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Exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview with Russell Lewis on CODA

THE ENDEAVOUR ARCHIVES: CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF MORSE ON SCREEN

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017

“Coughing better tonight” – The Wigan Nightingale

Russell Lewis on CODA

An exclusive ENDEAVOUR interview

by Damian Michael Barcroft

The final part of our journey discussing series three of ENDEAVOUR as well as previewing tonight’s film with writer/executive producer – Russell Lewis.

~

Remembering Graham. My Grandfather, mentor and friend.

~

Wednesday morning at five o’clock as the day begins…

DAMIAN: Morning Russ. Just pass me that note on the fireplace, it’s got the questions on. Thanks. So evil twin, no, we’ve done that. Tiger, yeah that one too. You see, I’m asking all the right questions, but not necessarily in the right order. Here we go then, eyes down for a full house – would you agree that CODA was by far the best film of series three?

RUSS:  I honestly couldn’t say.

DAMIAN: Of all the ENDEAVOUR films thus far, which one would you say was the best or at least which are you most proud of?

RUSS:  Again – unhelpfully – I don’t have a favourite child.  I have good (and less good) memories about each of the films.

DAMIAN: Do you ever get a sense, either in the writing, filming or post production process, which of the films are going to be a hit with audiences?

RUSS:  Not particularly.  ENDEAVOUR has always been a Variety pack.  Someone will love the Ricicles, but not the Sugar Puffs.  I view it as a totality.

DAMIAN: When I’ve asked you about specific films in our previous interviews, I often get the impression that you haven’t seen them in a while. Obviously you see the rushes from each day’s shoot, but other than that, do you not watch them again?

RUSS:  It’s very personal.  We watch not just the dailies, but also the weekly assemblies, and every cut that’s done in post – on which we give notes.  And then again in the grade…  and during the final mix.  So.  Once I’ve seen the final cut graded & mixed…  I tend not to watch them again.  All I ever see are the flaws – the things we could have done better.  Battles lost and won.

DAMIAN: Would it not even prove beneficial to watch them again as a refresher before you embark on writing the scripts for new films?

RUSS:  It probably would, but the pain to benefit ratio is too far tilted towards to the former as to make it unbearable.

DAMIAN: Will the Lewis family not be gathered in front of the television with a Good News box of chocolates to watch tonight’s film?

RUSS:  Unlikely.

DAMIAN: There’s this rather strange phenomenon now where fans tweet along as ENDEAVOUR is actually broadcast instead of focussing on the show and giving it the full and undivided attention it deserves. What do you make of this?

RUSS:  If people enjoy it, I don’t see any harm.  People talk while watching things.  It’s just an extension of that.  We are a guest in their homes, and it’s lovely to be invited around to spend time with them.  So long as nobody gets hurt, there’s nothing to frighten the horses, and it’s all consensual, then folk can do just as they please in their own lounge rooms.

Either side of the TX +1, it’s a lovely way to interact and connect with people who enjoy the show.

DAMIAN: As many reading this will know, your scripts are always filled with so many delightful references to INSPECTOR MORSE and various other things –CODA is no exception and newcomers might like to check out GREEKS BEARING GIFTS, PROMISED LAND and THE WAY THROUGH THE WOODS in particular– so you must go back and view the original series every so often?

RUSS:  Mmm.  A bit, yes.  With one exception.  It’s usually characters that have stayed in the memory that put in an appearance.  But there’s a lot still left to plunder.  Yes, PROMISED LAND loomed large over CODA – thanks to the diligence of Helga Dowie, our brilliant Line Producer who has been with us since FIRST BUS TO WOODSTOCK, we managed to shoot the funeral of Harry Rose, which opens proceedings, at the same cemetery.  Helga also came through magnificently with last week’s LAZARETTO – going to great lengths to secure the location used in DEAD ON TIME for William Bryce-Morgan’s house.

It’s worth saying that the raid in CODA is not the bank-raid STRANGE and MORSE discuss in PROMISED LAND, which claimed the life of RON PIGGOT.  ‘I lost one of my best officers that day, and you lost a good friend.’  We’re looking at the raid before that.  Filling in some of the blanks. I did compile a feasible timeline that allowed for both raids and the fallout from each as part of my prep.  Taking birth dates from the actors involved.   So – Con O’Neill’s character from PROMISED LAND appears here as one of the children at the funeral.

‘They’re all villains.  The whole Matthews family.’

DAMIAN: Did the idea for CODA begin with the bank robbery?

RUSS:  It began with the conceit of how we might have Endeavour solve a murder story in the middle of one, yes.  Something different.  I’m drawn to the proper coppering type stories – and I think the show often works best when the cryptic whodunit is working alongside the more Z Cars/Dixon/Carry on Constable type stories.  Each of our heroes playing to their respective strengths.

DAMIAN: There was a few elements, acts and decisions in CODA where I wondered if there might have been some debate or discussion as to whether or not a character would do this or that. Were there many rewrites for this film?

RUSS:  There are always MANY, MANY rewrites for EVERY film, with the concomitant amount of debates and discussions.  Further, I wouldn’t wish to go.  However – because we’re up against it, the last film in every run typically has fewest changes.  So…

DAMIAN: Well, I think given everything going on with Thursday, although Endeavour doesn’t approve of him knocking about the informant Bernie Waters, I can just about understand Thursday’s sentiments that the end justifies the means. However, what did surprise me was Bright, after Division made it quite clear that Thursday was to remain suspended from duty, that he later gives him the gun (and indeed evidence from Blenheim Vale no less), basically giving him his blessing to go all Clint Eastwood. Now, it’s a beautiful scene between two men with such loyalty and respect for each other but the Bright we met in GIRL certainly wouldn’t have done this would he?

RUSS:  You’re absolutely right, of course.  BRIGHT from GIRL would never have done it.  I think the return of the revolver was a key moment in BRIGHT finally making his peace with THURSDAY.  He goes against Division.  It’s Joan’s life on the line.  Unleash THURSDAY.

If I remember right, the revolver moment first appeared in an early draft of RIDE – quite early on in the story.  But it got the boot, and dropped back in proceedings to the last story.

DAMIAN: And the other element which I wondered might have been a subject for debate was Strange also punching Bernie Waters?

