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EDITIONS
Friday, 17 November, 2000, 17:26 GMT
Colin Dexter: Morse the pity
Colin Dexter, author of the Morse books
By Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

He has been responsible for more than 80 murders, nearly all of them in the Oxford area, and his latest victim has resulted in sacks of hate mail.

Yet Colin Dexter counts himself a very lucky man. Lucky, because although more people know his character Morse from the television, the impact of these adaptations on his book sales has been phenomenal.

He attributes this, in no small part, to the superb casting of Kevin Whately as Lewis and, particularly, of John Thaw, who has become a close friend.

One of the Morse novels
His books are best-sellers
"John has enjoyed playing Morse more than any other role because the fictional role is very close to the real-life John", Colin Dexter explains. "He is sensitive and private, rather vulnerable and slightly melancholic."

Now Morse is no more. And those who have written to the author accusing him of betrayal will have to accept the fact that, at the age of 70 and after 14 novels and 33 two-hour TV specials, Colin Dexter has had enough.

"I'm now going to get on with all the other things I've neglected like mowing grass and enjoying a nice pint."

He is not giving up writing completely, though. He is planning a book set in a school which will reflect his views that educational standards are falling.

It was while rain was falling, during a cottage holiday in north Wales in 1973, that the Morse saga began. Colin Dexter, then 43, had nothing to do except read a couple of detective novels that were in the house.

Like the cliché goes, he didn't think much of them and felt he could do better.

Colin Dexter with his OBE award
He received an OBE this year
It was not the psychological motivation of the murderers that appealed to him, but rather the mechanics of the whodunnit. Even today he feels that authors who denigrate the plot in favour of characterisation are short-changing the reader.

He has a meticulously ordered mind, well-suited to devising the twists and turns of a mystery plot. A former national crossword champion, Colin Dexter studied Classics at Cambridge, along with his elder brother.

This was a remarkable achievement given that both their parents had left school at the age of 12 and their poor Lincolnshire upbringing meant the two brothers had to share a bed.


I'm not as mean and I thank people

Colin Dexter on comparison with Morse
After graduating, Colin Dexter spent 12 years teaching Classics at schools in the Midlands in the 1950s and 60s until deafness ended his career. He met his wife Dorothy at a Leicester school and they have been happily married for 44 years.

Before that, he had been a morse operator in the army. Honestly. But that is not how the character got his name. Colin Dexter's two favourite crossword compilers were Sir Jeremy Morse and Mrs B. Lewis.

It was when he became an A-level examiner in English, Latin and Greek for the Oxford Board that he found the location for his books.

Oxford remains his favourite city in the world and an ideal backdrop for his stories. The beautiful architecture and dreaming spires have enhanced the television adaptations too.

Colin Dexter with Morse actor, John Thaw
John Thaw has become a friend
So how much of Morse's personality reflects that of the author? Certainly both share a love of Wagner, A.E. Houseman, the painter Vermeer, Charles Dickens and, above all, beer.

And Morse, like his creator, will not be disturbed while The Archers is on the radio. They share a sense of melancholy, they are the same age and both have diabetes which was a contributing factor in Morse's death.

In fact, on the same day as the British showing of the final episode, Colin Dexter was opening a new diabetes centre in Coventry.

But there are disparities too. "I'm not as mean and I always thank people. That's one of Morse's more unpleasant streaks; he's never grateful".


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