Please note that this interview was originally published prior to the broadcast of Endeavour: NEVERLAND (S2:04) on April 20, 2014.
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2016
An exclusive interview
by Damian Michael Barcroft
With thanks to Viscount Mumbles
and Rowsby Woof
(The last in our selection box. Unwanted. Alone)
“Home is the sailor, home from sea…”
– A. E. Housmam, R. L. S.
FIRST BUS TO WOODSTOCK, GIRL, FUGUE and ROCKET all done and dusted. So, one final interview with the writer and executive producer of Endeavour, Russell Lewis, and as Chris Geiger once observed, all journeys eventually end in the same place, home…
Damian: At its very worst, Endeavour is simply the best detective-whodunnit show on television. At its very best however, Endeavour also boasts strong character development which rewards long term fans by enriching the “Morse Mythology”. The final film of the first series is perhaps the best example of the latter and explores Morse’s history to unparalleled (with the possible exception of FIRST BUS TO WOODSTOCK) emotional effect while simultaneously incorporating the events of Cherubim and Seraphim from the original series. To what extent were the childhood aspects of this story something you intended to explore when you originally plotted the story/character arc for series one?
Russ: Well – that’s very kind of you to say so. But certainly over the last two or three years everyone involved has done their very best to honour its heritage and deliver a story cycle worthy of its much admired progenitor.
You’ll have to excuse me if my recollections are a bit hazy. I know it’s only a year and a bit ago, but there’s been a lot of ink under the bridge since then. And a fair amount of blood. But I’ll try to remember as best I can.
With such caveats in mind… HOME, like the rest of the series, went through a number of evolutions, some more violent than others. I’d always wanted to end it with high drama, and something that invoked the Western, (another passion), but if memory serves my first pass at it was very linear. The Coke-Norris story – if it existed at all, and I suspect it didn’t – did not feature Mrs.C-N. Starting on this, I realise that my recollections are really, really shaky. In fact I’m fairly certain the Coke-Norris angle might have come later. The best person to ask would be Sam Price [Script editor]. Things fly in and out across the drafts as you try to get the thing right – the blend of case and personal material – so that sometimes (often) it’s very difficult to go back and recollect the exact order of things. But Sam seems to manage it effortlessly.
But the potted version is – my first go round was too radical a departure from the mood we’d established over the first three films in the series, and the single. Sometimes you need to go too far out, to overstate something, so you can find the thing you’re looking for – and then, once you’ve found it, you can dial it down on a second and subsequent pass. But it’s better to overshoot, than not to try something. These things are as much about trust as anything else, and I’m very lucky with the Mammoths [Mammoth Screen – the Production Company]. We have a long history, and they know my methods. However, we were fairly up against it for time – Christmas 12/13 was spent hunkered down rewriting it to shoot early January – and it got circulated quite early, with much of the sturm und drang still intact – which somewhat frightened the horses.
I think… there was another gangland story woven into it – which I’ll spare you – and things got a bit (a lot!) Peckinpah in the final couple of reels. Colm McCarthy, who I’d worked with on Murphy’s Law and FIRST BUS TO WOODSTOCK, came back to direct HOME and had been waiting for some kind of an Endeavour twist and that simply wasn’t in place. So he was a bit – unsurprisingly – nonplussed. Some stories come together easier than others.
I think it was Damien Timmer who suggested we reconnect it with what he calls ‘fragrant ladies’. That would be ‘fragrant ladies’ in terms of characters, rather than in the audience – of whom I’m sure there are many. And fragrant gentlemen too, no doubt. It had become very boysy. Not exactly a British gangster flick, but certainly less dusty dons and ivy clad quads than might be expected. A very wistful, ‘But it will be charming, won’t it? Won’t it? It will be charming.’ is Damien’s standard mock nervous response to some of my more outré diversions or descriptions of storylines I’m kicking around.
