Dear Boss, I’ll be joining publisher, author and executive editor of ‘Ripperologist’ magazine, Adam Wood, and world-renowned crime historian and historical adviser to ‘From Hell’ and ‘Ripper Street’, Keith Skinner, to discuss the acclaimed TV series. Catch us if you can…
Interviews and article © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018
Header image by Howard Coster (July 1929) © National Portrait Gallery
I’ve been a regular passenger on the Derby to Crewe line for the last ten years and it was initially something of a lovely novelty to pass through the stations and see some of the old haunts of my childhood and teenage years such as Stoke, Longport (or, rather more accurately, just up the road in Burslem) and also Kidsgrove. Since 2012 however, I’ve had the immense privilege to conduct a series of interviews with the cast and crew of two television shows which has led to other writing opportunities that I could never have imagined possible when I first stepped on board. The daily commute has become valuable reading and research time and the approximate forty-minute journey each way a means of doing some work that I’d otherwise have to do at home. In point of fact, so committed am I to my research that my head is frequently found stuck in the pages of books, scripts or various old periodicals connected to Victorian or sixties era policemen that I often neglect to even look out of the window anymore.
Indeed, both the settings of Whitechapel and Oxford have almost become second homes to me but I wonder if, in researching and writing about these places and the characters that inhabit them in such painstaking and intense detail, I’ve somewhat neglected to acknowledge and appreciate the historical and cultural heritage right here on my own doorstep of the Potteries. And so, when I first heard that a blue plaque was to be unveiled at Longport train station to commemorate its inclusion in the novels of Stoke-on-Trent’s most famous literary son, Arnold Bennett, I saw it as a timely opportunity to make amends.
I began by contacting the novelist, critic and biographer of Bennett, Dame Margaret Drabble, or, Lady Holroyd as she is also known. Now, Dame Margaret may well be a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a Cambridge Honorary Doctorate of Letters and winner of both the St. Louis Literary Award and Golden PEN Award, but I’ll always remember her as the editor of the Oxford Companion to English Literature which helped me to blag my way through a university degree on more than one occasion when the list of required texts proved just a little bit too exhausting to read them all. I asked Dame Margaret for her thoughts on the unveiling: “I’m happy to learn that a Bennett plaque is to be placed at Longport station. Arnold Bennett was both the chronicler and the creator of the Five Towns as we know and remember them, and it is good to know that his name lives on in the topography. His many admirers will be delighted with this tribute. His sense of place and evocation of the atmosphere of the Potteries were superb. He loved train journeys and often wrote about the joys of reading a good book in a comfortable carriage. The railway romance inspired him.”
The Five Towns to which Dame Margaret refers are comprised of Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke and Longton (Stoke-on-Trent is actually made up of six towns but Bennett somewhat controversially left out Fenton) and renamed them Turnhill, Bursley, Hanbridge, Knype and Longshaw respectively, featuring in a number of his novels including Anna of the Five Towns (1902), The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), Clayhanger (1910) and The Card (1911). These, and many of his other novels were enormously popular during the period in which they were published, and yet, for an author who was one of the leading English novelists of his day and almost as big as Dickens at one point, I wanted to learn why, in comparison to his contemporaries, his work remains largely forgotten. Indeed, ask the average person on the street if they are familiar with the writings of Arnold Bennett and I suspect they might, at best, suggest you mean Alan Bennett.
To get a better understanding of Bennett and his neglected literary legacy, I interviewed Dr Catherine Burgass, a lecturer in English and an Honorary Research Fellow with a specialism in local literature and culture of Stoke and Staffordshire. Initially interested in regional writing as a category and in Bennett as the foremost writer from the Potteries, she runs the course ‘Pits, Pots and Poets: English regional writing from 1900 to the present’ at Staffordshire University. Additionally, last year Catherine was asked to choose items from the Arnold Bennett Archive at the university for an exhibition to mark 150 years since his birth. Her selection was designed to reflect Bennett’s diverse interests along with various aspects of his personal and professional life which included letters to his family, his school record book, reviews, poems, obituaries and even his introduction to one of Marie Stopes’ books on contraception!
DAMIAN: Why does Arnold Bennett remain so neglected today?
CATHERINE: One issue which affects Bennett’s reputation and readership is categorisation – he doesn’t fit neatly on a Victorian or Modernist course and consequently is little studied in schools and universities. He kept one foot in the Victorian past and was never part of the literary avant garde. He never subscribed to the starving artist ideal, and always balanced serious literary work with a more commercial output – something else which has not worked in his favour, reputation-wise.
DAMIAN: To what extent was there a certain intellectual snobbery regarding the fact that Bennett was born and bred in an area typically perceived as lower class and known for its economic deprivation in him not receiving more acceptance and recognition from his literary peers?
CATHERINE: The London literati were incredibly snobbish about Bennett himself while Stoke-on-Trent may as well have been Timbuktoo. T.S. Eliot described Bennett as ‘a red-faced, sprucely dressed man with an air of impertinent prosperity and the aspect of a successful wholesale grocer’.
DAMIAN: And were the negative opinions of other people like Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group towards Bennett’s work really that damaging to his reputation or do you think it’s possible that his writing simply fell out of fashion?
CATHERINE: Virginia Woolf’s comments certainly did damage Bennett’s reputation. It is worth remembering though, that Bennett was still studied in schools and universities until the 1950s and later and Margaret Drabble has made the point that when she was at Cambridge Woolf was nowhere to be seen on the syllabus. The advent of postmodernism in the 1970s was probably the final straw but there may yet be a renaissance!
DAMIAN: Is there a sense that Bennett betrayed the Potteries by choosing to live in more glamorous and romantic locations such as London and Paris?
CATHERINE: At the time Bennett was writing, and even now, literary life revolved around the Capital, so Bennett’s removal in itself should not be seen as a rejection of his home town.
DAMIAN: But to what extent do you think Bennett wished to escape his background in Stoke and reinvent himself in London and Paris as a literary gentleman?
CATHERINE: Bennett exited the Potteries as soon as he possibly could, clearly propelled by ambition. He had to earn his living – for a while as editor of Woman magazine – but clearly had designs on the literary life from early on, collecting books, seeking out like-minded companions, and so on.
DAMIAN: Do you think Bennett became disenchanted or perhaps lost the romance and nostalgia with which he imbued some of literary depictions of the Five Towns in later life?
CATHERINE: Once he had left, Bennett’s attitude to the Potteries was always ambivalent – he defended it frequently against the ignorance and prejudice of ‘outsiders’, but was also often critical himself. His last novel set in the Five Towns was These Twain, published in 1916, and after this he rarely visited the Potteries in person or in print. His diary entry referencing the Manchester-London train journey in 1927 – “The sight of this district gave me a shudder” – suggests an almost oedipal connection and revulsion to his place of origin.
DAMIAN: As social commentary or otherwise, what does the writing of Bennett tell us about his attitude to his contemporaries living in Stoke on Trent?
CATHERINE: Bennett consistently described the Potteries and its people as distinct in their behaviour and attitudes from the metropolitan/South, but possessed of the same grand passions and producing drama worthy of equal attention. An often-quoted remark encapsulates his attitude: “To take the common grey things which people know and despise, and, without tampering, to disclose their essential grandeur . . . is art precious and indisputable.” In terms of social class, Bennett was most comfortable with the representation of his own – middle – though he was keenly aware of the ironies and injustices of class relations.
DAMIAN: And is there a contradiction between the writer and his writing regarding his attitudes to Stoke and the ordinary, daily lives he described there?
CATHERINE: Though Bennett wrote of Stoke only after he had left for London, this is a common phenomenon – not only is the provincial writer required to move to further his career, the prerequisite artistic perspective is often achieved via the same means. Arguably, an artist of any calibre possesses the imagination to inhabit lives other than his own so there is no contradiction in Bennett enjoying the high life while depicting the ‘ordinary’.
