Once in a generation comes a writer whose words translate into film and television so successfully that the books and the novels become indivisible. Those of us who read Colin Dexter’s Morse novels from the beginning, in 1975, may have had our own imaginings of what Morse looked and sounded like, but once the TV pilot had been aired in 1987, most aficionados were happy to see the craggy face of John Thaw in their minds’ eye when they read subsequent novels.
Colin Dexter was born on 29 September in 1930, in Stamford, Lincolnshire. After school in Stamford he did National Service, and then graduated from Christ’s College Cambridge. He taught at Corby Grammar School but was forced to give that up due to deafness. From 1966 until his retirement in 1988, he worked as Senior Assistant Secretary of the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations. On the side, he wrote his 13 Morse novels, as well as some short stories and specials. He remains an avid compiler and solver of cryptic crosswords – a skill which he effortlessly passed on to his grumpy protagonist.
Last year, Colin Dexter rightly received the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakston’s Old Peculier crime fiction festival in Harrogate. In 1979, he won the CWA Silver Dagger for Service of all the Dead, and he won it again in 1981 for The Dead of Jericho. He upgraded his dagger credentials to gold in 1989 with The Wench is Dead and won the CWA Gold Dagger again in 1992 with The Way Through the Woods.
ITV’s television series ran until 2000. It seized on Morse’s eccentricities, which were only hinted at in the novels. His love of opera, real ale, his short arms and long pockets, and his trademark Jaguar are all essential motifs on the small screen, but less so in the books. Regarding the Oxford setting, the books are much more nuanced, in that they are happy to show all aspects of the city – the golden limestone glow of the colleges, contrasted with the concrete and redbrick mundanity of the outskirts.
Colin Dexter is 83 today. God grant him many more years of health and happiness. He has made an indelible mark on crime fiction, and Endeavour Morse is assured of his place among The Immortals.