Endeavour: A Portrait of the Inspector as a Young Man

Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse
Endeavour and the spires of Oxford
If you were a fan of the Inspector Morse mystery series, as I was, you might be forgiven for imagining that Morse was born old. A man so steadfastly set in his behavior and his world view came that way straight out of the box, right?

And yet we always knew Morse, as portrayed by white-haired, steely-eyed John Thaw, was a sensitive soul. Even if we never witnessed it, we could easily envision him shedding a tear while listening to a favorite aria, perhaps while reflecting on a lost love. And that might have made us wonder about a time when Morse’s old habits were new practices, and when the first filmy layers of his famously gruff exterior were laid in place.

Endeavour, the latest presentation on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, transports us to that time—back to when the world and Morse were young.

Detective Constable Endeavour Morse, so young he’s not yet reluctant to use his given name, hasn’t been on the job more than a proverbial minute and he’s already drafting his letter of resignation. He no longer holds the same “interest and motivation” for police work that he did at the time he signed on. What he imagined the work would be we don’t know. Scowling, tight-lipped, and shy, Morse isn’t saying. Then things go from bad to worse: Morse is transferred to Oxford, a place that, for reasons he hasn’t divulged, it seems he’d prefer never to see again.

Shaun Evans as Inspector Morse in Endeavour
Before Morse became quite so world-weary.
Young Morse, it is revealed for those who didn’t know already, studied Classics at Oxford (you’ll hear one of the characters refer to the subject as “Greats”). He then went into the Royal Signals (“It didn’t take,” he tells a former Oxford classmate) and from there to the police force—a highly unlikely route for a young man who spent his formative years reading Petronius in the original Latin. Now he’s adrift between two worlds: too common for his Oxford connections and too cerebral to fit in with the average copper. It’s a motif that was revisited numerous times during the 33-episode run of Inspector Morse on PBS from 1988 to 2001.

The case, too, is the type Morse would later be called upon to investigate on more than one occasion. A young girl goes missing after arranging to meet an older man under clandestine circumstances. A young man is found dead in an incident that could be related to the girl’s disappearance. Poetry and crossword clues are involved. Opera singers, snooty academics, and healthy helpings of the eternal struggle between “town and gown” are, too. In short, Endeavour contains everything you could desire if your life hasn’t been quite as full since John Thaw died in 2002.

Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse captures the character’s reticence and unease around people. He barely allows a hint of a smile to peek through even when you know he’s blissfully happy, and he manages to convey the innocence that Morse never completely outgrew.

Writer-“deviser” Russell Lewis, who also created the Morse spin-off series Inspector Lewis, fills Endeavour with references and in-jokes that will make old-time Morse fans very happy. He makes sure we learn where Morse developed his taste for ale, his passion for classic Jaguars, and his dislike of Freemasons. He plays on the titles of Colin Dexter’s Morse novels—Last Seen Wearing, Last Bus to Woodstock, and The Dead of Jericho among them. He finally gives Morse’s old ally Max the pathologist a surname. And he delivers some poignant moments, particularly in a brief scene with John Thaw’s daughter, Abigail Thaw, as a newspaper editor.

Abigail Thaw
Abigail Thaw as Dorothea Frazil
“What did you say your name was?” she asks.

“Morse. Why?” he replies.

She looks at him carefully. “Have we met?”

I don’t think so.”

Another life, then.”

Sigh . . .

Endeavour was a hit when it was broadcast in the U.K. earlier this year and as a result four more episodes have been commissioned starring Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse and Roger Allam as his superior officer, DI Fred Thursday. Shooting is expected to begin later this summer.

Next on Masterpiece Mystery we move from the Inspector Morse prequel to the Inspector Morse sequel, as Inspector Lewis, starring Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox, returns with four new episodes starting July 8.

It’s going to be a great summer.

All images © ITV 2011/Jonathan Ford for Masterpiece

Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.

Read more coverage of Masterpiece Mystery on Criminal Element.


  1. Clare 2e

    I really enjoyed this last night, and you’ve got some inside references I missed, Leslie, and thank you very much! I was impressed with Shaun Evans as showing a nice balance of youthful passion, awkward reticence, and a sharp wit that still needs honing with police sense.

    They jammed in a lot of formative experiences in one show–the Guinness, the Jaguars, et al., but it makes more sense when I think they imagined they might only get one shot at it. I’m only disappointed now that we’ll be waiting so long for the next 4 episodes.

