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I think most people would agree, whether British or not, that Inspector
Morse represents everything that is good about British television. In
January 1987, the first television episode of Colin Dexter's intelligent
series of novels was broadcast. Inspector Morse was perfect - the beautiful
scenery of Oxford, the classic red Jaguar, the classical music and a superb,
and at times moving, central performance by the man his co-star Kevin
Whately would later describe, after his untimely death in 2002, as Britain's
finest screen actor.
Until it finished in 2000, Inspector Morse captivated large audiences, intrigued by its complex plots, the towering performance of John Thaw and its amazing roll call of quality guest actors. The series oozed class from every pore, and will always be the greatest jewel in the magnificent career of the late John Thaw. I really cannot find enough words to explain just how good I think Thaw was in so many of his television and film roles, but Morse was the character in which he proved to television viewers that he was not only versatile but had a rare depth.
The early episodes are certainly my favourites, as they were adapting the existing stories. Later, as they ran out of Dexter's stories, they began writing stories to keep the popular series going. But throughout, we learn more and more about the mysterious, emotionally repressed and rather sad Inspector. Without doubt, this is the greatest modern murder mystery franchise, and the series so many have tried, and failed, to emulate since.
Inspector Morse is television at its finest. Based around the Oxford-based characters created by Colin Dexter (some films are based on the novels; some on plot ideas by Dexter; and others, original scripts), the ITV series starring John Thaw and Kevin Whately has endured 33 high-quality episodes, each of which is approximately 104 minutes in length, and made with the same high standards usually reserved for a film with a theatrical release, ultimately resulting in a very arduous-yet-rewarding filming process. The premise of the series, to paraphrase John Thaw, is observing how two disparate men - one of which is a cerebral, Jaguar-driving, beer-drinking, crossword-solving, music-loving, well-educated, pedantic, arrogant, bachelor (Chief Inspector "Endeavour" Morse); the other of which is a northern, subservient, down-to-earth, prudish, humble and publicly-educated, family man (Sergeant "Robbie" Lewis) - proceed through an intricate whodunit and come to the conclusion which they inevitably reach. There is a noticeable father-son relationship between Morse & Lewis; and perhaps more of a brother-brother relationship between Morse & Strange, the Chief Superintendent. Aptly described as "a good detective but a poor policeman," Morse's modus operandi is very unconventional and parallels the way in which he solves his daily crossword puzzle (sometimes resulting in him getting things "arse about face"). His partnership with Lewis, however much as Morse would probably deny it, is vital to the investigation, just as Watson's was to Holmes; a lot of times mere innocent remarks from Lewis will lead Morse to deduce essential pieces of a puzzle, thereby solving the crime. Although Morse's melancholy is a rarely changing factor, Thaw is able to convey the gambit of emotions without having to resort to overacting. Their Christian names are rarely broadcast throughout the series; Morse tends to refer to Sgt. Lewis as just "Lewis," whereas Sgt. Lewis is inclined to address Morse as "Sir." The team who commissioned the Inspector Morse series seem to have elected not to use the same filming/writing crew on more that one episode, resulting in direction and writing styles which differ immensely from one another at different stages in the series. Contributing a lot to the show are the classically-trained backgrounds of many of the guest stars and the talent of the writers and directors, many of whom have gone on to have tremendously successful careers. Another important element of the show's success is the, at times hauntingly beautiful, strikingly apposite music composed by Barrington Pheloung. The characters evolve throughout the series, almost to the point where Lewis metamorphoses into an obtuse version of Morse. In Hitchcockian-style, Colin Dexter makes a cameo appearance in nearly every Inspector Morse film. The deterioration of Morse's health from a nasty combination of both drink and diabetes, and his apathy toward its maintenance were his ultimate downfall; indeed the re"morse"ful day occurred in the final episode (same name, same poem, same pun) wherein Morse succumbed to a heart attack, fittingly on the lawn of an Oxford college. Although it is hard for one to simultaneously predict the future and judge in a contemporary environment, it appears that the series has all the requisites to be regarded as "timeless."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Inspector Morse, which was
produced by ITV , is one of the consistently highest quality TV series'
produced in the UK. There is not a single dud episode and every one is
totally gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. No other British police drama
series even comes close
The cast included many fine British Actors including regular James Grout as Chief Superintendent Strange - Morse's boss, Patricia Hodge , Anna Massey, Richard Griffiths and many, many others.