From Staffordshire University and Stoke-on-Trent train station just opposite, it’s just one short stop away to Longport station which, Carol Ann Gorton, Honorary Secretary of the Arnold Bennett Society, informs me features in Helen With the High Hand, Anna of the Five Towns and Clayhanger.
Now this could get confusing but please bear with me. As with his renaming of the five towns, Bennett also renames Longport and refers to it as Shawport. OK? That’s simple enough so far, right? However, Longport station, which is obviously located in the Longport area, was originally actually called Burslem station when it opened in 1848 as the town of Burslem (about half a mile up the road) didn’t have a station of its own until 1873. So, it was only then that Longport station became known as such.
It’s a lovely little station with red brick, blue diaperwork, Tudor-style mullioned windows and Dutch gables. And, it is just me but, when viewed from the side, doesn’t the building look a little reminiscent of an old steam engine complete with chimney, cab, smoke stack and steam dome? However, since the cutbacks that were introduced by British Rail in the early nineties, the booking office, toilets and waiting rooms have all closed and the station sadly looks somewhat neglected with the windows boarded up.
Crossing the bridge over to platform 2, and there it is – the beautiful ceramic blue plaque commemorating the station’s literary references in Bennett’s Five Towns novels. I spoke to local artist and co-director of Middleport Matters, a community business that works to make the area a better and safer place for its residents, Allison Dias, who, along with the financial backing of the Arnold Bennett Society and National Rail installing the plaque, made it all possible: “Arnold Bennett in his inimitable style managed to weave our history and heritage into his novels bestowing a poignant vignette of days gone by. Arnold Bennett’s works remind us how Longport Station was once the hub of a great era of change, prosperity and innovation. The station stands today as a testament to its glorious past, a heritage gem and a precious resource.”
Just behind, and only a few minutes walk away, is the aforementioned Middleport with its Pottery factory; home of the world-famous Burleigh earthenware and where the BBC2 TV series The Great Pottery Throw Down was filmed before it was unfortunately axed only last month. I spoke to a lovely lady who has her own special reasons for remembering Middleport well.
As a young girl, Iris Farnell first lived in Wolstanton (just over a mile away from Longport) and then Poolfields, (also in the Newcastle-under-Lyme area), where she lived with her mum and, a little later, three sisters. Her dad was away in the war and didn’t meet him until she was four. The family never had much money but her mum and dad did everything to ensure their four girls had the very best that they could afford and Iris remembers having a wonderful childhood going on family walks together and playing games on the Marsh across the road from their house. However, what they really enjoyed was putting on concerts in the back garden where they would use the washing line to hang blankets on as the curtains and invite neighbours to watch while mum provided refreshments.
In those days, creating your own entertainment was almost a prerequisite in a home without any books (apart from those given to her from Sunday School) and no television set until Iris was a teenager. However, they did have a wireless and she loved to listen to the Ovaltineys and the top twenty on Radio Luxembourg which often featured her first crush, Tommy Steele. Iris also spent a lot of her childhood at her nan’s house in Stanfield where her Auntie Doris and Uncle Len also lived, and one of the reasons Iris liked to stay there so much was because they did have a television set and could watch Muffin the Mule on Sunday evenings.
As Iris spent so much time at her nan’s with Auntie Doris and Uncle Len, she had a special relationship with them and they would often take her on seaside day trips to places such as Llandudno, Blackpool and Southport, often travelling by train from Longport. Just up the road from the station in Middleport, Auntie Doris’ brother, Uncle Charlie, lived at 42 Spencer Street. Typical of the area at the time, it was a tiny two-bedroom terraced house with a small living room and kitchen. There was no running water, only a tap outside which was shared with neighbours along with a toilet at the bottom of the yard. Gas lamps still had to be used as there was no electricity either.
However, for distinguished filmmaker, Ronald Neame, who had worked on several George Formby films, Powell and Pressburger’s One of Our Aircraft Is Missing and collaborated with David Lean on some his finest early British films including This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, Uncle Charlie’s modest little home proved to be an ideal location for a film he made in 1952 based on Arnold Bennett’s The Card and starring acting legend Alec Guinness.
Although she was only ten at the time, Iris remembers the filming well: “Auntie Doris was very excited that the film company were using her brothers house for the film and it was her idea for us to pay Uncle Charlie a visit. I was in the living room and in walked Alec Guinness! In the film he is a rent collector and they used the house as one of the houses he collected from”.
Iris also watched as they filmed some exterior shots including the scenes outside Uncle Charlie’s house: “He [Guinness] came in a cart pulled by a donkey which was very stubborn and when he jumped in to leave, the donkey wouldn’t move so they had to coax it with a carrot.”
Guinness, of course, appeared in many true cinema classics over the years including The Ladykillers, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and the original Star Wars trilogy, but even prior to 1952, he had already amassed quite an impressive filmography with credits such as the aforementioned Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, in addition to Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Man in the White Suit, so it must have been something of an honour to meet the famous and celebrated actor. Iris recalls, “To be honest it was quite a surreal moment but he was very friendly towards me in a gentlemanly way. Auntie Doris asked him [for his autograph] for me as I was quite shy. I can remember being thrilled. That was why I bought an autograph book and stuck his in it with pride.”
Iris kept Sir Alec Guinness’ autograph for many years until, in 1998, she had it framed and gave it to her grandson who she knew was a great admirer of the actor.
It now hangs proudly on the wall of my office.
So, despite remaining somewhat neglected by the general public, Arnold Bennett and his writing still continues to touch our lives in different, and sometimes, quite personal ways. Furthermore, the Arnold Bennett Society is committed to promoting the study and appreciation of his life and work, putting on various events throughout the year while also supporting local authors. In addition to the blue plaque at Longport, the society has also previously erected one at his former home at 205 Waterloo Road, Cobridge in 2014 and both last year, another plaque at Moorland Pottery in Burslem (known as Chelsea Works in the novels) and a magnificent two metre high bronze sculpture of Bennett outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. If you’re ever in the area, it would be lovely if you have a look for these yourself. And, if you’d like to learn more about Bennett, why not join the society by following the link here ?
Finally, I asked broadcasting legend and great admirer of Bennett, Gyles Brandreth, for some closing thoughts: “In my view, Arnold Bennett is one of the great English novelists. I’d argue that The Old Wives’ Tale is the finest novel written by an Englishman in the twentieth century. The humour, the humanity, the heart of the man, combined with a wonderful capacity as a story-teller and a stylist, put him in the forefront of the first rank. I love his Journals, too. He’s been out of fashion for a while, but then so has Thackeray. In a way, that makes discovering him all the more exciting. You can feel you’ve stumbled on a secret treasure. And you have. Bennett is, quite simply, one of the best.”
Gyles is right. In discovering more about the Potteries’ most famous literary son, I’ve also stumbled across my own cultural, and indeed, family history that I shall endeavour to treasure forever. Soon though, I’ll be boarding the train again with my head stuck in various books and scripts once more, eyes down for a full house because there’s a certain detective I’d really like to tell you about…
Very special thanks to:
Gyles Brandreth Writer, broadcaster, former MP and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury
Dr Catherine Burgass Lecturer in English, Honorary Research Fellow at Staffordshire University and committee member of the Arnold Bennett Society
Bill Cawley Historian and Leek West Councillor
Allison Dias Artist, board director of Middleport Matters
Dame Margaret Drabble Novelist, biographer and critic
Mervyn Edwards Author, historian and Sentinel columnist
Carol Ann Gorton Trustee and Hon Secretary of the Arnold Bennett Society
Dr Leslie Powner Author, Honorary Research Fellow at Keele University and Chairman of the Arnold Bennett Society
John Shapcott Literary scholar, Honorary Research Fellow at Keele University, committee member of the Arnold Bennett Society, author and/or editor of several books on Bennett
Jason Sherratt “Maker”
& Iris Barcroft
ENDEAVOUR – SERIES III
Foreword by Russell Lewis
1967… Oxford – All Change!
