Chief Inspector Morse: 5 things to know about Colin Dexter's popular update of Sherlock Holmes

British author Colin Dexter.
British author Colin Dexter.PHOTO: EPA

(NYTimes) - British mystery writer Colin Dexter introduced the gruff, ale-loving Chief Inspector Morse and the working-class, patient Detective Sgt Lewis - an updated version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson - in the book Last Bus To Woodstock in 1975.

A dozen novels and a popular television series, Inspector Morse, followed. Oxford found itself besieged by tourists eager to visit the pubs and hotels that figured in the show that ran from 1987 to 2000.

Dexter died on Tuesday (March 21) at his home in Oxford, England. He was 86.

1. The Crime Writers' Association of Britain gave Dexter several awards for his Morse books.

He won Silver Daggers for Service Of All The Dead (1979) and The Dead of Jericho (1981). He received a Golden Dagger for The Wench Is Dead (1989), in which Morse solved a century-old murder while recuperating in a hospital. He won the award again for The Way Through The Woods (1992).

In 1997 he received the organisation's lifetime achievement award, the Diamond Dagger.


2. ITV brought the Morse books to TV in Inspector Morse, with a brilliant John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis.

The series killed off the detective in the 33rd and last episode in 2000. After Thaw died in 2002, Dexter said no other actor should reprise the role, according to The Guardian.

However, the show generated a sequel, Lewis, with Whately in the lead role, and a prequel, Endeavour, with Shaun Evans as Morse at the outset of his career.

3. Dexter, a former classics teacher and a fan of cryptic crosswords, planted false clues in the novels.

For instance, Inspector Morse was named not after the code but after Dexter's friend and fellow crossword devotee, Lloyds Bank chairman Jeremy Morse.

4. Dexter appeared fleetingly on camera in cameo roles in Inspector Morse: Oxford tourist, doctor, prisoner, college porter, bishop, professor, bum.

5. Dexter said he shared with Morse a love of classical music and English literature, but could not compete in intellect.

Dexter earned a bachelor's degree in classics from Christ's College, Cambridge and embarked on a career as a teacher of classics. Growing deafness forced him to retire in 1966. For the next two decades he was the senior assistant secretary at the Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations, which set exams for secondary schools. He retired in 1988 and turned to writing full time.

"People think I'm clever, but it's not true," he said. "The only thing I'm good at is crosswords."

He devoted a book to his hobby, Cracking Cryptic Crosswords: A Guide To Solving Cryptic Crosswords (2010).