When you work with someone — as long as I’ve worked with with Damien, say — you develop a kind of shorthand. What he was saying, in his equally charming way, was he thought we could afford to dial up the Rattigan/Coward meter. Both masters of a particular brand of quiet, English desperation. An understated darkness at the centre. So… you get a note like that, a strong tug on the choke-chain, and a light bulb goes on. Ping! Sam Price, our doughty Script Editor, and me – are great admirers of what were once termed ‘women’s pictures’ – the work of Douglas Sirk, etc. The filmic, American version – to a degree – of the same kind of territory Ratigan and Coward made their own in Britain. Things not said. Still waters. Soldiering on. Celia Johnson returning to her husband at the end of Brief Encounter. Relationship dramas.
Going back to HOME, I guess the elder sister, Helen Cartwright (nee Sloan) played by Olivia Grant (from GIRL), would fall into that ‘fragrant lady’ category. The scene she plays with Dr. Prentice – a negotiation of sorts – is pretty electric and very quietly erotic. She’s like a wire, thrumming with untapped energy. That proverbial thin bat-squeak of sexuality. At some point his hand touches hers, and Olivia gives this intake of breath, which tells you everything you need to know, and in its way says so much more than something overt. Beautifully directed by Ed Bazalgette, and played to perfection by Olivia and Mark Bazeley.
So, it was just a case of reconnecting it with that. Reconciling the gangsterism with something more in keeping with Endeavour world. The Browning Version is a great favourite. Such a brilliant play – and two terrific film versions. And most recently a knockout BBC Radio 4 version with Michael York, Joanne Whalley, Ioan Gryfudd and our own Henry Broom, Mister Martin Jarvis. And so I kind of ran aspects of that through the Endeavour filter. Rattigan had taken inspiration and recast themes from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. So it was interesting to the give the wheel another turn. Thus Clytemnestra becomes Millie Crocker-Harris becomes Millicent Coke-Norris.
(I took it as some kind of cosmic approval that when we finally found a Production Base for Series 2 it was in a village called, of all things, Taplow…)
But – yes, Endeavour’s home… I think it’s something we’d always been leading towards. Again, like the Thursdays, I may have tried – unsuccessfully – to introduce them earlier in the run. A visit from Joyce, maybe. Happily, they found their moment – though some scenes didn’t make the cut – in the last. And that was fitting. Pretty much everything there was extrapolated from Colin Dexter’s clues. There’s a bit of mild license with certain things. Cyril and Constance may have divorced at a certain point according to canon – but I felt we had a little wriggle room. They might have divorced at such and such a time, but they could believably have split up many years earlier, which would explain the closeness in ages between Endeavour and Joyce. A dignified veil was drawn over the chronology. But many families had what were then seen as ‘dark secrets’. A certain amount of ‘What would the neighbours say?’ People moved, pretended to be married, widowed, etc.. Keeping up appearances.
I certainly felt that things had not gone altogether swimmingly for Cyril and Gwen. The return of the prodigal when Endeavour’s mum died providing a constant reminder for both of them of a previous set of circumstances from which they’d tried to move on, or strike from history. And there was Endeavour as a boy dumped right back into the middle of it. Unwelcome. Resented by Gwen. A constant reminder of the first Mrs. de Winter. So their mutual antipathy sprang from that. Cyril chose Gwen and Joyce over Endeavour. Anything for an quiet life.
There was a scene we shot and cut – or perhaps dialogue from the scene where Endeavour first arrives home, which really played to Endeavour and Gwen’s dislike of one another. Some harsh exchanges. But sadly – for length, they ended up on the cutting room floor. I think in the end we felt we’d got just about enough with what survived to understand that relationship.
There were some other home memento bits that didn’t make the cut. But they’re on file. Who knows?
Damian: It could be argued that all of the films from series one share the thematic elements of family: the possessive Sloan family and Pamela’s fighting for custody of young Bobby in GIRL, the contrast between Morse’s loneliness and Thursday’s happy family life in FUGUE, the family feuds between the Brooms in ROCKET and not least the risk to Thursday’s home and of course the troubled home of Morse’s childhood in this film. Many writers often return to the same ideas, motifs and preoccupations, was this notion of family ever a conscious dramatic decision or did the stories simply evolve this way?