Blame the World Cup. Not the 1966 campaign of blessed memory — touched on in SERIES II’s ‘NOCTURNE’ — but Rio 2014. Such was the amount of air-time annexed by the tournament that the resulting shunt left no room in the schedule for the next quartet of Endeavour stories. So it is that we find ourselves — the best part of two years later — picking up the narrative threads. After such an intermission, a short refresher might be in order.
Previously, on ENDEAVOUR…
When last we saw them, Detective Constable Endeavour Morse was languishing in a prison cell, having been arrested on suspicion of murdering Chief Constable Standish; while Detective Inspector Fred Thursday – shot in the line of duty – was being loaded into an ambulance, his life hanging by the slenderest of threads. Both events arose from their investigation of a conspiracy to conceal dark deeds at a former Boys’ Home – Blenheim Vale.
Some – most – of the audience who were kind enough to convey to me their views on the 1966 series seem to have enjoyed, albeit in a masochistic fashion, the suspense engendered by the cliff-hanger. One or two were less enamoured of such a departure from convention, and were not slow to chide. In my defence, at the time none of us foresaw that there would be such a long delay before the respective fates of Oxford’s Finest could be revealed. Mea culpa.
So. What happened next? Well, given that Endeavour Morse eventually rose to become a Detective Chief Inspector, it ought not to come as any great shock that his duties with the Oxford City Police – destined to become Thames Valley in 1968 – were at some point resumed. But as to the when, how and why of it..? Such is the issue at the heart of ‘RIDE’, the film that opens the batting for the new run.
Not all the answers will come at once. However, in ways both great and small, the fallout from Blenheim Vale is destined to cast a long shadow…
As for Thursday… It’s a matter of record that Roger Allam has been photographed in Oxford wearing his familiar chapeau gris, and it would be dishonest to pretend that he hasn’t filmed some material for us. But whether this material is set in the story present, or in flashback, or – indeed – a projection of Endeavour’s mind’s eye — ‘Morse & Thursday (Deceased)’ — remains to be seen…
It’s no mistake that the first words uttered in SERIES III are ‘Oxford! All change!’ – for the world has moved on. We have covered some distance since the single standalone film that reintroduced ENDEAVOUR to the world. Now, as Easter 1967 arrives, colour is seeping into our canvas, turning a pencil grey Britain into something phantasmagorical. Indeed, June will see BBC2 transmit the first television colour pictures in the UK, as its outside broadcast team covers the All England Lawn Tennis Association championships.
Change, then – in and on the air.
Most notably for #TeamEndeavour – again, courtesy of the beautiful game — the main change has been a shift in our production schedule. This is the first series of ENDEAVOUR that we have shot during the summer – if the four soggy months between May and August 2015 can truly be said to qualify as such.
It’s been strange to find ourselves in such a season, for whether it was the long light of a cool English evening casting a golden glow upon Radford’s Brewery in ‘THE SINS OF THE FATHERS.’, or the shot (one of my favourites in all the films) of Morse & Lewis standing in a corn-field in ‘WHO KILLED HARRY FIELD?’, my memories of watching ‘Inspector Morse’ invariably involve a high summer landscape.
Context is all, but there is a line towards the end of D.H.Lawrence short story ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’ that has haunted me since I first read it, nearly forty years ago. “ ‘It is summer,’ he said to himself, ‘and the time of leaves.’ “
So let it be for ENDEAVOUR…
The other major change on the Production side is that we have moved house. Our last incarnation of Cowley Nick was contained in a rather imposing Victorian pile alongside the Thames in Berkshire. Built for a survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade, it passed later into the hands of the family that owned the sprawling paper mill (now derelict) in the grounds of which it now stands.
The factory floor is where Endeavour’s flat and the Thursdays’ dulce domum resided. The mill itself was a Health & Safety Officer’s nightmare – and bitterly, but BITTERLY cold. Despite the heat from the lighting rig, Ice cubes were the order of the day. Sucked on by the actors before a scene, lest their breath steam in the chill air and give the game away. Cast and crew bore their discomfort personfully, but shed few tears to hear the mill had been earmarked for demolition and residential redevelopment (affordable homes for key-workers, no doubt). Nevertheless, for the third time in as many series, we found ourselves homeless.
For SERIES III – we have been billeted in a former MoD/Tri-Services establishment. Ghostly hints of its previous life abound. A board greets visitors at the top of the stairs, and gives notice of the ‘DAILY TERROR THREAT LEVEL’. Stuck forever now on ‘SEVERE’, the Production Team found it reflected their mood all too often.
Typically, the last five to seven days of any ENDEAVOUR shoot take place at our production base – where our standing sets reside. The MoD site has a good number of large empty spaces – most notably the gymnasium – where the main CID offices of Cowley Police Station, and, also, Endeavour’s latest residence were constructed.
Elsewhere across the site – our brilliant design team have cannibalized, dispossessed and otherwise generally repurposed sundry rooms to create, amongst other key locations, Bright’s Office; cells and interview rooms. One particular delight is that Max deBryn’s mortuary is now housed in the former canteen kitchen — the smell of gravy overtaken by the tang of formaldehyde. To have let all those ready made white tiled walls go to waste? That really would have been a crime.
1967, then. The spring and eventual Summer of Love. It’s funny, Dan McCulloch – who produced the single and SERIES I, and who returns to the flight roster this time as Executive Producer – pointed out to me that each story in SERIES I was in one way or another about ‘family’. SERIES II – again in retrospect – proved to be about ‘children’. It is only in writing this foreword that I realise the four films here all deal to a greater or lesser extent with love, in all its guises, and disguises.
Part of my own prep (for which read ‘procrastination’ and ‘displacement activity’) for SERIES III involved assembling a number of ‘mood boards’ for each film – collages of photographs drawn from newspaper reports, brand designs, album sleeves, portraits, and stills from movies released across the year in question – visual aides-memoire, and things upon which once could draw for inspiration.
Staring down from my walls for the duration were – amongst others — Twiggy by Bailey. Donald Campbell’s Bluebird. Mary Quant. A portrait of ‘Two sporting brothers’, also by Bailey. Hendrix. The original Factory Girl – Edie Sedgwick. Terry & Julie – not crossing over the river, but in costume as Frank Troy and Bathsheba Everdene in John Schlesinger’s film of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’. (Hardy, incidentally, a poet much beloved by Mr.Dexter.) All, some, or none of whom put in an appearance in proceedings.
Yet, there, also, amongst the budding flower power and colourful joie de vivre, the portraits of three men. Joe Meek. Joe Orton. Brian Epstein. Each met an untimely and tragic end in 1967. Had their deaths happened in Oxford – all three would have been investigated by Endeavour. Their inclusion in the gallery served as a reminder that even in the middle of a Summer of Love one does not have to look far to find the eternal Ruffian on the Stair.
There is a further link in the foregoing to Endeavour and the Morse-verse – Con O’Neill, who memorably portrayed Joe Meek in “Telstar,” also played, equally memorably, Paul Matthews, scion of the Abingdon Gang, in the INSPECTOR MORSE film ‘PROMISED LAND.’ “They’re all villains. The whole Matthews family.”
Without foreknowledge being requisite to enjoyment or understanding, compared to Series I and 2, there is probably more connective tissue that links ENDEAVOUR 1967 to INSPECTOR MORSE – and, indeed, LEWIS — than hitherto. Characters and places – minor and major – are recast here, and viewed afresh through their younger selves. Friends and foes. The Mateys – as the fandom self-identifies — should have fun identifying familiar names.
