Please note that this interview was originally published prior to the broadcast of Endeavour: Trove (S2:01) on March 30, 2014.
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015
THE ENDEAVOUR ARCHIVES:
An exclusive interview
by Damian Michael Barcroft
With thanks to Privilege Privy
& Tobias Smollett
“Why was I not made of stone like thee?”
Wise, witty and really rather wonderful. Yes, our mutual friend is all these things and more: a cultured man with a refined taste for the arts as well as alcohol, something of a detective in his own right and, it must be acknowledged, a world authority on venereal disease and blood, that is his true speciality.
I speak of course of the pathologist, Dr Maximilian Theodore Siegfried de Bryn, the man with an awkward, melancholy smile and a vivacious appetite for language that is frequently interlaced with food analogies. And, (I’m cheerfully Anglo-Saxon when it comes to conjunctions – good evening Mr Burchfield wherever you are!), it is of refreshments that I would now like to draw your attention because our honoured guest is none other than the writer of Endeavour, Mr Russell Lewis, who has kindly agreed to share his selection box – a veritable treasure trove of centres soft, hard and chewy – amongst which it is hoped that the reader will each find a favourite. (His is the Montelimar Surprise!)
Indeed, it is a mammoth privilege to be privy to such a refined repository of recitals and renderings, but please be abstemious as what shall shortly follow is merely the starter before a sumptuous banquet of which I feel Max would surely approve – I spy a boiled shirt…
– First Bus to Woodstock –
DAMIAN: It is a waggish and whimsical indulgence of mine that I always address you as “Sir” but I thought we might dispense with the usual protocol for the purposes of this interview and run with something less officious. Mr Lewis? – no, this may prove somewhat confusing to the Morse devotee. Perhaps in the name of simplicity, whilst simultaneously honouring the traditional celebration of the Norwegian graduation ceremony, might I call you Russ?
RUSS: By all means.
DAMIAN: Sadly Russ, this is not an episode of This Is Your Life but I would like to take you on a trip down memory lane – cue “Gala Performance”: Taggart, Between the Lines, Wycliffe, Sharpe, Cadfael, Kavanagh QC, Hornblower, Monsignor Renard, The Last Detective, Murphy’s Law, Spooks and Marple to name but a few. The words prolific and remarkable spring to mind…
RUSS: A reviewer once described my output as Stakhanovite. It was not meant to flatter. Your ‘remarkable’ is likewise open to interpretation! As to prolific… Over twenty-five years, or near enough, it works out roughly to one show a year, sometimes the same show — first, second, and third series of things. Sometimes you get long patches – several years together – where you’ve got stuff in ‘development’, and zip in production. But, yeh… Slow and steady. ‘Scribble, scribble, scribble, Mister Gibbon.’
DAMIAN: It surely can’t be a coincidence that so much of your work features the police, detectives and sleuths?
RUSS: You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But it’s mostly coincidence. I certainly didn’t set out to be a crime writer. Don’t really think of myself as one. (Cue chorus of agreeing wholeheartedly.) I’ve operated, mostly, on a cab rank principle, and taken whatever’s come along next in the queue.
I read a lot of crime as a youth (when I wasn’t weeping in butchers’ shops). The usual suspects – Christie was a big draw when I was about nine. Those Tom Adams/Fontana covers held me absorbed in Smiths for HOURS. Conan Doyle, naturally; Chesterton; Hammett; and, of course, Chandler – through I probably came to the last two a little later.
Like a lot of young boys it was Fleming’s Bond – those early 70s Pan (was it?) imprints! – that got under my skin in a big way. Like the less attractive aspects of Blyton, I suppose the snobbery with violence passed me by at the time. I am still, however, extremely dismayed that LIVE AND LET DIE didn’t get the same treatment for its cover, and was lumbered with the movie poster for the duration of those imprints, which left the set incomplete.
In any event, my school holidays were spent mostly listening to John Barry – The James Bond 10th Anniversary Collection, FYI! – and filling untold exercise books with 007 knock-offs.
I got out a lot of Ellery Queen from the local library – in those Gollancz yellow-jackets. Television led me to Ellery, as the BBC would have been running the short-lived Jim Hutton series around then – mid-70s? I was obsessed with the chequerboard credits and sig tune. Now happily (and often!) revisited via Youtube.
And it was BBC radio – and a decent, encouraging English teacher – that brought me to Chandler and Hammett, respectively. The former ran a series of adaptations with the late, great Ed Bishop playing the immortal Philip Marlowe, which started a lifelong affair with Bay City and its murky denizens.