Russ: I think it was unconscious. It was something Dan McCulloch first brought to my attention. You know – sometimes your nose is so close to the page, and for so long, that you don’t always get above it to take an overview. The family thing was certainly in my mind with the Morse/Thursday dynamic – Endeavour’s unhappy home, as against Thursday’s boisterous, loving brood. And, by extension, Endeavour’s professional family. Something of a ragbag – Bright, Jakes, Strange, Max and Dorothea. Each of them… unconventional in their way. I’m hesitant to say dysfunctional, but they are all to a greater or lesser degree solitary. Taking solace in the companionship of their fellows. Between those two notions it’s probably not too great a surprise to find a theme that bled out into the other stories. Thank you, Doctor Freud.
Damian: I suspect you’re going to dodge this next question like a bullet but I’m going to take aim and ask it anyway. Obviously Morse, Strange and Max were the creation of Colin Dexter but of all your original characters for Endeavour, Thursday is perhaps the most well defined in terms of characterisation. I accept that this may be an unfair comparison given that Thursday obviously has more screen time than the supporting characters such as Bright, however, if we look at his many quirks and mannerisms, the character details such as his home life and family – not to mention the sandwiches, it would be hard to argue that Thursday isn’t the most vivid and well-drawn. So, here goes, of all the characters in Endeavour, is Thursday the one with which you most identify or perhaps infuse with your own personality – possibly with particular reference to his dialogue?
Russ: Fascinating. Um… Of the original characters… Well, as you say, he occupies more story time than any of the rest of the ensemble. So it’s difficult to make a fair comparison. They are all facets of oneself to some degree, I suppose. They have to be. Aspects of one’s personality, or those one has encountered along the way. Isolated and exaggerated so one can get a handle on them and they don’t all sound the same. But I’m very fond of them all. Of Colin’s originals as much as those I’ve added. Someone like Max – who looms large in the books – but who only appeared in, what was it, seven of the thirty-three films… the opportunity to flesh out his younger days, fill in some of the blanks, is really too good to resist. And you add James Bradshaw’s delightful performance to that, and that makes you want to know him all the more. Extraordinary to think that already Jimmy’s racked up more onscreen adventures with Endeavour than his later incarnation did with Morse. And it’s the same with Sean Rigby’s Strange. A terrific actor through whose performance one gets the chance to explore hitherto unknown aspects of that original character. And the Thursdays, and Dorothea, and Bright, and now Nurse Monica Hicks who has brought so much to the thing in her relationship with Endeavour… It’s just a dream ensemble of brilliant actors who bring these fascinating characters to life. That one gets to spend so much time with them in one’s head… Ridiculous good fortune to play with them in one form or another for the best part of a year at a time. And even in the breaks between series, they’re still there. The ideas for them stacking up.
But, yeh… Thursday. You know – it’s Roger Allam, who’s pretty damn fine — in character or out. And rather adorable to boot. He’s Thursday. I just do the words. He wears the hat.
I couldn’t truthfully say I identify with Thursday as his experiences are so far outside of my ken – the War pretty much sets him apart from anything I could imagine. But I have known people with his qualities. And one reads as much as possible – to try to gain some insight into what makes someone like that tick. He most definitely is not me. Far too physically brave for one thing. He’s the Chandler ideal, I suppose. ‘Down these mean streets…’ And no doubt an idealised version of the man who was good enough to raise me and give me a name. He too was of that extraordinary generation who went through so much, and gave so much, and asked so very little in return.