Bigger. Bolder. Brighter. Series III has – like Postman Pat – really ‘pushed the envelope’. The ambitions set down in the scripts have been our most technically demanding to date – and yet under the stewardship of this term’s new Head Boy – Producer Tom Mullens – Production has risen to the challenge, and then some…
Music – always an integral part of the Morse universe – features here too. We had hoped to use Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ in one sequence, but sadly his estate declined permission. I’m told this was because the scene in question featured some recreational drug use… ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.’
Of course, no consideration of 1967 could be complete without reference to four young men from Liverpool. Indeed, The Beatles have been casting a shadow across Endeavour-world from the beginning. ‘GIRL’ was titled for their single of the same name, and the world of pain in Lennon’s pre-chorus intake of breath – ‘still you don’t regret a single day.’ And the Traffic Warden present when a private investigator makes his vertical entrance in ‘TROVE’ – though getting ahead of ourselves – was likewise a nod to ‘Lovely Rita’.
Esteemed broadcaster and musicologist Paul Gambaccini said recently that he would direct anyone wanting a crash course in The Beatles to 1967 – a year that began with the double-A side of ‘Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields’ (denied the Number 1 slot by Englebert Humperdinck’s “Please, Release Me” – those pondering Endeavour’s incarceration should hold that thought!); the release of “Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; the global broadcast of ‘All You Need Is Love’; the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ EP – and the Boxing Day broadcast of its accompanying film; and the Xmas Number 1 of ‘Hello/Goodbye’. As Mister Gambaccini observed – such an output would have been a career for many. For The Beatles, it was twelve months’ work.
Our key text, then, in many ways, proved to be ‘Sgt.Pepper’ – ‘I read the news today, Oh boy…’
FILM 1: ‘RIDE’ (Directed by Sandra Goldbacher) features both ‘a lucky man who made the grade’, and, with its fairground associations, might just as easily have been titled ‘Being For the Benefit of Mr.Bright’ – for it is Easter, and the Bank Holiday funfair has pitched its tents on Cowley Green. The Police investigate the disappearance from the Ghost Train attraction of a ‘clippie’ with the Town and District bus service. And, of course, Harry the Horse dances the waltz.
Having looked at a manufactory in ‘ROCKET’, and the world of the department store in ‘SWAY’, FILM 2: ‘ARCADIA’ i(Directed by Bryn Higgins) is our Ladybird Book of the Supermarket. Change – in Oxford and in the wider world beyond, as the Rhodesia Crisis – in the words of the late, great Jake Thackray… ‘New UDI Washes Whiter…’ – and the British Trade Boycott provides some part of our backdrop.
Change also at Cowley nick. Good fortune for some. Ill luck for others. Arrivals and departures. Entrances and exits. Amongst the former, ARCADIA marks the introduction of WPC Shirley Trewlove – played, delightfully, by Dakota Blue Richards — who makes a very welcome addition to the ranks of the Oxford City Police.
While in FILM 3: ‘PREY’ (Directed by Lawrence Gough) the Arab-Israeli Six Day War commands the attention of the world, ENDEAVOUR, together with the rest of Oxford’s Finest, has something else on his mind entirely. A Scandinavian au pair has gone missing after an evening at Night School. The resultant investigation brings Endeavour to Wytham Woods, and an adjacent country estate where he will brush shoulders with the future…
Our last story for this run is FILM 4: ‘CODA’ – (Directed by Ollie Blackburn) in which characters from two Inspector Morse films are brought together, and Endeavour is examined in more ways than one. They say if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your intentions. My original design was that SERIES III should begin and end with a funeral. The best laid plans. As things fell out, I did get my two funerals – albeit not the two I was expecting. No wedding. As yet.
One thing that does not change is the presence of Colin Dexter; who returns to make his traditional twinkling cameo appearance in each of the four films. As sharp and erudite as ever, he always appears whenever we shoot in Oxford. Of course, it could be a writer’s overactive imagination, but on such days – ‘Colin Days’ – it seems that all the cast and crew stand that little bit taller, shine just that little bit brighter, and strive to make their very best work even better. Such is the ‘Dexter effect’. Long may he continue to grace our efforts with his presence, for, as I think I’ve said before, an absence of Colin would be as unthinkable as the ravens leaving the Tower of London.
For those who enjoy spotting them, we have – as always – included our customary collection of intentional anachronisms and deliberate mistakes… Answers on a postcard to the usual address. B^)
I am – as ever – indebted to the talent, skill and creativity of an extraordinary collective of directors, cast and crew who once again spun my rough straw into something more; to the Maestro Barrington Pheloung; to Matthew Slater, who stepped admirably into the breech on ‘PREY’; to my fellow execs, the estimable Damien Timmer, & the redoubtable Dan MacCulloch; to Line Producer, the unsinkable Helga Dowie, who has been with us from the very beginning, and without whom… And, finally, to our inexhaustible producer Tom Mullens, who bore the carnivore’s share of the heavy lifting with grace and good humour.
So it is that we take our leave of Endeavour — this time in June, at the turning point of the year. “Hello/Goodbye” – The Beatles Christmas 1967 Number 1 — is yet to come, but its mood of one door closing as another opens, seems to have found expression across the entirety of the series, both in front of the camera – and behind it.
On which point, on behalf of all of #TeamEndeavour, I’d like to thank my brother-in-arms, Script Editor extraordinaire, Sam Costin. After three series at Cowley nick, he has turned in his Warrant Card, and leaves Oxford (with a Congratulatory First) for pastures new. At my side through thick, thin, and all too many late night conference calls, across each of these films his limitless creative genius has dug us out of more holes than it would take to fill the Albert Hall. We shall miss him.
Whether we are, indeed, in the words of the Sgt.Pepper (Reprise) ‘Getting very near the end…’ rests, as always, with the audience and the Network, but I went along – as I tend to – for the last day’s shooting, and found myself between takes talking to Shaun Evans. I happened to ask him which series of Endeavour had been his favourite. Without a moment’s hesitation he replied, ‘This one.’ Who am I to argue with Morse?
I hope you enjoy the films.
As Bogart’s Gin launches in the US next month, there’s good news for Bogie fans in the UK too as you can now buy bottles directly from ROK Drinks.
You can buy 1 X 70cl bottle for £30 including VAT and delivery to a UK mainland address or 1 X case (6 bottles) for £150 (£25 per bottle) also including VAT and delivery. Please note that this is for UK residents aged 18+ only. More information can be found on the link below:
An exclusive interview
by Damian Michael Barcroft
~ With thanks to Papageno ~
MORSE is the loneliest of men. However, despite numerous doomed relationships and tragic love affairs, often overshadowed by the ghosts of girlfriends past, he does have one constant companion which is his music. In addition to being a devoted listener of BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 (although this is mainly to catch every episode of The Archers and the occasional Desert Island Discs) and Classic FM, Morse has an extensive library of LPs which highlight his many musical heroes including Wagner, Mozart, Puccini, Strauss, and not least Rosalind Calloway, to name but a few.
Since 1987 to the present day, music has featured so prolifically and prominently throughout the original Inspector Morse, Lewis and now Endeavour, that it is also inconceivable that every single note has been the responsibility of just one man. Indeed, in addition to composing all the original music for the three series, he has also arranged all the classical pieces and various “source music” that you hear in each and every film which are performed under his supervision. It is, therefore, a true honour to present this exclusive interview with one of my musical heroes, Mr Barrington Pheloung.
DAMIAN: Barrington, you were first approached to write the music for the original series back in 1985 and I believe your first brief was to compose a theme that epitomized Morse’s cultured and cryptic mind while simultaneously capturing his melancholy nature. You did this with one of the most memorable and iconic television themes of recent times, expressing various aspects of the character with music that is both beautiful and yet haunting. Can you describe the complex character of Morse?