RUSS:  No, that wasn’t ever a sticking point.  In some ways, he’s closer to Thursday in his methods.  Thursday knocking Hodges about in PREY, and giving Bernie a taste in this story – it kind of gave the green light to Strange to get physical.

DAMIAN: And, of course, doesn’t the scene serve as a brilliant foreshadowing of the future strained relationship between Endeavour and Strange who is now his superior?

RUSS:  Which is why we went the way we did with it.  With Thursday and Strange getting heavy handed, it leaves Endeavour, as the one point of reason, isolated.  And it puts another boat’s length between Endeavour and Strange – as the latter pulls out in front on the ladder of progress and ambition.

DAMIAN: You must have many discussions, perhaps even heated sometimes, with the directors and actors and I suppose this question is in two parts really. Firstly, tigers aside, you’ve written every episode so far and you’re obviously doing a grand job so why don’t they just trust you to get on with it by now? And, secondly, to look at it from a different perspective, who do you think challenges you to do your very best work?

RUSS:  It’s just not how it works.  Any piece of work is a constant conversation from first to last. All interested parties provide feedback in the form of Notes – requests for changes.  It’s our job to square the circle, and action the majority, if not all, of those changes.  If people are bumping their toe on this or that bit of the story – initially a Brains Trust of Damien Timmer, Tom Mullens, Helen Ziegler on Series IV, the script editor, formerly Sam Costin, but on IV, Paul Tester – then it’s worth paying attention and addressing their concerns, because if something’s not working for them, then it’s very likely not going to work for an audience.  And then the director will come on board – and they’ll have their take on it.  And then it will go out to the Network for their thoughts.  And, of course, at various stages – particularly after read-through – Shaun and Roger will give their feedback.  Rebecca Keane – Creative Director at Mammoth is a top trouble-shooter and our last line of defence.  She’s invaluable at identifying underlying difficulties and offering eleventh hour solutions, and has saved our collective bacon more times than I can remember.  ENDEAVOUR is the work of many hands at every stage of development and production.

But the notion of in the beginning was the word, and that the word is in some way inviolate is an utter fantasy.  There are always other words.  And you will need them all.

It can be tricky on any story you’re telling, but with whodunits – you build a Swiss watch of a plot, and if you’ve done it right, every requested change will have a massive knock-on.  A stone echoing down a well.  Sometimes it’s more of an avalanche, and you have to go back to the drawing board.  A billion things – conflating characters; losing characters; dropping a loop of story.  The phrase you’ll hear on any ENDEAVOUR script-meeting is ‘plot vertigo’ – which was minted by Damien.  It’s his shorthand for something so fiendishly complex that it just leaves everyone giddy, and going, ‘Huh…  Whu?’

At the front end, changes are editorial, but as production rolls, it becomes more practical. Things happen.  Events, dear boy.  Events.  A location falls through, or a prop doesn’t work, an actor goes down, or you don’t quite get what you were hoping for, scenes dropping off the schedule that contains a piece of information vital to driving the plot – a million and one things. And you have to write your way out whatever the problem might happen to be.

But I’m very lucky with the Mammoths – Damien knows which way is up.  And, the Network on Series IV was very, VERY trusting and unbelievably supportive.  Next to zero in the way of Notes. The thing to remember is not everybody gets their own way.  None of us.  It’s compromise. Often finding common ground and a third way that provides a solution everyone can feel happy with.

I don’t know if I’ve said this before, but I have two notes up on the wall.  The first is ‘Television is a collaborative medium.’  The second is, “Collaborators will be shot.”  Now, that’s clearly facetious, but there probably an element of truth in it.  I’m sure I drive them absolutely round the twist from time to time.  Daily, probably.  We all drive each other crazy.  But it comes from a good place.  Always.  In the end it’s all about the work.  Everyone cares so deeply about making it as good as it can be.

ENDEAVOUR’s an absolute juggernaut of a machine, and once it’s left the station on its six to nine month journey it’s unstoppable.  You have to keep feeding the coal in, and make sure nothing derails it.  Television is an expensive business – and stopping production for whatever reason would be the equivalent of catastrophic engine failure.  Immensely costly in terms of blood and treasure.  And it’s always against the unforgiving minute.

It’s not vital War Work – it’s show-business, but like any job it has its own levels of stress and anxiety.  You live on your nerves from first to last.

We all want to do the absolute very best we can with and for ENDEAVOUR.  And that kind of comes back to the first dictum.   The great William Goldman again – We’re all at each other’s mercy.  So, when the muck and bullets are flying, and the stress levels are in the red zone, it’s important to keep that in mind – and deal with everyone as kindly as you’d wish to be dealt with yourself.

Who challenges me to do my very best work?  That’s hard to say.  Different people challenge you in different ways, but I don’t need much encouragement to be unforgiving of myself.  I can’t stand to repeat something, or even tell the same gag twice.  So, I tend to make the creative life as difficult as I can.  Throw up roadblocks and obstacles.  And now…  blindfold.  You’re just trying to trick the brain, so it doesn’t automatically reach for the tried and trusted solutions.  So the decisions one makes become almost independent.  I’m sure that sounds unhinged.  But ideally – such is the level of concentration one’s applying to the task at hand that the experience becomes out of body.  The choices made are subconscious.

It’s hard to describe, but it’s a kind of right hemisphere/left hemisphere thing – you want any story to surprise and intrigue, but never for its own sake; it also, primarily, has to be as emotionally truthful as you can make it.   So you’re operating in a kind of no-man’s-land between the two opposing demands – attaining an equilibrium — and slipping from one into another.

I don’t recommend it as a technique for a moment, it’s more a case of needs must when the devil drives, but some of the pieces I’ve thought have worked best over the years – not just on ENDEAVOUR, but across the board — have come out of a long writing session.  Forty-eight, seventy-two hours.  Unbroken.  No sleep until you write ROLL END CREDITS.  Somewhere in there you reach an altered state without the aid of chemicals.  The barriers break down, and the other guy comes out to play.  The dark passenger.  I find I can access some places – emotionally, and, er… in terms of memory, that I might not get to otherwise.  Your brain is overclocked.  And it’s just developing the facility to exploit that access to waking dreaming.  A kind of guided hallucination.

I’m also available for Children’s Parties.

I don’t know – any piece of writing always feels like it’s Russian roulette.  Is this going to be the one where a full cylinder comes level with the hammer?

