January 20, 2012


Remembering John Thaw and Inspector Morse: Twenty-five Years of the most intelligent cop show ever to hit the small screen. (LARRY THORNBERRY, 1.20.12, American Spectator)

Two anniversaries, this month and next, for what is probably the most intelligent cop show ever to hit the small screen.

One anniversary is to be celebrated. It was 25 years ago this month that "The Dead of Jericho," the first of 33 episodes of the splendid Inspector Morse series was broadcast in 1987 in the UK. It was immediately popular in Old Blighty and remains so in re-run today, more than a decade after the last new episode hit the air. New Morse episodes routinely drew television audiences of 15 million and more in a country of 60 million. Few television series can truthfully be called a phenomenon. Morse can.

Morse also played to enthusiastic audiences when it migrated to the U.S. a year later, airing mostly on PBS stations. By now Morse has been watched and enjoyed in almost every country advanced enough to have a television transmitter.

The second anniversary, in February, is a sad one. It will mark 10 years from the too-early death of John Thaw, the talented and versatile British actor who brought the quirky but ever-fascinating Morse to life on the screen. [...]

Even though Thaw's Morse was far from the generic 30-something, tough guy, hunk of popular cop series, it seems that many of the ladies have found Morse's lonely persona attractive. I had to laugh, as I read Thaw did, when more than one female reviewer described Thaw as "the thinking woman's bit of crumpet." Eat your heart out, Brad Pitt.
Inspector Morse was so far off from anything that existed or could have been anticipated, I'm sure reading the concept before Morse was aired would have made a marketing major's teeth hurt. Focus groups would have lost consciousness. Morse fit no known niche, no expectation. It was its own category. And it worked.

Morse works because it's human drama at the highest level. The makers of the show hired the best writers, and some of Britain's top actors appear in the episodes. The characters are well drawn: The moody but intelligent Morse. The down-to-earth Lewis (played by Kevin Whatley -- who now has his own first-rate series, Inspector Lewis). And the crusty but reliable Detective Chief Superintendent Strange, played by James Grout. Morse deals with the basic and unchanging issues of the human condition, which is why it can still be watched with profit today while Miami Vice and such-like series are badly dated.

Morse is essentially apolitical. But TAS readers will recognize in Morse a man who understands the importance of the rule of law and justice, the interests of which he always puts ahead of gain or personal advancement. Morse is also a man impatient with neologisms and with the daffier aspects of post-everything culture. He's an independent old croc, thoroughly comfortable with the old ways, as most TAS readers would be comfortable with him.

I'd not realized until an ITV special that Colin Dexter had a Hitchcockian walk-on in all the films.

Posted by at January 20, 2012 6:57 AM

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