Norman Colin DexterOBE (29 September 1930 – 21 March 2017) was an English crime writer known for his Inspector Morse series of novels, which were written between 1975 and 1999 and adapted as an ITV television series, Inspector Morse, from 1987 to 2000. His characters have spawned a sequel series, Lewis, and a prequel series, Endeavour.
Early life and career
Dexter was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, to Alfred and Dorothy Dexter. He had a brother, John, a fellow classicist, who taught Classics at The King's School, Peterborough, and a sister, Avril. Alfred ran a small garage and taxi company from premises in Scotgate, Stamford. Colin was educated at St. John's Infants School, Bluecoat Junior School, from which he gained a scholarship to Stamford School, a boys' public school, where one of his contemporaries was the England international cricket captain and England international rugby player M. J. K. Smith.
After leaving school, Dexter completed his national service with the Royal Corps of Signals and then read Classics at Christ's College, Cambridge, graduating in 1953 and receiving a master's degree in 1958.
In 1954, Dexter began his teaching career in the East Midlands, becoming assistant Classics master at Wyggeston School, Leicester. There he helped the Christian Union school society. However, in 2000 he stated that he shared the same views on politics and religion as Inspector Morse, who was portrayed in the final Morse novel, The Remorseful Day, as an atheist.
A post at Loughborough Grammar School followed in 1957 before he took up the position of senior Classics teacher at Corby Grammar School, Northamptonshire, in 1959. In 1956 he married Dorothy Cooper, and they had a daughter, Sally, and a son, Jeremy. In 1966, he was forced by the onset of deafness to retire from teaching and took up the post of senior assistant secretary at the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations (UODLE) in Oxford, a job he held until his retirement in 1988.
In November 2008, Dexter featured prominently in the BBC programme "How to Solve a Cryptic Crossword" as part of the Time Shift series, in which he recounted some of the crossword clues solved by Morse.
The initial books written by Dexter were general studies text books. He began writing mysteries in 1972 during a family holiday. Last Bus to Woodstock was published in 1975 and introduced the character of Inspector Morse, the irascible detective whose penchants for cryptic crosswords, English literature, cask ale, and Wagner reflect Dexter's own enthusiasms. Dexter's plots used false leads and other red herrings.
The success of the 33 two-hour episodes of the ITV television series Inspector Morse, produced between 1987 and 2000, brought further attention to Dexter's writings. In the manner of Alfred Hitchcock, he also made a cameo appearance in almost all episodes. From 2006 to 2016, Morse's assistant Robbie Lewis featured in a 33-episode ITV series titled Lewis (Inspector Lewis in the United States). A prequel series, Endeavour, featuring a young Morse and starring Shaun Evans and Roger Allam, began airing on the ITV network in 2012. Dexter was a consultant. As with Morse, Dexter occasionally made cameo appearances in Lewis and Endeavour.
Awards and honours
Dexter received several Crime Writers' Association awards: two Silver Daggers for Service of All the Dead in 1979 and The Dead of Jericho in 1981; two Gold Daggers for The Wench is Dead in 1989 and The Way Through the Woods in 1992; and a Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1997. In 1996, Dexter received a Macavity Award for his short story Evans Tries an O-Level. In 1980, he was elected a member of the by-invitation-only Detection Club. In 2005 Dexter became a Fellow by Special Election of St Cross College, Oxford.
In 2000 Dexter was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature. In 2001 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Oxford. In September 2011, the University of Lincoln awarded Dexter an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
On 21 March 2017 Dexter's publisher, Macmillan, said in a statement "With immense sadness, Macmillan announces the death of Colin Dexter who died peacefully at his home in Oxford this morning."
Inspector Morse novels
- Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
- Last Seen Wearing (1976)
- The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
- Service of All the Dead (1979)
- The Dead of Jericho (1981)
- The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
- The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
- The Wench is Dead (1989)
- The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
- The Way Through the Woods (1992)
- The Daughters of Cain (1994)
- Death is Now My Neighbour (1996)
- The Remorseful Day (1999)
Novellas and short story collections
- The Inside Story (1993)
- Neighbourhood Watch (1993)
- Morse's Greatest Mystery (1993); also published as As Good as Gold
- "As Good as Gold" (Morse)
- "Morse's Greatest Mystery" (Morse)
- "Evans Tries an O-Level"
- "Dead as a Dodo" (Morse)
- "At the Lulu-Bar Motel"
- "Neighbourhood Watch" (Morse)
- "A Case of Mis-Identity" (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche)
- "The Inside Story" (Morse)
- "Monty's Revolver"
- "The Carpet-Bagger"
- "Last Call" (Morse)
Uncollected short stories
- "The Burglar" in You, The Mail on Sunday (1994)
- "The Double Crossing" in Mysterious Pleasures (2003)
- "Between the Lines" in The Detection Collection (2005)
- "The Case of the Curious Quorum" (featuring Inspector Lewis) in The Verdict of Us All (2006)
- "The Other Half" in The Strand Magazine (February–May 2007)
- "Morse and the Mystery of the Drunken Driver" in Daily Mail (December 2008)
- "Clued Up" (a 4-page story featuring Lewis and Morse solving a crossword) in Cracking Cryptic Crosswords (2009)
- Cracking Cryptic Crosswords: A Guide to Solving Cryptic Crosswords (2010)
- Foreword to Oxford: A Cultural and Literary History (2007)
- Foreword to Oxford Through the Lens (2016)
This article is about the fictional character. For the TV series, see Inspector Morse (TV series).
