“Follow the clues,” says the writer, Russell Lewis
When Chief Inspector E Morse first appeared in print he arrived fully formed; a middle-aged, crossword-solving, hard-drinking, Wagner-loving, irascible detective with a genius for solving the most Byzantine of mysteries. “His personal history was a book not so much closed as sealed with chain and padlock. Yet as I sat down to write Endeavour [with Shaun Evans in the role immortalised by John Thaw, above], there were tantalising clues.
“Truth is I didn’t have to do much ‘inventing’ at all. Folk far cleverer than me — Colin Dexter, chiefly – had already done the hard work. Like Morse, I just had to examine the evidence, spot the clues and jot them down in my notebook.
“Colin has always been quite coy about Morse’s background, though there are pointers, if you know where to find them — cough — The Riddle of the Third Mile. The writers of the original series embellished the legend. Where possible, I’ve tried to reconcile the Morse of the novels with the Morse of the screen.”
“Nobody could match Thaw,” says the creator, Colin Dexter
“I always said I would not allow what they did with Miss Marple, where they had 101 people trying to put their interpretation on the part,” says Colin Dexter, the man who created the original Endeavour Morse in print 36 years ago. “I said, ‘We’re not going to have that for the simple reason that I don’t think anybody is going to match John Thaw.’ But people misunderstood that, and took it that I was never going to do anything with Morse.”
Seeing the drama reinterpreted has inevitably brought back memories of the man who brought him to life in the first place. “I spoke to John 13 days before he died,” Dexter recalls, with his characteristic precision. “He told me something he’d said before, namely that the one thing he thought he could do better than anyone else was learn his lines. This seemed to me to be a wonderfully modest thing to boast about when one thinks of all the things a man of John’s acting ability could have said.”
As for the character, did he have anything about him Dexter didn’t like, anything he would change if he was starting him off again in the manner of the new drama? “The only thing that was really dreadful about Morse was that he never bought Sgt Lewis more than half a pint of fairly flat orange juice,” he laughs.
“That was the most common complaint I ever received. ‘Why don’t you let the Inspector buy poor old Lewis what he wants?’ Morse would just throw him the key and tell him he’s driving.” He grins. But he doesn’t say he would change it.
Shaun Evans plays a fresh-faced Morse in Endeavour at 9:00pm on Bank Holiday Monday on ITV1/ITV1 HD.
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 23 December 2011.