An exclusive Endeavour interview with Abigail Thaw
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2020
‘I see Dorothea in the 1960s as having the sleuth-like brains of Ms Marple, the independent feminism of Germaine Greer, the seductive charms of Ava Gardner and the sense of humour of Eric Morcambe.’
Abigail Thaw (March, 2014)
DAMIAN: It’s been almost six years since our first interview and yet I vividly remember what you told me when I asked you to describe Dorothea which still makes me smile every single time you appear onscreen. Still a good description isn’t it?
ABIGAIL: Hah. Yup.
DAMIAN: And how would you describe Dorothea in 1970?
ABIGAIL: The same! A little older. A little sadder. But perhaps a little more hopeful.
DAMIAN: What do you personally remember of the 70s; any key historic social or political moments, films or TV shows that defined the decade for you?
ABIGAIL: Well, I was a kid so for me it was the music and the TV. David Bowie and Suzi Quattro. Stevie Wonder and Funkadelic. The Generation Game, Morecambe and Wise and Six Million Dollar Man. The hot summer of ‘76. Power cuts. Fewer cars. Playing football in the streets… Sitting outside pubs with a coke and a packet of crisps while the grown-ups lived it up inside. Actually, we loved that. Can you imagine that now?! My kids certainly can’t. Like driving around in a car with a chain-smoking adult and the windows closed!
But in terms of family life, in the early 70s the Women’s Movement was the most prominent continual event. My mother was very involved and it meant a lot of marches and meetings and travelling with her to conferences. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on her lap or in the creche at the Oxford Union. She was a mature student there and started up the Women’s Liberation Conference along with her peers. This finds its way into the first film of series 7, actually. My daughter is playing my mother, very briefly!
I was always brought up to believe I was equal to a man. It was a simple doctrine. No better or worse but entitled to the same opportunities and the same respect. And I was always encouraged to speak up if I felt there was an injustice to me or anyone else. Trade unions had a lot of power but not many women did so mum helped set up the Night Cleaners Union. They were women who had very few rights and did the shifts no one else wanted to do. It meant going on a lot of demonstrations and painting banners and even wearing a night cleaner’s overall at the front of the march which maybe influenced my desire to act and show off in later life! My mother was very serious about the ideology and felt that men were part of that movement. My step-father was very present as was my father and she loved men. I think that made me feel confident to fight my corner if I felt there was injustice. That men weren’t the enemy, they were my friends. It was society!
DAMIAN: So much has happened since 1965 and I’ve got a few questions about Dorothea and her relationship with Endeavour in particular. First of all, you told me before that she has ‘a fond and protective spot’ for him and is ‘often trying to find ways “in”’. Do you think she has found a way “in” yet?
ABIGAIL: I do, actually. They don’t need to say much but they have been through a lot, seen a lot, fallen out and reconciled. That adds depth.
DAMIAN: Also from our previous interview, I remember you mentioning Russ’ excellent scripts, the way he writes with a particular syntax for each character and that you and Shaun often try to find ways to play with this as you both like a bit of a laugh. However, you also mentioned that the directors often try to reign you both in on this so I’m wondering -since Shaun is obviously a director himself now- if you feel a little more free to explore and experiment with the dialogue when he’s at the helm?
ABIGAIL: Hah. Not really. I’m a big believer in the written word. It’s been put there for a reason. But things change all the time on set. Sometimes time simply runs out or a plot line has to change so you adapt. The exploration mainly comes from how you say something rather than what. And I’m often surprised to find the mood of a scene can go a different way. Probably much to Russ’ dismay!
DAMIAN: You told me that you had a notebook tucked away with some thoughts when I asked if you had your own ideas regarding Dorothea’s backstory. Since then, Russ wrote a scene in QUARTET (S5:E5) which was sadly cut but would have offered some great insight into the character’s past:
INT. AMBER LODGE/LOBBY – DAY 1
CLAUDINE at the RECEPTION desk. She comes across to DOROTHEA…
CLAUDINE: Miss Frazil? Claudine Darc. I’m a photo-journalist.
DOROTHEA: Bad luck.
CLAUDINE: And a friend of Morse. Would you sign something for me?
CLAUDINE pulls out a well-thumbed book — ‘TRAVELS WITH MYSELF – THE WAR IN KOREA – BY DOROTHEA FRAZIL.’
DOROTHEA: Good heavens. Where did you find that?
CLAUDINE: A book-seller on the Seine by Pont-Neuf. It’s a classic. It means a lot to me. (as DOROTHEA SIGNS) What was it like? For a woman on the Front Line.
DOROTHEA: Are you squeamish?
DOROTHEA: Then you’ll be alright. Why?
CLAUDINE: Why didn’t you do more?
DOROTHEA: Ask me when you come back.
DAMIAN: I wouldn’t have thought of Dorothea as being squeamish either so I’m wondering why Dorothea didn’t do more. Was it fatigue, too traumatic an experience or simply a revulsion for slaughter and suffering?
ABIGAIL: I think the latter mainly. At some point you reach saturation point and you either normalise it – and go slightly mad – or you call a halt. I think she thought, enough. I’m going back to Oxford, where I was happiest. Not much can happen there…!
DAMIAN: Dorothea often witnesses Endeavour in his darkest moments such as the following scene -as written rather than shot- during the aftermath of George Fancy’s death in ICARUS (S5:E6):
EXT. SNOOKER HALL – NIGHT 5
Police vehicles. In the lee of the entrance, ENDEAVOUR — shocked to his core – he struggles a smoke to his lips, but his hands are trembling too hard to light it. DOROTHEA…
She lights his smoke. Their eyes meet over the flame.
DOROTHEA (CONT’D): Is it true?