Detective Constable/Detective Sergeant/Detective Inspector/Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour MorseGM is the eponymous fictional character in the series of detective novels by British author Colin Dexter. On television, he appears in the 33-episode drama series Inspector Morse (1987–2000), in which John Thaw played the character, as well as the 2012 prequel series Endeavour, portrayed by Shaun Evans. The older Morse is originally described as a senior CID (Criminal Investigation Department) officer with the Thames Valley Police force in Oxford, England, but is later portrayed as a young graduate Detective Constable with the Oxford City Police.
Morse presents, to some, a reasonably sympathetic personality, despite his sullen and snobbish temperament, with a classic Jaguar car (a Lancia in the early novels), a thirst for English real ale, and a love of classical music (especially opera and Wagner), poetry, art, and cryptic crossword puzzles. In his later career he is usually assisted by his Sergeant, Robbie Lewis. Morse's partnership and formal friendship with Lewis is fundamental to the series.
Morse's father was a taxi driver, and Morse likes to explain the origin of his additional private income by saying that he "used to drive the Aga Khan". In the episode Cherubim and Seraphim, it is revealed that Morse's parents divorced when he was 12. He remained with his mother until her death three years later, upon which he had to return to his father. Morse had a dreadful relationship with his stepmother Gwen. He claims that he only read poetry to annoy her, and that her petty bullying almost drove him to suicide. He has a half-sister named Joyce with whom he is on better terms. Morse was devastated when Joyce's daughter Marilyn took her own life.
Morse prefers to use only his surname, and is generally evasive when asked about his first name, sometimes joking that it is Inspector. In The Wench Is Dead it was stated that his initial was E. At the end of Death Is Now My Neighbour, it is revealed to be Endeavour. Two-thirds of the way through the television episode based on the book, he gives the cryptic clue "My whole life's effort has revolved around Eve". In the series, it is noted that Morse's reluctance to use his Christian name led to his receiving the nickname Pagan while attending Stamford School (which Colin Dexter, the author of the Morse novels, attended). In the novels, Morse's first name came from the vessel HMS Endeavour; his mother was a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who have a tradition of "virtue names", and his father admired Captain James Cook.
Dexter was a fan of cryptic crosswords and named Morse after champion setter Jeremy Morse, one of Dexter's arch-rivals in writing crossword clues. Dexter used to walk along the bank of the River Thames at Oxford, opposite the boathouse belonging to 22nd Oxford Sea Scout Group; the building is named T.S. Endeavour.
Although details of Morse's career are deliberately kept vague, it is hinted that he won a scholarship to study at St John's College, Oxford. He lost the scholarship as the result of poor academic performance; resulting from a failed love affair, which is mentioned in the Series 3, Episode 2, "The Last Enemy", and recounted in detail in the novel The Riddle of the Third Mile, Chapter 7.
After university, he entered the Army and, upon leaving, joined the police. He often reflects on such renowned scholars as A. E. Housman who, like himself, failed to get an academic degree from Oxford. He was awarded the George Medal in the last episode of Endeavour Series 4.
Habits and personality
Morse is ostensibly the embodiment of white, male, middle-class Englishness, with a set of prejudices and assumptions to match (even though as the son of a taxi driver his background was thoroughly working class). He may thus be considered a late example of the gentleman detective, a staple of British detective fiction. This is in sharp contrast to the working-class lifestyle of his assistant Lewis (named after another rival clue-writer Mrs. B. Lewis); in the novels, Lewis is Welsh, but in the TV series this is altered to a Tyneside (Geordie) background, appropriately for actor Kevin Whately. Lewis is also the middle-aged one of the two in the books, with Morse some years his junior.