DAMIAN: Aside from the absolutely cracking story and plot for CODA, what impressed me most, as always really, was the beautiful tender moments between characters such as the dialogue when Dorothea tries to comfort Mrs.Thursday during the armed robbery, the exchange between Thursday and Trewlove when he gives her the cigarette and Strange stopping Max from wading into the bank. All fabulous but as is often the case with the relationship between Endeavour and Thursday, it’s what left unsaid that really resonates. Like the scene towards the end (“There was a bullet left in the chamber, whatever you told Cole Matthews, you knew it. You drew his fire”) it’s the silence after this, the two seem to communicate best in theses pauses and they are masters of an almost Pinteresque understatement in conveying their respect and quite possibly love for each other. By the end of the final ENDEAVOUR, will they ever develop the ability to articulate this devotion and bond that they share?

RUSS:  Well – that’s very kind of you.  Sadly, there was more Dorothea/Win material in that sequence that we lost for time.  A bit of a window on Dorothea’s life.  It always kills me to lose such things – and my heart bleeds for the actors.  I fight for such moments all the way down the line, but all too often one has to bite the bullet.

DAMIAN: And you’ve obviously got a plan for the characters and their story arcs, can we expect to enjoy ENDEAVOUR at least up until the seventies arrive?

RUSS:  Well, it’s outside of my gift to say how long ENDEAVOUR will be on screen, but, for the audience’s sake, I hope we can take it to its natural conclusion in terms of story.  I know when I think it should end, and what that end will be, but we shall see…

However, before then there’s a few things still left unexamined.

DAMIAN: For the final time then, please tell us about tonight’s film?

RUSS:  Hmm.  Well…  Hymns Ancient & Modern.  Endeavour & Thursday investigate a mystery that encompasses distant pre-history and the shape of things to come.  Being a story with a pastoral flavour, the audience will need to winnow much chaff to obtain the wheat.  It’s the conclusion of our Thirtieth Anniversary run, and I hope our final salute brings the many worlds of Endeavour Morse together in a way that pleases.

At risk of falling foul of the Data Protection Act, I can reveal the contents of an email I got from Shaun Evans who, in his capacity as Associate Producer, dropped by one of the Mixing Days. Children, and those allergic to ‘bad’ language should look away now…

I’m in the mix. Just seen the opening. This is F*****G BRILLIANT!!!!!!!”

For my own part…  The casting cat’s somewhat out of the bag, but I”ll just say this.  “And” can be a very special word.

DAMIAN: Will there be a cliffhanger?

RUSS:  All I can tell you is that it’s a very different ending for a series of ENDEAVOUR.

DAMIAN: Will there be sandwhiches?

RUSS:  Always.

DAMIAN: What about wildlife?

RUSS:  Sheep may safely graze.

DAMIAN: So far you have chosen: DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION, GREEKS BEARING GIFTS, THE INFERNAL SERPENT, CHERUBIM & SERAPHIN, DEAD ON TIME and MASONIC MYSTERIES. As we conclude your “Desert Island Dexter”, can you please give us your final two favourite INSPECTOR MORSE episodes?

RUSS:   Okay.  It’s worth saying that the eight I’ve chosen are in no particular order of merit.  But to close…  Two very special films, I think.  SECOND TIME AROUND – amongst the most affecting of all the Morse stories.  I think it’s the human tragedy at the heart of it.  The death of a child is always a serious business – but the circumstances of that death in this story just run through every moment so that the thing just aches with a sense of loss and grief.  There’s no triumph in Morse’s cracking the case.  Only regret.  And like ‘It was Mrs.Fallon I knew…’   At this distance, I may be misremembering the exact phraseology, but SECOND TIME AROUND contains the most heart-breaking exchange in the entire canon.

‘She should have been held.’

‘Perhaps she was.’

For some, I’m sure it’s surpassed by ‘Good-bye, sir’.

But – for me – without a shadow of doubt, it’s ‘Perhaps she was.’

Kenneth Colley’s tremendous in it.  Monumental.  And an early outing from Christopher Ecclestone, and the lovely Pat Heywood – such a fine actress.  And dear Oliver Ford-Davies.  Yeh – it’s a keeper for me that one.  And, I guess, in terms of ENDEAVOUR we are edging towards an event which proves key to the story.  Barrington’s score on DEAD ON TIME is terrific too. Amongst his finest.

So – finally, finally…  PROMISED LAND.  The last of my trio by Julian Mitchell.  Again, directed by John Madden.  Morse and Lewis transported.  Strangers in a strange land.  In many ways it’s amongst the least Morse-like films – THE WENCH IS DEAD, notwithstanding – but that’s probably why it works so well.  Because it’s a character piece.  All the trappings stripped away, not just from Morse himself, but from the established identity of the series.  It’s not what most would consider a whodunit – with a range of suspects and clues.  It’s a mystery, yes – but I’d argue it’s not a whodunit.  It transcends the form.  Triumphantly.

Madden said that he wanted the whole thing to build to a kind of High Noon finale – and he realised that brilliantly.  So many treasures to enjoy across the film – the Matthews family funeral – that we plundered in CODA.  But what’s so great is to see Morse so much on the back foot.  That all the unfolding tragedy was down to his error.

In those days, there was no guarantee that series would return year on year, and so – with this final episode of Series 5, there was every possibility it would be the last.  I think all of us who watched it at the time properly feared that Morse would not make it out of the final reel.  And all of that was conveyed by the very simple device of Morse – for the first time – calling Lewis by his first name.

Then you have that heart-stopping finale – and Con O’Neill delivering so much in next to no screen time.  He’s a very fine actor – and I was lucky enough to get to work with him on my last LEWIS.  He really deserved all the prizes as Joe Meek.  A powerhouse of a performance.  And wasn’t Mr.Evans in there somewhere?

But – back to PROMISED LAND, and that finale.  Stupendous work.  A tragedy painted in heat and dust.  And then that final exchange on the steps of the opera house.  That eternal unbridgeable gulf between Morse and Lewis.   The great man alone, trudging wearily up the stairs in hope of solace from his lifelong comfort.   Up with the Morse code, and we’re into the theme…  Curtain.

DAMIAN: And if you had to save just one episode of INSPECTOR MORSE from the waves?

