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John Thaw as Inspector Morse

An old favorite returns: Inspector Morse is coming to KCTS 9

Here are some things you may have missed the first time around.

If you’ve been a fan of PBS mysteries for a while now, you’ll be excited to hear that we’ve brought back a classic: Inspector Morse has returned to KCTS 9. If you enjoyed the prequel Endeavour or the spinoff Lewis, here’s your chance to see the original. Or if – like me – you’re all of these things, the iconic theme music is already running through your head as you get ready to watch the series that started it all.

John Thaw stars as Morse, the Oxford detective whose intelligent, methodical approach to solving murders is matched only by his penchant for life’s finer things – opera, classic cars and the local pub’s best ale. Kevin Whately debuts in his role as the down-to-earth Sergeant Lewis, an everyman foil to his cerebral but impatient boss. Their superb acting and the compelling storylines combine to create a series that deserves its position on the short list of great detective series of all time.

Did you catch all of the Colin Dexter cameos on Inspector Morse?

Inspector Morse is based on the novels by Colin Dexter, and the author was heavily involved with the writing and production of the television series. When my husband and I first watched the series in the late 1980s, we noticed that Dexter would occasionally appear, Hitchcock-like, in a cameo role – often sitting in a pub, or walking past on the street. It became a game for us – who could spot him first in the episode. We later learned that Dexter appeared in all but three episodes of the show’s 13-year run.

Inspector Morse originally drove a Lancia

John Thaw was not only the series’ star; he also influenced many elements of the story. One example involves the detective’s iconic red Jaguar. In Dexter’s original novels, Morse drove a Lancia. Thaw, however, insisted that Inspector Morse would have driven a British car – never an Italian sports car. Dexter was so impressed with this reasoning that he asked his publishers to change the car to a Jaguar in subsequent reprints of his novels.

There are many familiar faces

Inspector Morse ran for seven seasons, from 1987 through 1993, followed by a final set of five episodes, one per year, between 1995 and 2000. Over the course of its run, a huge range of actors appeared in the series, including small roles for young actors who would become some of Britain’s most admired stars. In 1997, a young Roger Allam guest starred as Denis Cornford in the episode “Death is Now My Neighbor”; 20 years later, Allam would be better known for his role as Detective Inspector Thursday in the Endeavour series. Others actors who appeared in various episodes include Phyllis Logan and Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey); Martin Clunes and Ian McNeice (Doc Martin); Alex Jennings (Victoria); Rupert Graves (Sherlock); Beatie Edney (Poldark); Neil Dudgeon (Midsomer Murders); Robert Hardy, Zoë Wanamaker and Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter); Sorcha Cusack (Father Brown); Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War); and Geoffrey Palmer (As Time Goes By) – to name just a few!

Inspiration for the Morse theme song came from an unlikely place

The hauntingly beautiful theme music was written by composer Barrington Pheloung, who later wrote the music for Lewis and Endeavour, as well. Knowing that the Morse was a cryptic character and a lover of crossword puzzles, Pheloung got inspiration from his boyhood copy of the Scout’s handbook, which included a section on Morse code. Using the book, he composed the unusual opening theme by spelling out M-O-R-S-E in code. Pheloung also had an uncredited appearance as a choir master in two episodes of the show.

BAFTAs, and OBE and a Thaw family legacy

Inspector Morse is one of the most popular detective series ever on British television, and actor John Thaw was the recipient of several BAFTA and National Television awards for this role. In 1993, he was honored by Queen Elizabeth as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. When Thaw died in 2002, fans from around the world mourned his death. His memorial service, held at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, was attended by 800 people including Prince Charles, Cherie Blair (wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair), Colin Dexter, Kevin Whately, Barrington Pheloung and many others. Among family members in attendance was Thaw’s daughter, Abigail, whose name you may recognize from her current role as reporter Dorothea Frazil in the Endeavour series. In a poignant moment in the 2012 Endeavour pilot, Frazil meets the young Morse, played by Shaun Evans, for the first time. She asks him, “Have we met?” and Morse replies, “No, I don’t think so.” She suggests, “In another life, then.”

Thirty-plus years after we watched the premiere together, my husband and I have taken our seats on the sofa, a large bowl of popcorn between us, to watch the series once again. The Inspector Morse encore on KCTS 9 airs Saturday nights at 9:30 p.m. Check the KCTS 9 Schedule online for more information. Can't get enough Morse? Stream Endeavour now

Anne Stuart
About the Author

Anne Stuart

Anne Stuart is the Marcom Managing Editor at KCTS 9. She edits the KCTS 9 Viewer Guide and also writes the KCTS 9 This Week and Tellygram newsletters. A lifelong PBS fanatic, Anne loves to share her passion for the great programs on Masterpiece, American Experience, Independent Lens, Nature, Frontline and many more.