BARRINGTON: Morse had an incredibly cryptic mind (as do I finishing off The Guardian crossword – only two to go) but Kenny McBain and Anthony Minghella who wrote the first screenplay wanted me to explore the complexity of this character. He loved cryptic crosswords and classical music and therefore he was very close to my character.
DAMIAN: For all his intelligence, Morse is rather inarticulate when is comes to communicating – especially with the fairer sex. To what extent would you agree that your music expresses the emotions and psychological makeup of Morse that are often implied rather than ever explicitly stated?
BARRINGTON: Less is always more. Morse is not inarticulate but slightly fumbling when it does come to his relationships with women.
DAMIAN: I hope you’ll forgive my lack of professionalism when I confess that I’m a huge fan of your work and own every Morse album that has ever been released. One of my favourites is The Passion of Morse, which in addition to the majestic Sinfonietta in Morse – The Morse Suite, also features some of your other work including Bach Sarabande, Cello Suite from Truly, Madly, Deeply, Bach Keyboard Concerto, Partita from The Politician’s Wife and Fantasia For the Little Prince. I really do recommend this album to both Morse completists and also those who might like an introduction to your other prolific work which has encompassed various film, television and theatre projects over the years. However, the main reason for highlighting this is because you mention in your sleeve notes for the album that some of the pieces, including the Morse track, are very personal and as much about you as they are about the film characters. Would it be too much of an intrusion to ask you to elaborate on this?
BARRINGTON: Every piece of music that I have written in my life has been based on my life and my own close family connections. Therefore I take this very seriously as an obligation.
DAMIAN: You share more than a few of our favourite detective’s pastimes don’t you?
BARRINGTON: Yes I enjoy a pint at the pub and I certainly love chess and of course the cryptic crossword although Morse does The Times and I do The Guardian.
DAMIAN: Inspector Morse introduced the now familiar two-hour format for TV films and I’m wondering if it is true that the creative choices and stylistic features such as the use of slow camera pans were specifically designed to accommodate long sections of the beautiful music?
BARRINGTON: Our (Minghella and Kenny McBain) incentive was to try and produce a feature film rather than a television episode. Therefore, I was given much more scope to create longer sequences of music.
DAMIAN: You’ve said that you found it somewhat daunting when you were first asked to write the music for Lewis – why?
BARRINGTON: It was that I simply didn’t know where else to go. However, Kevin Whately’s character was so powerful and strong that I believed we had a new way to go and I even wrote him his own theme.
DAMIAN: The writer of Endeavour, Russell Lewis, seems to take an active interest in all aspects of production beyond simply writing the scripts. Obviously much of the music that is used frequently relates to certain plots and characters such as in First Bus to Woodstock (Un bel di from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and the character of Rosalind Calloway) and Fugue (perhaps most notably the inclusion of Verdi’s Otello in finding clues to track down the serial killer, Dr. Daniel Cronyn aka Mason/Gull). I’m wondering at what point in the production do you become creatively involved and to what extent the musical choices are discussed with Russ?
BARRINGTON: Endeavour, Morse and Lewis has always been a subjective choice. Sometimes by directors, sometimes by producers and writers but ultimately I’m given the final choice and more often than not, these are the works that I have conducted many times before.
DAMIAN: Unlike much television and cinema, where the scores are often used to compensate for the lack of dramatic and emotional depth, your music is chosen carefully and selectively which results in a far more potent contribution to the overall meaning of both the story and its characters. For as much as audiences love and remember the soundtracks, the music is actually used rather sparingly isn’t it?
BARRINGTON: Yes indeed – less is more; always.
DAMIAN: Like Russ, you do enjoy to play rather cunning games with audiences in which you often tease us with various clues but also a few red herrings. Can you give us a few of your favourite examples?
BARRINGTON: On many occasions I have given red herrings in Morse code pertaining to the killer i.e. she did it – he did it.
DAMIAN: Although not as prolific as Colin Dexter’s cameos, you have also made a couple of appearances in the original series, how did this come about?
BARRINGTON: Indeed I have made many appearances on film because I was requested to be on set as the conductor/producer of the music and therefore I was just there.
DAMIAN: I can’t think of another composer who has written the music for a franchise with such longevity and you must be one of the few people to have worked on every single Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour film. What’s the secret behind keeping the music fresh for both the audience and you as a composer?
BARRINGTON: Very simple, if I can’t think of an original theme or to keep a way to keep my music new then that will be time to give up.
DAMIAN: You did a concert at the Royal Festival Hall back in 1991. Is there a chance you might perform again in this country as I’m sure I’m not the only fan who would be thrilled to hear the Morse theme performed live?
BARRINGTON: I would love to as soon as I am asked.
DAMIAN: One final question. I must ask why, a man of your musical talent, is also running a lawn mower repair service?
BARRINGTON: I do indeed repair both my mowers here and in Australia where I have a 30 thousand hectare mountain however, I don’t repair anyone else’s mowers!
DAMIAN: If Russ is the brains behind young Morse, you are his heart and soul. Your music continues to enrich our understanding of the character and its been an absolute privilege to do this interview. Thank you very much indeed Barrington.
BARRINGTON: Thank you and may god bless.
Special thanks also to Amanda Street-Shipston of DNA Music Ltd.
For more information about the composer, please visit his website:
The final Endeavour film of series 2 is tonight at 8 on ITV
~ With thanks to Uncle Bob and William Dunn ~
Morse and Max enjoy Gin and Campari at the Gardeners…
‘Poor sod… Do you ever think of death? Mors, mortis, feminine – remember that?
‘Not likely to forget a word like that, am I? Just add on “e” to the end and…’
The surgeon smiled a sour acknowledgement of the point and drained his glass. ‘We’ll just have the other half. Then we’ll get back, and show you round the scene of the crime again.’
‘When the body’s out of the way?’
‘You don’t like the sight of blood much, do you?’
‘No. I should never have been a policeman.’
‘Always turned me on, blood did – even as a boy.’
‘What turns you on?’ asked the surgeon as he picked up the two glasses.
‘Somebody from the Oxford Times asked me that last week, Max. Difficult, you know – just being asked out of the blue like that.’
‘What did you say?’
‘I said I was always turned on by the word “unbuttoning”.’
– Colin Dexter, The Secret of Annexe 3
DAMIAN: As we’ll discuss shortly, the friendship between Morse and the pathologist, Dr Maximilian Theodore Siegfried de Bryn, is a rather unique one compared to other characters in either Inspector Morse or Endeavour, but first James, please tell us how you got the part?
JAMES: I received a call from my agent to say they had emailed the script over for a meeting the following day with Susie Parriss [Casting Director], Dan McCulloch [Producer] and Colm McCarthy [Director]. I had a good read and picked out a couple of scenes. I had a memory of Peter Woodthorpe’s Max from the Morse series, and as soon as I started reading Russell’s [Lewis] script, I thought ‘Now, I’d like to get this.’ I like to do as much preparation as possible, and I like to look right, sound right, and smell right, so I made sure I had the scenes off the page, and went in dressed in a smart suit and thick framed glasses. I didn’t look at any ‘Morse’ footage immediately before, as I didn’t want to do an impression of Peter’s Max, and I also felt that the character was so well drawn in Russell’s script, and Max’s mannerisms and demeanour came through very clearly.
I think I may have been a little conscious of Max’s air of eccentricity in the first reading and came across as somewhat theatrical, but Colm, who is such a brilliant director, said ‘It’s ok, it’s all there, you don’t have to push it.’ We tried it again, everyone seemed happy, and I was told by my agent that I had got the part about four days later. That was a lovely afternoon when I got that call, I went straight to Marks and Spencer and treated myself to a nice pudding.