RUSS:  None of the above.  I lay no claim to it being the best, that accolade would very deservedly go elsewhere, but for very personal reasons – THE WAY THROUGH THE WOODS. Writing and making it was a very special experience – working with Gina Cronk, a kind and clever friend, who gave me my first break into drama, and the woman without whom I wouldn’t be doing any of this at all.  And Ted Childs, of course, and dear old Chris Burt.

It also marks my first encounter with Damien Timmer – my partner in crime on many occasions, but for the last six years we have been conspiring to kill people, mostly on screen, on ENDEAVOUR.  It’s been a very special and creatively rewarding relationship.  He’s a dear fellow, madly talented and fearfully bright – and daily faces a workload that would leave lesser mortals six feet under.  Seriously.   He is inexhaustible, and gives so much of his brilliant creative energy to ENDEAVOUR.  I don’t know how he manages it, but all of us are very grateful that he does.  Neither ENDEAVOUR nor LEWIS would have come into being without him.  We all do what we do, and all of us involved bring the best work we can to the party, but we’re just the Owsla — he is our Chief Rabbit – Damien-rah.

So, a happy memory all round.  Weeks of kicking the story around with John Madden over at Shepperton.  I think I’ve mentioned before that we got into VERY hot water for going off piste – we couldn’t see a way of delivering the central plank of Colin’s novel, and put together an entirely original story before being jerked off our feet by a strong tug on the choke-chain.

Then, of course, having John and Kevin and Jimmy and Clare saying one’s words.

A golden afternoon spent watching them shoot the final ‘wash-up’ scene over at Leith Hill.

John and Kevin doing their lines about ‘triumph and disaster’, then heading across to the burgundy Jag.

I may have said this before, but it’s perhaps worth repeating.  When I think about that afternoon, twenty years ago now, the thing that always comes to mind is the final chapter of ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ – in which Christopher Robin and Pooh come to an enchanted place, and we leave them there.

“So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

And that’s how I always think of Morse and Lewis.  That’s where they are for me.  Somewhere out there still.  Playing, and squabbling, and still fighting for a world worth saving.

DAMIAN: Before we banish you away to the island, I’d just like to thank you for these interviews – I know I’ve been very naughty this year with some of the questions but it is very much appreciated as you know and I’m still your number one fan. Here’s to thirty years of Morse on our screens, to you and all of Team ENDEAVOUR – cheers! Now, drink up Lewis…

RUSS:  Well, that’s very kind of you.  Much appreciated by all at #TeamEndeavour.   Another thirty years of Morse?  Who knows?  It’s been a privilege to have been a part of it, in one way and another, across all its various incarnations thus far, but I expect 2047 will see me long in Kensal Green.  Younger, better, infinitely smarter fingers will be upon the typewriter.  And that’s how it should be.  But it all began with Colin Dexter.  Morse was Colin’s gift to the world.  That the legend has been expanded upon and embellished by so many is testament to the strength of Colin’s original creation.  There have been many custodians over the years, I’m just the latest. I doubt I’ll be the last.  Vitai lampada.

~

And for Tootles…

“Bloody nice shoes”

