Inspector Morse

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Detective Chief Inspector Morse
First appearance1975: novel Last Bus to Woodstock
Created byColin Dexter
Portrayed byJohn Thaw (television) (1987–2000)
Shaun Evans (television) (2012–2023)
Appears in13 novels (1975–1999)
Inspector Morse television series (1987–2000)
Endeavour television series (2012–2023)
Also portrayed byAndrew Burt (BBC Radio) (1985)
John Shrapnel (BBC Radio) (1992–96)
Colin Baker (stage) (2010)
Neil Pearson (BBC Radio) (2017)
In-universe information
TitleDetective Chief Inspector
FamilyCyril Morse (father)
Constance Morse (mother)
Gwen Morse (stepmother)
Joyce Garrett (née Morse) (half-sister)
RelativesKeith Garrett (brother-in-law)
Marilyn 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

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 (2012–2023) prequel series Endeavour, portrayed by Shaun Evans. The older Morse is a senior Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer with the Thames Valley Police in Oxford in 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.

Morse presents, to some, a reasonably sympathetic personality, despite his sullen and snobbish temperament, with a classic Jaguar Mark 2 (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 of the television adaptation 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 Dead of Jericho and The Wench Is Dead it is noted that his initial is E.[3][4][5] At the end of Death Is Now My Neighbour, his name is revealed to be Endeavour.[6] 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, nine letters".[7] In the series, it is noted that Morse's reluctance to use his Christian name led to his receiving the nickname Pagan while at Stamford School (which Colin Dexter, the author of the Morse novels, attended).[6] 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10]


Although details of Morse's education are deliberately kept vague, it is hinted that he won a scholarship to study at St John's College, Oxford.[11] 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 third series, "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. He often reflects on such renowned scholars as A. E. Housman who, like himself, failed to get an academic degree from Oxford.


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[8] at Carshall-Newtown, before being posted to Oxford with the Oxford City Police. He was awarded the George Medal in the last episode of Endeavour Series 4. Despite being assigned to a uniformed position in Series 6 and having his opinions and observations disregarded by CID, he does not wear his GM ribbon, leaving his uniform breast bare.

Habits and personality[edit]

Morse is ostensibly the embodiment of middle-class Englishness, with a set of prejudices and assumptions to match, although his background, being the son of a taxi driver, might be considered working class. As a result, he may[citation needed] be considered an 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 (e.g. 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[12] 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 apprehend the perpetrator.

Among Morse's conservative tastes are that he likes to drink real ale and whisky, and in the early novels, drives a Lancia.[6] In the television and radio productions (and reprints of the novels), 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.

His dying words, said to Jim Strange, are "Thank Lewis for me."[13]

Morse is portrayed as being an atheist.[14] However, in some scenes, he does entertain the possibility of God and/or quote the Bible from memory, agreeing with the phrases, as he does with lines from various literary books/texts.


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[edit]


Inspector Morse (1987–2000)[edit]

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 6 January 1987 and 15 November 2000. The last episode was adapted from the final novel The Remorseful Day, in which Morse dies from a heart attack in the end.

Lewis (2006–2015)[edit]

A spin-off series, similarly comprising 33 two-hour episodes and based on the television incarnation of Lewis, was titled Lewis; it first aired on 29 January 2006 and last showed on 10 November 2015. The spin-off consisted the following cast members: Kevin Whately as DI Robbie Lewis, Laurence Fox as DS James Hathaway, Clare Holman as Dr Laura Hobson and Rebecca Front as CS Jean Innocent.