So, I mentioned before about that quiet, unshowy heroism. That understatement you get with something like ‘Fires Were Started’. The dialogue… I’m a sucker for any slightly antiquated idiom. Mostly stuff I remember from a kid. Little things – ‘steps’ rather than ‘a ladder’; ‘wireless’ over ‘radio’. Period court transcripts are very useful for that kind of thing. I’ve probably said this before, so stop me if you’ve heard this one, but music was my thing when I was younger. I don’t know – you develop an ear for rhythm and tone. And that carries over into being sensitive to patterns of speech. A word here, a phrase there. File it away. With Thursday it’s definitely a 1940s slant. Too many black and white war pictures. (If there is such a thing as too many of those.) In Which We Serve; The Cruel Sea; Ice Cold in Alex. All of those Sunday afternoon delights.
It sounds glib, and probably is, but I’ve just tried to keep him human. He’s got a dark side, like most of us. A hinterland. He’s seen the worst, and perhaps now looks for the best. There’s certainly a great kindness to him. An old-fashioned sense of courtesy, now far less in vogue than it once was. He’s of a generation that thought it was the right thing to do to hold a door open, or give up his seat on the bus for a woman. Happily, he’s married to Win – who would take it very amiss if he didn’t do those things.
Damian: Some might argue that FUGUE was the most suspenseful of the first series although I would have to say that HOME takes that honour. You deliberately, and quite masterfully, trick the audience into thinking that the threat is with Thursday and his family throughout the episode right up until the very end. Indeed, I was constantly thinking I can’t believe they are going to kill off Fred and coming to the conclusion that maybe Roger Allam didn’t want to do the show anymore! So, to not only have the unexpected twist of Morse actually getting shot in the nail-biting finale, but also connect this to John Thaw’s slight limp was truly a stroke of genius. Can you please detail how these events came to be tied together and was the leg thing an idea you always wanted to incorporate?
Russ: Well, I’m very glad you liked HOME. FUGUE was the more obvious Saturday morning pictures, edge-of-the-seat roller-coaster, but that you found HOME suspenseful is very gratifying. Endeavour catching a bullet was always in there, I think. And being able, in those last moments, to reconnect it again with John Thaw, and by association with Kevin Whately, and James Grout, and those original thirty-three films. There was always the possibility that we might never have done any more, and, if that had been the case, I felt very strongly that we should, at the end, honour that heritage once again.
Damian: The death of Morse’s father was a particularly beautifully written and performed scene which I suspect lesser writers might have overburdened with unnecessary dialogue. I’m curious as to whether this scene, and indeed the others with Cyril Morse, were always written with such brilliant understatement with so many wonderful implicit thoughts and emotions?
Russ: Well, you’d better add me to the lesser writers roster. In a fairly late draft, I think, Morse pere’ had goaded Endeavour during that first visit with a reference to Susan Fallon – (Bryce-Morgan). Something along the lines of ‘D’you ever see that girl?’ Which Endeavour hadn’t answered. It was there as a kind of rebuke – Cyril Morse mocking his son for his high-falutin’ ambitions – university, etc. He was, in effect, reminding Endeavour that for all his airs, girls like Susan Fallon would be forever out of his class. And – as I say – Endeavour left it hanging.
And then the final scene – when Endeavour visits Cyril, who is by this time comatose… I revisited it. Endeavour lays bare his soul – and is only able to do it when his father is no longer in a state to respond or make comment. He describes his feelings at having lost Susan. And then the final line was ‘Is that how it was for you?’
I’d felt that the final question from Endeavour to his father was the kicker. A conversation that they should have had many years before. It seemed to me fairly plain that Cyril and Gwen’s marriage had not been an altogether happy one – ‘I’d have rung it through myself only she won’t let me.’ But that having made his bed, Cyril – for pride, or sheer bloody stubbornness – had stuck it out. And with that question he was reaching out to find some common ground with this man. Was this unhappiness and regret something they shared. Had he ever stopped loving Endeavour’s mother? And it’s a question Cyril will never be able to answer. ‘Not every question gets an answer’ as Thursday warns Endeavour earlier in the series. I’d wanted to deal with what we affectionately referred to as ‘Susan, Susan, Susan’ across the first series. To bring it full circle from that brief maddening glimpse we got of her at the window in FIRST BUS TO WOODSTOCK. The ‘other shoe’ – which had never dropped.