Morse's relationships with authority, the establishment, bastions of power and the status quo, are markedly ambiguous, as are some of his relations with women. He is frequently portrayed as patronising female characters. However he empathises with women, and once noted that the female sex is not naturally prone to crime, being caring and non-violent. He is not shy to show his liking for attractive women and often dates those involved in cases. Indeed a woman he falls in love with sometimes turns out to be the culprit.
Morse is highly intelligent. He is a crossword addict and dislikes spelling and grammatical errors; in every personal or private document that he receives, he manages to point out at least one mistake. He claims that his approach to crime-solving is deductive, and one of his key tenets is that "there is a 50 per cent chance that the person who finds the body is the murderer". Morse uses immense intuition and his fantastic memory to get to the killer.
Among Morse's conservative tastes are that he likes to drink real ale and whisky, and in the early novels, drives a Lancia. In the television and radio productions, this is altered to a suitably British vintage Jaguar Mark 2. His favourite music is opera, which is echoed in the soundtracks to the television series, along with original music by Barrington Pheloung.
The novels in the series are:
Inspector Morse also appears in several stories in Dexter's short story collection, Morse's Greatest Mystery and Other Stories (1993, expanded edition 1994).
In Dexter's last book, The Remorseful Day, Morse dies in hospital from a heart attack.
In other media
Main articles: Inspector Morse (TV series), Endeavour (TV series), and Lewis (TV series)
The Inspector Morse novels were made into a TV series (also called Inspector Morse) for the British TV channel ITV. The series was made by Zenith Productions for Central (a company later acquired by Carlton) and comprises 33 two-hour episodes (100 minutes excluding commercials)—20 more episodes than there are novels—produced between 1987 and 2000. The last episode was adapted from the final novel The Remorseful Day, in which Morse dies.
A spin-off series based on the television incarnation of Lewis was titled Lewis and began airing in 2006 and appeared until 2015.
In August 2011, ITV announced plans to film a prequel drama called Endeavour, with author Colin Dexter's participation. English actor Shaun Evans was cast as a young Morse in his university days and early career. The drama was broadcast on 2 January 2012 on ITV 1. Four new episodes were televised from 14 April 2013, showing Morse's early cases working for DI Fred Thursday and with Jim Strange, his later boss, and pathologist Max De Bryn. A second series of four episodes followed, screening in March and April 2014. In January 2016, the third series aired, also containing four episodes. A fourth series was aired, with four episodes, in January 2017. Filming of a fifth series of six episodes began in Spring 2017 with the first episode aired on 4 February 2018.
An adaptation by Melville Jones of Last Bus to Woodstock featured in BBC Radio 4's Saturday Night Theatre series in June 1985, with Andrew Burt as Morse and Christopher Douglas as Lewis.
In the 1990s, an occasional BBC Radio 4 series (for the Saturday Play) was made starring the voices of John Shrapnel as Morse and Robert Glenister as Lewis. The series was written by Guy Meredith and directed by Ned Chaillet. Episodes included: The Wench is Dead (23 March 1992); Last Seen Wearing (28 May 1994); and The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (10 February 1996).
An Inspector Morse stage play appeared in 2010, written by Alma Cullen (author of four Morse screenplays for ITV). The part of Morse was played by Colin Baker. The play, entitled Morse—House of Ghosts, saw DCI Morse looking to his past, when an old acquaintance becomes the lead suspect in a murder case that involves the on-stage death of a young actress. The play toured the UK from August to December 2010. It was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 25 March 2017 with Neil Pearson playing Morse and Lee Ingleby playing Lewis.
- Allen, Paul and Jan, Endeavouring to Crack the Morse Code (Inspector Morse) Exposure Publishing (2006)
- Bishop, David, The Complete Inspector Morse: From the Original Novels to the TV Series London: Reynolds & Hearn (2006) ISBN 1-905287-13-5
- Bird, Christopher, The World of Inspector Morse: A Complete A-Z Reference for the Morse Enthusiast Foreword by Colin Dexter London: Boxtree (1998) ISBN 0-7522-2117-5
- Goodwin, Cliff, Inspector Morse Country : An Illustrated Guide to the World of Oxford's famous detective London: Headline (2002) ISBN 0-7553-1064-0
- Leonard, Bill, The Oxford of Inspector Morse: Films Locations History Location Guides, Oxford (2004) ISBN 0-9547671-1-X
- Richards, Antony and Philip Attwell, The Oxford of Inspector Morse
- Richards, Antony, Inspector Morse On Location
- Sanderson, Mark, The Making of Inspector Morse Pan Macmillan (1995) ISBN 0-330-34418-8