Tuesday, 23 August 2016

My Top Five Inspector Morse episodes

My Top Five Inspector Morse episodes

What springs to mind when you hear the words Inspector Morse?  Jaguar, music, drink, crossword puzzles, Lewis?  All these and much much more make up the man that is Inspector Endeavour Morse and I happen to be a huge fan.  I am currently working my way through a Inspector Morse marathon on DVD, or should that be Morse-athon?  Each episode or case shows something new or intriguing about the character or characters as even Sergeant Robert Lewis develops as the series progresses.  However I thought I would list my top five episodes and a little bit about each of them and why I enjoy them more than the others.  Some of these I haven’t yet got up to in my current viewings but I have seen every episode already many times, hence why they appear in the list.

5. The Sins of The Fathers

John Thaw as Inspector Morse with Lionel Jeffries as Charles Radford
What could be more appropriate for Morse than to investigate a murder at a local brewery.  Radfords Brewery owned by the admirable Lionel Jeffries (I still see him as Dick Van Dyke’s crazy father from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but that’s another story) is in trouble and on the verge of a takeover from a rival brewery Farmers led by the equally admirable John Bird.  Our first murder victim (as there is usually more than one in Morse) is Trevor Radford, current managing director of the brewery and son of the owner Charles (Lionel Jeffries). Morse investigates the family and soon discovers the financial troubles of the firm and the fact the victim's wife Helen was having an affair with his brother Stephen.  He quickly becomes the prime suspect but is eliminated when he too is found murdered at the Brewery.  Add in the seemingly unrelated murder of a local solicitor Nelson and Morse is suitably baffled.

Whilst this is not one of the more popular Morse episodes, I enjoy it. I particularly enjoy Morse’s disdain for the upper class family such as the Radfords.  Despite being well educated and often berating Lewis for his misuse of the English Language, he has little time for the Radford family and their airs and graces.  The only one he seems to genuinely like is the wife of the second victim, Thelma Radford.  She is no nonsense and knows full well about her husband's infidelity and chooses to ignore it.  She knows she is looked down upon by her in laws because they didn’t deem her good enough to marry their son but she trumps them in the end by taking their only grandchildren away. Lionel Jeffries spends most of the episode convincing us he’s losing his marbles along with his hearing but in the end he shows not only the sense and spirit to save the brewery but also the intriguing story that helps Morse solve his son's murders. It is the difference in Morse and Lewis and the way they speak that cracks the final twist in the case for Morse.

4. The Wolvercote Tongue

A brilliant cast line up including Kenneth Cranham, Roberta Taylor and Simon Callow as guides and experts leading a group of wealthy American tourists around Oxford.  We start off the body count with one of the tourist, Laura Poindexter found dead from a heart attack and a valuable jewel missing, the Wolvercote Tongue, which she had been planning to donate to Theodore Kemp’s (Simon Callow) museum.  Next thing we know her husband disappears shortly after Morse discovers he would inherit his wife’s fortune and a body is pulled out of the river.  Lewis assumes it is Mr Poindexter and calls in Morse, only for them to discover it is Theodore Kemp.  The plot thickens.

John Thaw as Inspector Morse with Simon Callow as Theodore Kemp
I really love this episode as it keeps you guessing all the way through.  Suspicion naturally falls on the tour guides and the other tourists in the group, only for us to discover that amongst the jealousy, infidelity and drunkenness, the first death, the theft and the second death were all unrelated, only unfortunate timing joining them together.

One of the most entertaining features of the episode for me is Janet Roscoe.  She provided the comedy value in her never ending complaints about the tour and tour guides until finally at the end of the episode she announces she and her husband are being moved to another tour only for her husband to announce he’s staying put and she can holiday without him.

