There’s not a girl in Belfast as devoted to ITV3 as I am. I watch Marple, Poirot, Frost, Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour, religiously, and on a bad evening will even dip into Foyle’s War or Murder She Wrote, (though I draw the line, decisively at Midsomer Murders). In fact, I’ve watched so much ITV3 in the last year, I’ve found myself subconsciously contemplating a Viking River Cruise, should the money or opportunity arise. The few people who’ve stopped trying to convince me that I might find one of these new “Scandi” crime series superior to the traditional British fayre offered on ITV3, openly mock me for allegiance to an entire channel sponsored by The People’s Friend. I’m not pension-claiming age yet, but I do know what I like.
This week I took a rest day from work, hoping to catch up on sleep lost during four consecutive nights of insomnia. I bedded down on the living room sofa and watched an entire day of ITV3; sheer indulgence. Early in the morning, over my crunchy nut cornflakes I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one of the earliest episodes of Morse and it was a real treat to see an old friend back onscreen; an experience shot through with tremendous amounts of nostalgia. John Thaw as Inspector Morse is one of my earliest television memories. As a family we watched a lot of crime dramas: Taggart, Murder She Wrote, Columbo. However, it is Morse which has lasted the longest in the history of Carson TV obsessions, (other notable favourites including Casualty and Holby City). Whether it be the original series featuring the late, great, (and terribly handsome), John Thaw, spin-off Lewis, (featuring the equally appealing Lawrence Fox), or new kid on the Morse block, the wonderfully, dark Endeavour, they continue to be programmes we’ve always enjoyed watching as a family. Of course there’s a certain amount of comfort in revisiting an old friend, the television equivalent of coming home for your Mother’s Sunday roast. And, they are reasonably well-written television dramas, (though I daresay modern crime shows with their special effects and elaborate plot twists could make Morse seem pale in comparison). However, I’ve been thinking lately that Morse means a lot more to me than cosy familiarity and a decent story line.
I was quite a serious child. One of the only kids I knew who preferred Newsround to the cartoons preceding it on Children’s BBC every afternoon. I didn’t really like cartoons back then and I still don’t today. I preferred All Creatures Great and Small, Dallas and anything involving murder. I wasn’t a particularly morose child, I’ve just always been predisposed to realism. Inspector Morse when he arrived in my life, during my early teenage years, offered an opportunity to peer into a world I’d never seen before. Each episode, Oxford-based, was like a little crash course on some intellectual, cultural concept an 11 year old, growing up in Ballymena couldn’t possibly have stumbled upon on their own steam. Alongside the murders, (which I can barely remember now), Morse introduced me to Wagner, Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, T.S.Eliott and any number of classical composers whom I neither knew nor entirely understood. It wasn’t so much an education, (revisiting old episodes now, they offer little more than a first paragraph of Wikipedia intro to what could only be described as incredibly complex topics), but they did serve to whet my appetite for a lifetime of learning.
When you write a book, people often ask what your influences were growing up. It’s a particularly dull, interview staple and the person asking the question, expects a list of books and authors who’ve shaped the way you write. This week, resting in front of ITV3, I’ve come to realise that Inspector Morse has been one of the biggest influences on my writing career. Calm, wise and incredibly eloquent, I can remember clearly watching John Thaw in the early days of Morse and thinking, I want to know as much as that man. I want to be able to talk insightfully to different people on an enormous number of different topics, (and possibly also solve crimes and drive a Jaguar). That sense of curiosity has served me well in life as well as writing. There’s always another artist to discover, always another story to stumble upon, always another piece of music to remind you that, as the good folks at Viking River Cruises are wont to remind us twice every fifteen minutes, “the mystery never ends.”
So, thank you Inspector Morse, for reaching across the channel, Oxford to early 90s Ballymena, and planting an insatiable curiosity in an 11 year girl who could just as easily have settled with watching Baywatch and reading Point Horror. In honour of the legacy you have left me, I pledge to watch even more ITV3 in the year to come and I might even wear my slippers whilst doing so.