I started on The Bill – which was a great forcing ground for writers in its bi-weekly, self-contained story format period. I think most of us working on it, certainly during the years I was involved, approached it as the nearest thing we had at the time to a mini-Wednesday play. It was a drama about the police, rather than a police drama. And that’s something I’ve tried to hang on to over the years – that a thing has to work first and foremost as a drama.
And sometimes you pull it off – and sometimes (though not particularly with Endeavour) things get overcooked for one reason or another, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And notes. And one falls short, but that’s always the intention.
I certainly didn’t set out to ‘major’ in crime, but there’s a lot of it about, and I suppose if a writer makes a half decent fist of something on one or two, maybe you get thought of as a safe pair of hands for the genre. Who knows? But I’ve been very fortunate insofar as the crime I have done has been pretty varied – by dint of period or location. I like to think of most of them more as ‘thrillers’ really. But I do enjoy doing things where people don’t die horribly, despite the overwhelming evidence in my imdb c.v. to the contrary!
DAMIAN: You wrote the adaptation of The Way Through the Woods for the original Inspector Morse series as well as various episodes of Lewis, but how did you become involved with the 25th anniversary prequel, Endeavour: First Bus to Woodstock?
RUSS: I’d come back onto the LEWIS roster and done a couple of films for the Mammoths [Mammoth Screen Productions]– Michele Buck and Damien Timmer — that they’d been pleased with. I’ve a long history with both of them – going back the best part of twenty years to our Central/Carlton days — and had worked on TWTTW [The Way Through the Woods] with Damien. So, they just asked me if I’d be interested in doing a one off to mark 25 years of IM [Inspector Morse].
DAMIAN: Who had the original idea to do a prequel?
RUSS: You’d have to ask the Mammoths for the def-gen, but the Silver Anniversary was on the horizon, and they wanted to celebrate that in some way. But it was always a prequel – set in his early days. Inspiration was taken from Colin’s 1960s short story for the DM [Daily Mail]. We just fiddled with the chronology, ever so slightly, to make it fit more with his television incarnation. Twenty-odd years to becoming a Detective Chief Inspector seemed roughly right.
John Thaw was born in 1942, but we felt twenty-three was probably slightly too young to fit in the brief Army sojourn – so we settled on a d.o.b – the year at least — of around 1940. Which meant he was 25-ish, at the time of FBTW [First Bus to Woodstock]. But, as ever, the fog of battle allows us a little bit of wriggle room.
DAMIAN: Author and creator of Morse, Colin Dexter, once said that John Thaw was so successful that no one else should ever play the part. Furthermore, he added, John thought it was the finest thing he had ever done on television and for that reason, Colin didn’t want comparisons. Was it difficult to change his mind?
RUSS: Well – those conversations mostly took place between the Mammoths and Colin, but his final blessing depended on the outline/script being up to snuff.
I’m a little hazy on the exact chronology, but I went with Michele to meet Colin in the Morse Bar at The Randolph (Where else?!) after he’d read… I think the script… and he gave us his blessing there and then.
Morse on stage
That evening the three of us joined Kevin Whately and went to see Alma Cullen’s play The Mystery of Morse at the New. Chris Burt was also in the house – as you know, CB produced much Morse, including TWTTW, and was also producing LEWIS – so it was a pretty extraordinary conjunction of people. Sitting there with KW watching someone else playing Sgt.Robbie Lewis. One of the trippier experiences. But, as Ch.Supt.Bright might put it — ‘a splendid evening was enjoyed by one and all.’
DAMIAN: The original TV series most notably consisted of adaptations of Colin’s novels or original stories that he wrote especially for the show. I understand that he remains a creative consultant on both Lewis and Endeavour, was it perhaps something of a daunting task to take on the responsibility of such iconic and beloved characters that he created?
RUSS: As I think I’ve said before, we were all of us very aware that we were treading on pretty sacred televisual ground. Most of us had come to it as fans before we ever worked on it, and it had meant a lot to us, so we were very mindful that we didn’t want to do anything to diminish its legacy. Of course it needed to connect with an audience with no previous knowledge of Morse, but for the most part, it was made by fans for fans. Getting it right – or landing as near as a man can aim – meant everything to us. It was from start to finish a love letter to the original show.
DAMIAN: At what point in the development of the first script did you come up with those two beautiful and poignant moments that acknowledge the legacy of John Thaw’s Morse – the “Have we met?” scene (with John Thaw’s daughter, Abigail and Shaun Evans) and the reflection in the rear-view mirror?