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    Perhaps I have a control streak;) but I nearly always DVR and watch the next day. For Endeavor I sat right down and watched from start to finish. It was excellent. The young Morse was just young enough but had flashes of his more mature self. I really liked DI Thursday. He was a good example for Morse, don’t you think? I am so happy this will be on again. I hope you’ll be leading the discussion on the new episodes of Inspector Lewis.

  3. Deborah Lacy

    I am so glad there are more episodes (even if we have to wait awhile)! I thought this was it. I really liked it and I was skeptical at first.

    @Terrie – I really liked DI Thursday as well and loved the John Thaw flashes.

  4. Tatiana deCarillion

    We watched this earlier this year and were so pleasantly surprised by how good it turned out to be. I really found that I was missing John Thaw a lot, when the episode was over, and found myself on the verge of tears, more than once, due to some of the bittersweet references.

    We have the entire Morse series on DVD (cheaper if you buy from Amazon UK, and if you can play PAL format), and decided to rewatch all the episodes over this summer.

    While I like the character of Lewis in the Lewis series, I really adore Hathaway 🙂

  5. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    I freely admit to tearing up more than once during Endeavour. Didn’t realize how much I miss John Thaw.

    Another thing I should have noted was the music, which was composed by Barrington Pheloung who also did the Morse music with the Morse code pips in it.

    I agree about DI Thursday/Roger Allam. He was great. And it sounds like Abigail Thaw will be part of the cast of the upcoming episodes as well. I wonder if she cried during that scene with Shaun Evans. I did!

  6. Auntie M

    Leslie, a wonderful Endeavour and so happy to hear there are more episodes in the mix. What a wonderful idea to see Thaw’s daughter, bittersweet but perfect. And the music made it all so familiar. Now with Lewis’ new episodes on the way, it feels like I’m back in Oxford~

  7. Cindy Conway

    I emailed ITV 15th Jan 2012 regarding further Endeavour programmes and this was their reply:
    ‘We are really please to hear you enjoyed the programme however at this stage we have no plans in our current schedule for a further series to be commissioned.’
    I am so pleased that they have changed their mind – perhaps it was people power?
    Sean Evans is amazing as Endeavour and I loved that bittersweet moment with Abigale Thaw, I had to watch it over a few times and I also loved seeing John Thaw in the windscreen mirror.
    Roger Allam is a particular favourite of mine and thought he was great as DI Thursday. He was also in one of John Thaw’s Morse episodes as a younger man.

    A brilliant programme!

  8. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @CindyConway It sounds like it was people power! Here’s a link to a [url=http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2012-03-12/inspector-morse-prequel-endeavour-to-return-for-four-part-series]Radio Times article from March with comments from ITV[/url]. People spoke and they listened.

    @Auntie M I wouldn’t mind being in Oxford right now, but watching Lewis is okay too. 🙂

  9. CindyConway

    Leslie, it was. Received following email:
    Dear Cindy

    Thank you for your further email

    Due to the popularity of the initial programme I can confirm that a mini series has been commissioned however dates and times have not been confirmed in our current schedule and I would presume that this will air sometime next year.

    I’m sure it will be well advertised

    If we can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us

  10. Larry Eidson

    I recorded “Endeavor” and have watched it several times. Looking forward to the new series. I am a “Morse” fan and loved the series.

  11. Tatiana deCarillion

    It will be on PBS during their Mystery! airings, this summer. It’s already aired in the UK.

  12. Terrie Farley Moran


  13. Grace Barca

    But what about the Freemasons?
    the ring on the last episode was opened to reveal a Mosonic emblem.
    does he dislike Masons of distrust them?

  14. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @Grace – Morse had “issues” with the Freemasons, which surfaced from time to time in the original Inspector Morse series. I think, mainly, he believed you can be loyal to your Masonic bretheren or loyal to your duty as a police officer, but you can’t be loyal to both. (Morse certainly didn’t invent this view.)

    Morse/Endeavour doesn’t join the Freemasons, figuring his brains and skill are enough to sustain him in his career. In series 2 of Endeavour we are seeing how this decision will ultimately thwart his prospects of rising to the top of his profession. The implication is the higher-ups in the police force are Freemasons and they favor their own.

    PC Strange is happy to join the Freemasons. He even says to Morse something like, “Some of us need help to succeed. We haven’t all got your brains.” And each episode in series 2 has alluded to some sort of conspiracy related to Masonic loyalty, such as incriminating evidence that goes missing from the files.

    The cheerful cop we know as PC Strange in Endeavour “grows up” to be Chief Superintendent Strange–Morse’s boss–in the Inspector Morse series. I think these episodes are showing us how that became possible.

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