Inspector Morse returns in new Masterpiece Mystery TV series as a young man

Inspector Morse was a longtime PBS “Masterpiece Mystery” staple; and now it’s back with Sunday's two-hour premiere of this new TV series featuring Morse early in his career.

He was truly an individual, with telling custom touches that made John Thaw as “Inspector Morse” one of the classic British crime fighters – right up there with Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, said TV critics. Sadly, Thaw died way too young at age 60 back in 2002; while the famed PBS “Masterpiece Mystery” series now has Morse back in action, with British actor Shaun Evans portraying Morse early in his career. Also, according to Best British TV.com, the late John Thaw – who portrayed the original “Inspector Morse” - was voted by the “general public as number 3” in a poll of British TV’s “50 Greatest Stars for the past 50 years.” Thus, the introduction for this new four-episode Masterpiece Mystery series - based on a young Morse - explains how beloved and admired Thaw was for loyal fans of this series that now has new legs with Evans playing the role of "Endeavor Morse" as a young man trying to find his new detective form fighting crime in and around the famed Oxford University in England.

Inspector Morse called one of the top PBS TV shows of all time

Last night's "Masterpiece Mystery" introduction - for this new Inspector Morse as a young detective - is linked to both the British and American zeal for those in society to have those "special skills" to beat the bad guys.

In fact, it was the "Masterpiece style" that was first introduced to American TV viewers back in the 1970s that sad "there are those in our society who have that special talent like Inspector Morse to always win over the evil in our world."

Thus, Inspector Morse became very popular for U.S. fans of this British series featured on PBS TV, as explained during the July 1 introduction of this new series that attempts to mirror "one of the most beloved PBS series of all time."

TV does a good job of bringing the dead back thanks to Masterpiece Mystery

Last night’s two-hour July 1 premier - of the episode called “Endeavor” – continues with the legend that Thaw originally created in this series that’s been called “the most popular ever broadcast on PBS; that’s lived on in reruns for years.”

In fact, the original “Inspector Morse” series ran on PBS, as part of the award-wining “Masterpiece Mystery” franchise for a record “six years with several prime-time specials.”

Sadly, the original “Inspector Morse” series “ended with the death of the character of Morse in 2001 and, permanently (until now) with the death of the lead actor, John Thaw in 2002,” reported Tish Wells for McClatchy Newspapers July 1.

At the same time, a tribute to Thaw – reported a few years ago in London’s The Telegraph newspaper – that hinted about a new series in the works based on the “young Morse” – noted how “Inspector Morse was an enigma in fiction and real life.”

The London newspaper also revealed that Thaw “was a heavy drinker and a smoker from the age of 12;” and that “Thaw was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, and underwent chemotherapy in hope of overcoming the illness.”

However, the cancer had spread and he died on Feb. 21, 2002, “just seven weeks after his 60th birthday and the day after he signed a new contract to, perhaps, play in new Inspector Morse episodes.”

Also, The Telegraph newspaper reported how more than “800 people including Prince Charles attended Thaw’s memorial service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square,” where the fictional Inspector Morse often went to “get his head around mysteries he was trying to solve.”

Inspector Morse returns to PBS as a young man

The new “Inspector Morse” series - on the famed PBS Masterpiece Mystery program - is simply titled “Endeavor,” as a prequel with the July 1 two-hour special premier (that will be rerun this week and check your local PBS TV listing for show times in your area) with the show’s original author Colin Dexter’s being credited with also helping to write this new series that portrays a young Morse.

“Set in 1965, the series starts on the day when a young Morse (Shaun Evans) returns to Oxford as a detective constable with a typed resignation in his pocket, and a weak stomach for dead bodies,” writes Tish Wells in a July 1 review for McClatchy Newspapers; while also explaining how this young Morse is “assigned to fill in on office duties while more experienced detectives hunt for a missing town girl, not an undergraduate” at Oxford University where the Morse TV series is based.

At the same time, Wells writes how “in all cases in Oxford, the academic atmosphere permeates everything. That’s where Morse’s background comes in handy. He begins to investigate on his own, then, with the help of an older mentor” – played by Roger Allam as Detective Inspector Friday – the young Morse finds his way as a crime fighter.

