Endeavour: On the trail of Morse’s Oxford

As the crime drama returns to our screens, Michael Hodges follows Colin Dexter’s famous sleuth to the dreaming spires and murder scenes

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Few detectives have such a hold on the national imagination as Endeavour Morse, the curmudgeonly middle-aged police inspector who lives for real ale and classical music. He wasn’t always middle-aged of course and the younger version, as played by Shaun Evans, is about to return to our screens in the fourth series of Endeavour, charting the young detective’s progress through early 1960s Oxford.

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Thanks to Endeavour, and Lewis and Inspector Morse before it, the city has become a byword for murderous academia and old-fashioned pubs, so Michael Hodges booked into the sleuth’s favourite hotel, The Randolph, and went looking for Morse…


The White Horse

Morse, in both his younger and older incarnations, liked alehouses and Oxford city centre is home to many establishments the swigging detective favoured. You could visit The King’s Arms, The Eagle and Child, The Bear Inn, The White Horse and The Lamb and Flag, where his younger self, Endeavour, took a ruminative pint with a beautiful but murderous opera singer in the series’ successful pilot.

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If you’re inclined to start a Morse city pub-crawl then the pretty much unchanged White Horse has been used as a location by Morse, Lewis and Endeavour. Crucially for devotees of the thirsty yet traditionally minded detective you can still get your bitter in a pint jug with a handle, just as Morse does in The Dead of Jericho.

Sheldonian Theatre

If you reverse the route and end your Morse pub crawl at The White Horse, then cross the road – carefully – to the Sheldonian Theatre, central to the classic Morse episode Twilight of the Gods and shortly to be seen again in series four of Endeavour.

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The producers of the lauded spin-off have been keen to follow in the footsteps of Morse, not least in pubs (see the White Horse), and the Endeavour production crew turned the interior of this Grade I-listed 17th-century theatre into a 1960s dance hall. Endeavour has also reused other city centre locations for its own purposes, turning a former philosophy faculty on Merton Street into the fictional Wessex Bank for a hold up.

Bodleian Library

Cross Broad Street from the Sheldonian and enter the Bodleian Library, possibly one of the most filmed locations in the UK (The Golden Compass, The History Boys and the X-Men series were all shot here). 

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Morse and Endeavour have both made use of the early 16th century building and Lewis and Hathaway have visited, notebook in hand, several times, interviewing Professor Gold amid the thronged shelves of the library and being confronted with a murder in the basement in Whom the Gods Would Destroy.

Radcliffe Square

Morse, Lewis and Endeavour have all used this exquisite square behind the University Church of St Mary the Virgin (it has a cameo in at least two episodes of Morse, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn and The Daughters of Cain), as did the movies The Golden Compass and Young Sherlock Holmes. Only five minutes walk from the Bodleian, Radcliffe Square is dominated by the Radcliffe Camera (pictured below), a remarkable rotunda that houses a university library.

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The Endeavour film crew once parked a vintage 1960s bus right in front of the Camera. Sadly the library is closed to the general public; however there is nothing to stop you joining the scholars in the excellent organic Vaults and Garden café at the rear of St Mary’s, another Morse and Lewis location where Hathaway was poisoned in The Gift of Promise. Usually the food is very good.

Bridge of Sighs

Oxford’s Bridge of Sighs is an apparently ancient structure modelled on the 16th century Rialto Bridge in Venice but actually completed in 1914. Wander under the covered walkway linking two quadrangles of Hertford College, and you’ll be following Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway, who have both been filmed by the world-famous bridge. 

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Expect to see the bridge again in series four of Endeavour, as Shaun Evans and the crew were seen filming here last summer. And, if you have a Morse-like need to top up your beer levels, one of his favourite pubs, The Turf Tavern, is just around the corner.

The Ashmolean Museum

Founded in 1683, the Ashmolean is one of the most important museums in the world and has long been a favourite Morse location.

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The museum’s Anglo-Saxon artefact collection is central to the first episode of the second series of Inspector Morse (and perhaps the greatest ever episode), The Wolvercote Tongue, and the museum featured in the first ever episode of Lewis, when Inspector Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway come here to look at ancient Greek coins. They returned for The Point of Vanishing, this time to seek out the oil painting The Hunt in the Forest, the stunning 1470 Italian renaissance masterpiece by Paulo Uccello. It’s still there, and still stunning.

Macdonald Randolph Hotel

Directly across the street from the Ashmolean stands the imposing Randolph Hotel (as it’s commonly known). An Oxford landmark, the 5-star Randolph is a grand Victorian institution with a massive central neo-gothic central staircase that reeks of murder and intrigue (it is also a very good hotel).

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No surprise it was a favourite of the fictional detective, who drank here so often there is an official Morse bar (pictured below). Morse came here to complete The Times crossword puzzle, take a glass of whisky and, occasionally, make Lewis buy him a pint after a day’s sleuthing, and it’s where the pair have their first drink of the episode in The Wolvercote Tongue. After Morse’s demise, the fictional Lewis continued to use the bar named after his fictional boss.

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In Whom the Gods Would Destroy, Lewis and Hathaway come here to interview a witness in the dining room, which looks out onto the Martyrs’ Memorial on Beaumont Street, where Kenneth Cranham, playing the killer Professor Cedric Downes, lectured tourists at the beginning of, again, The Wolvercote Tongue.

Christ Church College

If you had to pick one college to visit from Oxford’s 44 then this is the one, coming complete with quads, an outstanding medieval cathedral, word-class art gallery and a great hall used as the model for the dining hall in the Harry Potter films.

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Christ Church Meadow – the parkland crossed by the rivers Thames and Cherwell (Lewis and Hathaway have been known to canoe along the Cherwell) – is ideal for a picnic if you are here in spring or summer. See if you can decide which park bench looking onto Christchurch college Shaun Evans chose to look troubled and pensive on in the first ever episode of Endeavour.

Essentials:

Michael Hodges was a guest of The Macdonald Randolph Hotel, which recently underwent a £6 million renovation following a fire in 2015. The hotel is now focusing on finalising ground floor public areas and returning the main staircase to its former glory. Room rates (for two people in a double) start from: £189 B&B or £239 DBB mid-week; £220 B&B or £270 DBB on Saturdays.

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To book: 0344 879 9132 or macdonald-hotels.co.uk/randolph


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