RUSS: The rear-view mirror shot was in from the very first outline. John Thaw was a HUGE part of my writing life for many years. I first worked with him post the original series run of Inspector Morse on Kavanagh QC, then TWTTW, and then finally on Monsignor Renard. I admired him hugely, though in those days I was probably far too awestruck to tell him how wonderful I thought he was. So with Endeavour I wanted to tip my hat as affectionately and sincerely as I could. For my part, it was a very personal acknowledgement of a huge debt of gratitude.
For all that Morse is Colin’s creation, it was John who breathed flesh upon the bones, John whose eyes were a window into the melancholy soul of Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse. And in that single film, it was 25 years of the television show we were celebrating.
As to the Oxford Mail scene… It was very special for us to get Abigail to take part in that celebration. She’s a wonderful “actrix”, and an adorable human being. Given her personal association with the show, it meant more than I can possibly express that she very graciously agreed to become involved.
The scene kind of wrote itself – and of anything survived pretty much intact from the first draft. It was still folded into the plot, and you didn’t need to know anything of the extra mural history to simply take it for what it was – another scene in the drama. But if you were watching it with some foreknowledge, then it took on – for me, at least – a very tender dimension.
Of course, by the time the Network asked us to do it as a series, we’d all fallen for Dorothea Frazil’s feisty charms and wanted to see much more of her. Abigail’s an integral part of our ensemble, a constant delight, and, as time goes by, I promise, the audience will get to learn more about Ms.Frazil.
DAMIAN: Can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of the original characters that you created for First Bus to Woodstock such as DI Fred Thursday and Dorothea Frazil?
RUSS: I knew Fred Thursday had to be grounded. Someone to provide a counter-balance to Endeavour’s sometimes prickly demeanour. A man deeply committed to his family, and with a stable, loving marriage. Grown up kids – or near as damn it. Not unlike DS Lewis in that regard, but from a previous generation. A kind of quiet, unshowy, everyday heroism about him. As straight as a die. Decent. Unafraid.
There’s a line from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 – the opening line… ‘The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.’ And I wanted Endeavour, having come from the polar opposite, to have that experience with the Thursdays. This warm, generous, kind, happy, loving family. It’s all about love. All of it.
And, of course, being the age he needed to be to make attaining the police rank he holds credible, puts a twenty-something Thursday smack bang in the middle of World War 2. That was for him – and for many millions of others – the defining experience of his life. He has seen the very worst of humanity, and survived. Everything after that is gravy.
He’s a Londoner – like Roger Allam, born within the sound of Bow Bells – and would have been raised in a level of privation unimaginable now to most of us. A big chunk of his young life would have been the Depression. Hard times. Merciless, even. ‘We’re arming for peace, me boys…’
His war record mirrors that of L/Cpl W.H.Lewis. Eighth Army – North Africa; El Alamein; Italy… Austria. Though at this point Thursday’s adventure takes its own particular turn. There are also echoes of Gunner Milligan’s war here and there.
Talking to Rog as he was preparing for the role, I suggested, if he wasn’t already familiar, that he might find something to draw on in Henry Reed’s poem Lessons of the War. Naming of Parts… &c.
To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.
The final stanza of Judging Distances always reduces me to rubble.
There’s a sense with Thursday, and it’s a matter of historical record that he was not alone in this experience, that having survived the war, he wasn’t going to just come back and pick up where he left off. There had to be a peace dividend. The old order of tugging the forelock at the Ruling Classes would no longer do.
So, along with millions of others, Fred and Win will have been responsible for electing the Attlee government, and, thereby, bringing in the Welfare State as we know it, the NHS, decent social housing. All the good, decent, civilised, and civilising things we’re now daily invited to malign and disparage. ‘Sweet moderation, heart of this nation, desert us not, we are between the wars.’
DAMIAN: Thursday has a fascinating back story that you have only hinted at on screen so far, can you elaborate or will we see more of this in series two?
RUSS: The foregoing answer notwithstanding, you may well learn a little more about Fred Thursday in series 2.
DAMIAN: I’ve a burning question regarding Thursday’s sandwich sequence – Mon: cheese & pickle, Tue: luncheon meat, Fri: corned beef – but when will we discover what he has on Wednesdays and Thursdays?
RUSS: They might get a mention this time round. Sam Price – our doughty script editor, and custodian of all things Endeavour, and much else besides – keeps a list. Of course… the question presupposes that Win does not have a monthly rota!!!