~

THE ENDEAVOUR ARCHIVES / No.26 / CODA

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2017
All the interviews and articles on this website are original and exclusive and I would please ask that the copyright be respected. Therefore, please do not use quotes or any other information contained here without permission. Thank you.

~~~

DAMIAN: Put fire on luv, it’s getting coda in here. Coda! Be honest, what do you think of it so far?

TIGER: Rubbish! – get off…

 

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS: Russell Lewis Part III

Please note that this interview was originally published prior to the broadcast of Endeavour: SWAY (S2:03) on April 13, 2014.

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2016

RUSSELL LEWIS

An exclusive interview

by Damian Michael Barcroft

With thanks to Diogenes Small

and Mr. Tiger

ACT III

‘FUGUE’

(The nut cluster)

We’ve previously discussed FIRST BUS TO WOODSTOCK and GIRL, now we continue our journey through the first series of Endeavour with FUGUE and ROCKET in addition to previewing tonight’s film, SWAY…

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

DAMIAN: FUGUE was something of a gear change, a race-against-time serial killer thriller. For as wonderful as the swinging sixties were, this was also the decade which witnessed the horrific murders of the Zodiac Killer, Charles Manson and closer to home, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. You must have been very young at the time but I’m wondering if you can remember these events from your own childhood and if they influenced the script for FUGUE in any way?

RUSS: With the exception of the Zodiac Killer – the rest were a constant presence from as far back as I can remember. The relations amongst whom I lived and grew up were all quite elderly, and the Victorian preoccupations, death and morbidity (we’ll leave spiritualism and the lavatory to one side this time around!) loomed large. I was probably privy to far too many details of the Tate/LaBianca murders at far too early an age. This Be the Verse…

Of course, one says Tate/LaBianca, but in truth it’s the left side of the oblique with which the media, and, through them, the public, was most fascinated. Likewise, the Saddleworth killings have provided the yellow press with easy copy for almost half a century. I doubt there’s many of my generation for whom the perpetrators didn’t occupy far too much imaginary real estate. The maternal side of my family came originally from Barton upon Irwell, so that created an additional, I hesitate to say proprietorial, interest for them, but I suspect that certainly had a part to play. ‘Manchester… so much to answer for.’

But, no – FUGUE was absolutely not influenced by either. I think there may have been a line, I’m not sure whether it was for FUGUE or not, in an early Endeavour draft for one of the films about ‘that business up North’, but I can’t remember now if it ever made a shooting script, or a final edit.

I wouldn’t want to trivialise or exploit any of those crimes by drawing upon them to any major degree, or constructing a direct parallel, in a show like Endeavour. It’s just not the place. Nor the time. If one was looking seriously and specifically at those crimes from a dramatic point of view, fine. But, otherwise… To plunder them for an ‘entertainment’ – to borrow from Graham Greene’s taxonomy – wouldn’t, to my mind, be appropriate. I’m happy to look further back for a jumping off point, but something within such recent living memory… No. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.

By comparison – and we may be getting ahead of ourselves — the Victorian murders in NOCTURNE sprang from a loose personal connection some thirty-odd years ago with the murder of Francis Savile Kent at Rode (Road) Hill House, which – at the time – led me to The Saint With Red Hands by Yseult Bridges, and another volume by Bernard Taylor, Cruelly Murdered, I think it was, which also dealt with the case. It stayed with me, I suppose. Percolating. Germinating. Waiting its moment.

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

It’s now one-hundred and fifty years in the past, and seems far enough removed to draw upon comfortably for something like Endeavour. (It was also drawn on – much closer to the time – to varying degrees by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, and also gets a run-out in a segment of Dead of Night, so we’re in pretty decent company). Yet, even there, our crime is but a faint echo – five murders rather than just the one – of its inspiration. In fact, I think the only direct point of contact is that the respective paterfamilias in both instances share the same forename. Though our Samuel was a tea-planter rather than a Inspector of Manufactories.

One final correction to be made. It’s been suggested that our luckless Victorian police Inspector (who ended his days a broken, hopeless drunk in a cheap rooming-house in Dorking) was a nod to Whicher – whose career never recovered from his failure to bring someone to book for the Rode Hill House murder. The truth is much closer to home. It was an affectionate tribute to the producer of the first series of Endeavour, Dan McCulloch – for whom, sober or not, the description holds some meaning.

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

DAMIAN: Indeed, the psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Cronyn (aka Mason/Gull), mentions the growing trend in American serial killers and references Charles Raymond Starkweather, Albert De Salvo (The Boston Strangler) and the bodies in the swamp at Fairvale (a nod to Psycho?). Furthermore, FUGUE also features many little allusions such as one of Cronyn’s aliases, Gull, who intends to claim five victims (a favourite suspect of the five canonical Jack the Ripper murders is Sir William Gull) and also the walled up body in the cellar of the farmhouse (Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat?). Do you have a fondness for the horror and Gothic genre?

RUSS: Yes, Sir William (one of Stephen Knight’s now much discredited ‘unholy trinity’) was certainly in my mind – but it was the sense of his surname as a verb that was uppermost. Fairvale – the cuckoo’s egg amongst the rest — was indeed a nod to Hitchcock. The walling up… certainly has Poe associations, but, if anything, I think I would have had A Cask of Amontillado, and the fate of the poorly named Fortunato (and his thousand insults!) more in mind, as he was alive at the time of his immurement, unlike the victim in The Black Cat – but again, the point of departure for all the murders comes back to the first key idea, which was to recreate famous deaths from Opera. Radames fate in Aida was too attractive to ignore. Again – the idea was to attack the thing which gives Endeavour such comfort and pleasure, and taint it in some way. As in FIRST BUS TO WOODSTOCK.

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

A fondness for horror/Gothic? You really will wish you hadn’t asked… One of my early prize possessions was Denis Gifford’s (sometime cartooning and writing partner of Bob Monkhouse, amongst many other achievements!) landmark A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, which I got hold of when I was nine or ten, from WH Smiths at Euston Station. (The important things stay with you.) Later, I acquired some of Alan Frank’s fine guides to the genre.

Universal, RKO, AIP, Amicus, Tigon, and the mighty House of Hammer were as familiar in my mouth as household words. And like many young boys, the Aurora ‘Glow in the Dark’ model kits of the classic ‘monsters’ became an obsession. An obsession clearly shared with the young Mark Petrie… Though, so far as I’m aware, no one ever came scratching at my bedroom window.

This was all in a pre-video recorder/DVD age. But I was lucky enough to be growing up at a time when BBC2 could be relied upon to broadcast a regular Saturday night Horror Double Bill – starting off with the Universals, but, then, moving on to a mix and match of Hammer classics, and many of the Corman/Poe/AIPs. It really was an education.

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©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

I was far too young to get into what were then X-Cert films – today’s 18 — which certificate such horror fare invariably bore. But good old TV came to the rescue by delivering the wig-out 70s, and such English curiosities as Scream and Scream Again; Psychomania; the late Hammer Draculas – AD1972; Satanic Rites, &c.; Pete Walker’s output: a brace of Phibes, (the latter featuring Robert Quarry, AIP’s own Count Yorga! for extra meta!) . Though, I suppose, of all that period, the film which casts the longest shadow is The Wicker Man. Ah… Sgt.Howie.