DAMIAN: Lewis and Strange may have had longer friendships with Morse, but it is with Max that the detective finds the most in common as they are both on the same cultural and intellectual wavelength. How would you describe their relationship?
JAMES: They have such a wonderful connection and I think that is there right from their very first encounter. Max is most definitely ‘nonconformist’ in attitude and approach and I think he recognises that in Morse. There is also a shared appreciation of highculture, and Max loves Morse’s familiarity with the poetry and Latin that Max is so fond of espousing. There is certainly a lot of mutual respect there, and always warmth and affection, even when they’re having the odd little snappy moment. Max is also certainly not averse to the odd tipple or two.
DAMIAN: Like Morse, is it fair to say Max is something of an outsider as he doesn’t really seem to fit in does he?
JAMES: There is an eccentricity to Max, and a flamboyant persona, which is probably a useful device for steering clear of emotional attachments. He is certainly highly regarded for his professional capabilities and I imagine in his leisure time, he is great fun at local wine-tasting events and bridge evenings, provoking amusement in some and bafflement in others with his odd mannerisms and turn of phrase. However, he might have many acquaintances, but very few real friends, and I think this has been a common theme throughout his life.
DAMIAN: So is Max a lonely chap or does he, with the possible exception of Morse, simply prefer his own company most of the time?
JAMES: I think he is quite a lonely chap who doesn’t always take care of himself as much as he should, probably over-indulging at times in his fondness for rich food and expensive claret. He is obviously very intelligent, and hugely capable at his job, underneath the prickly exterior, he has great warmth and humanity, but when it comes to close, emotional ties, he’s just a bit lost. He only feels real affinity with those he recognises as outsiders like himself.
It was 4.30 p.m. before the fingerprint man and the photographer were finished, and before the hump-backed surgeon straightened his afflicted spine as far as nature would permit.
‘Well?’ asked Morse.
‘Difficult to say. Anywhere from sixteen to twenty hours.’
‘Can’t you pin it down any closer?’
Colin Dexter, Last Seen Wearing
DAMIAN: Max made his literary debut in the second Morse book, Last Seen Wearing (1976), and appeared in most of the novels until he died of coronary thrombosis in The Way Through the Woods (1992). He’s described as being hump-backed, having little respect for the police but is passionate about food, drink and indeed blood – he’s also a world authority on VD! Other than that, there is little information about him – I wonder if you have your own personal backstory for Max that helps to fill in the gaps for you as an actor portraying him?
JAMES: I always look at the text first, the original novels, and Russell’s screenplays for information about the character. I find this is always the best source of interpretation and provides those clues as to Max’s character and motivations.
Colin Dexter is from Stamford in Lincolnshire and by coincidence, so am I. We had a lovely chat at one of the read-throughs about the beautiful and historic town, and I discovered subsequently that there was a surgeon operating at Stamford Hospital around the 1950s named Doctor Du Bruyn. Apparently he was quite a local character, a man of brilliance and eccentricity, and I would love to ask Colin, next time I see him if he was in any way an inspiration, when writing the character of Max.
DAMIAN: One of my few gripes with the original series is that I felt they squandered the potential of the Max character by only having him appear in the first seven (of thirty-three) films. This is especially the case when one considers that they replaced him in the third series with Dr Grayling Russell who is also ultimately written out anyway as the producers must have realised that it was not a good idea to have a regular series character as a reoccurring love interest for Morse [Sorry Monica!]. However, his relatively sparse appearances were memorable thanks to Peter Woodthorpe’s masterful performance. What do you think of Peter’s interpretation of Max?
JAMES: I think I mentioned, I found a picture of Max on the internet and remembered him from the original series, but that had been a several years before, and I deliberately did not watch footage of Peter Woodthorpe’s performance before going in for my interview, as I wanted to play the role as written in the script, and very much keep away from doing an impression. After the pilot had gone out, I did watch some of the older episodes featuring Peter Woodthorpe, to give me a flavour of those wonderful mannerisms and body language he used as Max. It was fascinating finding out about Peter, he was a hugely versatile actor, and had done some ground-breaking work including the very first production of The Caretaker. I was also lucky enough to talk to some actors who knew and had worked with him.
Morse leaned forward and whispered in the dying man’s ear: ‘I’ll bring us a bottle of malt in the morning, Max, and we’ll have a wee drop together, my old friend. So keep a hold on things – please keep a hold on things! … Just for me!’
– Colin Dexter, The Way Through the Woods
DAMIAN: I only wish the original series had managed to incorporate Colin’s touching farewell scene between Morse and Max – two rather emotionally inarticulate men perhaps trying to find the words to express what their friendship means to each other one last time. Do you think this foreknowledge of their respective fates informs your own and Shaun’s performance as Max and Morse, perhaps adding an extra layer of poignancy and understanding?
JAMES: I always try to think of what has happened to the character beforehand rather than what will happen in their future, but it is a beautiful touching scene and I think that poignancy and understanding runs right through their relationship from their first meeting. I remember when we shot those first scenes, I think it was the very first day of shooting on the pilot episode, and it felt like the connection between these two outsiders was there right from the start. It helps that Shaun is a very focused, talented, and generous actor. It is just so lovely working with him, because the energy between the characters feels so right.
DAMIAN: Russ provides Max with some wonderfully macabre yet humorous dialogue and there is also the matter of the copious but obligatory autopsy-related jargon – is it difficult to get all the terminology right in the relatively short scenes?
JAMES: I love Russell’s writing, some of Max’s lines are just delicious! The autopsy-related jargon is an education. I always make sure I know which part of the human body, I am referring to. I have a good mate in the medical profession who can always be called upon to help me out with that stuff. And he is very particular on the pronunciation.
DAMIAN: While we’re on the subject, I must ask if it is true that you learn your lines in a cemetery?
JAMES: Yes, there is a beautiful church close by the river, near where I live and I trot down there of a morning and walk through the adjoining cemetery. It is wonderfully peaceful, and an ideal place to go over the lines. I can try them out all sorts of ways with varying degrees of emphasis and there aren’t many other people walking around the cemetery at that time, so I don’t have to worry about getting curious looks. I get right into it, I really am in my own, little world when I’m walking through there.
DAMIAN: I really love Max’s dress sense, do you help to choose his wardrobe – perhaps picking out the odd bowtie or two?
JAMES: We have brilliant costume designers and wardrobe people on Endeavour. I had a vague idea about tweeds and bow ties and they just got it so right.
DAMIAN: You wear glasses yourself, was it difficult to find the right pair for Max?
JAMES: I remember saying to the costume designer that I’d seen a pair of glasses that Arthur Lowe had worn in the Sixties (As Mr Swindley from Coronation Street, not Captain Mainwaring) and the style seemed just right for the time and the character. I found some examples on the internet, and they came back with the perfect frames.
DAMIAN: In my interview with Abigail Thaw, she mentioned a spin-off series, “Dotty and Max” – please tell us more…
JAMES: Haha!! I love Abigail, she is wonderful company and a terrific actress, and I always look forward to seeing her at the read-throughs, she has such a brilliant sense of humour and we always have a laugh together. We both said one day, isn’t it a shame that Dotty and Max never meet. And then we began to invent a rambling, fictional tale about Dorothea and Max. ‘I wonder if they’re related, well there are similarities…’ that kind of thing. I think we imagined them constantly bickering, swigging gin and becoming slightly psychotic.
DAMIAN: You’re a fantastic Max; you honour both Colin’s creation and indeed, Peter’s take on the role while simultaneously making it your own. Thank you very much indeed for this interview James.
JAMES: It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much for asking me.
Many had known Max, even if few had understood his strange ways. And many were to feel a fleeting sadness at his death. But he had (as we have seen) a few friends only. And there was only one man who had wept silently when the call had been received in his office in Thames Valley Police HQ at Kidlington at 9 a.m. on Sunday, 19 July 1992.