Endeavour (2012–2023)[edit]

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.[15][16] The pilot episode was broadcast on 2 January 2012 on ITV. The prequel was made by Mammoth Screen. Four new episodes were televised from 14 April 2013, showing Morse's early cases working for DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) and with Jim Strange (Sean Rigby), initially as PC Jim Strange, later DS Jim Strange, and pathologist Max De Bryn (James Bradshaw), plus Chief Superintendent Reginald Bright (Anton Lesser), DS Peter Jakes (Jack Laskey), WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards), DC George Fancy (Lewis Peek), DI Ronnie Box (Simon Harrison) and DS Alan Jago (Richard Riddell). Alongside the police department, the prequel also consisted of Fred Thursday’s family members: Win Thursday, (Caroline O’Neill), Sam Thursday (Jack Bannon), Joan Thursday (Sara Vickers) and the newspaper editor Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw). A second series of four episodes followed, screening between 30 March 2014 and 20 April 2014. On 3 January 2016, the third series aired, also containing four episodes. A fourth series was aired, once again with four episodes, on 8 January 2017. Filming of a fifth series of six episodes began in early 2017 with the first episode of the fifth series aired on 4 February 2018. On 10 February 2019 the sixth series aired, which comprises four 1-hour-30-minute episodes. A seventh series of three episodes was filmed in late 2019, aired on 9 February 2020 and in August 2019 ITV announced that the series has been recommissioned for an eighth series, screened on 12 September 2021, also containing three episodes.[17] Morse was voted number two on the top 25 list in ITV's Britain's Favourite Detective first broadcast on 30 August 2020.[18]

On 23 May 2022, a day after filming began for the ninth series, ITV announced that Endeavour would end production after a decade on air at the conclusion of the ninth series, bringing the total number of Endeavour episodes to 36. The ninth and final series comprised the final three episodes, which aired from 26 February 2023 to 12 March 2023.


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).

In 2018, Alma Cullen wrote an original drama entitled Morse: In The Shallows, with Neil Pearson as Morse and Lee Ingleby as Lewis.


An Inspector Morse stage play appeared in 2010, written by Alma Cullen (writer 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.[19] 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". 4 October 2015. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  2. ^ The Dead of Jericho, chapter 21
  3. ^ The Dead of Jericho, chapter 7.
  4. ^ The Wench Is Dead, chapter 1.
  5. ^ Grimes, William (22 March 2017). "Colin Dexter, 86, Dies; Creator of Inspector Morse, a Sleuth on Page and Screen". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 3 January 2022. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "Colin Dexter obituary: Inspector Morse creator and one of the great whodunit men". The Independent. 21 March 2017. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Death Is Now My Neighbour". 19 November 1997 – via IMDb.
  8. ^ a b Gussow, Mel (26 January 1997). "Behind Morse, the Dour, Dignified Detective". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Colin Dexter in Super Sleuths: Inspector Morse. Director: Katie Kinnaird
  10. ^ "The Oxford of Inspector Morse: Dreaming spires, dead bodies... and lots and lots of pubs".
  11. ^ Dexter, Colin. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983 ed.). St Martins Press. p. Chapter 7.
  12. ^ Connor, Alan (9 August 2012). "Top 10 crosswords in fiction, no 3: Inspector Morse". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  13. ^ "The Remorseful Day"
  14. ^ "Colin Dexter – Inspector Morse | British Detective Stories". Archived from the original on 21 December 2019.
  15. ^ Inspector Morse set for TV comeback as young man, Oxford Mail, 4 May 2011
  16. ^ Inspector Morse is an enigma – let's keep him that way, The Telegraph, 5 August 2011
  17. ^ "Endeavour confirms eighth series". Radio Times. 19 August 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  18. ^ "Britain's Favourite Detective". ITV. 21 July 2020. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  19. ^ "What's on Stage". Archived from the original on 13 October 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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, Anthony, Inspector Morse on Location. Irregular Special Press (2007)ISBN 9781901091304
  • Richards, Anthony, and Philip Attwell, The Oxford of Inspector Morse (2012) ISBN 9781901091038
  • Sanderson, Mark, The Making of Inspector Morse Pan Macmillan (1995) ISBN 0-330-34418-8
  • Sýkora, Michal, The Skeptical Poetics of Colin Dexter's Morse Novels, Clues: A Journal of Detection, vol. 40, no. 2 (2022), pp. 49–58.
  • Wright, Matthew, Colin Dexter's Classicism, Clues: A Journal of Detection, vol. 40, no. 2 (2022), pp. 59–68.