Morse spin-off Endeavour gets scandi makeover from The Killing director

The show's young star Shaun Evans tells Gerard Gilbert why the days of cosy Oxford nostalgia are over

Most unexpectedly for those who waved it off in 2000 with John Thaw's swansong episode The Remorseful Day, Inspector Morse has become the TV franchise that keeps on giving. Thaw's original incarnation of author Colin Dexter's opera-loving murder detective lasted from 1987 until Morse perished after a heart attack – his deathbed utterance, "Thank Lewis for me", being words that could also be echoed by ITV after they resuscitated the franchise in 2006 with Lewis.

There have now been seven series of the further adventures of Morse's erstwhile assistant, Robbie Lewis (Kevin Whately), and ITV recently commissioned a further six episodes, quashing the rumour that Whately and co-star Laurence Fox had had enough of tramping Oxford's mean streets. Meanwhile, a further spinoff, Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans as a young Morse and originally intended as a one-off to celebrate 25 years since the first episode, proved so popular that it too morphed into a series.

Four new Endeavour mysteries will now be keeping at least seven million of us occupied every Sunday night between now and the end of April. So how does the Morse franchise keep renewing itself so successfully, and what are the common ingredients to the three series?

Michele Buck, executive producer of both Lewis and Endeavour, has no doubt about the first and foremost factor: "Colin Dexter," she says simply of the 83-year-old author who importantly still owns the copyright to his creation. "Colin reads all the scripts and gives me script notes. If we went off-piste, Colin would bring us back ASAP… he's not to be under-estimated. He might be 83 but there's nothing wrong with that brain."

Dexter inspects the final drafts a week before filming begins, and over the years he has super-vised some very accomplished writers indeed. Danny Boyle, Malcolm Bradbury, Anthony Minghella and Julian Mitchell each wrote a number of Morse episodes, while Alan Plater, Patrick Harbinson and Lucy Gannon are regular contributors to Lewis. Russell Lewis has written all nine episodes of Endeavour and is probably the nearest that the programmes have to being a showrunner. I ask him to pinpoint specifics and, unsurprisingly perhaps, he immediately mentions Oxford.

"The eternal city is a third character," he says. "There's something soft about the light that lends itself really well to English melancholy, which is really what these shows are about. At the heart is a rather unhappy melancholy figure."

John Thaw himself passed away just two years after the death of his fictional creation, and Colin Dexter once told me that he would never allow another actor to step into his shoes. "He's not James Bond," he said. But a younger Morse is something quite different. Shaun Evans, 33, has proved inspired casting as the troubled genius of Cowley police station and, says Dexter, "will be the last person to play Morse."

He's a spikey interviewee, with a set of features that remind me of Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg. "Bjorn Borg? That's a new one on me… that's cool," he decides. When I ask him to describe his Morse, he talks about the power of mythical archetypes and the book The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler .

Laurence Fox and Kevin Whately in 'Lewis' Laurence Fox and Kevin Whately in 'Lewis' When I ask what he thinks are the qualities common to all three series, he turns it right round and asks what I think. Mind you, he has only seen one episode of Lewis, and none of Inspector Morse. "I bought the DVDs but never got round to it, maybe purposively. Why?" he adds before I can ask. "I think there can be a tendency towards nostalgia, and if I was to become a big fan of what's been done previous, I would no longer be serving the generation I want to attract to the show."

The Liverpudlian Evans developed his Southern accent by listening to recordings of Monty Python's Michael Palin. "He's from the North and went to Oxford at around that time [that Endeavour is set]." But he needn't worry about Endeavour wallowing in nostalgia, despite the new series incorporating England's 1966 World Cup triumph. "We wanted to do Endeavour noir with this one," says Russell Lewis. "The hard-boiled meets the cosy. The intention with Endeavour was always to make it slightly more blue-collar."

They have also "Scandi-nised" (as Evans puts it) by hiring Kristoffer Nyholm, Danish director of The Killing, to shoot the opening episode. "We all stood in awe and admiration of The Killing", says Lewis. "But having someone not so much in love with the whole Oxford thing as we are, brought, not a chill, but a bit more distance."

The new series also finds Morse embarking on a tentative romance with a neighbour, a recent immigrant working as a nurse. Was the decision to cast a black actress (newcomer Shvorne Marks) anything to do with the so-called "Midsomer race row" of 2011, when creator Brian True-May was suspended after claiming that Midsomer Murders was "the last bastion of Englishness" because it featured no ethnic minorities?

"I don't think it was as considered as that," says Lewis. "I wanted to get away from the bluestocking pre-Raphaelite girl of the week, and then her character seemed a great way to celebrate the NHS and the contribution that immigrants made to that. Having said that, we're not the Hull Truck Theatre company… we are a whodunit. But the joy of it being this period is that you can look at social history."

Morse veterans seeking reassuring constants can enjoy the music by Barrington Pheloung, the franchise's Australian-born composer. "As soon as his score is on it the show is suddenly there," says Lewis. "It's like the final polish." The fourth episode in the forthcoming series opens with Pheloung's arrangement of Purcell's Nunc Dimittis, whose words are not entirely unresonant given the seeming immortality of the property. "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end." And if ITV shareholders wants to add "amen", who can blame them?

'Endeavour' returns on Sunday at 8pm on ITV

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own