– Colin Dexter, The Way Through the Woods
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2014
~ With thanks to Anthony Sayer ~
DAMIAN: Endeavour boasts an impressive cast of characters and while I adore every single one of them, I’m particularly fascinated by Jim Strange and pathologist Max de Bryn. Perhaps this is because they are both somewhat intriguing characters who frequently appear in both Colin Dexter’s novels and the original Morse television series. Yours is a very understated and subtle performance made all the more remarkable considering this was your first professional job in television after graduating from LAMDA (The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). Can you tell us how you landed the part?
SEAN: I graduated from LAMDA in July 2012, and like most drama school graduates, was hunting for a regular job at the time. A friend of mine sent me an email telling me that he had been up for a part in something called Endeavour. He didn’t think he was right for it, but thought that I might be. I contacted my agent and requested that they get me an audition, but they had reservations about whether I was old enough to play the part. Luckily, they decided to take a punt, and got me an audition with Susie Parriss, the Casting Director.
My first audition with Susie was, without a doubt, one of the worst I have ever given. I wore the black three piece suit I had worn to my graduation, shaved off my beard, and slicked back my hair in a vague attempt to look like a 1960’s policeman. It was a roasting hot August day and it’s safe to say that I was sweating cobs. I got completely lost on my way to Susie’s house and had to ring a friend of mine to get on google maps and give me directions. If you had been around the area that day you may well have seen a proto-Strange frantically sprinting through the streets of Wimbledon. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare, hair all over the place and severely out of breath. I went in, sat down with Susie, and promptly set about forgetting all my lines, mumbling and sweating even more. It was a complete disaster and I resigned myself to the fact that I had utterly blown it.
For some reason, a week later, I got a call from my agent saying that Susie would like me to come in and read with her, Ed Bazalgette [Director] and Dan McCulloch [Producer]. That went much better, and the week after that I was called in to read with Shaun [Evans]. I had been told by my agent that this would be the last round of auditions. Susie asked me to come and audition for the part of DC Gray in Lewis in the meantime.
The next day, whilst sitting on the tube in Barons Court (right outside LAMDA), I got a call from my agent telling me they had “Good news and bad news. Which would I like to hear first?”. I requested the bad news to which my agent replied “Well, you can’t do Lewis!”. I leaped off the tube and performed an impromptu Irish jig on the Barons court platform.
DAMIAN: Can you remember which section of the script you were given to audition with?
SEAN: If my memory serves correctly it was the section of Girl where Morse discovers the Golf Cheese and Chess Society.
DAMIAN: I understand that you did a great amount of research after you were cast as Strange but you had never actually seen Inspector Morse before the audition. I’m wondering what were your initial thoughts on the character from reading Russell Lewis’ script?
SEAN: There’s a no nonsense style in the way that Strange communicates. I suppose that’s what struck me initially.
DAMIAN: It must have been greatly exciting to read through Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, finding various clues and making notes on all of the characters and their relationships. What were the most revealing pieces of the puzzle?
SEAN: It’s a very difficult thing to quantify, really. The relationship dynamics between Morse and Strange in Endeavour and Inspector Morse are at once vastly different and very similar. The most illuminating part of reading the books was discovering the world in which these characters operate. I had to quickly consume a body of work which Morse fans the world over had taken years to savour; as much as I wanted to find out every detail to inform my performance, I wanted to read the books in a respectful and appreciative way, not just cram as if for an exam.
DAMIAN: There are some wonderful insights into Strange’s family life in As Good as Gold (lovely moments in which he celebrates his birthday over a glass or two of Macallan while he proceeds to bore Morse with nostalgic musings on his grandchildren), did you also manage to take a look at the short stories as well?
SEAN: I must confess that the short stories are still unopened on my bedside table, but I will make a start on them very soon indeed. To echo my previous answer, I am cautious about ‘bingeing’ on Colin Dexter’s writing. It deserves pacing and appreciating, much as Strange would approach that Macallan!
DAMIAN: This is the clincher: like Morse, both Russ and I have copies of Moriarty’s Police Law (1965, Eighteenth Edition) which was required reading for any police officer taking their Sergeant’s exam – but do you have a copy?
SEAN: I shall have to come clean and say that I do not. Strange would not be impressed!
DAMIAN: We simply couldn’t discuss Strange without acknowledging the great and much missed James Grout who played the role from 1987 to 2000. Strange’s Christian name was never mentioned in either Dexter’s novels or the original TV series so it was a lovely tribute that the character was finally named Jim in his honour. To what extent has James Grout’s interpretation of the role influenced your own?
SEAN: James Grout was an incredible actor. It’s as simple as that. He gave Strange effortless authority laced with a genuine kindness. I’d like to think that Strange in the 1960’s is very much trying to find himself. He is very sure of where he wants to go in the world but is still unsure of his footing within it.
DAMIAN: Strange is a Southerner and you are Northern lad, was is difficult to incorporate James Grout’s voice in addition to the accent into your own vocalisation?
SEAN: Well, James Grout was from London and you can certainly hear that in his accent. However he was a classically trained actor and that accent seemed to have been softened over the years. I decided that Strange might have a more pronounced London accent in the early days as it would be softened eventually from years in the Oxford police force.
The accent can be tricky at times. There a few occasions where I get quite tongue tied with some of the vowels and slip back into my native Lancashire.
DAMIAN: James Grout gave a beautifully judged performance that managed to encompass a great amount of comedy but this never detracted from his absolute gravitas and authority. It was a stroke of dramatic genius that Russ chose to reverse this by having Morse start out as Strange’s superior in the first film of series one (Girl) but by its end (Home), Strange, unlike Morse, has taken his Sergeant’s exam – will future series see the beginnings of the inevitable development of their shift in power?
SEAN: Perhaps a more pronounced shift in their already differing priorities.
DAMIAN: Of course, it is rather ironic that Morse is perhaps directly responsible for the eventual promotion since it was he who recommended Strange to serve as Acting Detective Constable in his absence when he takes some time off to his visit his ailing father (Home), might Morse regret planting those “little acorns”?
SEAN: He may regret his decision from time to time, yes!
DAMIAN: Surprisingly, it’s not Robbie Lewis with the honour of being Morse’s longest-serving friend – it’s actually Strange – a thirty-five year sentence! Morse and Max meet for the first time in First Bus to Woodstock before your character is introduced but Max is described as suffering a stroke early on in Inspector Morse and is replaced by Dr Grayling Russell in Ghost in the Machine (Max dies in Dexter’s novel, The Way Through the Woods) whereas both in print and on screen, Strange is with Morse right up until the tragic end of The Remorseful Day. Can you describe your own interpretation of the often antagonistic relationship between Morse and Strange?
SEAN: I think there is a mutual admiration between the two. Strange is equally impressed and frustrated by Morse’s intellect. Likewise, Morse perhaps finds Strange’s dependability endearing whilst being irritated by his reluctance to bend the rules. I think they have a quiet patience for each others’ shortcomings.
DAMIAN: There were some lovely moments in Rocket which I thought were quite revealing about Strange: Morse mentions that there is a new Bergman playing at the Roxy cinema and Strange automatically assumes it is a new Ingrid rather than Ingmar Bergman film and also the proud moment when he appears (looking very dependable!) in the Pathe newsreel footage of Princess Margaret’s visit. Strange is not very cultured but he can be quite pompous can’t he?
SEAN: There is something of the Auguste clown about Strange at times. He has a confidence in his own abilities and an acumen which can lead him to make some fairly humorous gaffes.
DAMIAN: The books and original series give the impression that Strange is somewhat under the thumb of his wife. Hopefully he is a little more fortunate than Morse when it comes to matters of the heart, will there be any forthcoming romantic liaisons for Strange that we can look forward to?
