Lewis star Kevin Whately recalls first meeting John Thaw: “He was sizing me up”

"He was very quiet, as he always was, and it took a long time to get to know him. He was such a shy man," says the actor

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Kevin Whately has been talking to RadioTimes.com about his first encounter with the late John Thaw during their original casting session for Inspector Morse.

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“I remember that he was sizing me up,” the actor recalls. “We were at the Soho office of Michelle Guish, who cast the first series of Inspector Morse and I can recall John staring at me with those gimlet eyes as we read a scene. He was very quiet, as he always was, and it took a long time to get to know him. He was such a shy man.”

The detective drama, based on the novels by Colin Dexter, was to become a worldwide success, hitting an audience peak of 18 million in the UK and seen by an estimated one billion across 200 countries.

But at the time of filming the opening run of episodes in 1986, neither Whately nor Thaw could begin to guess how popular it would eventually prove to be:

“We had no idea that they were going to be successful,” continues Whately. “The production values were high and –at the time – the British film industry had collapsed, so we had a lot of movie-makers on the crew. So we knew it would look classy. But until it came out, we had no notion of how successful it would be.”

Inspector Morse has so far gone on to spawn two offshoots, the 1960s prequel Endeavour and the Whately-starring Lewis, in which he’s paired with Laurence Fox for further Oxford-based crime-solving. But it seems that Whately’s working relationship with Fox is the opposite to how it was with Thaw.

“It’s completely different. I was in awe of John and still learning, but Laurence just rips the p*** out of me all the time. There’s absolutely no deference there at all. He’s not even vaguely shy and he keeps us all laughing.

“John had got me to share a caravan with him on the set of Inspector Morse, as he’d always done with Dennis Waterman on The Sweeney, and that was how we got to know each other. So when we started Lewis, I suggested I do the same thing with Laurence and the producer said, ‘no, no, no – you don’t want to share with him. He’ll drive you mad!’ But we hit it off straight away.”

So much so that Fox now has the special nickname for Whately of ‘Donald’: “Yes, Laurence was in Florida and an American guy came up to him and said, ‘oh, I love Inspector Marsh and that Donald Whately’s a great actor!’. So Laurence was delighted and the name’s stuck.”

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You can read a full interview with Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox in the latest issue of Radio Times (out today). The new series of Lewis begins on Friday 10th October on ITV at 9.00pm