ENDEAVOUR is one of ITV’s finest diversions. Last Sunday’s John-le-Carré-meets-Bond episode was watched a day late, just as news surfaced of the apparent poisoning of a Russian spy in Salisbury, of all the unlikely things in all the unlikely places.
Sergei Skripal is a former double agent who is said to have passed secrets to MI6. Today’s newspapers report the mysterious collapse of Skripal and a younger woman. The headlines run from the lurid to the straight, with the Times being admirably matter-of-fact: “Russian spy critically ill after suspected poisoning.”
Wiltshire police are said to have removed a suspicious substance from the scene. Dark conclusions are being jumped to, thanks to memories of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian security officer who died in Britain of radiation poisoning in 2006. Poisoned by polonium in a cup of tea at a Mayfair hotel, of all the unlikely things in all the unlikely places.
‘A one-shot umbrella and a killer snake fish’
Endeavour was full of unlikely things too, including a lethal one-shot umbrella and a killer snake fish. A West German man was murdered during the filming in Oxford of It’s A Knockout, spies and communists stepped in and out of the shadows, and a nice old double-dealing dear executed the inconvenient, but spared Morse.
The last episode of Inspector Morse ran in 2000. The Remorseful Day was watched by 13.66 million viewers, who tuned in to see the mournful conclusion to the 33rd episode of the crime series that reinvented the genre, with slowing unspooling plots that ran for two hours.
Morse and Lewis had a final pint together beside the Cherwell at sunset, with Morse reciting the AE Houseman poem that gave the episode its title. Morse later collapsed on an Oxford quad, with Fauré’s Requiem being sung in the college chapel – a lovely piece of music, that gave way to Wagner as Morse breathed his last. Lewis arrived too late and kissed Morse’s head, saying, “Goodbye, sir” – an unbearable scene, and yet so right and sombre.
‘It began with an E…’
An incidental quirk of Morse was that you never knew his first name, other than that it began with ‘E’, and you had to wait until the end to discover that he was called Endeavour. Lewis took over and kept the spirit of Morse alive, until ITV took the poor decision to run hour-long episodes.
After Lewis came the prequel, Endeavour, with Shaun Evans as the young Morse starting out in the 1960s. No dead horses were flogged with that idea, and Endeavour has turned out to be a rewarding chip off the old Morse marble.
Shaun Evans seemed almost ridiculously fresh-faced at first, but as the series has continued he has grown a little older, a little grumpier, and a little bit more of that lovable scowl on legs.
He’s still young, of course, and a bit of a ladies’ man, too. Yet long-term fans can see the looming shadows: the solitariness, the obsessions, and his luckless love life – still popular with women as an older man, yet never settled, and always falling for the wrong woman (sometimes, if memory serves, those with blood on her hands).
If you watched and loved Morse, still love Morse to this day, then Endeavour is good entertainment; sharper in some episodes than others,but with depths from seeing Morse begin to grow into what he will become.
The before-and-after comparison is surprisingly moving at times, or it is to me, because we all live somewhere between before and after, don’t we?