Who is Inspector Morse?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Inspector Morse is a series of detective novels by English author Colin Dexter, a television series based on those novels, and the main character in the novels and television episodes. Let’s take them one at a time.

The character of Inspector Morse is a much more complex character than, say Miss Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot, and also unlike them, underwent development in the course of the novels. Inspector Morse is not a man whom one likes immediately: he was a bachelor who drank heavily and had an uncanny knack for choosing the wrong woman. He was testy and insensitive — even insulting — and yet, underneath the surface, vulnerable. He is also extremely intellectual — his amusements include opera and word puzzles, and impatient. And yet, although he does not go straight as an arrow for the culprit every time, he has a knack for solving convoluted and demanding cases.


The character of Inspector Morse arose when Colin Dexter retired from a teaching career due to deafness and, several years later, began writing mysteries, while on a family vacation in 1972. That first venture turned out to be the first book in the Inspector Morse series, Last Bus to Woodstock. This work was followed by 12 more novels, and two books of 10 and 11 short stories respectively, published from 1975 to 1999. Inspector Morse novels are mainly set in Oxford, and feature Inspector Morse, a detective chief inspector, and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Lewis, a simpler, kinder man, who serves as a character foil.

The ITV series based on the novels includes 33 episodes and was created overlapping with the books’ publication, from 1987 to 2000. In ended with an episode based on Dexter’s final Morse book The Remorseful Day: The Inspector Morse Finale, from which — unlike Sherlock Holmes — there will be no return. At the end of its run, it stood as the longest-running series based on a detective in the 22 years that MYSTERY! had been on the air. Some new works based on Sgt. Lewis, played to great acclaim by Kevin Whately, have aired since, however.

Colin Dexter was closely involved with the series, making many cameo appearances in the series. And the series influenced the later books: according to John Thaw, the actor who played Inspector Morse, Dexter’s later descriptions of Morse were descriptions of Thaw as Morse. Thaw was so closely identified with Morse that people wrote to him as if he were the character and, despite his many other acting achievements, it is the role he has been most remembered for, since he died in 2002.


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