Morse is skilled to trigger actions, and reactions

What fans of the Inspector Morse character –honed by the late, great John Thaw - appreciated was how much Morse became embroiled in a crime investigation with both his tenacity and his skill in sorting out the unexpected, said one fan commenting on the PBS website after the July 1 premier of this new series.

In turn, Wells writes how this first episode “introduces you to the roots of the Morse most ‘Mystery!’ viewers remember fondly.”

For instance, Wells notes how Morse “loves opera, gazes dreamily at a red Jaguar, does crossword puzzles, and starts drinking in the pubs despite being a nondrinker when he arrives.”

However, Wells also writes how “the biggest flaw in the series is that while it’s set in 1965, it doesn’t necessarily feel like 1965. Unlike the authentic feel of the ‘Foyle’s War’ series set in World War II, ‘Endeavor’ uses some beehive hairdos, smoking, old police cars and other window-dressing but the first episode’s not set firmly in the time period. Hopefully, this may develop more as the series goes on.”

At the same time, Wells points out that this is not the first “Inspector Morse spinoff,” with the “much put-upon sergeant of the original series, Robbie Lewis, has his own ‘Inspector Lewis’ series, set in current day Oxford.”

They’re still calling him "Inspector Morse"

The reason this new series about the young Inspector Morse is called “Endeavor,” is that’s his first name. However, as fans of the original series with John Thaw may recall, he usually only answered to the name “Morse. Everyone just calls me Morse,” or he would dryly reply “Inspector,” when asked what his first name is.

What’s also fun about both this new young Morse and Thaw’s brilliant original portrayal is “that he’s not always right,” explained a tribute to Inspector Morse in London’s The Telegraph newspaper that also poked fun at how the older Morse “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; but ironic circumstances have the case usually end when the crime facts are simply brought to him.”

Moreover, the London newspaper pointed to how “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.”

And, it noted how “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 by heart problems exacerbated by heavy drinking, differing from the literary character's diabetes-related demise.”

The original Inspector Morse “Masterpiece” series ran on PBS for a record 33 episodes between 1987 and 2000 when famed British actor John Edward Thaw helped create one of the most lasting British TV heroes of all time.

In fact, an official biography of Thaw notes how he “came from a working class background;” while “having a difficult childhood as his mother left him when he was seven years old, and he didn’t see her again until 12 years later.” Thaw later said in an interview that he used his past life experiences when developing his “Inspector Morse” character; after being trained as an actor at England's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art that he entered at the young age of 16.

Image source of the late British actor John Edward Thaw who is still remembered by fans as the original “Inspector Morse” on the PBS TV series Masterpiece Mystery. Photo courtesy Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Thaw

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Endeavor Morse's mentor was Inspector Thursday, not Friday.

Submitted by Rosemarie Benintend (not verified) on
It's good enough to be the prequel! I'm so relieved. My two problems have already been addressed, here: 1. The period setting is neither authentic, nor organic--they really need to work on that; and 2. It is Thursday, NOT Friday.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I agree with the remarks already made regarding the lack of period authenticity. I also feel that the pilot was self-conscious about being a prequel, to the point of distraction. There were too many references made to the "Inspector Morse" series, for a single episode. Using exactly the same music that ended the earlier series, including a brief appearance by the Alexander Reese character, introducing the now famous red Jaguar, introducing "Max" the forensic pathologist, showing Morse's aversion to blood several times in the pilot, and having the young Morse see the mature Morse, in the rear view mirror, are each excellent references to "Inspector Morse." Including them all in one episode, however, was over the top for me. Just a couple of these references would have been more effective. Still, the plot and dialogue were good, the characters are dimensional and believable, and the acting was quite fine. Shaun Evans has the depth, talent, and qualities to eventually convince us that he is the young Morse. We don't have to be hit over the head with it.

Submitted by Dave Masko on
I appreciate the nice words for this piece; while it's not difficult writing about such a quality program. - DM