Entertainment & Arts

Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, dies aged 86

Colin Dexter Image copyright PA
Image caption Colin Dexter received an OBE for services to literature in 2000

Colin Dexter, who wrote the Inspector Morse books, has died at the age of 86.

His publisher said in a statement on Tuesday: "With immense sadness, MacMillan announces the death of Colin Dexter who died peacefully at his home in Oxford this morning."

His series of 13 Morse novels, written between 1975 and 1999, were adapted for the long-running ITV series, which starred John Thaw.

Dexter's characters also featured in spin-off shows Lewis and Endeavour.

'Sharpest mind, biggest heart'

He wrote his first Morse novel, Last Bus to Woodstock, in 1975 while on holiday in Wales. The fictional detective was then killed off in the final book, The Remorseful Day.

Inspector Morse and Lewis star Kevin Whately described him as "impish and bubbly and always fascinated with everybody and everything".

He told BBC Oxford: "I think I'm incredibly lucky to have had 30 years of his friendship. He would always turn up - he loved being on set with us, and we loved having him there. He was a very warm, benign presence always."

Whately joked: "We used to give him a little role, give him the odd line to say, but he was so awful at speaking and acting that we only let him walk through the shot."

Image copyright PA
Image caption John Thaw, Colin Dexter and Kevin Whately

Sheila Hancock, Thaw's widow, told BBC Radio 4's Front Row: "He did say to me a couple of times that he really did feel that John was the character and the character was John. It sort of evolved between them. In fact, I think one of the reasons he killed Morse off is he didn't want to imagine anyone else playing the part."

She described Dexter as a "remarkably well-read and clever man", as well as a "bubbly guy" who "just seemed to enjoy life so much" and "loved to laugh".

Maria Rejt, Dexter's most recent editor at MacMillan, said the author had "inspired all those who worked with him", adding: "His loyalty, modesty and self-deprecating humour gave joy to many. His was the sharpest mind and the biggest heart, and his wonderful novels and stories will remain a testament to both."

Image copyright ITV
Image caption John Thaw, centre, starred as Inspector Morse alongside Kevin Whately as Lewis

Kevin Lygo, director of television at ITV, said Inspector Morse was "one of the nation's best-loved shows", with Thaw's "irascible detective with a love for crosswords, real ale and classical music" becoming one of the most popular characters of all time.

"Through 33 feature length stories, the casebook of Morse and Lewis changed the landscape of detective drama," he said.

Dexter worked closely behind the scenes of the show and later became a consultant on Lewis, the sequel starring Whately which ran for nine years.

He was also "one of the key creative forces" behind prequel Endeavour - the inspector's first name - which saw Shaun Evans appear as the young Morse.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Colin Dexter wrote 13 Inspector Morse novels

MacMillan's publisher Jeremy Trevathan added that Dexter's death represented a "tectonic shift in the international crime writing scene".

He said: "Colin represented the absolute epitome of British crime writing, and in the 1990s John Thaw's Inspector Morse took over Wednesday night television. He was one of those television characters who the nation took to their hearts. This is a very sad day for us all."

Fellow crime writers paid tribute on Twitter.

Lynda La Plante said of the late author: "Colin Dexter, a masterful writer and storyteller who entertained millions of readers."

Ian Rankin said: "Sad news - a gentle man with a steel mind; and the creator of such an iconic character..."

Val McDermid said: "Deeply sorry to hear of the death of my good friend Colin Dexter. He brought pleasure to millions and joy to his friends."

Maxim Jakubowski, vice-chairman of the Crime Writers' Association told the BBC: "He will be remembered not just as a superlative crime writer and the creator of such a classic character as Inspector Morse, but also as the most convivial of friends, impish, friendly to all, seldom seen in public without a smile, a man who accepted celebrity late in his life with wonderful dignity and humour."

'A large Glenfiddich'

Norman Colin Dexter was born in 1930 in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and studied classics at Cambridge University.

He worked as a Latin and Greek teacher from 1954 to 1966 before moving to Oxford - where he set the Morse stories - to become a full-time writer.

Carlton Productions made 33 Morse TV films with Thaw in the lead role. Dexter himself made many cameo appearances.

Image copyright ITV
Image caption Roger Allam (left) and Shaun Evans star in Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour

Dexter had type 2 diabetes, a condition that he also gave Morse in the last few books of the series.

When Dexter received an OBE for services to literature in 2000, he said he would have liked to have thought his fictional detective would have bought him a celebratory whisky.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Dexter pictured in his home town of Oxford, where he set his novels

"I think Morse, if he had really existed and was still alive, would probably say to me, 'Well, you didn't do me too bad a service in your writing'.

"He might say, 'I wish you'd made me a slightly less miserable blighter and slightly more generous, and you could have painted me in a little bit of a better light'.

"If he had bought me a drink, a large Glenfiddich or something, that would have been very nice, but knowing him I doubt he would have done - Lewis always bought all the drinks."

Sheila Hancock and Kevin Whately are on Front Row on Tuesday 21 March at 19:15. The interviews will be available online later


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