I never met Colin Dexter and now of course, sadly, I never will. But, I came close – almost. The first time I visited the filming of Endeavour, Sam Costin, then script editor, informed me that Colin was filming his cameo the following day at Exeter. Exeter? Why, having only just set up Unit Base for location work in Oxford are they suddenly moving to Devon? It didn’t make any sense. Of course it wouldn’t make any sense, and it was only afterwards, having said my goodbyes that I realized Sam had obviously meant Exeter College in OXFORD. Damn my stupidity because I’m sure, having put up with me and my endless questions for one day, the cast and crew probably wouldn’t have minded me hanging around for another. By the time I returned to the set the following year, I was told that poor old Colin was too ill to film any more of his famous appearances. So there you go, I missed out on meeting one of my literary heroes by just one day.
Many of you reading this may have had the pleasure of meeting Colin at various book signings and other events over the years, while others may even have had the privilege of actually working with him. And yet regardless, and in the absence of such pleasures and privileges, we all feel as though we know Colin don’t we? Perhaps you first encountered him through his books, or like myself and others who were late to the party, you feel you know him through those aforementioned cameo appearances. And what fun it always was to spot him. Sometimes his presence was easy to see, sometimes it was a little more difficult – especially when disguised as a tramp, and sometimes they were simply hilarious such as the time he tried to upstage Sir John Gielgud (of all people!) in Twilight of the Gods. So, having seen him pop up on our screens over the past thirty years, it was hard not to feel a great sense of loss when Colin himself didn’t, physically at least, appear in the last series of Endeavour. A little bit of the show’s magic was gone and he was missed. Indeed, regardless to how long the series continues, Colin will always be missed. However, even without Colin’s stewardship, Endeavour will continue to sail on with the safest, kindest and most gentle of hands at its helm.
Whenever I visit Oxford, I always like to stop by at “The Bird and Baby” and find an empty corner of the pub in which to reflect on its literary heritage. I’ll almost always imagine J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis sitting there together with a drink next to the glowing fireplace and this year, when I inevitably embark on my annual pilgrimage once more, there will be another gentleman sat beside them. I’ll nod, raise my glass and say cheers Colin.
And it’s a funny thing imagination. When you research and write about something as much as I have on the subject of Morse, it’s very easy to let your imagination run away with you, especially while staying in Oxford. I obviously realize that no matter how long I wander about the pubs or cobbled backstreets, that I’ll never happen to bump into John Thaw, James Grout or Peter Woodthorpe, but then I suddenly find myself on set again shaking hands with Shaun Evans or testing Russ Lewis’ patience by asking him ridiculous questions like what Thursday has on his Wednesday sandwich (he never tells me), and it’s in moments like these that you realize almost anything is possible.
So, this year – and every year, I’ll imagine Colin is still with us but it won’t be the tiny, fragile old gentleman that we saw in his last few screen appearances, rather it will be the giant of Detective and Crime fiction that I’ll see before me. And I also like to imagine Colin back in his favourite holiday destination of Lyme Regis with the taste of the salty sea air on his tongue. Or sitting in his comfy chair in his study at home surrounded by his books and the photos of him with John Thaw and Kevin Whately. So, in the absence of my own personal memories of him, imagination is all I’m left with. Although I never actually met Colin, I loved him anyway.
So for now, farewell my friend, and yes, goodbye Sir. Until Oxford circa 1968 then, because your legacy will continue…