In some small degree FUGUE is a nod to both Phibes, and Edward Lionheart’s (Theatre of Blood) ‘collect the set’ m.o. And also – of course – though the ‘crimes’ were driven by a different motive altogether, Kind Hearts and Coronets. On the literary side… Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, and Dame Agatha’s And Then There Were None.

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©itv/MammothScreen

We were hugely spoiled – for a brief wee while in the 60s and 70s — with TV shows in the genre; the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas; some ITV adaptations of the classics; Brian Clemens’s long running ATV Saturday night Thriller; Nigel Kneale’s Beasts; and then the BBC’s Supernatural, (mostly) by Robert Muller, came along in 1979 — tales told at the Club of the Damned. Made in studio, and directed multi-cam from the gallery. Staggering set designs and builds — of a kind you’d kill for now.

Robert Hardy wandering haunted canals and sitting at the table of a certain cafe in Ghosts of Venice. Gordon Jackson proving that there was much darkness beyond the kindly Hudson in Night of the Marionettes. Vladek Sheybal channelling Peter Lorre!! Oh my! So many gems. Between them, the Beeb, Network DVD and the BFI have reissued many of the above titles. If you have a taste for such, I can’t recommend them highly enough.

More recently, my fellow Spooks alum., the great LUTHERan, Neil Cross gave us a memorable addition to the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas, with his modern retelling of the MR James story Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad. And that appears to have re-established the tradition, though adherence has been sporadic, and more honoured in the breach…

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©itv/MammothScreen

No monograph on the subject – which I realise this is turning into – be it ever so brief, would be complete without mention of The League of Gentlemen – Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Keepers of the dark and secret flame, I’m a great admirer of their work — both severally and individually. Their collective admiration, respect and affection for the genre is something to be cherished. Mark Gatiss’s Crooked House trilogy, and, more recently, the Ghost Story for Christmas – The Tractate Middoth — have been particular treats. The three-hander Rope homage in the outstanding Psychoville (Series 1, I think), was something very special indeed. Flawless writing, execution and performance. And now Number 9, and Ghosts, and the Great Detective, etc.. Long may they reign – in all their numerous guises and disguises.

As a boy, I was in and around some of the studios where some of these productions had been made – the Hammers, Amicus, Tigon – and even, I think I’m right, someone will correct me else, an AIP (The Masque of the Red Death was done over here, as I think, was The Tomb of Ligeia) — and, indeed, still were being made. It gave me an enormous kick to be amongst such history.

I was much given to prowling (haunting) empty sound-stages and backlots during lunch breaks. There is a certain… atmosphere on a deserted studio set. A pin-drop silence. Some residual heat from the lights. A particular scent of warm air. To which nothing quite compares. All very Sunset Boulevard, I’m sure, but there is something about bogus corridors and flights of stairs that lead nowhere which, if you have a mind at all susceptible to suggestion, excites the imagination. I found it mesmerising. Thrilling. Perhaps even sacred. Still do. Alas, very little is shot ‘in studio’ these days.

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©itv/MammothScreen

Amongst my very earliest memories is playing amongst a whole heap of Dalek casings on the back-lot at Shepperton, which would have been left over from the Peter Cushing Doctor Who outings. For years there was a particular aroma – which took a city boy a lifetime to identify – that I always associated with Shepperton. It drove me mad trying to work out what it was. But it wasn’t until we were in pre-production on TWTTW (The Way Through the Woods) that I was able to solve the mystery.

Chris Burt – who produced TWTTW — had an office in the ‘main house’ at the studio, and I was often holed up there with John Madden as we tried to crack some of the difficulties in adapting Colin Dexter’s novel. (There is a central conceit in the plot which it’s easy to get away with on the page – but because we have to present the thing visually it was as tricky as you like. In fact, thinking about it, there’s a couple of those. Colin is terribly canny and will sometimes tease his readers with a ‘someone saw something’ kind of sentence. Which is great, but how do we shoot it? Which ‘someone’? What ‘something’?)

Anyway, I digress – sorry, this is turning into a Ronnie Corbett story. But there, walking across to the house every day, was this scent again. Only this time, I was able to locate and identify the culprit. What was it that had haunted my senses for thirty-odd years? Only ‘box’ and nothing more… (Now I’ve told you, I can’t help but feel like Eric Idle’s waiter — Gaston, was it? — expounding his philosophy post the Mister Creosote sequence in the Pythons’ Meaning of Life!!) I think this is the point that the Harry Stoneham Quartet start playing the Parkinson theme and we roll end credits.

There’s a Lewis I wrote – my first when I came back onto the flight roster – set around Hallowe’en, which really was a massive nod to all of the foregoing. My love of the genre in film and TV, together with the writings of Poe, Lovecraft, M.R.James and many, many others, all got folded into that story. Falling Darkness, I think it was. I get confused as I did two for that series – the other was titled The Dead of Winter, and centred on Hathaway’s childhood connection to a stately home, and the family who live there. But we didn’t title them until quite late, and it could have gone either way – so I’m never 100 per cent sure which way round it was. It was the same with Series 1 of Endeavour – with the exception of, appropriately enough, FUGUE, the rest were all finally titled at the end of production. If we ever went again, I think I’d probably go back to that model – titles last. Otherwise things leak out – spoilers and so forth, which I’m not too keen on. At all.

One happy coincidence, however, that comes courtesy of my association with Morse, and which closes the circle, is that while we were prepping TWTTW at Shepperton, Sir Kenneth Branagh’s film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was shooting on the sound-stages and backlot. Once more I was able to indulge my weakness for wandering deserted sets – this time of a beautifully realised Ingolstadt, and come at last within the baroque – though still memorably melancholy – shade of the House of Frankenstein. Even through adult eyes, the magic was, and is, and will ever remain, undimmed and undiminished.

‘And much of madness, and more of sin – And horror the soul of the plot’!

DAMIAN: FUGUE features more screen time with Morse than is perhaps usual with many scenes in which he is alone. The episode also introduces Thursday’s family for the first time so I’m wondering if this was a deliberate attempt to highlight his isolation and loneliness?

RUSS: If he is alone, it’s probably because we wanted to underline his status – still at this stage very much the outsider. And introducing the Thursdays – their normality pushed the disconnect with the nature of the case.

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

DAMIAN: There’s a wonderful connection to the original series with the explanation as to why Morse suffers from vertigo (see Service of All the Dead) but am I right in thinking Masonic Mysteries was also an influence?

RUSS: Yes, Endeavour’s high-jinks were intended to sow the seeds of his later vulnerability – ‘C’mon! Show a little backbone, will ya?’. But the finale of FUGUE is one of those instances where – in early drafts at least — you’ll find “LOCATION DEPENDENT” in the Sluglines and Stage Directions. We had a good idea of what we wanted, but really couldn’t nail down what we might or might not be able to realise until a suitable location had been found. And so the Recce fed back into the script. Once we had the location for Alfredus College, we was able to tailor the action on the page to what could be achieved. Our nod to the genius of Harold Lloyd.

Masonic Mysteries is such a towering achievement in the Inspector Morse televisual canon that it is often there to a greater or lesser degree.

But I couldn’t close any discussion of FUGUE without mentioning director Tom Vaughan. That we were blessed with fantastic performances from the cast notwithstanding, Tom just ‘got’ FUGUE from the off, and gave us all we could have asked for and more. And then once Barrington Pheloung does his thing – aided and abetted by Matthew Slater… In the words of many a reality TV talent contest, it ‘takes it to the next level.’

