Secrets behind Insp Morse success

He has written 13 Inspector Morse novels and brought 33 episodes to the small screen. Colin Dexter OBE reveals the secrets behind the success of his detective stories when he visits the region next week. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

He would never have agreed to anyone other than John Thaw playing Inspector Morse and he made an appearance himself in every single episode.

Author Colin Dexter opens up about his detective stories that have gripped the nation for more than 20 years when he visits Bungay next week.

The writer, who will be presenting An Audience with Colin Dexter – Morse and Me, at the Fisher Theatre, next Wednesday, said there was still a huge appetite for tales about the famous books and popular television pro-grammes.

'I do enjoy it myself and am perfectly happy to talk about whatever the audience wants to hear. I usually talk about Morse, the writing and the problems of taking the stories from the book to the box,' he said. 'People also often ask me questions about John Thaw as well.'

A former classics teacher, Colin first started writing on a family holiday in 1972, introducing Morse to the world with Last Bus to Woodstock, which was published in 1975.

The often grumpy detective, who had penchants for cryptic crosswords and Wagner, would go on to solve dozens of crimes in the Oxford area, investigating more than 90 deaths in total.

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Colin, now 81, who lives in Oxford, went on to win many awards for his novels including the CWA Gold and Silver Daggers. In 1997, he was also presented with the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for outstanding services to crime literature.

'There were problems with taking a 450 page novel and trying to get everything into 102 minutes of a television episode,' he said.

'Writing books and television programmes are two different skills – you have to make all sorts of sacrifices in terms of sub plots and characters.'

As Alfred Hitchcock did, Colin himself made a cameo appearance in every episode of Morse, something he greatly enjoyed even if acting did not come naturally.

'I think it encouraged everyone because what should have taken 35 seconds to film invariably took 35 minutes! It gave everyone else confidence because I always made such a mess of things' he joked.

But he added: 'They always invited me down for and it was nice of them because it did make me feel part of the filming.'

It also meant Colin came to know both John Thaw and Kevin Whately very well.

'Dear old John and dear old Kevin – I had not known either of them personally before Morse but they became very good friends. The last time I spoke to John was 13 days before he died in 2001,' he remembered.

Following the conclusion of Morse, ITV did decide to film spin-off series Lewis, and no-one has been more sur-prised with its success than Colin himself.

'I was a little dubious. Sometimes these things are not wholly successful – resurrecting something like this is full of danger – but I think ITV trusted me and it was good to see dear old Lewis promoted to Inspector!

'There have now been 20 Lewises. We have filmed four in Oxford this year that will be shown in April next year,' he said.

With cuts in television, and Colin increasingly struggling with his eye sight to carry out all the revising that goes with the job, however, he believes Lewis, like Morse, might come to an end in the not too distant future.

But, he admitted, he still enjoys talking about his books, television programmes and characters in appearances round the country.

Colin's 13th, and final, Inspector Morse novel, The Remorseful Day, was published in 1999. In it he let his irascible character finally end his days.

'He dies of natural causes – I didn't kill him off,' he stressed.

He said the stories had reached their natural conclusion. Both John and Kevin were keen to do stage work after dedicating so much of their time to the television programme for so long – and he would never have agreed to anyone other than John taking on the role.

'John Thaw was Morse. I once heard him say that he enjoyed playing the character more than any other he had done,' he said.

'That was a bit flattering for me. After all, it is always rather nice to have a pat on the back, isn't it?'

l An Audience with Colin Dexter – Morse and Me is being staged at the Fisher Theatre, Bungay, on February 23. For more information call 01986 897130 or visit: