Inspector Morse

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This article is about the fictional character. For the TV series, see Inspector Morse (TV series).
Inspector Morse
John Thaw as Morse
First appearance The Dead of Jericho (1987)
Last appearance The Remorseful Day (1999)
Created by Colin Dexter
Portrayed by John Thaw (Television) (1987-2000)
Shaun Evans (Television) (2012-present)
Andrew Burt (radio)
John Shrapnel (radio)
Colin Baker (stage)
Title Detective Chief Inspector
Nationality British
Also appears in Inspector Morse television series (1987-2000)
Endeavour (2012-present)

Detective Constable/Detective Sergeant/Detective Inspector/Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse GM is the eponymous fictional character in the 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 prequel 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. Morse presents, to some, a reasonably sympathetic persona, despite his sullen and snobbish temperament, 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. He is often assisted by his Sergeant Robert "Robbie" Lewis. Morse's partnership and friendship with Lewis is a fundamental aspect of the series.

Name and family[edit]

Morse prefers to use only his surname, and is generally evasive when asked about his first name, sometimes joking that it is Inspector. At the end of Death Is Now My Neighbour, it is revealed to be Endeavour. Two-thirds of the way through the television episode based on the book, he gives the cryptic clue "My whole life's effort has revolved around Eve".[1] In the series, it is noted that Morse's reluctance to use his Christian name led to his receiving the nickname Pagan while attending Stamford School (which Colin Dexter, the author of the Morse novels, attended). In the novels, Morse's first name came from the vessel HMS Endeavour; his mother was a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who have a tradition of "virtue names", and his father admired Captain James Cook. Dexter is a fan of cryptic crosswords and named Morse after champion setter Jeremy Morse, one of Dexter's arch-rivals in writing crossword clues.[2] 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.

Morse's father was a taxi driver, and Morse likes to explain the origin of his additional private income by saying that he "used to drive the Aga Khan".[3] In the episode Cherubim and Seraphim, it is revealed that Morse's parents divorced when he was 12. He remained with his mother until her death three years later, upon which he had to return to his father. Morse had a dreadful relationship with his stepmother Gwen.[4] He claims that he only read poetry to annoy her, and that her petty bullying almost drove him to suicide. He has a half-sister named Joyce with whom he is on better terms. Morse 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 contrast 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. Lewis is also middle-aged in the books.

Morse's relationships with authority are markedly ambiguous—the establishment, bastions of power and the status quo—as sometimes are his relations with women. He is frequently portrayed as patronising female characters.

Morse's appearance of being patronising might have been misleading. He habitually showed empathy towards women, once noting 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; in every personal or private document that he receives, he manages to point out at least one mistake. He claims that his approach to crime-solving is deductive, and one of his key tenets is that "there is a 50 per cent chance that the person who finds the body is the murderer". In reality, it is the pathologists who deduce. Morse uses immense intuition and his fantastic memory to get to the killer.


Shaun Evans as a younger Morse in the prequel series Endeavour

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. He was awarded the George Medal in the last episode of Endeavour Series 4.


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.


John Thaw (right) as Morse and Kevin Whately (left) as Lewis

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 Morse dies.

A spin-off series based on the television incarnation of Lewis was titled Lewis and began airing in 2006 and appeared until 2015.

In August 2011, ITV announced plans to film a prequel drama called Endeavour, with author Colin Dexter's participation. English actor Shaun Evans was cast as a young Morse in his university days and early career.[5][6] 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 pathologist Max De Bryn. A second series of four episodes followed, screening in March and April 2014. In January 2016, the third series aired, also containing four episodes. A fourth series was aired, with four episodes, in January 2017. Subsequently, ITV announced that a fifth series would be commissioned in early January 2018, with filming beginning in Spring 2017.


An adaptation by Melville Jones of Last Bus to Woodstock featured in BBC Radio 4's Saturday Night Theatre series in June 1985, with Andrew Burt as Morse and Christopher Douglas as Lewis.

In the 1990s, 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).


An 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 DCI 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.[7]


  1. ^ "Death Is Now My Neighbour". 19 November 1997 – via IMDb. 
  2. ^ Colin Dexter in Super Sleuths: Inspector Morse. Director: Katie Kinnaird
  3. ^ The Dead of Jericho, chapter 21
  4. ^ Inspector Morse, "Cherubim and Seraphim", YouTube.
  5. ^ Inspector Morse set for TV comeback as young man, Oxford Mail, 4 May 2011
  6. ^ Inspector Morse is an enigma – let's keep him that way, The Telegraph, 5 August 2011
  7. ^ "What's on Stage". 

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]

Media related to Inspector Morse at Wikimedia Commons