The programmes are two hours long when shown in the UK but this includes commercial breaks. They are being continually repeated on ITV and ITV2 and are immensly popular. They are based on the books by Colin Dexter who has appeared in every single episode as an uncredited extra.
Unfortunately, no more episodes will be filmed as Morse was killed off in the last episode which was based on the book by Dexter where Morse dies. One big mystery which flows through the series' is Morse's Christian name . When asked, he always says 'Just call me Morse'. The identity of his very unusual name is finally revealed in one of the very last episodes.
The programmes were mostly based around the city of Oxford and many of them involved Oxford University where Morse himself was a student.
The music in the programmes is of particularly high quality , having been composed by Barrington Phelong. Several soundtrack CD's are available and have sold in high numbers. The main theme which tends to vary slightly from programme to programme features a haunting musical play on morse code.Inspector Morse is particularly keen on opera and a fair bit of it features in the programmes.
The length of two hours for each self-contained story gives plenty of time for the plots to unfold in a leisurely but very gripping way. Phelong's excellent music and the supurb filming build the tension in the stories wonderfully. One story was filmed mostly on location in Italy and another in Australia but these are exceptions to the usual Oxford locations.
Although the great British TV actor, John Thaw as Morse, is the star of the show ,the role of Kevin Whateley - another fine actor ,as Sgt. Lewis should not be overlooked . His solid working class 'steady' British copper provides the perfect foil for the celebral middle class Morse who is very much a culture snob . Morse is forever correcting Lewis's grammar and trying to educate him regarding classical literature and music.
Another star of the programmes is Morse's bright red Mark 2 Jaguar of about 1962 vintage.
I enjoy watching the programmes again and again.
This is one of the truly great British mystery series. Colin Dexter's
novels for me are a bit like Shakespeare's plays - better to see them
played out in a dramatic fashion than try to wade through all the
details on the pages. Dexter obviously likes words, so naturally his
famous detective will be a lover of crosswords and puzzles. A cultured,
educated man who none the less loves fast cars (his trademark red
Jaguar is as well-known an icon as Magnum's red Ferrari), whisky, women
(although he doesn't seem very lucky with them), and of course, a good
pint of REAL beer.
While a bit too old to do something along the lines of Regan in "The Sweeney", Thaw still brought enormous energy and presence to the Morse role.
His "sidekick", Sgt Lewis, is the perfect counterpart to Morse's sometimes-overly-intellectual approach to policing. In the books, Lewis comes off as rather thick, and at times a bit servile, and Morse seems to treat him accordingly; Kevin Whatley transformed Lewis into more of a sort of "everyman's genius", someone with whom Morse could actually collaborate. "Promised Land", in which the pair travel to Australia, is one of the better ones for seeing how the two relate to each other. The series sometimes amused the real-life police of the Thames Valley, for it raised Oxford's murder rate to ridiculously high levels. Some of the earlier shows moved at the pace of the books... a little sluggish, which when combined with odd camera angles - e.g. through distorting glass objects - sometimes made the viewer feel drowsy. Always a mistake to nod off, though. Morse is usually so overconfident in his suspicions that the real killer goes uncaught, and where Morse goes, murder almost certainly follows.
My favorite episode? "Masonic Mysteries", a real spine-tingler where a man Morse put away years ago comes back to haunt him, and lands the detective in jail for murder. Ian McDiarmid (Star Wars' Emperor) is simply... spooky.
A fantastic series. If you have doubts, watch that episode.
Well, where can one begin. Inspector Morse is remarkable in every way. The
characterisation of Morse and Lewis is wonderful. By the end of the series
we know so much about Morse. It kind of brings a bonding between the
character of Morse and the viewer. The show gives an English cultural feel
to the programs which is also reflected by the character of Morse.
I also like the way in which Morse CAN get it wrong. It makes him human. This element is wonderfully executed as it deceives the viewer into following the track of Morse and then slaps you back in the face much to the viewers shock. This adds a fabulous twist and an element of surprise which is hard to find in many detective programs.