DAMIAN: Not since The Phantom Menace have I approached a prequel with so much fear and trepidation. With either the wrong script or lead actor, Endeavour could have been a disaster reviled by both fans of the original series and Colin Dexter purists alike, was there a particularly positive or negative buzz within the industry before First Bus to Woodstock was premiered?
RUSS: I think in some quarters there was a suspicion that it was a cynical attempt to try to exploit the franchise until the pips squeaked. But the Mammoths have enormous integrity, and none of us would have started in on it if that’s what lay behind it. There was too much riding on it if we got it wrong. We would have been pilloried – and rightly so – by the audience, who can smell faux anything a mile off. But we were very lucky to have a blinding team – wunderkind producer Dan McCulloch, and my fellow traveller from Murphy’s Law, the altogether marvellous Colm McCarthy directing… together with a crack cast and crew. But we were all of us on tenterhooks until the thing had been broadcast. We didn’t want to let anyone down, or sully anyone’s fond memories of the original show.
DAMIAN: Thirty-three episodes of the original television series, not to mention Colin’s thirteen novels and various short stories, how on earth did you go about researching the material before even beginning to write your script for First Book to Woodstock?
RUSS: I re-read the novels. Already knew the original series pretty well, but watched them ALL again. Soaked myself in the period. Beyond that…
DAMIAN: Colin himself wrote a short story for the Daily Mail in 2008 as part of a Christmas serial special published in three parts; Mr E. Morse, BA Oxon (Failed), also known by its original title, Morse and the Mystery of the Drunken Driver, chronicling the young Morse going to study at Oxford in 1968. Did you find this particularly revealing or useful in terms of developing ideas for the script?
RUSS: It was a very useful window onto young Morse’s mindset. But beyond that, Colin had already done most of the heavy lifting in The Riddle of the Third Mile.
DAMIAN: Russ, where were you on 22nd November 1963?
RUSS: Not in a certain Book Depository.
DAMIAN: You have done a splendid job of getting around timeline anomalies, inconsistencies between what Colin wrote and even contradictory information from the original series. Perhaps the most significant illustration of this is the confusion surrounding Susan/Wendy. [I direct the reader to my notes following this interview for more details on this and other matters] I know there is some debate surrounding how old Morse actually is in the first Endeavour but what has been the most difficult anomalies to reconcile?
RUSS: That’s very kind of you to say. We’ve done our best to ret-con where we can, but I’m sure it’s a fairly impossible task to dot every I and cross every T. The idea to resolve the Wendy/Susan anomaly was to imagine someone – not unlike Morse – who wasn’t too keen on their first name. However, unlike Morse they had a second choice to fall back on.
©ITV/MammothScreen “She preferred the name Susan”
DAMIAN: One of my favourite scraps of information that you pick up on from the original series is the reference to Morse’s troubled childhood in Cherubim and Seraphim which you also explore later in Home. I’m wondering generally, but also with specific reference to First Bus to Woodstock, what ideas comes first – is it the mystery plots or the individual character-driven stories and development?
RUSS: That’s a hard one. Mainly because of the passage of time since we made it – the best part of three, three and half years now. And we’ve done eight since – each of which holds one’s complete attention for the duration of its production. But, if I remember correctly, it was the title First Bus to Woodstock that came to me first, and I kind of extrapolated the mystery from there. [The first Morse novel was called Last Bus to Woodstock]
As you know yourself, it’s quite difficult to chicken/egg a piece of work post facto. I’d carried – like most fans – a memory of the series, which I’d consumed first as a viewer. Of course, in prepping TWTTW, I’d immersed myself in Morse lore. But from a TV show point of view… there were touchstones. Waypoints. The opera. The crosswords. The real ale. Susan Fallon. Susan Fallon. Susan Fallon. The aching melancholy.
The ‘You know I don’t drink’ line, which was there in the outline – is, I think, Endeavour’s first, and was intended to convey a sense of – ‘You think you know his story. But you don’t know all of it.’ In my mind – we were joining him at a point in his life where he had been on a long, long sabbatical from alcohol. Perhaps having already having taken a peek over the edge of the abyss, most likely drowning his post-Susan sorrows, and seen where it could lead. That kind of got a little lost – though there’s a pointer towards it from Joyce in HOME when they go to the pub. She says something along the lines of, “I thought you’d taken the pledge”. But, it’s quite understandable if it was missed.
