Broadcaster ITV struggled to fill the void left by the loss of Morse, with nothing able to match the success of such a beloved series. So in 2004 ITV went back Dexter and secured his permission to resume development of a Lewis spin-off. Whately was persuaded back into the role and approval gained from Thaw’s widow, Sheila Hancock.
Launched in January 2006, Lewis was another success, making a regular series inevitable for the newly promoted inspector. He would deal with 33 cases over the next nine years, ample proof of how enduring Dexter’s creations had become. The author even wrote a short story for Lewis and his television sidekick Sergeant James Hathaway in 2006. The circle was complete once more, in print and on screen.
Morse has also ventured into theatre, taking to the stage in a 2010 play called House of Ghosts. It didn’t match the success of his other incarnations, but history proved the inspector is a resilient character and a revival of the play followed in 2015.
But the most unlikely and - in the opinion of this author - the most creatively successful new incarnation of Morse is the prequel TV series Endeavour. Conceived as a one-off to mark the 25th anniversary of Morse’s first television appearance, it was inspired by a short story Dexter wrote for the Daily Mail in 2008. The prose tale had an undergraduate Morse solving a mystery, but Endeavour moved on to his earliest days as a police detective in Oxford. Dexter has written little about Morse’s background, much of its contradictory, leaving the creative team free to craft their vision.
The 1960s setting enables Endeavour to avoid the narrative pitfalls borne of 21st Century technology like mobile phones, facial recognition software and DNA profiling. Instead, the detectives must rely on their instincts, intelligence, and deductive reasoning to solve cases. The period also provides a vibrant storytelling backdrop, with British society undergoing radical changes during the Swinging Sixties.
The usual high standard of production values, the glorious backdrop of Oxford and an outstanding cast of actors have all contributed to the success of Endeavour - especially Shaun Evans and Roger Allam as DC Morse and DI Thursday, respectively. But the masterstroke for this particular show has been the presence of a single writer - Russell Lewis - providing each and every script.
Having Lewis as executive producer and sole writer for Endeavour echoes the role of Colin Dexter as Morse’s creator. This authored approach helps give the show a consistent creative vision. Characters can grow and evolve but retain their unique voices and attitudes, even in the most outrageous experiments with tone and genre. From the spooky chills of ‘Nocturne’ to the serial killer thriller ‘Fugue’ or the nature strikes back bizarreness of ‘Prey’, every episode still feels like part of the same show.
Lewis says he has already written the final scene of Endeavour. Perhaps it will be Morse getting the keys to his beloved burgundy Jaguar 2.4 Mk II - registration 248 RPA - and driving it away through the dreaming spires of Oxford? Whatever the show’s finale, hopefully we will not be seeing for a while yet...