So – that was my original version of it. With the exception of the final question, it had been a speech I’d had in my back pocket for Endeavour since before ROCKET. One of those that just pops into your head more or less complete. An aria. It could have gone in – albeit somewhat ungallantly, though no less truthfully — into one of his scenes with Alice Vexin, but I rather foolishly kept it up my sleeve for the last.
I think it was the day it was shot, I got a call from the floor asking if we could drop it. Both Shaun and Colm had issues with it. That it took away from the profundity of the moment. That it was a moment beyond words.
It was something we’d batted back and forth across the net in pre-production and after the read. So… they wore me down, and in the end I waved a white flag. Hold on tightly, let go lightly. Seriously… it wasn’t so much that I ‘suddenly remembered my Charlemagne’, but rather my Carol Reed and Graham Greene, and the difference of opinion they’d had over the ending of The Third Man.
You know – Shaun and Colm are both bright, smart fellas, and, like the man said, if enough people tell you you’re drunk, then maybe you should have a lie down. I suppose it comes back – as these things so often do – to Sir Arthur Quiller Couch’s advice. Murder your darlings. And believe me, you’d better. Because otherwise you’ll find there are plenty of people willing to murder them for you. In the nicest possible way.
So – there you are. Any praise due for masterly restraint in that sequence belongs wholly to Shaun and Colm. Theirs is the glory. The moral is… Work with good people. They will save you from yourself more times than you can thank them for.
Damian: Well, I could talk about Endeavour all day and I fear we have – several times! Therefore, let us move swiftly on from the end of series one to the last of this year’s films, NEVERLAND and for the final time, will you please tell us just a little something about what we can look forward to?
Russ: It’s a tough one. Of all the films to date, this is by far the hardest to offer a teaser on. Almost anything would be a spoiler. It is early December… and the annual Police Widows and Orphans Gala is upon us… HMP Farnleigh… A report Endeavour was working on for Bright heralds a new beginning… Sunny Prestatyn…
Damian: I think it’s safe to say that 1966 was a most productive and remarkable year for our friend Morse. I wonder about 1967…
Russ: You and me both.
Damian: Russ, we have reached the conclusion of our odyssey and what a journey it was – thanks for taking me with you!
Russ: Damian, after all this time, it’s been a true pleasure to revisit the first four films from Series 1. I’ve dropped by the website to read the interviews you did with Abigail, Sean, Jimmy, and found them all hugely informative. I believe you’ve one with Barrington coming up – so, look forward to looking at that. When we’re in production we really don’t get to spend very much time hanging out or chewing the fat, so to read what the rest of the gang have to say about our joint criminal enterprise has been a delight.
All of us involved in making the show are very appreciative of all the work you’ve put in. And I’d like to offer personal thanks to you for making my own ramblings appears so lucid. Your choice of illustrative material has been pitch perfect.
One thing I mentioned earlier – about working with good people making all the difference. Most of the questions across these interviews have been about plot things in the first series, and Endeavour Morse as a character – and I hope I’ve answered them as comprehensively as I can – but what they haven’t given me the opportunity to do, and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to do now, is talk about Shaun Evans.
Whatever the rest of us on the production side might have put together to make it work on FBTW – the right story, the right look for the piece, whatever it was — ENDEAVOUR was always going to be pretty heavily scrutinised, and judged a hit or miss, rightly or wrongly, on Shaun’s performance. It was a gig which would have struck many as pretty daunting on the page. For all kinds of historical reasons. It came with a lot of additional weight. And no small amount of expectations. Approached the wrong way it was the kind of gig that could turn someone’s head or blow their mind. That Shaun avoided both possibilities is testament to his integrity as an artist and his absolute dedication to his craft.
