Inspector Morse

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 drama series Inspector Morse (1987–2000), in which John Thaw played the character, as well as the (2012–) prequel series Endeavour, portrayed by Shaun Evans. The older Morse is a senior CID (Criminal Investigation Department) officer with the Thames Valley Police force in Oxford, England and, in the prequel, Morse is a young detective constable rising through the ranks with the Oxford City Police and in later series the Thames Valley Police.

Inspector Morse
John Thaw as Morse
First appearance1975: novel Last Bus to Woodstock
Created byColin Dexter
Portrayed byJohn Thaw (television) (1987–2000)
Shaun Evans (television) (2012–present)
Appears in13 novels (1975–1999)
Inspector Morse television series (1987–2000)
Endeavour television series (2012–present)
Also portrayed byAndrew Burt (BBC Radio) (1985)
John Shrapnel (BBC Radio) (1992–96)
Colin Baker (stage) (2010)
Neil Pearson (BBC Radio) (2017)
TitleDetective Chief Inspector
FamilyGwen Morse (stepmother)
Joyce Garrett (née Morse) (half-sister)
RelativesMarilyn Garrett (half-niece)
Wayne Garrett (half-nephew)
DecorationsGeorge Medal (television 1967)
Born1930 [1] (television: 1938)
Died1999: novel The Remorseful Day (television: 2000)
Alma materSt John's College, Oxford

Morse presents, to some, a reasonably sympathetic personality, despite his sullen and snobbish temperament, with a classic Jaguar car (a Lancia in the early novels), a thirst for English real ale, and a love of classical music (especially opera and Wagner), poetry, art and cryptic crossword puzzles. In his later career he is usually assisted by Sergeant Robbie Lewis. Morse's partnership and formal friendship with Lewis is fundamental to the series.



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".[2] 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. 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.

Morse prefers to use only his surname, and is generally evasive when asked about his first name, sometimes joking that it is Inspector. In The Wench Is Dead it was stated that his initial was E.[3] At the end of Death Is Now My Neighbour, it is revealed to be Endeavour.[4] 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".[5] In the series, it is noted that Morse's reluctance to use his given name led to his receiving the nickname Pagan while attending Stamford School (which Colin Dexter, the author of the Morse novels, attended).[4] 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 was a fan of cryptic crosswords and named Morse after champion setter Jeremy Morse, one of Dexter's arch-rivals in writing crossword clues.[6] 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.


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.[7] He lost the scholarship as the result of poor academic performance stemming from a failed love affair, which is mentioned in the second episode of the 3rd series of Inspector Morse, "The Last Enemy", and recounted in detail in the novel The Riddle of the Third Mile, Chapter 7. Further details are revealed piece-by-piece in the prequel series.


After university, he entered the army on National Service. This included serving in West Germany with the Royal Corps of Signals as a cipher clerk. Upon leaving, he joined the police at Carshall-Newtown, before being posted to Oxford. 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.

Habits and personality

Morse is ostensibly the embodiment of white, male, middle-class Englishness, with a set of prejudices and assumptions to match (even though as the son of a taxi driver his background was thoroughly working class). As a result, he may be considered a late example of the gentleman detective, a staple of British detective fiction. This is in sharp contrast to the working-class lifestyle of his assistant Lewis (named after another rival clue-writer Mrs. B. Lewis); in the novels, Lewis is Welsh, but in the TV series this is altered to a Tyneside (Geordie) background, appropriately for the actor Kevin Whately. Morse is in his forties at the start of the books (Service of all the Dead, Chapter Six: "… a bachelor still, forty-seven years old …"), and Lewis slightly younger (eg The Secret of Annexe 3, Chapter Twenty-Six: "a slightly younger man – another policeman, and one also in plain clothes"). John Thaw was 45 at the beginning of shooting the TV series and Kevin Whately was 36.

Morse's relationships with authority, the establishment, bastions of power and the status quo, are markedly ambiguous, as are some of his relations with women. He is frequently portrayed as patronising female characters, and once stereotyped the female sex as not naturally prone to crime, being caring and non-violent, but also often empathises with women. He is not shy to show his liking for attractive women and often dates those involved in cases. Indeed a woman he falls in love with sometimes turns out to be the culprit.

Morse is highly intelligent. He is a crossword addict[8] and dislikes grammatical and spelling 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". Morse uses immense intuition and his fantastic memory to get to the killer.

Among Morse's conservative tastes are that he likes to drink real ale and whisky, and in the early novels, drives a Lancia.[4] In the television and radio productions, this is altered to a suitably British classic Jaguar Mark 2. His favourite music is opera, which is echoed in the soundtracks to the television series, along with original music by Barrington Pheloung.


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 other media


The Inspector Morse novels were made into a TV series (also called Inspector Morse) for the British commercial TV network 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; it first aired in 2006 and last showed in 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 early career.[9][10] 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. Filming of a fifth series of six episodes began in Spring 2017 with the first episode aired on 4 February 2018. In 2019 the sixth series aired, which comprises four 1 hour 30 minute episodes. A seventh series of 4 episodes was filmed in late 2019.


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.[11] It was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 25 March 2017 with Neil Pearson playing Morse and Lee Ingleby playing Lewis.


  1. "Dexter said that Morse would be turning 70 next year [2000]", from: "Art mirrors life, as Inspector Morse is finally defeated by drinking". Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  2. The Dead of Jericho, chapter 21
  3. "Colin Dexter, 86, Dies; Creator of Inspector Morse, a Sleuth on Page and Screen". Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  4. "Colin Dexter obituary: Inspector Morse creator and one of the great whodunit men". The Independent. 21 March 2017. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  5. "Death Is Now My Neighbour". 19 November 1997 via IMDb.
  6. Colin Dexter in Super Sleuths: Inspector Morse. Director: Katie Kinnaird
  7. Dexter, Colin. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983 ed.). St Martins Press. p. Chapter 7.
  8. Connor, Alan (9 August 2012). "Top 10 crosswords in fiction, no 3: Inspector Morse". the Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  9. Inspector Morse set for TV comeback as young man, Oxford Mail, 4 May 2011
  10. Inspector Morse is an enigma – let's keep him that way, The Telegraph, 5 August 2011
  11. "What's on Stage". Retrieved 26 July 2019.

Further reading

  • Allen, Paul and Jan, Endeavouring 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
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