~~~

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

ACT IV

‘ROCKET’

(The very rum truffle)

DAMIAN: Again, there was change in mood with the third film, ROCKET, which was perhaps a touch lighter in tone and humour. Is it a conscious decision to shape each film differently with its own unique identity and is this why every film has a different director?

RUSS: Well – each film has a different director for very practical reasons. Typically, the post production period of the first film occupies the shooting period of the second, and the shooting period of the second is the ‘prep’ time for the third film. I suppose it might be possible to bring back FILM 1 director for FILM 4, but it would be a lot to ask, as their schedule would run – prep FILM 1, shoot FILM 1, post FILM 1 – prep-FILM 4 – shoot FILM 4 – post FILM 4.

From my end – we only get to do four of these a year, and I want to try to get as much variety in as possible. It’s always Endeavour, but, hopefully, comes out of a different trap for each film. But it was lovely that we got Colm McCarthy back for HOME – a secret Dan McCulloch kept up his sleeve until the last moment.

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

DAMIAN: You’ve said in the past that there was a long and quite twisted backstory to writing ROCKET – would you care to elaborate for us please?

RUSS: You’ll have to jog my memory, as it’s quite a long time ago now. The final clue was always in my head – the accidental method whereby Endeavour unlocks the mystery. (Spoilers ahead!) Ah – now I remember. Yes. As I mentioned before, not everything you write ends up getting green lit and made, and some years ago – ten or more, I should think – I was asked to adapt a novel as 2×90 minutes. I… took some liberties. It was a pretty loose adaptation, as these things sometimes are, but I needed to find a way in, to make it more of a state of the union piece, and as a result I ended up looking at certain newsreels – amongst which sundry visits by members of the royal family were made to certain towns and factories, etc.. There was one with the DoE – it must have been the late 50s/early 60s – and the tone of it struck a chord somewhere. And then another of HMQ’s visit to… Stevenage, I think it was – there to admire the Thunderbird missile factory… Met by the Lord Lieutenant, etc.. ‘Have you come far?’ Bob Danvers Walker providing the narration. What a voice. And – to cut a long story – there was a changing of the guards at the broadcaster, and the new broom didn’t share their predecessor’s enthusiasm for the project, so it quietly died a death. But those newsreels were stacked away in the back of my mind…

Nothing is ever wholly wasted. A decade or so goes by… And thinking about stories for the first series of Endeavour, I remembered the newsreel. I’m fascinated by the long history of our island race – how EXACTLY did we get here? – changing social mores, &c. And the missiles and Her Majesty seemed too tempting to resist as a jumping off point. As soon as one thinks of factories and British films, a certain Boulting Brothers’ masterpiece (one of several!) can’t be far behind.

I thought it might be fun to have some kind of dynastic struggle behind the scenes amongst the owners of the factory. And the Plantagenets seemed a splendid model. Thinking of Henry, Eleanor and their fractious offspring brought to mind James Goldman’s staggeringly good The Lion in Winter. And the rest is…

So – those were the three things, the major ingredients for ROCKET stew.

I also had a the back of my mind that bit of folklore/urban myth about everywhere a royal personage visits smelling of fresh paint. So one takes that and puts it with the rest of it, and… Click!!!

Dan McCulloch brought us to director Craig Viveiros who was fairly untried with television. Little did we know that he wouldn’t just get the crate airborne, but would shortly dazzle us with barrel-rolls and loop-the-loops. Ridiculously talented just about covers it.

I’m very partial to a chamber piece – a precinct drama – which in effect is what ROCKET was. The factory and offices of Imperial Electric were a closed space. Our cut-off country house. We were two and a bit weeks in the old Tate & Lyle factory at Greenwich – possibly our longest stay at any location to date – which doubled for IEC — and I think the look Matt Gant (Production Designer) and his team of elves achieved simply dazzles. The way Craig and DoP John Pardue shot it… It’s just terribly stylish.

Likewise Chinon Court – the Brooms’ family home – which was Craig’s call for a location. I’d been terribly literal with the mediaeval vibe, but thankfully Craig, Matt and Dan saved me from myself, and went for this moderne masterpiece, which we then dressed with the odd bit of armour, etc., so’s not to lose sight of its inspiration. It fitted the look of the factory far more closely, and gave the whole thing a sense of completeness.

We were very lucky with our directors. Ed Bazalgette had the toughest gig of all, I think – opening the batting for us on GIRL; defending The Ashes almost, after the reception FBTW had received. He had so much on his shoulders – essentially setting up a new show – but he delivered with his customary brilliance, style and panache, and gave us not only a terrific film, but a perfect springboard for all that followed. An unbeaten double century.

But – back to ROCKET… Add the sublime Miss Jenny Seagrove, and the living legend that is Mister Martin Jarvis (every bit as lovely and mischievous as you might expect) as our Nora and Henry and it’s like all one’s birthdays and Christmases have come at once. That Martin had history with Morse (Greeks Bearing Gifts – What a film!) made the experience even more special. To hear that voice – THAT voice! – delivering one’s dialogue at the read… I mean… Come on!

DAMIAN: There are many moments for the fans to savour in this film but I particularly enjoyed the humorous exchanges between Morse and Strange (Bergman!) and the beautifully written and performed scenes with Alice Vexin (Maimie McCoy). I know Morse is currently busy with Nurse Monica but might we see Alice return one day?

RUSS: Yeh – dear old Strange. If not a cultural desert, then perhaps an area with very low precipitation. I’d forgotten about the Bergman, but now you mention it, that scene very nearly got cut from the final edit. Jokes are always a hostage to fortune – being seen as not furthering the plot, but I think I’ve said before, it’s the character stuff carries equal weight for me, and I think there might be some Jakes material lurking in this scene also, which probably saved it. You’ll have to forgive my memory – I haven’t seen it since it was broadcast. But, yes – Strange’s misunderstanding, possibly prefigures/draws on an exchange about Morse’s recent holiday destination in TWTTW…

Very sadly we did lose a scene between Dorothea and Strange, which came quite late in proceedings – once Endeavour was firmly on the scent. It is shot – and edited – and perhaps one day we’ll include all the stuff we couldn’t squeeze in. It’s a scene I like a lot – a rare two hander between Abigail and Sean. It sprang off the back of some oblique Endeavour mutterings in the cinema about Simeon Stylites. Also cut…

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

Ah… Alice Vexin… in the person of Maimie McCoy. I thought it was interesting to turn the usual coat inside out and have a character who had carried a torch for Endeavour, or rather her idea of Endeavour – enhanced by the passage of time. As Jakes observes in TROVE – ‘absence makes.’ There’s little quite so attractive as that which one cannot have. But I think once, almost immediately, that Alice had got it out of her system that the bubble was burst, and she could see Endeavour was not the brightest of prospects for something long term.

In terms of Endeavour’s development, it felt right to establish in the fourth film we’d done that he wasn’t going to lead some kind of prissy, asexual, weirdly monastic existence. He might be unlucky in love by the time we get to meet him as a Chief Inspector, but to imagine, or, worse, to actively want his twenties and thirties to be just this arid stretch of nothing seemed to my mind unrealistic, immature and more than a little bit Annie Wilkes! You dirty birdy! Of course Endeavour taking someone to bed on screen (as t’were) was a break with tradition, but we hoped we’d bring the audience with us.

