I believe that most of us have hit a point in our stay-at-home lifestyles where a key element of our existence is comfort. That might mean adding more pillows to the sofa, eating mac-and-cheese more often than usual, or watching the movies and TV shows that we love the most. These may be programs or films that go back to our happy youth or the first years of our marriage. They may be entertainments that we almost know by heart.
Most of the time, I am content to choose titles from my DVD and Blu-ray collection, stream interesting programs from Amazon Prime or Netflix , or watch the latest TV shows such as World on Fire and season three of Killing Eve. However, when the hour is late and the house is too quiet, I feel the need for comfort entertainment. That’s when I turn to Inspector Morse.
Say what you will about the Brits. They may drive on the wrong side of the road, and they never have produced a hotdog to match our American fare, but they produce incredibly intelligent, compelling detective series. Among my favorites are George Gently, New Tricks, Unforgotten, Vera, Scott & Bailey, Dalziel and Pascoe, and the mini-series River. And so many more…. The main characters are three-dimensional, the police procedurals are believable, and the plots are engrossing.
Among the several dozen well-made series, one is a standout, the greatest of them all. That is Inspector Morse. What makes this series so outstanding? Certainly, a good part of the answer is its lead actor, the incomparable John Thaw. Born in 1942, Thaw was in his mid-teens when a teacher arranged for him to travel from Manchester to audition at RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Despite his extreme youth and unrefined manner, he was accepted.
Thaw only lived to the age of sixty, but he graced the stage in plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Shaw, the ancients, Arthur Miller, and David Hare. His big-screen career was occasional, but his work on television helped to define the best of British programming from the mid-1960s till his death in 2002. He lit up the small screens of Britain and later internationally in farcical comedies and gripping dramas. Redcap, The Sweeney, Dinner at the Sporting Club, Goodnight Mister Tom, Home to Roost, Stanley and the Women, A Year in Provence, Kavanaugh QC, and the great series Inspector Morse which lasted from 1987-2000.
Inspector Morse: what a character! A man with a secret first name (until it is revealed along the way). A sad fellow of great intelligence, a bit bristly by nature, but with definite charm. A man with a great passion for art, culture, opera, but a bachelor with a somewhat old-fashioned approach when it came to women. He had once been a very promising Oxford scholar, but a bad experience with a woman had set him back and lost him his place at the university.
Based on the books of Colin Dexter, the adventures of Inspector Morse and his loyal Detective Sergeant Lewis fill my late nights with uninterrupted entertainment. Watching him use his ingenuity to solve crimes is dazzling. Listening to Morse snipping at Lewis about flawed grammar or a desire to go home for the evening also is part of the entertainment. Listening to his superior Chief Superintendent Strange giving Morse a dressing-down for acting outside the politics acceptable to the force is also lots of fun.
I doubt there will ever be another show for me that has the lasting power of Inspector Morse. If I spend my social distancing time eating mac-and-cheese, I’ll just become flabby. If I lay about on too many pillows, my back will begin to ache. But watching all the episodes of Inspector Morse for the nth time can only do me good!
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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