This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.

Morse’s last crossword completed, Thursday’s last pint poured, Superintendent Bright’s last cigarette smoked, Win’s last sandwiches eaten… We must not weep that it has gone, but instead rejoice that it has been.

The ninth and final series of Endeavour is a sweet sorrow, bringing down the curtain on a series that began simply as Inspector Morse’s origin story and evolved into something so much more. But while its millions of fans may mourn, it seems the show’s two biggest stars are not just philosophical but ready to let go.

"The story is all, and when it’s told, it’s told," says Shaun Evans of the title role that he has played since 2012. "That time was coming, and you don’t want to repeat yourself. You shouldn’t stay just because it’s comfortable. You owe it to the audience to do it well and then call it a day."

It seems, just as we’ve watched young Endeavour Morse evolve on screen, Evans has inevitably done the same. "I don’t feel like that person any more," he agrees. "I don’t think I can honestly keep doing that job because I’ve changed, I feel different." Is he referring to Morse’s work ethic in favour of a personal life? "My hunger remains, wanting to get things done and make work, but that solitude, that difficulty connecting, I’ve worked through."

For Roger Allam, putting Detective Chief Inspector Fred Thursday’s fedora permanently on the hook is all part of the nature of showbusiness, an industry he has hopped around with seemingly effortless panache for four decades.

"I’ve always been drawn to being able to do strongly contrasting things," he says. "When this was first offered and they wanted a commitment of three years, my heart sank and I nearly didn’t do it. Two years seemed doable in my head. Cleverly, the execs just kept renewing it, one year at a time."

Nevertheless, even the poker-faced Allam confesses that, when it came to filming his final scenes, he had a moment. "You’re just doing your work, but then it creeps in and the experience of it – 'This is the last time I’ll be in Bright’s office and that set will be broken up…' – that’s very moving."

Endeavour season 9
Endeavour season 9 ITV

If last summer’s filming in and around Oxford felt particularly poignant, it was something both men dealt with in their own particular ways. Allam found himself at a "sort of wrap party" at a bar in Islington, north London ("one of those places where you have to shout to make yourself heard"), while Evans embarked on a far more Morse-like enterprise.

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"I was there [Oxford] until the very last day, and that was on my own. It was perfect in a way because it meant that I had the chance to say goodbye alone. I went to Italy the very next day and enrolled on a language course, because I knew I’d have lots of energy, and I wanted to do something completely different to distract me while I slowly came back down."

Time, too, to reflect on a TV triumph that could have gone so wrong, trying to meet the high standards of drama instilled by the original Morse. Instead, Endeavour came to be as much loved as its predecessor – with writer Russell Lewis mining his knowledge of Colin Dexter’s books to paint a picture of 1960s and 70s Oxford through the prism of police work, against a backdrop of real-life events, such as World Cup victory and Apollo landings. But as every fan knows, Endeavour’s not really about any of that. Instead, it’s about the characters and their rich hinterlands.

Allam believes it’s the contrasting personal lives of Morse and Thursday that gives the series its unique punch. Sure enough, for years, we’ve watched Thursday’s wife Win handing him his sandwiches (Monday: cheese and pickle, Tuesday: luncheon meat) and telling him: "Come home safe". But while he enjoys simple pleasures, Thursday is no simple man. Inspired by the men he met of his father’s generation, Allam carries the inspector’s war experience into every scene.

"He wasn’t a professional soldier although he had skills, he was very good at fighting."

The actor chuckles, remembering one of his favourite lines from early on in the series. "Confronted by a gang of hoodlums, Thursday tells them, 'I didn’t tramp halfway round Europe to come back to a country run by spivs and chancers like you.'"

Roger Allam as DI Fred Thursday in Endeavour.
Roger Allam as DI Fred Thursday in Endeavour. ITV

And then there’s Morse, the younger man, standing with one foot in the Thursdays’ dining room, palpably hankering after all they have, yet seemingly ready to sacrifice prospects of family and other close relationships in the pursuit of truth and justice. Is Morse our great comfort, the solitary crusader who remains awake and alert so we all may sleep? Evans isn’t convinced.

"This desire to sacrifice everything for your work, it’s actually masking something else, something more difficult to look at about yourself," he muses. "So you channel all your energy and enthusiasm into being a great detective, when actually the more difficult thing to say is, 'Why haven’t I got a relationship?' I think that’s all going on with this character, rather than being a completely altruistic character."

Besides the great performances from the two leads and across the board – every fan I know identifies a different moment when they took the initially brusque Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) to their heart – it’s the elegiac quality of Endeavour that sets it apart. As well as the cars, the suits, the skirts of the period, the mood of the piece is that of a society still recovering from the war, but on the brink of new experiences.

"Members of the younger generation in the cast would comment on things," says Allam of the attention to period detail. "With no mobile phones, you’d need a book of maps to get about. You needed a separate camera to take photographs. All those things we now take for granted, and people find it interesting. It wasn’t necessarily a more innocent time, but interesting."

Evans acknowledges, too, the lure of the past, even if it’s a fantasised version: "We all hanker for simpler lives. We have the speed [now] with which we can do things, but it comes at the cost of connecting to the simple things – of somebody making you a sandwich so you’re nourished. It’s not big, extravagant gestures, it’s the simple things of looking after one another. There seems to be a nostalgia for that."

As for his own simple pleasures, Evans describes "my first coffee and notebook of a morning". He expands: "Apart from health, family and people, a couple of hours to write notes in my notebook, go out with my little camera, take some pictures, go to my darkroom to develop them. Being creative and having the agency over my own creativity."

When I ask Allam the same question he demurs, "I quite like a sandwich, perhaps not luncheon meat."

Shaun Evans as Endeavour. ITV

What then of the future? For Evans, who has directed several episodes of Endeavour in recent years, it’s clear that he’s ready to flex different muscles both in front of and behind the camera.

"Lightning rarely strikes twice, and it would be foolish for me to think of success like this continuing. I’ve had the enormous good fortune of that, it’s a blessing. It’s given me the agency to be able to pull projects together that I can be in and produce, not be in and direct. How can I make the most of everything I’ve learnt? That’s what I’m excited about."

For Allam, however, the future seems a bit more straightforward. "Hopefully get other work. Otherwise I’ll turn to crime or something," he says.

Later this year when the sun comes out and for once they don’t find themselves heading to an Oxford of 50 years ago, how will they feel?

For Evans, it’s "enormous gratitude. Privileged to have had that opportunity to tell a story for that amount of time. I only have gratitude."

Allam will think of the series as "something incredibly enriching in my life. I’ll look back with pride, pleasure and regret that I’m not doing it any more, even though I think that’s right."

There is no doubt we’ll see both these actors again, although perhaps not together for a while. Before our chat, I binge-watched the whole final series on a Saturday.

By Sunday, I felt strangely bereft, saying goodbye to the world of Endeavour and the rich characters within it. Evans nods when I tell him: "I felt the same."

Endeavour returns to ITV1 on Sunday 26th February at 8pm. Seasons 1-8 are available to stream on ITVX now. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what’s on.

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