There are not many detective programs that carry symbols to represent themselves either. The Jaguar, the pub, the opera, classical music and crosswords. All these objects made the program. I mean, if I saw a red Jaguar parked in town, the first thing that would come to my head would be Morse.
I also believe that John Thaw and Kevin Whatley should be given so much credit for the way in which they have brought these characters to life. They came across so convincingly and played so well off of each other. A truly wonderful experience.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say that John Thaw was a fine and wonderful actor who will be missed greatly.
One of the things that has sustained my wife and I through half a century is our mutual love of mysteries. Our appetite for that fare has never been sated, but perhaps it came closest during a trip to England when fortunate circumstance led to our spending an afternoon at lunching and then strolling through Oxford in the company of Colin Dexter. The gracious nature and prickly wit of Morse seems a reflection of the author, whose tastes in the arts are expressed irreverently and inevitably through Morse. The intellect of the author is spelled out in the character, and though the books aren't autobiographical in plot,they seem to be in terms of the characterization of the central figure. Mr. Dexter uses his scholarship and his intellect in life in much the way Morse does--his wry comments on Oxford and its denizens during our visit seemed akin to Morse's views of them. John Thaw, Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse are to me the holy trinity of the mystery genre. Audiences have rarely been so fortunate in the bringing together of an author, a central character and a portrayer each of whom so brilliantly fulfilled his destiny in the same series of performances.
An all time classic; well acted, finely plotted and utterly addictive. In short outstanding. Not to put too fine a point on it, no series, in any genre, before or since, has managed to sustain such a high level of quality. It lays down the pillars adhered to by almost all t.v. detectives of today; a subservient side-kick, a lead character with a drinking problem but rather than establishing cliches, it creates archetypes. Without peers.
John Thaw will never have a better part than that of the crusty copper , Morse. Fans of the crime genre will love this as it usually is a great whodunnit every time with no car chases or fights and as such is always refreshingly different from the usual cop show. Just add in that Morse is a total loser with the ladies, likes a drink, enjoys listening to recordings of tragic operas. Great way to solve murders, sitting in the pub downing a beer in the middle of the day. It beats chasing armed assailants up back alleys or staking out clubs hiding in garbage cans any day.The only criticism of the show is that Oxford is portrayed as the murder capital of Europe when in real life it is probably one of the least criminal places in the world with parking offences probably being its most common crime.
Not since the great team of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (in the early film Sherlock Holmes series) have there been such a happy combination as John Thaw and Kevin Whately as Morse and Lewis, in "Inspector Morse". Based on the rather academic crime novels of Colin Dexter this is surely one of the best TV whodunit series. Thaw is much at home playing the cantankerous, cultured, clever, and egocentric Police Inspector who enjoys a drink, while Whately does well as his obedient sidekick. Clever plots and intelligent scripting make this a thought provoking and interesting series. Which has lead to other quirky British Police Inspectors such as Barnaby in The Midsomers Murders, and Frost in A Touch of Frost. One might argue that Oxford, and for that matter in the other series small English country villages seem alive with serial killers, rather not conducive to tourism, but allowing for poetic license these stories capture the interest more than most.
Based on average crime novels by Colin Dexter, this is truly one of the times that the television version actually surpasses the novels in quality and makes the stories come alive and touch the heart and the mind. What makes this series so compelling, like the Duchess of Duke Street, Rumpole and Foyle's War, is the main character and the actor who created this marvelous,complex and compelling character. John Thaw and the producers/writers who worked with him made this a timeless series in the only way possible: make the lead character charismatic and intriguing (and extraordinarily well acted). It is virtually impossible for a series to last beyond several episodes based only on plots (I know, many will argue with this, but I stand my ground). The series has to be character driven to maintain its brilliance, episode after episode--in this case 33 episodes. That is not to say that the plots are unimportant, but only that they are clearly secondary to Morse and his relationships with those around him--especially his sergeant and his superior. But most important are his relationship with life and his values and the way he chooses to live his life; these are especially enthralling for a t.v. series (or movie or play or novel for that matter). I highly recommend this show--even for those not normally inclined to watch mysteries. This transcends the genre spectacularly. By the way, I greatly enjoy the Midsomer Murder series, but they are merely entertaining. The Morse episodes not only entertain, but can considered to be art.
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