3. Deceived By Flight

Daniel Massey as Anthony Donn with John Thaw as Morse
Written by the Oscar winning Anthony Minghella, this is easily one of the best Morse episodes ever.  Centered around a cricket match of the old boys of Oxford before they head out on a world tour, it is full of intrigue and twists and turns that truly make a great episode.  The victim Anthony Donn is an old friend of Morse, although they haven’t seen each other for a good few years.  At the start of the episode Donn calls Morse and they meet up for dinner (bag of chips in the park, great dinner as far as I’m concerned).  Donn seems to be wanting to tell Morse something but can’t and instead tells him a story from a book on Zen.  Later when interviewing an arson suspect, Morse receives a call from Donn but tells his officer to take a message instead which is that Donn had remembered what is was he wanted to tell him.  Tragically just after this, Donn is found dead in his room at the college, apparent suicide although Morse is not convinced. Morse interviews all the cricket team including Rowland Marshall, a cripple who coaches the Clarets Eleven (the cricket team) and the victim’s wife Kate who he quickly forms an attraction to.  Throw in a seemingly married couple who are hiding something and Lewis undercover as a porter to take Donn’s place in the cricket match and this episode is clearly a winner.  

Despite not enjoying cricket as a sport (something Morse and I have in common), this episode is really enjoyable.  As well as the serious drama side of things, you have quite a lot of light hearted moments, such as Morse getting called by a childhood nickname of Pagan and then Lewis using the term when introduced to Morse as part of his undercover guise. Also Lewis following a suspect and getting whacked on the head with a cricket bat and being teased by Morse when acting as porter and giving him 50p to watch his car at the college.  It almost seemed a shame to spoil these moments with having to investigate the sad demise of his college roommate.

2. The Remorseful Day

I was struggling whether to include this episode at the top of the list but it was edged out just by my overall number one.  The Remorseful Day is the final episode of Morse and his final ever case as I doubt I’m giving away any spoilers here when I say that it marks the death of Inspector Morse as he is finally taken away thanks to his love of the drink. This differs in some way to the books where he dies from diabetes related illnesses but it is tragic none the less.  The actual crime he has to solve kind of pales into insignificance as the viewer is more focused on Morse and his gradual declining health.  He has only just returned to duty following his illness in the previous episode The Wench is Dead and so Lewis takes a more central role in the actual solving of the case. The moment Morse collapses in the grounds of the chapel, done in slow motion to the sounds of a choir singing is heartbreaking as you know this is the beginning of the end of the great detective.

The title of the episode, whilst obviously linked to the name of the character, comes from the final verse of a poem by A.E Housman which Morse himself quotes in the episode.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day

1. Masonic Mysteries

I put this at the top of my list, just pushing The Remorseful Day down to second place, because it is another episode centred around Morse himself rather than the murder itself.  Much like The Remorseful Day, the viewer is less interested in who actually committed the murder, and much more interested in why Morse is being targeted.  Let me explain.

John Thaw on back row third from left, (note Colin Dexter
 author of the Morse novels just in front of him) with Ian McDiarmid
as Hugo DeVries in the black up front
Morse arrives at a rehearsal of The Magic Flute with his current lady friend Beryl Newsome.  They are arguing about his erratic driving and she asks one of the other cast if she would take her home instead of Morse and ending her relationship with him there and then.  During the rehearsal Beryl is called away to a telephone call and Morse is sent to fetch a missing medallion so they are both away from the rest of the ensemble when a terrible scream rings out.  Morse rushes from the prop room to find Beryl murdered and stupidly picks up the knife lying beside her when everyone else rushes into the room.  Bingo! Murder suspect number one is Chief Inspector Morse.

Another DCI, Jack Bottomley is brought in to investigate the case and is assisted by poor old Lewis who is having to bounce between his loyalty to Morse and the evidence pointing to the fact Morse is guilty.  The Masons feature heavily in this episode as Bottomley himself is mentioned to be a Mason and the opera the Magic Flute we are told by Morse is a Masonic opera (I cannot confirm nor deny this as I have no knowledge of opera or the Masons).  

What I find most gripping about this episode is how the murderer constantly frames Morse.  How he always seems to stay one step ahead of him, he always seems to be able to point everything back at Morse who is even arrested until Lewis finally clears him and he sets about discovering who did actually kill Beryl and why he was framed.  Cue the entrance of an old nemesis of Morse (not from an episode we have seen but earlier in his career) played wonderfully by Ian McDiarmid (yes the Galactic Emperor) and this episode is clearly my favourite and one I can watch time again and still enjoy over and over.

((All images copyright of Carlton TV and taken as screenshots from the DVDs and video found on YouTube))


  1. This was a great read hun!! I really understand what you like about Morse and now I want to watch it. Might have to get it from the public library and have a go once I'm caught up on Supernatural.

    1. I hope you enjoy them. They are a little dated now but I still love them