But at least one iconic element of the whole Inspector Morse phenomenon has been rejuvenated, and in rather spectacular style. Morse's faithful classic Jaguar has just emerged from a painstaking restoration, its components pieced together as carefully as the clues in one of Dexter's elegant plots.
What's more, next Friday, the tender period opens for its sale; it being auctioned by sealed bid. You'll have until noon on Friday, 25 November to make your offer to own what is probably the single most famous Jaguar in television (no, make that filmic) history. The timing is impeccable, because the Morse Appreciation Society is set to stage its annual convention on 8 October.
The final price is unlikely to be cheap. The last time this car changed hands was in April 2002, when it fetched £53,200 at auction. But an incredible £100,000 has since been spent on returning it to what is undoubtedly better-than-new condition.
It's certainly a world away from the shabby heap that made its debut in the first Morse episode in 1987. Registered 248 RPA in Surrey in 1960, the Jaguar 2.4-litre Mk2 had been purchased from a scrapyard by the props team working on the Central TV series.
Apparently, the car had to be pushed into place in several scenes because it was a non-runner, and up-close it was a pretty ropey specimen, despite the buffed-up paintwork. Jaguar connoisseurs winced every time they saw the tacky vinyl roof-covering glued on by one of its four previous owners.
The producers did get it running eventually, but only the minimum was spent on the car - just enough to make it look convincing for the hours of footage shot of the Jag rolling through the streets of Oxford and local country backwaters, where Morse did much of his laid-back sleuthing.
This car was used in every episode of the series. The final episode, " The Remorseful Day", was seen by 12 million viewers in the UK. Once the cameras stopped rolling, ITV didn't need the Jaguar any more, and it was given away in a promotional raffle organised by Woolworth's in November 2001.
The winner, a London lawyer, didn't want the car either, because he sold it almost immediately, and the new owner, sensing a quick buck, buffed it up and put it into the auction where it made what surely must be a record for the least desirable, smallest-engined version of the Mk2. The buyer was a director of the PPP Group, a property management company based in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, and when that went into receivership in 2003, the car went with it.
At that point, the Jaguar had spent almost a year in the "car hospital" of restoration company David AC Royle & Co, of Staindrop, County Durham. The company has restored more than 800 vehicles, including some 60 Jaguars. It was there to undergo a comprehensive restoration and, to maximise their asset, the liquidators BDO Stoy Hayward sanctioned its completion in June this year.
"It was drivable when delivered to us and it looked reasonably presentable," says David Royle. "In fact, it was in very poor condition. The bodywork had been patched and cosmetically enhanced with liberal amounts of plastic filler that was three-quarters of an inch thick in places. So we systematically dismantled and stripped it, and found numerous old repairs, patches and bodges.
"The damaged and corroded parts of the body were cut out and replaced with new panels. These include both front wings, front cross-member, door frame repair sections, door skins, sills and main floor repair panels, both rear wheelarches, spare wheel well in the boot - just about everything. Then the panel joints were lead-loaded, following Jaguar practice when the car was built."
The body was then prepared, primed and painted in its original Jaguar regency red. Although the vinyl roof would never have been fitted when new, this was replaced to keep the car faithful to its familiar Inspector Morse guise. Even a special bracket attached to the front of the chassis and used for mounting cameras during filming has been lovingly preserved.
"All the mechanical components have been reconditioned, replaced or repaired," says Royle. "The engine was fully rebuilt and converted to run on unleaded petrol. The gearbox and rear axle were repaired, and new tyres were fitted. However, the existing interior woodwork, upholstery and carpets have simply been cleaned and retained. New period seatbelts have been fitted for the front seats to replace the worn-out originals and all of the chrome-work throughout is either new or has been reconditioned."
By now in virtually new condition, the car then underwent a 100-mile road test to "bed in" the new components and sort out any minor snags, and it then passed its MoT with flying colours on 7 June. It has 79,460 under its gleaming new belt.
Whoever stumps up enough for this particular Jaguar will be buying a piece of TV history like no other. Inspector Morse is an extraordinarily popular show. At its early 1990s peak, it was watched by 18 million viewers, and the series was voted the fourth greatest ITV programme in a poll commissioned to coincide with ITV's 50th anniversary.
In another survey last July, it beat The Italian Job Mini Coopers, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 to become Britain's all-time favourite "famous car". The pollster, Royal Mail, then chose to illustrate the Jag and Morse on one of five commemorative stamps issued on Thursday to celebrate ITV's half-century.
All expressions of interest in the Jaguar should be directed to the asset management company Walker Singleton via email@example.com. You can also arrange to view the car; you will be able to sit in the driving seat and, after turning the key, listen to the purr of that fastidiously rebuilt straight-six engine. But don't expect to be able to try it out. That honour, following in the footsteps of the great John Thaw himself, is being reserved for its lucky new owner.
WHERE DID THOSE ICONIC TV CARS GO?
Volvo P1800 from The Saint
Four of these cars were used in the making of the 118 original Roger Moore episodes between 1962 and 1969. Two have never been traced but an early P1800, registered 77 GYL, is in Peter Nelson's Cars Of The Stars Museum in Keswick, Cumbria, while the P1800S NUV 648E was recently restored in Suffolk for an American enthusiast.
The Peugeot 403 cabriolet from Columbo
Peter Falk's shuffling detective was first seen on-screen in 1968 in this ultra rare (504 built) 1960 model. Universal Studios sold it in 1981 only to track it down again for a new run of the show in 1989; it was then owned by Jim and Connie Delaney of Findlay, Ohio, and is still believed to be today.
Ford Gran Torino from Starsky & Hutch
Several of these red-with-a-white-stripe cars were used in the iconic cop show; a visit to www.starskytorino.com chronicles most of them, including the two best survivors owned by Doug Stevenson in Ohio. Ford also built 1,000 replicas, sold through its dealers, so there's plenty of scope for false claims...
Lotus Elan from The Avengers
SJH 499D was the second Elan used in the whimsical 1960s adventure series. It was apparently given to the actress Diana Rigg - the on-screen Emma Peel - who quickly sold it. After a spell in the United States, it returned to the UK and is now also part of the Cars of The Stars collection in Keswick, Cumbria.
The Jaguar XJ-S from The Return of The Saint
This Saint re-make was filmed in 1978, using two white cars supplied by Jaguar to star alongside Ian Ogilvy; one was actually the 17th XJ-S built in 1975, with the rare fitment of a sunroof and manual gearbox. Last heard of offered on eBay in 2003, where bids failed to hit the mystery vendor's reserve.