Farewell, Inspector. Now long live all the repeats

Last Night: Inspector Morse, The Remorseful Day, ITV
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The Independent Online

An unseasonal melancholy filled our little local post office yesterday. It was only 11am, but the sub-postmistress told me she was already beginning to grieve for Inspector Morse.

An unseasonal melancholy filled our little local post office yesterday. It was only 11am, but the sub-postmistress told me she was already beginning to grieve for Inspector Morse.

"It's just so sad," she said. Indeed, I could hardly watch last night when Morse collapsed in slow motion in the lovely Exeter College Quadrangle, his heart finally giving out under a tidal wave of real ale and malt whisky.

Not for Morse the sort ofobvious, violent death that has condemned most other screen coppers, such as Cracker's Chief Superintendent Bill-borough. Morse's creator, Colin Dexter, was, like the inspector himself, disdainful of the obvious.

"Thank Lewis for me," were Morse's famous last words. Not since that other provincial English hero with an embarrassing first name, Horatio Nelson, gasped, "Kiss me Hardy," has a subordinate been so instantly immortalised by his dying mentor. And like Hardy, Lewis even stooped to give his boss an affectionate kiss. It was almost too poignant to bare; not least for ITV's director of programmes, David Liddiment.

When Lewis snapped: "Inspector Morse is dead!" I pictured Liddiment with his head in his hands, weeping uncontrollably for all that lost advertising revenue.

Still, the old boy's demise has its advantages. I can think of war zones that have yielded fewer dead bodies than Inspector Morse's Oxford - there were five more last night - so the venerable city can at least look forward to restoring its reputation as a relatively safe place to live.

Moreover, as treasonable as it feels to carp with the inspector barely cold in the hospital mortuary, the series did frequently wear its American co-production money on its sleeve.

I remember one episode in which the action, for absolutely no good reason, hopped from the dreaming spires of Oxford to Blenheim Palace to the Royal Crescent in Bath. I half- expected the murder trail to move on to Madame Tussaud's and the Hard Rock Café, perhaps via Stonehenge and York Minster.

Inspector Morse was also at the forefront of a vogue for background music forgetting its place. A string quartet reached every murder scene long before Morse and Lewis, and I'm not sure that television drama should be allowed to indulge itself so.

On the other hand, when Alfred Hitchcock was filming Lifeboat, he announced that he wanted no background music because the story took place in the middle of the ocean and people might wonder where it was coming from. When the studio's music department head heard this, he rather wittily remarked: "Ask Mr Hitchcock where the camera comes from and I'll tell him where the music comes from."

But the spectre of Hitchcock loomed over Inspector Morse more directly than that. In common with the master of suspense, Dexter played amusing little cameos, and a 1987 episode cutely parodied the climactic scene of Vertigo.

For all my Morse-like grumbling, it was classy stuff; and now it is no more. All we are left with - after 33 episodes and 80-odd corpses, not forgetting Brakspear's excellent tribute ale, Endeavour bitter - are fond memories and, no doubt, lots and lots of repeats.

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