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Morse was played by John Thaw, and the faithful Detective Sergeant Lewis by Kevin Whately. The character of Lewis was transformed from the elderly Welshman and ex-boxer of the novels to a much youngerGeordie police sergeant with a family, as a foil to Morse's cynical streak. Morse's first name, Endeavour, is revealed on only one occasion when he explains to a lady friend that his father was obsessed with Captain James Cook, and for this reason he was named after HMS Endeavour. On the other occasions, he usually answers "Morse. Everyone just calls me Morse" or dryly replies "Inspector", when asked what his first name is.
Thaw had a special appreciation of the fact that Morse was different from classic detectives such asHercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Morse was brilliant but he was not always right. He often arrested the wrong person or came to the wrong conclusion. As a result, unlike many classic sleuths, Morse does not always simply arrest his culprit; ironic circumstances have the case end and the crime brought to him. Also, Morse was a romantic—frequently mildly and gently flirting with or asking out colleagues, witnesses or suspects—occasionally bordering on the unprofessional, but had little success in love.
Morse is a character whose talents and intelligence are being wasted in positions that fail to match his abilities. Several references are made to the fact that Morse would have been promoted above and beyondChief Inspector at Thames Valley CID, but his cynicism and lack of ambition, coupled also to veiled hints that he may have made enemies in high places, frustrate his progression despite his Oxford connections.
Morse is a highly credible detective and plausible human being. His penchant for drinking, his life filled with difficult personal relationships, and his negligence toward his health, however, make him a more tragic character than previous classic sleuths.
Morse's eventual death in the final episode "The Remorseful Day" is caused byHEART PROBLEMS exacerbated by heavy drinking, differing from the literary character's diabetes-related demise.
Inspector Morse was filmed for ITV using 16mm film stock. Since its production, there have been a number of releases of the show on DVD using various remastered editions of the episodes in the 4:3 ratio. In recent years, ITV has overseen a high definition restoration of the drama from the original 16mm negatives so as to boost the amount of HD content on ITV3 HD. Many of these HD episodes retain the original 4:3 ratio, though some of the later films (including the series finale) have been opened-out into a 16:9 widescreen frame. These more recent remastered editions have not been released on Blu-ray.
Morse had 'highbrow' passions: music (especially opera; Mozart and Wagner among his favourites), poetry, art, the classics, British real ale, classic cars, and cryptic crossword puzzles. When seen at home Morse is usually listening to music on his Roksan Xerxes record player, solving a crossword, reading classic literature, or drinking ale. While working, Morse subsists on quickly-downed pints of ale in pubs, usually bought by Lewis, who struggles to keep up. Many of his cases touch on Morse's interests, and it is often his knowledge that helps him solve them.
In "The Death of the Self", the episode ends with Morse seeing one of the characters, an opera singer recovering from a long absence due to stage fright, make her 'comeback' performance at the amphitheatre in Verona, while in "Twilight of the Gods", he investigates the life of one of his opera idols, Gwladys Probert, a world-famous soprano. In "Who Killed Harry Field?", the murder victim is a painter, and in "The Way Through the Woods", Morse researches thePre-Raphaelite movement to aid his investigations.
In several episodes Morse's crossword-solving ability helps him to spot people who have changed their identities by creating a new name using an anagram. In "Masonic Mysteries", he is maliciously implicated in the murder of a woman when his Times newspaper with the crossword puzzle filled in in his handwriting is placed in the victim's house. In that same episode the writer names Morse's old Inspector from when he was a detective sergeant as 'Macnutt', a homage to D.S. Macnutt, the famous and influential Observer puzzle setter 'Ximenes'.
In "The Sins of the Fathers", he investigates a murder in a brewery-owning family, and in the first episode of the series, "The Dead of Jericho", he compares the life of a dead woman with that of Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus. The same episode also introduced his Jaguar Mark 2 automobile, which is damaged at the beginning and the end of the story being used to prevent the escape of the perpetrators. His interest in classic cars is also explored in "Driven to Distraction", in which he suspects a car-salesman of murder. He seems to dislike Jeremy Boynton so strongly that he refers to Morse's own Jaguar as "she", which convinces Morse of his guilt.
In "Cherubim and Seraphim", he investigates the suicide of his niece and discusses with her English teacher her interest in the poet Sylvia Plath, who also killed herself. The teacher defends the teaching of Plath's poetry to students, saying that her suicide would not influence students to do the same. Investigating the killing of a retired detective in "Second Time Around", Morse is haunted by an early case of his in which a young girl had been murdered and an obvious suspect could have very well been innocent.
The theme and incidental music for the series was written by Barrington Pheloung and utilises a motifbased on the Morse code for "M.O.R.S.E.". In the documentary, The Mystery of Morse, Pheloung states that he occasionally spelled out the name of the killer in Morse code in the music, or alternatively spelled out the name of another character as a red herring. The series also included opera and other classical genres as part of its soundtrack, most notably pieces by Richard Wagner and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (whoseMagic Flute is a significant plot device in one episode).
Beaumont College (in the TV episode "The Last Enemy") and Lonsdale College (in The Riddle of the Third Mile, the book on which "The Last Enemy" was based) are both fictional Oxford colleges. The real Brasenose College and Exeter College were used to represent Lonsdale, while Corpus Christi was used for Beaumont. Both fictional names are from real streets in Oxford. There is a Lonsdale College at Lancaster University. St Saviour's College in the episode "Fat Chance" is also fictitious, though New College was used as the location for it. Merton and University College were used for the fictional Beaufort College in the episode "The Infernal Serpent". Christ Church appears in "The Daughters of Cain" as the fictional Wolsey College. In a number of episodes, the main quad at Wadham College is used, especially the classic view as seen from the main entrance—unlike the students, the actors are allowed to walk on the grass. Eton College was used extensively as an alternative set to depict various parts of Oxford through the series, notably the county court in the episode "The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn", while the nearby school of St John's Beaumont, Old Windsor, became the Foreign Examinations Syndicate in the same episode, with both external and internal filming taking place there. Many of the generic locations used throughout the series, including Morse's house, were situated in Ealing, London, amongst the residential streets to the north of Ealing Broadway. Some scenes were also filmed at Brunel University and Hillingdon Hospital both in West London. The Port of Dover was used for Deceived byFLIGHT episode.
The Regency red 1960 Jaguar Mark 2 2.4L car (withNUMBER PLATE248 RPA) used by Morse throughout the television series became synonymous with the main character, despite Morse's driving a Lancia in the early novels. (After the start of the TV series the novels changed to the Jaguar). The Jaguar was given away in a competition a year after filming ended, and in 2002 it was auctioned for £53,200, many times the going rate for a "normal" 2.4. In November 2005 it was sold again for more than £100,000.
The spin-off Lewis, starring Kevin Whately as the now-promoted (and widowed, making the character's situation closer to Morse's) Inspector Lewis, premiered in 2006 on ITV. So far, eight series have been produced, with the most recent being shown in early 2014. It airs in the US on PBS under the titleInspector Lewis.
In 2012 ITV aired a two-hour special prequel film, Endeavour, portraying a young Morse, with author Colin Dexter's participation. Set in 1965, Shaun Evansplays the young Detective Constable Morse, who is preparing to hand in his resignation when he becomes embroiled in an investigation involving a missing schoolgirl. This was followed in 2013 by a 4 episode series, and in 2014 by a further 4 episodes.