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Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 13:55 GMT
Morse's last grumble
John Thaw and Kevin Whately
Thaw and Whately together again for The Remorseful Day
By the BBC's William Gallagher

Inspector Morse, who left us this week, is easily the most popular UK television detective and a strong match for Sherlock Holmes in our affections.

Yet when the show started in 1987 it was a huge gamble.

Star John Thaw seemed indelibly linked to that rougher, younger policeman Jack Regan in The Sweeney.

With the body count now risen to almost 80, Oxford has become the murder capital of the UK

Colin Dexter

The Morse books were only moderately successful and the show's proposed two-hour episodes had never been attempted.

"There were people who said this will never work and believed that an ITV audience just wouldn't take two hours of complicated detection," says Ted Childs, executive producer of the show from the start.

Morse himself can be far from likeable.

Creator Colin Dexter describes him as "the melancholy, sensitive, vulnerable, independent, ungracious, mean-pocketed Morse".


The only thing that Morse had in its favour was its Oxford location - not because the city is picturesque, not because this was the first crime series to be set there.

Rather, Oxford fell within the broadcasting region of Central TV (now Carlton).

Inspector Morse
Morse carries with him many hallmarks such as the sedate Jaguar car

Morse is an expensive programme to make but setting and filming it in Oxford helped Central fulfil its requirement to make programmes reflecting its region.

Though the two-hour length was risky for the UK, it did mean that the company was effectively making TV movies to sell overseas.

The plan could not have worked better. Morse invariably has high viewing figures in the UK - with a peak of 18 million for episodes in the mid-1990s - but worldwide its audience is estimated by ITV at one billion across 200 countries.

And the two-hour episode length has become the norm for detective series, from ITV's A Touch of Frost to BBC's Dalziel and Pascoe.

I didn't want the television Morse to end like Frank Sinatra - doing an endless series of farewell concerts

John Thaw

The famous theme music, with its distinctive start based on the Morse code for m-o-r-s-e, was heard for the 33rd and final time with The Remorseful Day.

And while we have been told before that Morse is finishing, this time it is guaranteed.

For Dexter, Thaw and the producers have made no bones about Morse meeting his end - just as we have long been told Victor Meldrew will be killed off in the final One Foot in the Grave next week.

"With the body count now risen to almost 80, Oxford has become the murder capital of the UK and the time has come to put an end to this," says Colin Dexter.

"Various possibilities suggested themselves for Morse - retirement, marriage, failure, nervous breakdown. I decided that Morse must die."


When it came to film the ending, the cast and crew said although they were in tears, they felt it was time for the end.

"Producer Chris Burt phoned to tell me that in Colin's next book Morse would die," says Thaw.

"I was pleased in a way because it took away the responsibility of deciding if I, as an actor, should do Morse again and again.

Kevin Whately
Whately thought he had left the series in 1997

"I didn't want the television Morse to end like Frank Sinatra, doing an endless series of farewell concerts."

Co-star Kevin Whately certainly did not want to keep returning to the role.

He bowed out in 1997 and had to be replaced for the penultimate episode, The Wench is Dead. But he decided to return for this last one, just to finish the role.

"Playing Lewis has taken 14 years out of my 25-year career - more than half my acting life," he says.

"And it's certainly something I never expect to equal again in terms of success, viewing figures and quality."

Inspector Morse is bowing out at the peak of its popularity - and at writer Colin Dexter's too.

"In the last few years, I have found it increasingly difficult to pursue the lonely and demanding discipline of writing. It was time for me to finish," he concludes.

See also:

14 Nov 00 | Entertainment
No remorse over Aussie Morse
27 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Morse creator gets OBE
16 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Closing the case on Morse
03 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Morse finale leads ITV line-up
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