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 he 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 Inspector 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 and, appropriately enough, from an Inspector Morse epsiode). The mid-Sixties setting, cleverly removed from the ‘Swinging Sixties’ stereotype by virtue of going for classical music rather than the usual pop (this is Morse, after all) and also for its fairly drab-looking costumes (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.