Maimie’s this luminous, ethereal screen presence. A very sharp, very sensitive actor – both strong and fragile at the same instant, which was just perfect for Alice. And she and Shaun just nailed that relationship. I particularly like the way Craig V and his D.o.P. framed those scenes at the table in the pub. Very Kubrick.

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

One thing I’m keen to establish is the idea that Oxford is a living, breathing place outside of our adventures. The notion that Endeavour would not run into Alice, or, indeed, other characters previously encountered in a place so relatively small and socially insular (then! Before there are ‘letters’!) as Oxford strikes me as unlikely.

DAMIAN: As is now customary, please tell us a little bit about tonight’s film, SWAY – I believe you’ve been digging into Oxford history again?

RUSS: Yup, I’ve got a history of the Oxford City Police that contains a great section on Bonfire/Fireworks Night/November 5th, which was an annual blast of riotous town and gown mayhem. All leave was cancelled and the City Police deployed a large contingent of officers in ‘disguise’ to infiltrate the crowds and identify troublemakers for their colleagues to nab. I think I’ve mentioned before how the shooting schedule – late summer through winter – defines what we can and can’t realise, and so FILM by FILM the seasons progress – SWAY brought us to autumn, and November 5th seemed a good spot to hang the story on – there’s another reason it was chosen, which will become clear if you watch it, but I can’t go into it here for fear of spoilery.

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©itv/MammothScreen

“Le Minou Noir”

~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~

Follow Damian on twitter for more exclusive interviews

~~~

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 relate to the original series. Today we continue with our study of Fugue and Rocket

Morse appears in The Oxford Mail with the following headline: ‘TOP OF THE COPS – DETECTIVE CONSTABLE IMPRESSES AUDIENCE AT OPERA RECITAL’. Fugue

The psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Cronyn (aka Mason/Gull*), is asked to help profile the “Opera Phantom”. He makes reference to the growing trend in American serial killers and mentions Charles Raymond Starkweather, Albert De Salvo (The Boston Strangler) and also the bodies in the swamp at Fairvale (Fairvale is fifteen miles away from the Norman Bates/Psycho mansion and motel). Fugue

*It is interesting that Gull wishes to claim 5 victims – the same number as the canonical Jack the Ripper murders – one of the suspects was Sir William Gull. Fugue

Cronyn stabs Morse in the stomach with a knife. Fugue

Morse develops a fear of heights which he still suffers from in 1987. Fugue & Service of all the Dead

-Thursday’s family: Win (wife), Sam (son) and Joan (Daughter). Sam has/or is about to join the army and Joan works in a bank. Fugue

-Thursday speaks Italian. He came up through Italy after North Africa, landed at Reggio and then on to Cassino. Fugue

-Thursday also speaks German. Rocket

-There is a picture hanging on the wall of Thursday’s living room which is reminiscent of Housman’s “blue remembered hills”. The picture is to the right of Morse when he is resting shortly after the stabbing. Fugue

Oxford City Police are responsible for providing additional security while Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret is escorted on a tour of a factory for the official unveiling of the new Standfast Mark Two surface-to-air missile. The purpose of the visit is to help promote British industry abroad. Rocket

Alice Vexin discovers the body of Percy Malleson (aka Kendrick). Alice had a crush on Morse while at University and lived across the stair from Susan. Alice and Morse haven’t seen each other for seven years and he hardly recognizes her at first. Rocket

Morse tells Alice he has only been back in Oxford for a couple of months. Rocket

Morse and Alice meet on a date at the Fox and Hounds where she used to drink as a student. Morse says he likes police work but doesn’t fit in. Alice tells him that he was never like the rest despite Morse wanting and trying to be. She continues that he was difficult, awkward… all corners socially and so angry… but himself most of all.

After Morse’s failed relationship with Susan, Alice hoped he might seek comfort in her but instead, he just disappeared from her life.

Alice wears her hair like Susan did in the hope that it will remind Morse of her and perhaps be attracted to her. Morse says he doesn’t know if he is still in love with Susan but it is obvious that he is. Alice wonders if he could love her too.

Later, Morse and Alice spend the night together but soon afterwards, she tells him that she doesn’t think he is ready for a relationship and doesn’t want to be second best after Susan. The two go their separate ways. Rocket

THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS: James Bradshaw

Please note that this interview was originally posted April 13, 2014 during the series two run.

JAMES BRADSHAW

Exclusive interview

by Damian Michael Barcroft

~ 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.’
‘Unnatural!’
‘Same again?’
‘Why not?’
‘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
'First Bus to Woodstock' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘First Bus to Woodstock’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Girl' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Girl’ ©itv/MammothScreen

'Girl' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Girl’ ©itv/MammothScreen

'Girl' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Girl’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Fugue' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Fugue’ ©itv/MammothScreen

'Fugue' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Fugue’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Fugue' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Fugue’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Fugue' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Fugue’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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?’
‘No.’
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.

'Fugue' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Fugue’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

Peter as Max ©itv

Peter as Max ©itv

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.

'Rocket' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Rocket’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Rocket' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Rocket’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Rocket' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Rocket’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Home' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Home’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

'Trove' ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Trove’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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
Nocturne ©itv/MammothScreen

‘Nocturne’ ©itv/MammothScreen

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2016

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THE ENDEAVOUR INTERVIEWS: Sean Rigby

Please note that this interview was originally posted April 6, 2014 during the series two run.

Sean Rigby

An exclusive interview

by Damian Michael Barcroft

~ 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 Police Constable (later Chief Superintendent) 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.

S1-FILM1: 'Girl' ©itv/MammothScreen

S1-FILM1: ‘Girl’ ©itv/MammothScreen

"I'm Strange" ©itv/MammothScreen

“I’m Strange” ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

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.

S1-FILM2: 'Fugue' ©itv/MammothScreen

S1-FILM2: ‘Fugue’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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!

©itv/MammothScreen

©itv/MammothScreen

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.

James Grout, right, with John Thaw

Say cheese! – the original Morse and Strange ©itv

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 series two 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.

S1-FILM3: 'Rocket' ©itv/MammothScreen

S1-FILM3: ‘Rocket’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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.

strangehome1

S1-FILM4: ‘Home’ ©itv/MammothScreen

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).

The name's Strange, James Strange... YESH! ©itv/MammothScreen

The name’s Strange, James Strange… YESH! ©itv/MammothScreen

~ Damian Michael Barcroft ~

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