Endeavouring to crack Morse code
Actor Shaun Evans vows to play the enigmatic young police inspector his way, writes
ELEVISION executives love a known commodity, which makes it nearly impossible to keep a brandname character down, even when he’s dead. So, it’s not surprising to see the return of the late, great Inspector Morse, played for more than a decade in 33 episodes by actor John Thaw, who died in 2002.
But this new Morse is not a remake; it’s a prequel that goes by the character’s first name: Endeavour.
Essentially a pilot episode for a new series of Inspector Morse mystery movies set in the 1960s as the character embarks on his career as a crimesolver, Endeavour will air in Australia on Channel 7 and regional affiliate Prime7.
It introduces the young Morse, played by actor Shaun Evans ( Whitechapel), who faints in the autopsy room and loves crossword puzzles and opera – even in his youth.
Novelist Colin Dexter, who created the Inspector Morse character, came up with the backstory for Morse, and Russell Lewis, creator of the Morse spin-off Inspector Lewis, wrote Endeavour, which offers some explanations for the character’s quirks.
Morse and his Oxford police colleagues investigate when a 15-yearold girl goes missing. Morse teams up with veteran Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam, The Queen) and meets pathologist Dr Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw, Brideshead Revisited).
‘‘You won’t make much of a detective if you’re not prepared to look death in the eye,’’ DeBryn tells a queasy Morse.
Abigail Thaw, the daughter of John Thaw, has a cameo as a newspaper editor who aids Morse in what becomes a murder investigation.
‘‘Have we met?’ the editor asks young Morse, who doesn’t recall the woman. ‘‘Another life, then,’’ she replies.
Thaw acknowledges there might be some viewer scepticism about revisiting the Morse character without her father, but compares it to stage revivals of classic shows.
‘‘It’s something that I often thought about as well: ‘Why are they going back to that product?’ But some people were saying that it’s something that you do a lot in theatre. You always reinvent something or a character or a production,’’ she says.
‘‘Something that works, you try it out again. You rework it. You bring other people in because it’s known and it’s loved and there’s more to fathom. It’s not saying there’s no opportunity for something new. It’s saying this is a very loved product. We can do this newer, fresher, and still have something that was obviously very much loved.’’
For his part, Evans is excited by the challenge of playing a young Morse.
‘‘When I read the books, I thought here you’ve got a character who has reached his midlife: He’s never married, seems quite unhappy in the choices that he’s made in his life and in his general interactions with people,’’ he recalls.
‘‘And so for me, I thought, ‘God, that’s interesting. I wonder how we can get him at the beginning of that’.’’
To prepare for the role, Evans read the Morse books to learn about the character before he watched any of the films that starred John Thaw. He did not set out to mimic Thaw.
‘‘I think that enough time has elapsed in order for us to do something fresh, whilst you also have to give a nod to what’s gone before and please those audience members,’’ he says.
‘‘It’s important to do something which you can hold your own head up high and say, ‘Yeah, this is my piece of work’.
‘‘In order for me to have copied a walk or a talk or certain mannerisms, I wouldn’t have felt like I would have done it justice.
‘‘I was very clear about that at the beginning as well with the executive producers and the writers, to say, ‘Look, if that’s what you want, then you’ll get someone better than me to do it’. And so, yeah, fortunately we were all on the same page about it.’’
Endeavour: Sundays, 9.30pm, Seven, Prime7.
Endeavour star Shaun Evans