The Wench Is Dead (TV)

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"The Wench Is Dead"
Inspector Morse episode
Episode no. Episode special
Directed by Robert Knights
Written by Malcolm Bradbury - screenplay
Production code 32
Original air date 11 November 1998
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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List of Inspector Morse episodes

"The Wench Is Dead" is an episode of the British television detective mystery show Inspector Morse. It was first broadcast on ITV in 1998.


Detective Chief Inspector Morse (John Thaw) and Chief Superintendent Strange (James Grout) attend an exhibit entitled, "Criminal Oxford: Crime and Punishment in Victorian Times." During a lecture by Dr. Millicent Van Buren (Lisa Eichhorn), a visiting professor from Boston University, Morse starts to feel ill. After the lecture Van Buren wants to speak at length with Morse, but he feels worse, excuses himself, and then passes out in the lavatory. He is found by Strange on the floor, grasping his stomach.

While hospitalised, Morse is diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer, which his doctor ascribes to Morse's excess consumption of alcohol. To pass the time in his recovery, he reads Van Buren's book on Victorian investigation techniques, which details the 1859 murder of Joanna Franks, whose body was found floating in the Oxford Canal. Rory Oldfield and Alfred Musson, two boatmen on a fly-boat Joanna was traveling on, were convicted of the murder and hanged; another, Walter Towns, received a last-minute commutation to transportation for life. However, Morse comes to believe that the men did not kill Joanna, and were victims of a miscarriage of justice. Morse was also questioning the reasons why the boatmen were not charged for rape and theft of Joanna Franks, and if they did, it would have opened up the investigation into her history.

With the assistance of Adele Cecil (Judy Loe) and Constable Adrian Kershaw (Matthew Finney), Morse uncovers several inconsistencies in the trial. For instance, Joanna had accused the boatmen of being rude and drunk, but was later seen drinking and smiling with them. A fourth boatman on the fly-boat, a teenager who was not charged, testified for the prosecution. The size of Joanna's shoes didn't fit with her dress, which had been altered. Her knickers, which had been described as torn or ripped, where actually cut with a knife deliberately. Joanna had chosen to go to London by boat, when the railways were all out to drive the fly boats business and the fares were not much more expensive and Joanna could have been in London in a day. Her carpet bag which was mentioned in the trial was never mentioned again after that. She objected to the men drinking and lewdness and yet she went back on the boat and drank with them. Based on the medical reports from the trial indicated that the woman was at least 5"3, height which was considered very tall. Dr. Hobson compared the height of Jack the Ripper's victims who were measured (murdered in the 19th century) and the average height of women that time were below 5 feet.

Kershaw investigated the insurance payment to Charles Frank and found that Joanna had insured herself and payment of 300 pounds was made in full to Charles Frank and he was never found again.

Although Morse is unable to exhume the body of Joanna Franks, he travels to Bertraghboy Bay, on the west coast of Ireland to open the grave of Frank Donavan. Morse figures out that Donald "Don" Favant, a passerby when the body was found, and Charles Franks (the victim's husband) are aliases derived from Frank "F. T." Donavan. (The connection is that "F.T. Donovan" and "Don Favant" are recognised by Morse, the cryptic cross-word solver, as anagrams.) The grave is empty. F.T. Donovan or Charles Franks and Joanna must have committed the same trick at least twice and got away with it.

Morse seriously considers his retirement after Chief Superintendent and Adele persuades him to take early retirement due to his health.

Sergeant Lewis does not appear in this episode because he is out of town on an inspector's course. The real-life reason is that Kevin Whately was filming the BBC drama series The Broker's Man at the time.

Although Dexter in the original novel, and the TV producers did not deliberately anticipate it, in this episode the role of the fast-track graduate detective constable, assigned to help Morse solve the historical case, functions, for Morse, in the same way that James Hathaway, another fast-track graduate detective constable later helps Inspector Lewis in the later TV series, "Lewis". For both these assistants, their academic backgrounds are essential in advising either Morse, or Lewis, and grasping Oxford issues that only Oxford people would know.

See also[edit]

The Wench Is Dead, the novel