Much though I used to like Inspector Morse, I never could get the crossword clues. It didn’t stop me from enjoying both the books and the TV series, though.
In print form, Morse – whose first name was not revealed until Death is Now My Neighbour (1996) – was killed off in 1999 in The Remorseful Day (as with Hercule Poirot in Curtain, the great detective left a letter to his less intelligent sidekick explaining the mystery), and duly died on the telly when that novel was adapted the following year; John Thaw, the man who’d played Morse, died fifteen months later. His creator, Colin Dexter, vowed that he wouldn’t write another Morse adventure, although in 2008 he did write a short story, about Morse when he was a student, for the Daily Mail.
Its spin-off, Lewis, has been pretty decent but without John Thaw solving crosswords, driving his Mk. 2 Jag, drinking beer and, during the first half at least, jumping to the wrong conclusions (this may be why I liked Morse so much, as I am an habitual jumper-to-conclusions when watching detective shows), it just wasn’t the same. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I heard that ITV were planning on a prequel, centring on Morse himself in his early years as a police detective. It was to be called Endeavour, after his barely-used first name. Why are we revisiting him, I thought? Can’t we just let Morse lie, and move on?
The pilot aired in 2012, and was followed earlier this year with a four-part series. I didn’t get round to seeing any of it until ITV3 had an ‘Endeavour Week’ this week, showing all five episodes.
Guess what? I loved it. Shaun Evans does a great turn as the rookie detective (has there ever been a detective series concentrating on an inexperienced youngster rather than a cynical veteran?) with just enough hints at Thaw’s Morse to keep us going. No point going for a full-blown impersonation, after all, as this can be where we see the character traits form. I also liked Roger Allam as the down-to-Earth mentor, Inspector Thursday (more of a stage man, apparently, although I vaguely remember him from the second series of Ashes to Ashes). The mid-1960s setting, cleverly removed from the ‘Swinging Sixties’ stereotype (just how many shades of brown were there, back then?) reminds me strongly of the BBC’s sadly short-lived series The Hour, albeit with slightly less smoking.
I missed Colin Dexter’s Hitchcock-like cameo appearances, though. I guess that means I’ll have to watch the show again.