SEAN: Strange does dip his toes into the dating world. The results? We shall have to wait and see…
DAMIAN: You’re a great actor playing one of my favourite characters and you’ve been as good as gold – I think you deserve a chocolate biscuit or two! Thank you Sean.
SEAN: Cheers matey! I shall certainly enjoy a few! Perhaps a couple of Garibaldi’s (my personal favourite).
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2014
I caught up with Sean again for a second interview while I was visiting the set in November 2018…
DAMIAN: In terms of how Strange has developed, the first thing that springs to mind are the events towards the end of NEVERLAND (S2: E4). While I appreciate that he was someone, at that stage of his development at least, who was more of a conformist and rule bound, isn’t it still unforgivable that he hesitated for so long and initially chose to follow ACC Clive Deare’s orders rather than help his friends Endeavour and Thursday at Blenheim Vale?
SEAN: I think unforgivable may be a tad extreme. Strange made the right decision in the end and, hopefully, that is what counts most.
DAMIAN: I think that part of the reason that Strange is such a fascinating character is that he’s often got this deadpan and almost innocently oblivious quality on the one hand (indeed, you described him as having something of the Auguste clown about him in our original interview) and yet, we’ve also seen a more cunning, calculating and complicated side to him with regards to climbing up the ladder in recent years haven’t we?
SEAN: Yes and I think that is all part of Strange becoming a more rounded character as the story progresses. It’s something we’ve seen with all the supporting characters, the duality of their personalities. Bright being impulsive and heroic. DeBryn’s heart and sombreness. Those are the two examples that spring to mind most readily.
DAMIAN: As someone who has been wanting to learn more about the background and personal lives of characters such as Bright, Max and, indeed Strange, I was delighted to see that Russ has finally written some scenes for you that shed some light on this at last. Is this something you’ve also pushed for?
SEAN: I’m not really the pushing sort. “You know what this needs? More of me!” It has been fun exploring how Strange inhabits different spaces, certainly. We all want to know what people get up to behind closed doors and what’s in their shopping trolley.
DAMIAN: Indeed, I was greatly amused and delighted to learn that in the first film of this year’s run that Endeavour has moved in with Strange and although they’re not quite sharing a bed together, isn’t their unlikely partnership beginning to resemble Laurel and Hardy or Morcambe and Wise?
SEAN: We had a great deal of fun filming those scenes. I don’t think their cohabitation will ever reach the harmonious heights of Morcambe and Wise making breakfast together though.
I’m not sure who would be who. I do have short, fat, hairy legs so make of that what you will.
DAMIAN: What’s with the trombone all of a sudden?
SEAN: Ah, the trombone!
DAMIAN: Do you play?
SEAN: Not in the slightest. I used to play the cornet as a kid but I am reliably informed by my parents that I was utterly pants. I had a good whack at the trombone regardless. I produced a sound akin to an asthmatic goose being sat on.
DAMIAN: I absolutely loved the scene in ARCADIA (S3:E2) when Strange, once again, completely genuine but oblivious gives Endeavour the James Last album. Since you’re a young lad, do you even know who James Last is and appreciate how funny it is to give it to someone like Endeavour?
SEAN: I made myself aware after reading the script and I can’t say it lingered on my iPod long afterwards. No offence intended to any James Last fans out there. Shaun is hilarious in that scene, like a young boy unwrapping an itchy jumper from his Gran on Christmas morning.
DAMIAN: And isn’t it fantastic moments like these that economically sum up almost everything we need to know about Strange and his polar opposite relationship with Endeavour?
SEAN: Absolutely. They find each other, for different reasons, quite hard to figure out at times.
DAMIAN: Naturally Endeavour turns his nose up at the gift and in the same episode, when the two are at the pub, he also complains about the pint Strange has got him for being too cloudy and also mocks him for drinking Double Diamond lager. Endeavour is really very unkind towards Strange isn’t he?
SEAN: Yeah, the ungrateful git. It is true to life though, isn’t it? When we feel at odds with the world, or hard done by, we take out our frustrations on those closest to us. Morse’s options are fairly limited in that regard.
DAMIAN: How do you think the relationship between the two has developed since Strange was first introduced in GIRL (S1:E1)?
SEAN: It’s certainly had its ups and downs. There’s more of a shorthand between the two. Not too much, mind.
DAMIAN: And we must mention Strange’s legendary tank tops which he seems to wear regardless to weather conditions as though his mother still dresses him. Is it fair to say he’s a bit drab and frumpish before his time?
SEAN: I think that would be entirely fair to say. The swinging 60’s really passed Strange by where fashion is concerned. Probably where everything else is concerned too!
DAMIAN: Is the maroon tank top his particular favourite?
SEAN: As it’s probably the least flattering of the lot I’m going to say yes.
DAMIAN: In a fantastically tense scene between two men with such loyalty and respect for each other, Endeavour doesn’t approve of Strange punching the informant Bernie Waters in CODA (S3:E4). Do you think that Strange is much closer to, and influenced by the methods of Thursday than Endeavour could ever be?
SEAN: I think by dint of his intellect and abilities, Endeavour stands alone. That’s not to say that there isn’t a great deal Morse can’t learn from Thursday, but he certainly has a few more avenues available to him when it comes to an investigation. Strange is going to take all the help he can get.
DAMIAN: Finally, and I’m not sure who told me this although it was probably Russ, is it true that you regard performing in scenes with Roger Allam and Anton Lesser as masterclasses in acting?
SEAN: I think that was in reference to one particular scene, series 3 if memory serves, where they’re both having a bit of a hoo-ha in Thursday’s office. I had to come in towards the end of the scene and deliver a bit of news of some sort. From rehearsals to the last take I had my nose pressed against the glass in total awe of the pair of them. Not just the acting but the way they communicated with each other, from one actor to another. They both had the goal of making the scene the best it could be, playing together in the purest sense. Ask any actor worth a sniff and they’ll tell you that there is nothing more thrilling than that.
Obviously, apart from that one particular scene, they’re both normally crap.
DAMIAN: Sean, thank you matey!
SEAN: A pleasure!
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2018
“Every story has a beginning. Before the gates of Troy. In a certain house at Ithaca. Upon the road to Thebes. But no matter where it starts, every story has its hero. As often as not, a young man on a journey from innocence to experience…”
Series two begins Sunday, 30th March on ITV1
Exclusive interviews with the cast and crew of Endeavour coming soon to dmbarcroft.com and The Official Inspector Morse Society.
Are you an enthusiast of crime fiction and a fan of shows like Endeavour, Sherlock and Ripper Street? Then how would you like the opportunity to appear on television and share your knowledge of your particular favourite crime show?
Once again, the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards in collaboration with the Crime Writer’s Association will be honouring the best in crime publishing and crime fiction on screen. This annual celebration will be held at London’s Grosvenor House on 24 October 2013.
In the six weeks leading up to one of the most exciting events on the crime writer’s calendar, ITV3 will be screening The Crime Thriller Club which is a new hour-long show featuring famous faces from the thriller world including actors and writers from some of our favourite ‘whodunits’.
So where do you come into all of this? Well, Cactus TV are producing The Crime Thriller Club which in addition to being a celebration of all things Crime Thriller, will also be bringing enthusiasts of the genre to the studio to showcase their knowledge of a particular crime show in a quiz format to be broadcast on ITV3.
Sounds like a great opportunity to me and a jolly good excuse to reread all those Arthur Conan Doyle and Colin Dexter books again or how about a marathon rerun of Ripper Street? Whatever your favourite crime thriller might be, what are you waiting for?
For more information and details on how to apply, please email Hannah Wilson at Cactus TV Productions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck and maybe I’ll see you on TV – the game is afoot!
Damian Michael Barcroft https://twitter.com/MrDMBarcroft