Inspector Morse

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This article is about the eponymous character. For the TV series, see Inspector Morse (TV series).
Inspector Morse
First appearance Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
Last appearance The Remorseful Day (1999)
Created by Colin Dexter
Portrayed by John Thaw
Shaun Evans
Title Detective Chief Inspector
Nationality British
Also appears in Inspector Morse television series (1987-2000)
Endeavour (2012-present)

Inspector Endeavour Morse is a fictional character in the eponymous series of detective novels by British author Colin Dexter. On television, he appears in the 33-episode 1987–2000 drama series Inspector Morse, in which John Thaw played the character; as well as the 2012 series Endeavour, portrayed by Shaun Evans. Morse originally is described as a senior CID (Criminal Investigation Department) officer with the Thames Valley Police force in Oxford, England. With a Jaguar car (a Lancia in the early novels), a thirst for English real ale and a penchant for music (especially opera and Wagner), poetry, art, classics, classic cars, and cryptic crossword puzzles, Morse presents a likeable persona, despite his sullen temperament.

Name and family[edit]

Morse's first name, "Endeavour", was kept a secret until the end of Death Is Now My Neighbour (traditionally, Morse claimed that he should be called "Morse", or joked that his first name was "Inspector"). Two-thirds of the way through the episode he gives the cryptic clue of "My whole life's effort has revolved around Eve".[1] In the series, it is noted that his reticence about his Christian name led to his being nicknamed "Pagan" while he attended Stamford School; the school is an alma mater of the author of the Morse novels, Colin Dexter, and Dexter's brother. The origin of Morse's first name is the vessel HMS Endeavour, as Morse's mother was a Quaker (Quakers have a tradition of "virtue names"), and his father was a fan of Captain James Cook. Morse's father was, by trade, a taxi driver,[2] and Morse likes to explain the origin of his additional private income by saying that he "used to drive the Aga Khan".[3] Colin Dexter is a fan of cryptic crosswords, and Morse is named after champion setter Jeremy Morse, one of Dexter's arch-rivals as a clue-writer in the crossword world.[4]

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."

During the episode "Cherubim and Seraphim", it is learned that Morse's parents divorced when he was 12. He remained with his mother until her death three years later, when he had to return to his father. He had a dreadful relationship with his stepmother, Gwen,[5] and claimed he only read poetry to annoy her, and that her petty bullying almost drove him to suicide. He has a half-sister, Joyce, with whom he is on better terms, and was devastated when Joyce's daughter, Marilyn, took her own life.

Habits and personality[edit]

Morse is ostensibly the embodiment of white, male, middle-class Englishness, with a set of prejudices and assumptions to match. He may thus be considered a late example of the gentleman detective, a staple of British detective fiction. This background is in sharp juxtaposition to the working class origins of his assistant, Lewis (named after another rival clue-writer, Mrs. B. Lewis); in the novels, Lewis is Welsh, but this was altered to a northern English (Geordie) background in the TV series. He is also middle-aged in the books.

Morse's relationships with authority—the establishment, bastions of power, and the status quo—are markedly ambiguous, as sometimes are his relations with women. Morse is frequently portrayed in the act of patronising female characters, to the extent that some critics have argued that Morse is a misogynist.[6]

Morse's appearance of being patronising might have been misleading; he habitually showed empathy towards women, once opining that the female sex is not naturally prone to crime, being caring and non-violent. He was also never shy of showing his liking for attractive women, and often had dates with those involved in cases.

Morse is extremely intelligent. He dislikes spelling and grammatical errors, demonstrated by the fact that, in every personal or private document he receives, he manages to point out at least one mistake. He claims his approach to crime-solving is deductive, and one of his key tenets is that "there is a 50 per cent chance that the last person to see the victim alive was the murderer". In reality, it is the pathologists who deduce; Morse uses immense intuition and his fantastic memory to get to the killer.


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 in Season 3, Episode 2, "The Last Enemy", and recounted in detail in the novel The Riddle of the Third Mile, chapter 7. Forced to leave the University, he entered the Army and, on leaving it, 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.


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.


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, as previously stated, Morse dies.

A spin-off series, titled Lewis, started airing in 2006. The series is based on the television incarnation of Lewis.

In August 2011, ITV announced plans to film a prequel drama, Endeavour, with author Colin Dexter's participation. English actor Shaun Evans was cast as a young Morse in his university days and early career,[7][8] 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 Max De Bryn the pathologist. A second series of four episodes followed, screening in March and April 2014.


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).


A new 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 the inscrutable Detective Chief Inspector 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.[9]


Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, Paul and Jan, Endeavoring 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

External links[edit]