Daily Mail

Dad cried watching Morse die on screen...now I understand why

As the last ever episode of Endeavour airs this weekend , a moving elegy from John Thaw’s daughter, who stars in it

- By Abigail Thaw

THis might sound a bit odd, but after my father, John Thaw, died just over two decades ago only one TV show gave me any sort of comfort: inspector Morse, in which Dad, of course, plays the legendary detective.

some newly bereaved people might have found it painful to see their loved one onscreen, walking, talking, appearing so alive — but, in the midst of a painful grief, i found huge reassuranc­e in watching him play the brilliant old curmudgeon.

i had known Dad more as a stage actor growing up and wasn’t allowed to watch The sweeney as a child. When Morse came out in 1987, i was forging my own path as a drama student, and then as a young actor.

so watching the series later in life when i had lost him so suddenly was a gift. it felt as if he was still somehow with me.

That feeling of connection continued for me in the most unexpected and wonderful way when i found myself acting in the prequel to inspector Morse, the iTV series Endeavour — the title of which refers to Morse’s rarely mentioned, rather mysterious, first name.

As the character Dorothea Frazil, editor of the Oxford Mail, i am confidante to the young Morse, who is played with such skill by shaun Evans. it was another precious link.

Now the current series of Endeavour, the ninth, is the last. Of course, i’ve always known Endeavour would have to end one day, by its very nature as a prequel, it would eventually catch up to the 1980s, when Morse began.

But i was truly taken aback to find myself so emotional on finishing my final scenes. The moment i heard the words ‘that’s a wrap’, the realisatio­n finally struck that my 11 years of having this onscreen link to my father was over… i was a mess! i had to be poured into the car home.

All the emotion i feel, i know will also be felt by Dad’s many fans. Earlier this year, on January 3, i put a tweet out wishing Dad a happy birthday. He would have turned

81. Accompanyi­ng my birthday message was my favourite picture of him with me as a toddler.

Hisface is swarthy, his chin dimpled and he looks so young. it immediatel­y went ‘viral’, and for days i enjoyed reading the many comments from people telling stories about what Dad meant to them or their parents, memories of their own fathers, some also gone too soon.

it was extraordin­ary and humbling and i was amazed by the continued love for him. (‘Well, of course, kid, of course!’ as Dad would no doubt say himself.)

it was a little like when he died back in 2002: so very painful, and yet the shared stories made it easier to manage. And i realise how lucky i am to have that privilege.

i can turn on the television and more often than not see him striding across the screen shouting ‘And i put it to you, m’lud’ [Kavanagh QC], or ‘Put your trousers on. You’re nicked!’ [The sweeney] or, of course, ‘Another pint, Lewis.’

My youngest child never met him but can now see him in action and know the affection people held for him. Part of Dad’s appeal is undoubtedl­y that he had an undercurre­nt of mischief. A wolfish grin that my nephews have inherited.

Yet Dad’s feelings for his iconic character were mixed. When he was filming the first Morse series in 1986, i remember Dad was nervous of it being too long. ‘it’s two hours, kid. Will they stick with it?’

Above all, he wasn’t sure he had a ‘way in’ to Morse the man. There were words on the page but would anyone be interested in this character? But interested they were. By doing nothing but say the lines truthfully, he brought the heavydrink­ing, Wagner-loving, crossword-obsessive inspector to life.

All his years of experience brought a gravitas and vulnerabil­ity to the screen. And, with composer Barrington Pheloung’s haunting music, the magic began. And has lasted for more than 35 years. When ‘The Remorseful Day’, the final episode of inspector Morse, in which he dies, was transmitte­d back in 2000, we all went to my sister, Melanie’s house to watch it as a family.

We ate a delicious meal with a bottle of wine — none for Dad; he’d stopped drinking by then — and settled down in front of the television. He seemed pretty blithe about it and felt it was time to go.

We watched, gripped, and as the camera slowly panned into Morse’s face with Fauré’s Requiem in the background, not one of us was dryeyed. Dad himself, however, was

missing. i found him in the kitchen having a little cry. it had taken him by surprise just how much he was going to miss the old sod, and all those people who had been on the journey with him.

My part in that Morse journey started with a phone call in 2011 while i was up a ladder painting our kitchen. My late, much-loved agent Gilly shrieked down the phone: ‘Abi. Who do you know who could play your father as a young man?’ ‘Urm, i’m sorry, what?’ she explained the idea of a Morse prequel and i told her grumpily it would never fly. But if it did to ask them if they’d give me a walk-on part for a bit of fun.

sometime later i read the wry and touching scene (no spoilers — go and watch it if you haven’t already!) Russell Lewis had written for me introducin­g the character of Dorothea Frazil. (A little note to cryptic crossword fans: Frazil is a type of ice. so my character was ‘D. ice’. De-ice = thaw. Thank you, Russell.)

it was beyond anything i had imagined. i called him and we talked a long time about Dad and the ‘ legacy of Morse’. Russ had written a lot for my father over the years. He has written all of our Endeavours, and no one knows Morse like he does — other than the late Colin Dexter, Morse’s creator, perhaps…

Russ told me about driving through the night as a young writer, in torrential rain, to deliver a script for Morse; knocking nervously on his door, handing it over and then turning to drive all the way back without having the courage to say he was the writer and could he please use the loo!

But there ensued a good working relationsh­ip where he said Dad always spoke the words exactly as he meant them to sound. No pressure for me, then.

i was intrigued to meet the ‘young Endeavour Morse’ and thankfully, shaun and i were instantly at ease with each other. it wasn’t that he reminded me of my father; if he did, i wouldn’t have been able to do my job properly. But there was something about him that was familiar and reassuring, and he had Dad’s ready sense of humour. Our friendship was sealed. so many people approached me on set and told me of their connection with Dad — from the gaffer to the cameraman and the script supervisor whose mother had worked with Dad, also as script supervisor, from the day she joined Morse in 1987 through every TV job he did until he died.

All these connection­s added a depth of experience for me while making Endeavour.

Then last year, as it had to, it came to an end. And i had a tiny experience of how Dad must have felt on that day in 2000 when Morse finally concluded.

There’s a long-held tradition for an actor to be applauded by cast and crew at the end of their final scene. When i heard those words ‘Cut. And that’s a wrap for Abigail’, i went blank. People started clapping. someone handed me a bunch of flowers. And someone else a bottle of champagne. i was being hugged. shaun was back on set grinning at me. Wait, what? That’s it?

Well, i wasn’t as together as i thought. But what an absolute joy it’s been. Dad was never sentimenta­l and neither am i. How many people get to revisit something so profoundly part of a lost parent? He’d be the first to say, ‘it’s time to move on, kid. But what a ride, eh?’

The final episode of endeavour airs on Sunday night, ITV, at 8pm.

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 ?? Pictures: POPPERFOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES/ITV, REX FEATURES ?? Icon: Me with Dad; above, Thaw’s classic Morse
Pictures: POPPERFOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES/ITV, REX FEATURES Icon: Me with Dad; above, Thaw’s classic Morse

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