Colin Dexter

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Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter.jpg
BornNorman Colin Dexter
(1930-09-29)29 September 1930
Stamford, Lincolnshire, England
Died21 March 2017(2017-03-21) (aged 86)
Oxford, England
Alma materChrist's College, Cambridge
GenreCrime fiction
Notable worksInspector Morse series (1975–1999)
Dorothy Cooper
(m. 1956)

Norman Colin Dexter OBE (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[edit]

Dexter was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, to Alfred and Dorothy Dexter.[1] He had an elder brother, John,[2] a fellow classicist, who taught Classics at The King's School, Peterborough, and a sister, Avril.[3] Alfred ran a small garage and taxi company from premises in Scotgate, Stamford.[4] Dexter was educated at St. John's Infants School and 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.[2][5]

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.[5]

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.[6] However, in 2000 he stated that he shared the same views on politics and religion as Inspector Morse,[7] 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 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.[8]

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.[9]

Writing career[edit]

The initial books written by Dexter were general studies textbooks.[10] 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 music by Wagner reflected Dexter's own enthusiasms. Dexter's plots used false leads and other red herrings,[11] "presenting Morse, and his readers, with fiendishly difficult puzzles to solve".[12]

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. The show featured Inspector Morse, played by John Thaw, and his assistant Sergeant Robert Lewis, played by Kevin Whately. In the manner of Alfred Hitchcock, Dexter made a cameo appearance in almost all episodes.

From 2006 to 2015, Morse's assistant Lewis was featured in a 33-episode ITV series titled Lewis (Inspector Lewis in the United States).[13] Lewis is assisted by DS James Hathaway, played by Laurence Fox.

A prequel series, Endeavour, features a young Morse and stars Shaun Evans and Roger Allam and began airing on the ITV network in 2012. Endeavour has aired eight series, including the pilot episode, with the ninth and final series scheduled to air in 2023, taking young Morse's career into 1972.[14]

Dexter was a consultant for both Lewis and the first few years of Endeavour. As with Morse, Dexter occasionally made cameo appearances in both Lewis and Endeavour.[15]

Although Dexter's military service was as a Morse code operator in the Royal Corps of Signals, the character was named for his friend Sir Jeremy Morse, a crossword devotee like Dexter.[12] The music for the television series, written by Barrington Pheloung, used a motif based on the Morse code for Morse's name.[16]

Awards and honours[edit]

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.[8] 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.[17] In 2005 Dexter became a Fellow by Special Election of St Cross College, Oxford.[18]

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.[19][20]

Personal life[edit]

In 1956 he married Dorothy Cooper. They had a daughter, Sally, and a son, Jeremy.[2][12]


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."[21]


Inspector Morse novels[edit]

  1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
  2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
  3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
  4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
  5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
  6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
  7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
  8. The Wench is Dead (1989)
  9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
  10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
  11. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
  12. Death Is Now My Neighbour (1996)
  13. The Remorseful Day (1999)[5][22]

Novellas and short story collections[edit]

  • The Inside Story (1993)
  • Neighbourhood Watch (1993)
  • Morse's Greatest Mystery (1993); also published as As Good as Gold
    1. "As Good as Gold" (Morse)
    2. "Morse's Greatest Mystery" (Morse)
    3. "Evans Tries an O-Level"
    4. "Dead as a Dodo" (Morse)
    5. "At the Lulu-Bar Motel"
    6. "Neighbourhood Watch" (Morse)
    7. "A Case of Mis-Identity" (a Sherlock Holmes pastiche)
    8. "The Inside Story" (Morse)
    9. "Monty's Revolver"
    10. "The Carpet-Bagger"
    11. "Last Call" (Morse)[5][22]

Uncollected short stories[edit]

  • "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)
  • " Evans Tries an O-Level Exam"(A 8 page story featuring a kleptomaniac boy named Evans)


  • Foreword to Chambers Crossword Manual (2001)[22]
  • Chambers Book of Morse Crosswords (2006)[22]
  • Foreword to Oxford: A Cultural and Literary History (2007)[22]
  • Cracking Cryptic Crosswords: A Guide to Solving Cryptic Crosswords (2010)[12]
  • Foreword to Oxford Through the Lens (2016)[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howard, David (December 1997). "The Inspector Morse Books of Colin Dexter". The Book and Magazine Collector (165): 13.
  2. ^ a b c Barker, Dennis (21 March 2017). "Colin Dexter obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  3. ^ Percy, Martyn (26 April 2018). "Memorial Address for Colin Dexter" (PDF). Christ Church, Oxford. p. 2. Archived (PDF) from the original on 10 October 2022. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
  4. ^ "Obituary: John Boon". 4 May 2012. Archived from the original on 22 March 2017. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d Howard, David (October 1999). "The Inspector Morse Books of Colin Dexter". The Book and Magazine Collector (187): 5.
  6. ^ "Mr. N. C. Dexter". The Wyggestonian. Vol. 57, no. 3. Leicester: Wyggeston Boys' School. July 1957. p. 80.
  7. ^ "You ask the questions". The Independent. London. 18 July 2000. Retrieved 26 March 2017.
  8. ^ a b AFG (2009). "Interview with Colin Dexter, excerpts". Strand Magazine. Archived from the original on 11 May 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  9. ^ "How to Solve a Cryptic Crossword, Series 8, Timeshift - BBC Four". BBC. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  10. ^ "Character interview – Colin Dexter's Guilty Secret". Sandra Fraser. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  11. ^ Sloot, Theo (Summer 2007). "Stars in their bars: Colin Dexter". The Oxford Wine Company. Archived from the original on 11 June 2010.
  12. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (21 March 2017). "Colin Dexter, 86, Dies; Creator of Inspector Morse, a Sleuth on Page and Screen". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 January 2022. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  13. ^ "Lewis to End after Ninth Series". BBC News. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  14. ^ Spencer, Samuel (24 August 2020). "'Endeavour': Why the PBS Show May End After Season 8". Newsweek. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  15. ^ Hooton, Christopher (12 March 2012). "ITV commissions full series of Morse drama Endeavour". Metro. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  16. ^ Smith, Kim (October 2001). "Cracking The Code –The Composer Behind Morse". Essex Life & Countryside. Archived from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  17. ^ Guttridge, Peter (21 March 2017). "Colin Dexter obituary: Inspector Morse creator and one of the great whodunnit men". The Independent. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  18. ^ "Colin Dexter OBE". St Cross College. Archived from the original on 22 March 2017. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  19. ^ "University of Lincoln degree honour for Morse writer Colin Dexter". Lincolnshire Echo. 2 September 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2017.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ Wildman, Thirzah (31 August 2011). "Inspector Morse creator among leading lights to be honoured at Lincoln graduation". University of Lincoln. Archived from the original on 15 July 2021. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  21. ^ "Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, dies aged 86". BBC News. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  22. ^ a b c d e "Colin Dexter". WorldCat. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
  23. ^ Dexter, Colin (2016). Foreword. Oxford through the Lens. By Vernimmen, Douglas. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 978-1-85149-838-3.

External links[edit]