When he takes his sup of ale in the beer garden with Thursday in FBTW – having fainted in the mortuary after watching Max ‘having a rummage’ – it is a homecoming. Somewhere a bell should be tolling, for he is welcoming back into his life the slow poison that, for all the solace it brings him, will eventually number his days.
Morse’s Achilles Heel – as Fred Thursday puts it in GIRL ‘When it comes to a bird with a wing down, you’ve a blind spot a mile wide.’ — a predilection for falling for the wrong woman HAD to be in there. Another pedestalled Goddess. Susan Fallon… and then Rosalind Stromming. To take the one thing that has sustained him – saved his life in fact — and stain it, taint it in some way. To hurt him very badly. Another Brick in the Wall.
DAMIAN: Your scripts are both a joy and a nightmare to examine. For example, in First Bus to Woodstock, Morse’s landlady at the guest-house, Mrs Crabbin, tells him that his room was previously occupied by a certain Mr Bleaney and misquotes Philip Larkin’s 1955 poem of the same name, replacing “Bodies” with “Bodleian”. She also informs Morse that two of her other lodgers are Mr Goldberg and Mr McCann, a nod to Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party. These often cunning or obscure references excite the researcher into thinking they may have discovered another connection to the original series only to find they are actually quite mischievous and have absolutely nothing to do with either Colin’s work or that of the previous television-makers. Do you enjoy leading the Morse scholar down the garden path?
RUSS: Well – a certain amount of Larkin and Pinter’s work seems, in my mind at least, to inhabit an area of English post-war drear. Seedy lodging houses of a kind Endeavour occupies. It seemed the sort of place both Mr.B, and Pinter’s shady pair might hole up. So… I put them in.
In truth, E’s arrival at Mrs.Crabbin’s owes much to Leslie Caron’s arrival at The L-Shaped Room – in which the mighty Avis Bunnage played the landlady. That was certainly in my mind for that sequence.
But – yeh — those little nods and references are there for those that want to find them. The puzzle within the puzzle. No £10 prize for identifying them all, but hopefully some extra amusement and satisfaction in nailing them for the viewer. They’re not intended to distract, but just another layer which bears forensic scrutiny on a second, or subsequent viewing. They are present to a greater or lesser degree in all the films.
DAMIAN: Morse fans love to spot Colin in his many cameos – one of my favourite appearances is in Twilight of the Gods in which he shamelessly tries to upstage the great Sir John Gielgud! – who decides where these will appear as they are not scripted are they?
RUSS: It always depends on Colin’s availability. But he always appears – these days at least – in an Oxford setting.
DAMIAN: I’m curious as to what extent there might now be a story arc and how far into Morse’s future has been planned or discussed?
RUSS: I know absolutely how it ends. The final scene is already written. And I have certain key points mapped out for all the major characters.
DAMIAN: Other than the unchangeable stories and events that are set in stone because of Morse’s future as depicted in the original series, to what extent do you have creative control over the stories and character development in Endeavour?
RUSS: Carte blanche really. I’ll typically have a notion of the stories for each series, the worlds we want to look at, and I’ll chew them over with the Mammoths, and my altogether brilliant Script Editor — Sam Price – who is worth a million times his weight in precious metal – and provided it’s not something that’s going to break the bank in terms of set pieces, etc., and we all share an enthusiasm for the story under discussion, we take it from there.
There was one major and one minor idea for this series – oddly enough, both in the same film — vetoed by the network at a very late stage. But I’ve hopes it might be considered again – ‘on appeal’ as t’were. Other than that, it’s been fairly straightforward.
So one writes and redrafts, and writes and redrafts, and then – when we’re happy, we’ll send the ReadThru Draft to Colin, which he’ll cast an expert eye over, and then he’ll usually attend the Read and give us the benefit of his wisdom and experience in the Apres ski section of the morning.
The boys – Shaun and Rog – like to get eyes on as early as they can, and always provide hugely useful feedback. They are the sharp end, usually shooting one film, but still finding time (somehow!) to read and respond to the next. Which is no small feat, given the schedule. But they are, both of them, like Colin, whatever the demands of the shoot, always on point, and their input is not only deeply valued, but also invaluable.
Thankfully, so far, we haven’t had a ‘You can type this shit, George, but you can’t say it!’ moment.
DAMIAN: Remarkably, you’ve written every episode of Endeavour thus far – you’re the Aaron Sorkin of Oxford! Do you ever get writer’s block or sometimes doubt your own ability to consistently deliver scripts of such high quality?
