Wessex in Fiction: Inspector Morse

DCI Endeavour Morse is a fictional detective first created by Colin Dexter in 1972, though the first novel. Last Bus to Woodstock, was not published until 1975. Dexter decided on the setting, Oxford, early on. Although a Cambridge graduate himself, he had been working for the University of Oxford as an assistant secretary to their Delegacy of Local Examinations since 1968, a job he continued to hold until 1988, a year after the ITV series of Morse adaptations had debuted.

In many ways, Morse acted as something of an author avatar for Dexter, who shared his passions for Wagner, cryptic crosswords and real ale. He named the character after a fellow crossword enthusiast, his friend Sir Jeremy Morse. There is a myth that Dexter took the name from his national service in the Royal Signal Corps, but he has denied this. It didn't stop composer Barrington Pheloung from incorporating Morse code into his scores for the TV series, though, often using it to reveal the name of the killer.

The TV series starring John Thaw propelled Morse into the big time, and helped make Oxford a familiar sight to '80s and '90s TV viewers, in much the same way that Shoestring had done for Bristol and Bergerac for Jersey. It led to two spin-off series, Lewis and Endeavour. It was not the only time that Dexter's novels had been adapted for other media, though. BBC Radio 4 had already dramatised Last Bus to Woodstock in 1985, and continued to broadcast adaptations of Dexter's novels throughout the '90s. In 2010, Colin Baker starred as Morse in a stage play, which again was broadcast by Radio 4 in 2017, this time starring Neil Pearson.