He may have died in print in 1999 and then on screen the following year, but it seems there’s a lot of life left in Endeavour Morse. Following the ratings success of Endeavour, the one-off prequel that starred Shaun Evans as the young DC Morse, a new four-part run has been commissioned to air in 2013. So what is it about this lugubrious detective that makes him so enduring?
“The fact that he’s the eternal outsider is the key to him,” says Russell Lewis, who devised and writes Endeavour. “There’s a sadness to him, a melancholy that chimes with people. It’s a certain trope with crime fiction that most detectives are loners with some deep-rooted unhappiness somewhere. And that’s certainly true with Endeavour.”
Lewis is speaking to me at the script read-through for the first episode in this new series, which is being held at the All Souls Clubhouse in London, a very apt venue as the building was once the home of Samuel Morse, the inventor of Morse code.
Today though it’s the location for a gathering of the cast and production team, among whose number is Sean Rigby, cast in the role of PC James Strange, a uniformed officer who Morse fans will recognize as the character who goes on to become Superintendent Strange (as played in the original series by James Grout). Is digging into the mythology of Morse something that appeals to Lewis?
“It’s great fun. What we’re building into this series is a window onto that back history, which you’ll see over the course of this season. And we’ve given him the first name of James as a nod to the late, great Jimmy Grout [who died in June].
“There’s a huge and loyal fanbase - I don’t think we want to over-egg it but Morse does have a continuity and internal life of its own.”
Will there be room theen in the future for such other notable figures as Morse’s former fiancé Susan Fallon (see the 1992 episode Dead on Time) or his mentor Desmond McNutt, who made a memorable appearance in Masonic Mysteries?
“Possibly, very possibly,” says Lewis, with a smile. “You’ll find names flying around left, right and centre.”
On the basis of the draft script that I saw, Lewis does seem to be having a ball in the world of this younger Morse. All the key elements are there, from his queasiness at the sight of any anatomical matter to that unerring ability to fall for attractive yet troubled suspects. And there are also some poignant lines regarding Endeavour’s separateness, that outsider status that leaves him feeling apart from both academia and his fellow police officers:
“’Bad at games.’ What they used to put on my school reports. I was alright at cross country. Anything where it was just me. But…team games? ‘Joining in.’…” Endeavour says mournfully at one point to Strange.
But what lies ahead for Endeavour? Will the series move on in time from its mid-60s setting? And what is it about this period in history that appeals to Lewis?
“We’re carrying on in 1965 for this season. And I imagine that season two will be 1966 and so on. You don’t want to nail yourself down to that hard and fast, but yes, we definitely want to move with the times.
“It’s funny because the way that period has been written up, you’d think everyone was being wild and crazy. But most people weren’t. The Swinging Sixties might have been happening in London but out in the provinces there were still those with one foot in 1955 and even 1945.
“For me though, it’s quite liberating writing about that time. You’re harking back to the golden age of whodunits. Christie and Sayers. And there’s a decency to characters like DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). It’s something that I miss about this country – that decency which seems to have been lost. One’s not trying to bring it back, but we certainly touch on this inherent decency of the man.”
And back when the one-off Endeavour episode was aired in January, did Lewis think that he’d soon be getting the opportunity to write a full series?
“Honest to God, when we did it, we were just doing it as a one-off,” he confesses. “We weren’t thinking of it as a pilot for a series. If we hadn’t done anymore that would have been fine.”
However, now that the opportunity has presented itself, Lewis is keen to stress the debt that’s owed to the late actor John Thaw, the actor who originally breathed life into Colin Dexter’s creation. I tell him that I, for one, was touched by the closing shot of what’s now become the pilot episode, in which Thaw’s eyes were reflected back to Shaun Evans in the rear-view mirror of a car:
“I had to take a deep breath before we started this because we were treading on holy ground,” says Lewis. “But that was the money shot. None of us would be doing this if it hadn’t been for John Thaw. Without becoming mawkish or maudlin, it seemed to be the most reverential way that we could say thank you.”