Last night's viewing - Endeavour, ITV1; Armando's Tale of Charles Dickens, BBC2


Tom Sutcliffe
Tuesday 03 January 2012 01:00 GMT

He hasn't got a Jag, he doesn't drink and he's merely a lowly detective constable, but there's still something familiar about the young policeman in Endeavour. Well, some familiar appurtenances, anyway. As he painstakingly taps out a resignation letter, Puccini is playing on the gramophone and a pile of newspapers folded to the crossword sits on the desk. A minute more and we've established that, while not exactly grumpily misanthropic yet, he doesn't seem to be big on social niceties. This is Morse, and he appears to be a whisker away from never making Inspector his first name.

Russell Lewis's one-off drama was about the case that changed Morse's mind, and drew on some shreds of back-story from Colin Dexter's original stories. This Morse is the scholarship boy who failed to make the last hurdle, dropping out of Oxford after an unhappy love affair that still haunts him. The career coppers sneer at him because he's a college boy, and his former academic colleagues sneer at him because he didn't quite make the grade. And he finds himself in a Sixties Oxford that is deeply, reassuringly, obedient to genre prejudices. This is a world in which brassy blondes with dubious morals wear leopard-skin coats, in which used-car salesmen are pencil-moustached spivs and in which a suave Latin don can be guaranteed to have a skeleton somewhere in his breakfront bookcase.

As a mere detective constable, Morse isn't supposed to be solving the case. "You're here to take up the slack," he's told, when he arrives in Oxford to help out with the investigation into a girl's disappearance. But then, Morse noticed that the poetry books on the dead girl's bedside table were expensive first editions and he was on the trail, which meandered (engagingly enough) by way of assignations arranged through crossword clues, a faked suicide, incompatible bra-sizes, and masonic corruption to a murderous soprano, herself the object of the young Morse's hopeless longing.

Roger Allam played the initially wary DI Thursday, who spots Morse's talent and gives him a taste for real ale and driving a Jag. And we even got a glimpse of the future when the young Morse was invited to imagine what he might be doing in 20 years' time. As he stared pensively into the rear-view mirror, John Thaw's eyes stared back, and Barrington Pheloung's familiar Morse-code theme tune rose up on the soundtrack. It was an odd moment, that, a posthumous appearance that was intended to stir our nostalgia for a popular performance but also seemed to hint at a scheduler's grief at having lost a dependable friend. I don't think it inconceivable that we'll see young Morse again.

Armando's Tale of Charles Dickens began with Armando Iannucci embarking on the Great Expectations boat ride at Dickens World, an epitome, for the presenter, of the pasteurised, theme-park Dickens that he wanted to get away from. "I think he's the funniest comedian we've ever produced," he declared, rather mysteriously delivering this uncontroversial remark as if he was flying in the face of received opinion. Never mind, though, because although his film couldn't entirely overcome television's deep anxiety when it comes to the discussion of literature, this had more close reading than most contain, and Phill Jupitus actually pointed us to a Dickens story that most people wouldn't have heard of – "Mugby Junction" – enthusing over a marvellous description of a man "who had turned grey too soon, like a neglected fire". It also had a pertinently uncomfortable moment when Iannucci visited Fort House in Broadstairs, to be shown round by the current owners. The camera darted a sideways look at the pencil drawing of Princess Diana on the mantelpiece and the oil painting of Leo and Kate on the bow of the Titanic, and said nothing. But it had noticed, and trusted us to get the point: Dickens might be long dead, but Dickensian characters aren't.

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