to be of the same woman, and it is not his wife. He did a good trade in made-up family coats-of-arms with joke Latin mottos, but was he involved in more serious fakery?
19. “Greeks Bearing Gifts”, aired 20 March 1991
When the chef at Lewis’s favorite Greek restaurant is found murdered, and a baby goes missing, Oxford’s Greek community closes ranks. Matters aren’t helped when Morse has a bad-tempered exchange with the shipping millionaire who owns the restaurant.
20. “Promised Land” (aka “Inspector Morse in Australia”), aired 27 March 1991
Lewis experiences culture shock when the search for an ex-supergrass takes them from Oxford to the Australian outback.
21. “Dead on Time”, aired 26 February 1992
Morse investigates the apparent suicide of a terminally ill Oxford don and finds he has a very old and personal connection with the family. As the case develops, Lewis worries that Morse’s professionalism is being undermined.
22. “Happy Families”, aired 11 March 1992
A business tycoon’s wife and sons come under suspicion when he is found murdered in his country mansion. Morse clashes with a new chief superintendent and is targeted by the tabloid press. Meanwhile, bodies start piling up.
23. “The Death of the Self” (aka “Inspector Morse in Italy”), aired 25 March 1992
The strange death of an Englishwoman abroad takes Morse and Lewis to the beautiful city of Verona in northern Italy, famed for its open-air stagings of operas in its ancient amphitheater. Morse delights in being there and is entranced by the glamorous opera singer Nicole Burgess, but Lewis just wants to go home.
24. “Absolute Conviction”, aired 8 April 1992
Morse and Lewis observe life up close in HMP Farnleigh, an open prison, when they investigate the affairs of three imprisoned fraudsters and one of them is murdered. Then an attempt is made on the life of a second.
25. “Cherubim and Seraphim”, aired 15 April 1992
Morse’s step-niece commits suicide, and he takes compassionate leave. He starts to research her past to find the reason for it running headlong into the the generation gap. His investigation into her death leads him through an alien world of teenage hedonism, house parties, raves and designer drugs.
26. “Deadly Slumber”, aired 6 January 1993
The founder of a private hospital is found murdered in his car. Suspicion falls on a rich ex-bookmaker whose daughter developed severe brain damage during an operation at the hospital.
27. “The Day of the Devil”, aired 13 January 1993
Morse and Lewis are drawn into the disturbing world of devil worship when they join the hunt for a violent rapist who has escaped from prison.
28. “Twilight of the Gods”, aired 20 January 1993
An unpleasant business tycoon and a world-famous opera singer are invited to receive honorary degrees by Oxford University, but the ceremony is halted when a sniper opens fire on the procession, seriously wounding the singer. Was she really the intended target?
29. “The Way Through the Woods”, aired 29 November 1995
When a multiple-murder suspect is killed while on remand, the mystery of a missing fifth woman remains unsolved. In her effects was a postcard of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, the background of which was set in some local woods. Morse is assigned to the case when what appears to be her body is discovered in those woods.
30. “The Daughters of Cain”, aired 27 November 1996
McClure, a retired university professor, is found stabbed to death. Morse and Lewis suspect the former custodian of McClure’s room, Ted Brooks, who left his job abruptly after one of McClure’s students committed suicide. The case heats up when Morse discovers that McClure, the suicidal student, and the student’s roommate, Ashley Davies, were all in love with the same woman—who also happens to be Brooks’s daughter. Morse and Lewis add to their long list of suspects when they begin to question the unusually close relationship between Ted Brooks’ wife Brenda and the woman for whom she cleans house, schoolteacher Julia Stevens. Julia seems to be protecting Brenda from her husband’s abusive treatment—but when Ted is found dead, it is suspected she may be protecting an altogether different kind of secret.
31. “Death Is Now My Neighbour”, aired 19 November 1997
A young woman is fatally shot through her kitchen window at point blank range. With only a valentine from an unsigned lover to go on, Morse talks to the neighbors in the adjoining homes, including Geoffrey Owens, an aggressive journalist, and Adele Cecil, a music teacher with whom Morse is immediately taken—and secretly hopes is innocent. At precisely the same hour the next morning, Geoffrey Owens is also shot and killed. Morse and Lewis discover that the two murder victims are connected to a discretely, but bitterly fought competition taking place at Oxford’s Lonsdale College. The current Master of Lonsdale, the malicious Sir Clixby Bream, is retiring, and two professors, Denis Cornford and Julian Storrs, are vying for the post, with their wives doing what they can to influence the election behind the scenes.
This is the episode in which Morse reluctantly admits his first name to Adele Cecil, and Sergeant Lewis, explaining his Quaker mother’s penchant for making names of abstract nouns like Hope and Faith, and his father’s worship of Captain James Cook whose ship, with which he rounded Cape Horn, discovered and named the Society Islands, was called The Endeavour. Lewis’ immediate comment was, “You poor sod!”
32. “The Wench Is Dead”, aired 11 November 1998
Morse is laid up in hospital, and Lewis is away on an inspector training course. To pass the time, Morse reads a book by American criminal expert Dr. Millie Van Buren on the Oxford canal murder of 1859. In this case, the corpse of a young woman, Joanna Franks, was found floating in the canal, the apparent victim of four roughneck boatmen who were transporting her to London. The subsequent trial of three of the men resulted in the hanging of two. Morse becomes convinced that the wrong men were convicted, and from his hospital bed, enlists the help of the Thames Valley Police Department’s newest recruit, Adrian Kershaw. They dust off the physical evidence from the crime, stored in a nearby archive, and subject it to some very modern forensics tests. The results lead Morse to unearth a clever, duplicitous plot, the key to which lies in an abandoned grave in Ireland, and which would have spelled quite a different fate for the men who hanged in 1863.
33. “The Remorseful Day”, aired 15 November 2000
The year-long investigation into the murder of Yvonne Harrison in a quiet Cotswold village is sparked to life again with the promise of new evidence. But though Chief Inspector Morse is due back on full duties, what exactly is the state of his health? And how will he react to Lewis leading the revitalised investigation?
The background shading illustrates how these episodes are collected together on DVD sets. I have the first five collections and the episodes of the last collection as individual copies.
The Novels of Colin Dexter