The answer in ENDEAVOUR’s – wounded, thousand yard stare.
Time and again she also acts as something of an emotional intelligence mentor as in the following scene from PYLON (S6:E1), once again on the subject of George Fancy:
DOROTHEA: You have to forgive him.
ENDEAVOUR: For what?
DOROTHEA: Dying. Then you can forgive yourself – for being angry at him. It’s part of letting go.
ENDEAVOUR: Have you just got back from an Ashram?
DOROTHEA: Make peace with him, Morse. Or it’ll eat you alive.
DAMIAN: Is Dorothea simply offering sage advice or is there perhaps more to this scene such as the possibility that it comes from her own experiences of pain and guilt?
ABIGAIL: I think she’s been there in some way. Again, we’ve had a glimpse of what it was in another episode but it was cut.
DAMIAN: There’s a wonderful scene in CONFECTION (S6:E3) with Dorothea and Endeavour who has fallen for yet another wrong’un:
DOROTHEA: Second time lucky. The vet’s daughter.
ENDEAVOUR: Haven’t you had enough of gossip to going on with for now.
DOROTHEA: What we do, isn’t it? ‘I won’t quarrel with my bread and butter.’
ENDEAVOUR: Swift. ‘Polite Conversation’ (off DOROTHEA) Nothing polite about this. Tittle-tattle. Cheap thrills.
DOROTHEA: Makes the world go round, Morse.
ENDEAVOUR: I thought that was love.
DOROTHEA: I can’t speak to that.
ENDEAVOUR: No. Me neither.
DOROTHEA: Buy you a drink? They say misery loves company.
ENDEAVOUR: Another time?
DOROTHEA heads off. ENDEAVOUR alone.
DAMIAN: If only Dorothea was a few years younger! You know, intertextual Freudian nightmares aside, I often think that Dorothea and Endeavour would make a great couple were it not for their age difference. A lovely moment from HARVEST, where the two of them are exploring the higher levels of a power station and he freezes because of his fear of heights and she says ‘Just shut your eyes and take my hand. Come on. One foot in front of the other.’
I’ve asked Russ if Dorothea is just a little bit attracted to Endeavour but he says that is absolutely not the case so let me put it differently and ask a slightly different question: if Endeavour ever had a long-term girlfriend, wouldn’t she have good reason to be jealous of his relationship with Dorothea?
ABIGAIL: Well, probably. In the sense that Dorothea has access to parts of his interior life that he doesn’t share lightly. So even though it’s not sexual, it is intimate. When people ask me why Endeavour and Dorothea don’t get together – apart from the Freudian nightmare! – I think of the ancient Greeks’ belief that friendship is more valuable than erotic love: the latter makes things messy and ultimately can end. Friendship endures and deepens.
DAMIAN: Now, it obviously goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of Endeavour and a great admirer of Russ’ writing. However, I don’t think my interviews with him – we’ve done one on each and every episode over the last six years- would work if I simply told him how brilliant he was every time. Indeed, we’ve had our differences of opinion and one of the points of contention involves Dorothea because I was disappointed by her relationship with Kent Finn in GAME (S4:E1) who is described in the script as ‘a brooding inkslinger clinging to his thirties by a fingernail… [his fandom as] an Oxford equivalent of James Ellroy’s ‘peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps’…’
Furthermore, on seeing Dorothea, ‘A flirty, lupine smile plays roguishly about his lip… is the kind of crap line that belongs in one of his novels’. And so I was disappointed that someone as wise and perceptive as Dorothea would get involved with such a man. What are your thoughts on this?
ABIGAIL: Hasn’t everyone had an amour fou? Maybe he was great in bed and no strings attached!
DAMIAN: And another issue was that, as exciting as the her abduction was to watch and the subsequent car chase and crash, I wondered if seeing Dorothea in the role of damsel in distress was also a little disappointing as opposed to giving her something more empowering to do?
ABIGAIL: I see your point but I think the fact that she got herself out of his clutches by strangling him while he drove like a lunatic was pretty brave. She wasn’t worried about the inevitable car crash when you’re choking the driver.
DAMIAN: Rather than engulfed in flames, the original idea was for the car to be submerged in water but was changed for budget reasons. Was this for the best or are you a good swimmer?
ABIGAIL: Haha. Yes, I am a good swimmer. It really was budget. And I think it was Endeavour who was going to fish me out of the water. So maybe I was deemed too heavy!
DAMIAN: I was thrilled to hear that Sheila Hancock would be appearing in HARVEST (S4:E4) to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Inspector Morse but disappointed that the two of you didn’t share a scene together. However, when I later studied the script, I was even more dismayed to discover the following scene was actually written for the two of you but not bloody used:
EXT. BRAMFORD MERE
DOROTHEA: Good morning, Miss Chattox. Dorothea Frazil. Oxford Mail. I interviewed you a few years ago, about your battle with the Power Station.
DOWSABLE: I remember you.
DOROTHEA: Still fighting the good fight, I see.
DOWSABLE: If you mean they haven’t seen me off yet, then, no – they haven’t. Nor will they.
DAMIAN: Please tell me this scene was actually filmed and still exists somewhere?
ABIGAIL: It was and it does. Somewhere.
DAMIAN: And finally, I told Russ recently that I thought both he and the show were a lot more optimistic in 1965 than 1969 and highlighted as evidence some of the more politically-charged storylines such as those in series 5 which Damien Timmer called his “angry” year. What do you think Dorothea would make of a country that seems so politically divided in 2020?
ABIGAIL: I think she would despair. As I do. But she’d have a more practical approach to trying to fix it.
DAMIAN: Abigail, thank you very much indeed and let’s not leave it so long next time.
ABIGAIL: Absolutely. Thank you, Damian.
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2020
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