Rather fittingly, I watched the last episode of Inspector Morse on New Year’s Eve. The first had aired in 1987 and this final one in 2000. I’d worked my way through all thirty-three in four or five months. By the end, the power-dressing of the 1980s was long gone and mobile phones were no longer the size of bricks.
There is a special interest in watching such a long-running series in condensed form. The extent of Morse’s dysfunctional love life is much more apparent than it was the first time round, when I was watching it spread out over such a long period. He is so susceptible, forever falling in love with a woman who turns out to be the murderer or is otherwise compromised. And how discreet it all is. We never follow him into the bedroom – and the series is all the better for that. The last episode ends of course with Morse’s death and it is all the more poignant when viewed with the knowledge that John Thaw was dead himself only two years later.
I did love that series and I think that is why I didn’t get into Lewis when it began in 2006. It seemed all wrong that the series should go on without Morse and John Thaw. But a couple of days ago I watched the pilot episode and was won over. I loved the touches that paid tribute to Morse and John Thaw: the red Jag that Lewis almost steps in front of; the Endeavour music scholarship endowed anonymously; the crossword clue on Morse’s notes relating to an earlier case. It was beautifully done. So: a worthy successor after all. I’ve got the box set and there are thirty-three episodes, so I won’t be running out of comfort viewing any time soon.
I don’t go in for bingeing on box sets. I am happily working my way through the 33 episodes of Inspector Morse, but I am strict about watching only one an evening. They last around an hour and forty minutes, so though I am sometimes tempted to go on to the next episode, it’s not so hard to resist. However binge-reading is another matter.
The hot weather made me think of those summer days long gone when I would go into a kind of trance and read for hours at a time. The years between sixteen and my mid twenties were my great reading years. I was doing an English A Level and then an English degree, followed by an M.A. and then a Ph.D. I was supposed to be reading, but even given that, I did read an awful lot. One summer I read all the Shakespeare plays that I hadn’t already studied and I mean ALL of them.
I can’t read like that these days – just as I can’t sleep until noon. Rarely do I succumb to the charm of a book and neglect everything in order to finish it. The last time I surrendered to a novel and spent the week-end reading it was when we picked A Gentleman in Moscowby Amor Towles for our book-group. All those years of work and child-rearing have got me out of the habit of long sessions with a book. Though I do still read a lot, it tends to be only on holiday that I can spend a whole afternoon with a novel.
But having said, there is a kind of binge-reading to which I do succumb. A couple of years ago, I discovered Mick Herron’s Slow Horseson my Kindle. I had bought it – perhaps because I met him at Crimefest – and then forgotten about it, as tends to happen with e-books. It was both gripping and darkly funny. By time I had got round to reading it, the deplorable Jackson Lamb and the sorry crew at Slough House were several adventures further on. In the long ago pre-internet past I would have to go to a book shop (remember those?) to look for the next instalment, and I might have had to order it. Or, if I was in low water financially, all too likely in those days, I might instead have gone to the library (an endangered species now). But now it is the work of seconds to buy someone’s whole back catalogue in order to devour them one after another. So in that sense I am a binge-reader, and though it is great to be able to finish one novel and go straight on to find out what happened to the characters next, perhaps something is lost too. There is a pleasure to be had in anticipation and delayed gratification (not to mention the importance of supporting book shops and libraries).
Having said that, if anyone should be tempted to download all Mick Herron’s books – or mine for that matter – please don’t feel you must hold back.
This is a second posting – I don’t know what happened to the first one. It mysteriously disappeared shortly after it appeared on my blog.
I am working my way through the entire box set of Inspector Morse DVDs, all thirty-three episodes, rationing myself strictly to one an evening. And how well they still stand up: well-plotted, well-scripted, excellent direction and photography, the glorious setting of Oxford, and above all the superb double act of the brilliant John Thaw with Kevin Whately as his sidekick. The supporting cast is excellent, too. Every episode is stuffed with familiar names – there’s even John Gielgud in one. The whole thing is such a class act. There is also the fun of spotting Colin Dexter appearing, Hitchcock-like, in every episode.
It is hard to believe that the the first one aired in 1987. These were the days before mobile phones and the internet made the work of the police – and the crime-writer – more complicated, and yet on the whole they have not dated very much. The most startling aspect is the women’s clothes: shoulder pads so enormous that they almost have to turn sideways to go through doorways. Did I once dress like that? I fear I must have, but memory has drawn a merciful veil over what I actually did wear. I was reminded of another way in which life has improved by an episode in which Morse is at a college dinner. At the end of it the woman sitting next to him lits up a cigarette while she is still sitting at the table: unthinkable these days! It is the little things that make you realise that, yes, this was thirty-two years ago.
PS Have just heard the sad news that Barrington Pheloung, who wrote the atmospheric score, has died.