RUSS: We have looked at opening it up, but it’s quite an idiosyncratic brief to fill. I suppose having done the single – that set the tone, really. For better or worse. My mind is clearly quite rickety and wonky. Perverse. The way I fashion stories. What will work for me as a ‘blind’ and what won’t.
These films have to work on many different levels. In part they are whodunits, but if that was all they were I’d have probably hurled myself from a high window by now. I enjoy making the puzzle, but it’s the personal material – the character stuff – that sits alongside it – for guest characters as well as regulars – that makes the puzzle sit ‘just so.’ They should be impossible to separate. And when they come closest to that ideal, I think that’s when they work best.
I try to always push the format as much as I can – not letting it get predictable, which would be death to write, miserable to play, and dreary to watch. It’s hard to put your finger on just what it is that makes an Endeavour story an Endeavour story, but I suppose one just knows it when one sees it.
It’s very good of you to say they’re high quality – but, typically, one only sees what one could have done better. Unlike my namesake, for me the glass is not always half full.
As to writer’s block. Nope. Which isn’t to say that every piece of work isn’t like a game of Russian Roulette. You never know if you’re going to fill the blank page with the right words in the right order. Has been that way every day for over 25 years. I never know whether a thing is going to work until I get to the end. And if it doesn’t work, one just does it over again. Finds a better way of doing it. But it’s the not knowing keeps me going. ‘Assaulting the citadel,’ as Chandler had it. That, and an awful lot of people counting on one being able to deliver.
Because once the Endeavour production train has left the station, it’s nigh on impossible to stop. I have certainly at times felt a certain affinity with Grommit at the climax of The Wrong Trousers, clinging to the engine and furiously laying track, just to keep the thing on the rails. A derailment would mean stopping production, which would be catastrophic in terms of blood and treasure. Like the prospect of being hanged in the morning – it does tend to concentrate the mind. No room at the inn for Mister Block, I’m afraid.
That said – I’m very fortunate insofar as I have a very crafty cohort of folk with fine minds and brains the size of gas giants — Sam Price and the Mammoths, the Boys – Shaun & Roger – keeping me on the straight and narrow. And, of course, Colin.
For all that, my scribbling would avail us naught if we didn’t have a brilliant production team there to make it actually happen. It’s all very well me putting down this or that crackpot nonsense, but the production team have to find, design and dress the locations; cast, clothe and coiffure the players; source the period props, vehicles, etc., etc., etc., make sure everyone turns up at the right place on time, and that we’re lit, locked and loaded to shoot. On this series, they’ve done that for 97 shooting days – usually running between 12 and 16 hours plus — and kept the thing going through the brief downtime between each film. Which doesn’t take into account pre-production time, etc., etc. They are my heroes. Come rain, hail, sleet or snow… On this run PARTICULARLY RAIN… they deliver. I’m indebted to them.
DAMIAN: Whenever I’m researching and writing, I like to focus almost exclusively on the given subject and try to inhabit that world as far as possible rather like an actor might adopt the Stanislavski/Strasberg “Method”. So even as I prepared these questions, I was immersing (e-morse-ing?) myself by listening to opera and enjoying the odd cheeky glass of Glenfiddich or two (I’m still working to acquire his love of “pure food”). I’d love to learn more about your own writing process particularly when working on Endeavour – do you surround yourself with certain books, music or even liquor?
RUSS: Sometimes I’ll have music on very low on headphones, but usually not during daylight hours. I find it too easy to just listen to the music and not write. But if I’m pulling an all nighter, or doing several days/nights straight at the desk and not seeing the pillow, then I’ll have something on that’s barely audible – on a loop, which, together with too much caffeine, keeps me going through the watches of the night.
Dogs by the Pink Floyd has haunted my imagination since I first heard it in 1977. Definitive late night listening. Some very eerie passages. Likewise, some of John Martyn’s dead of night stuff has kept me company more times than I care to remember. Most of One World — Small Hours; Solid Air; pretty much EVERYTHING on Grace and Danger.
I also have a playlist of Barrington’s Morse scores – on SHUFFLE! – so that I’m not falling into a routine with it. On one or two of the films I’ve fired up a couple of Bernard Herrmann scores to set the mood. The suite from SE7EN — which we plundered for the temp score on HOME.
Youtube is very handy for the odd bit of classical music that isn’t yet in the collection. I’d like to say I have the Ring cycle on a loop, but I find the voices demand too much of my attention – so I tend, with Wagner, while working at least, to favour overtures and orchestral passages. (Go straight to Pseuds’ Corner. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.)