He found the character as he would any other, by drawing on the text, and by going to the source – to Colin’s novels – through which he found his way back to an Endeavour in his mid-twenties. It was the only sane course of action. And that’s the key, really. We’ve never set out to present Detective Chief Inspector Morse. You’ll see glimpses, of course. How could you not? But to offer up some kind of fully formed version of the character with the same emotional cargo he’s hauling in his middle years? It would be crazy, and impossible, and wrong to attempt it. These are the adventures Detective Constable Endeavour Morse. A young man, with all of a young man’s dreams and insecurities still intact. Not exactly your regular Joe. An outsider for so many reasons. But at this stage of his life still burning with hope, and the potential for happiness, and so much to prove to himself and the world. And Shaun just got that and knew it and felt that in his bones from the off.
That we’ve now got to the end of the ninth film, and the second series, and he’s still bringing something new to it, and letting you feel that we’ve barely scratched the surface, really is a mark of just how deeply he inhabits the role. Sometimes you get very lucky. Working with Shaun would fall into that category.
None of us involved ever forget where we came from with this – the creative debt we owe to the extraordinary work of so many talented people that came before; the writers, directors, actors, producers, execs, musos, innumerable cast and crew who ploughed the field and paved the road. Truly, the shoulders of giants. We’re hugely grateful for having been allowed to make our own contribution to something begun all those years ago on a wet holiday in Wales by Colin Dexter. That we have been given that opportunity to do so for the past three years or so is due in no small measure to Shaun Evans who has reintroduced many to an old friend, and also brought a certain, special kind of Oxford magic to a whole new generation, with his pitch perfect portrayal of the heart, mind, body and soul of Endeavour Morse.
Thank you for watching.
“Ask me no more, for fear I should reply”
“The sum of things to be known is inexhaustible, and however long we read, we shall never come to the end of our story-book.”
– A. E. Housman
I would like to thank the following for their time and generous support:
Damian Michael Barcroft
The Inside Story
The last look at significant events and encounters from the first series and how they relate to the original Inspector Morse…
Bright is quietly impressed by Morse’s shooting range results and notes that he has his Sergeant’s exam coming up soon. Morse later tells Thursday that he learnt to shoot when he was 12. It was the first Christmas after his mother had died and his father bought him a pistol. He would take the young Morse to the common after rabbits.
Morse’s sister Joyce rings to tell him their father (Cyril) is ill (he has suffered from angina for years). Not wanting to leave Thursday short while he takes some time off from work to see his father, Morse recommends Strange to serve as Acting Detective Constable in his place. Strange is very pleased… “Little acorns matey” indeed!
Morse’s stepmother Gwen, only manages a lukewarm welcome back to his childhood home (somewhere up north). Morse’s sister, he calls her Joycie, is much more pleased to see him again. Morse visits the grave of his mother (Constance) at the local church.
Just before Morse goes back to Oxford, Joyce tells Morse that his father is proud of him in his own way (although he never liked the police) but that he reminds him too much of his mother.
Thursday encounters his old nemesis, Vic Kasper. He tells Bright that Vic had recently become persona non with Sid and Gerald Fletcher (Get Carter).
Morse talks to Mrs Carter (now Wilkins), the widow of Mickey Carter who was killed by the Kasper gang. She tells Morse that Thursday looked out for her and sent money at the end of each month up until she got married again. Thursday had taken Mickey under his wing from a young constable. One night Mickey went to see an informant by himself but it was a setup. Thursday blamed himself, especially when he couldn’t prove anything and no one was charged. With a young family to keep safe, Thursday moved to Oxford to start afresh without the continuing threat of Kasper.
Morse is shot in the leg by Mrs Coke Norris during her confrontation with him and Thursday.
Morse’s father dies. Morse and his sister Joyce are at his bedside.
Strange takes his Police Sergeant Examination Paper.
Morse finally sees a doctor about his leg injury. The doctor tells him that it will mend but may well find himself saddled with a limp during middle age particularly when he is overtired or the weather turns.