It’s funny how Wagner – Colin’s, and therefore Morse’s, grand passion — was sidelined in the original IM in favour of WAM [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart]. Who doesn’t love Mozart? But if fate allows, I will be edging Endeavour back towards RW. Though he is – or certainly at the time of FBTW – leaning heavily towards the more obvious charms of Verdi, etc. A young man’s fancy. Time will cast ever darker shadows upon his heart, and that will be reflected in his evolving musical taste.
Books… Well, for Endeavour — Colin’s obviously. David Bishop’s guide to the original series [The Complete Inspector Morse]. Sundry walk around ‘Morse’s Oxford’ volumes. Shedloads of 60s histories. But they are there more as a safety net. Somewhere I can go to look up this or that detail of canon, or historical curiosity.
But nothing really does it like novels, film and TV from the period. I’ll have a soak in some of that for a few months – overdose on it. Trying to reach critical mass. And then – off we go.
No Glenfiddich, alas.
DAMIAN: I must have been a strange teenager to have connected to a miserable old bugger like Morse but I really did relate to him. Firstly, I enjoyed classical music (“church music” the other schoolchildren teasingly referred to it) but I also shared his inability to engage socially with people and his awkwardness around girls. Do you have your own personal affinity with Morse?
RUSS: Well, I think at one time or another we’ve all ticked a good few of those boxes. I share his passion for crosswords.
DAMIAN: I fear the cart is shaken all to pieces and the rugged road is very near its end. However, it may amuse the reader, as it certainly amuses the author of these shenanigans to learn that we’ll be returning for more of your reflections on inspiration and creativity next week. Russ, before you make your way home through the woods, might you give us a clue as to what we can expect from tonight’s episode?
RUSS: The unexpected. Hopefully. TROVE’s an interesting puzzle, and of all the films to date is our biggest tip of the trilby to the hard-boiled, noir school. It’s still ENDEAVOUR, of course, and deeply rooted in a particular English peculiarity, but there’s a little bit of ‘down these mean streets a man must go’ about it. It definitely started out with that influence – but we always run these things through the Endeavour filter, and that changes them again.
I don’t want to say too much else at this point, as I don’t want to spoil the experience, but do ask me again when it’s been aired.
DAMIAN: One final question for now, some months ago you told me that there would be much cross pollination across many a fictional world in the second series and teased with a “Wold Newton Universe” reference – could you elaborate further without arousing the wrath of the woolly mammoths?
RUSS: I like playing with the idea that certain fictional characters — i.e., Goldberg and McCann — places and businesses from other media – TV, books, film, &c. – actually exist (sometimes in plain sight, sometimes disguised) in one form or another in the Endeavour universe. Sometimes it’s something that comes from that particular year, but not always. Usually, they’re viewed through a glass darkly – twisted ever so slightly out of true. A name heard in passing. Or a throwaway line.
That said, it’s always the story that comes first – the puzzle, and whatever character advances one wants to make in a particular film – but I have great fun decorating the finished thing with hidden references and oblique tips of the hat to things that have meant a great deal to me, on one level or another. In which enterprise, Sam Price is my willing and ever-resourceful partner in crime.
Some of our plans come horribly unstuck, as we are subject to ‘compliance’ and ‘neg checking’ in accordance with Ofcom’s rules – which basically means if we settle on a name for a person or business, we have to run it by ‘neg checkers’ to make sure there isn’t a real person (or business) with that name pottering around who might take umbrage, or worse, sue us to death for having defamed them by suggesting they are a murderer, or are unkind to animals, or drive badly, or..? Anything you can think of really.
You’re okay if maybe ten people have the name you want to use, but doomed if even one of the ten should be living in Oxford, at which point you go back to the drawing board and start over. Having several members of a family is a particular nightmare. You might clear the father and daughter, but not the son and wife. So, you have to rename them all. Often quite late into pre-production.
Not only that but we have to make sure NOBODY of such and such a name EVER lived in Oxford. A modern madness and indicative of the litigious age in which we live – everyone’s a would-be Saul Goodman. Have YOU had an accident at work today?
It certainly never used to be the case when I started writing – but O tempora! O mores! Can you imagine if ‘compliance’ had found a B Fawlty; hotelier on the Torquay Electoral Roll in ’75? Or a Bank Manager by the name of Mainwaring in some other coastal town? Cray-cray. But this too shall pass. [Can you get back to the question? Ed.]
Some real people also get a look in. We had HRH The Princess Margaret in ROCKET… and our greatest sadness with TROVE was — because we film late summer through winter, and shoot the stories in chronological order – we were unable to squeeze in Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who performed The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus for a limited run at the New in Feb ‘66.
Due to the huge press interest in the couple – and the fact that Elizabeth Taylor was carrying some very expensive rocks on her fingers — rehearsals took place in the Oxford City Police gymnasium!!! An early draft does exist with them in it – Strange was their uniformed minder, and I’d planned to have Endeavour trading quotations with Richard B in the pub. But, alas – the season was against us. However, if you keep a very beady eye – there is a still a visual reference that survives of the fortnight that Hollywood came to Oxford!
It was this little bit of information – weirdly enough – that got the story of TROVE started. I’ll be able to say more once it’s been broadcast. These things always evolve, and you’d probably be hard pressed to track that through the story we ended up telling. But that was the original point of departure.
DAMIAN: There was once a twelve-year-old boy who would have been absolutely thrilled to talk to the man who writes Morse’s adventures. Unfortunately, the young chap in question is no longer with us; he was left behind and forced to grow up while the other children escaped to Neverland. However, I think I can speak on his behalf when I thank you so very much indeed for taking the time to do this interview and I’m reminded of a line Jim Barrie once wrote, “Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough.” Cheers Russ!
RUSS: Absolute pleasure. Apologies for the length of the answers to some of these. Hope I haven’t tested your readers’ patience past endurance. I think perhaps you should issue a warning at the start that I do tend to wheeze on and on like a busted accordion. However, having covered FBTW in some depth, hopefully the next won’t try your patience to such a degree!
“D-DAY, FRIDAY, 98018”
The Inside Story
Each week we’ll be looking at what information we can glean from each of the Endeavour films concerning significant events and encounters and how they tie into the original series. Today we continue our study of First Bus to Woodstock:
Morse’s father was a taxi driver until he lost his licence. His mother was raised a Quaker. Cherubim and Seraphim & First Bus to Woodstock
Morse’s father married Gwen who then had a daughter named Joyce (later known as Joyce Garrett). Morse was 15* when his mother died. Cherubim and Seraphim
*Morse says his mother died when he was 12 (not 15 as above). First Bus to Woodstock
Morse contemplated suicide at the age of 15. Cherubim and Seraphim
It is suggested that one of the reasons Morse didn’t go through with the suicide was because of the soprano Rosalind Calloway. After hearing her voice, he realized for the first time that there was beauty in the world. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse and Sir Alexander Reece knew each other while they were Lonsdale students and both romantically pursued a young lady named Wendy (aka Susan – see later notes on this matter). Arthur Drysdale was one of Morse’s tutors and took his scholarship away. He states that Morse could have achieved a first if only he had worked harder. Instead, Morse is distracted because of his doomed relationship. The Last Enemy & First Bus to Woodstock
There is reference to another significant love affair for Morse during his student days and gets engaged to a certain Susan Fallon (aka Wendy). However, Susan decides to marry Henry Fallon (an Oxford don) instead leaving Morse distraught. Morse later decides to leave the university, joining the army and then the police force. Dead on Time
Morse was engaged to Wendy/Susan. There was originally someone else (Henry?) from her first year and after it ended, she took up with Morse but it was not to be. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse did three years at Lonsdale but threw in the towel before his finals. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse states that he was a cipher clerk in the Royal Signal Corps. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse wants to leave Oxford City Police and even writes a letter of resignation. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse and Detective Inspector Fred Thursday meet for the first time. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse and Doctor Max de Bryn meet for the first time. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse bumps into his old Lonsdale “chum” Alex (later Sir Alexander Reece). Morse tells him that he is a policeman while Alex says he is still climbing the ladder of academe and even successfully predicts that he will be Master one day. Morse and Alex also briefly reminisce about a girl they were both keen on named Wendy who lived on St. John Street. Morse explains that she preferred the name Susan (as in Susan Fallon) so the Wendy/Susan’s of The Last Enemy and Dead on Time are presumably the same person. Of the two men, Wendy/Susan preferred Morse to Alex. First Bus to Woodstock
Morse meets one his heroines, soprano Rosalind Calloway/Stromming. He has most of her recordings and particularly admires her Butterfly ‘54. She retired from music to focus on her marriage to Rowan Stromming although still helps with college choir and charity galas. First Bus to Woodstock
After one final performance of Un bel di from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Rosalind Calloway is arrested and later hangs herself. First Bus to Woodstock
Thursday fought in North Africa during the war. First Bus to Woodstock
~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~
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