They are both British icons, heroes, legends! Stylish. Distinctive. Timeless.
But what other similarities and crossovers exist between Inspector Morse and James Bond.
The main thing that connects these franchises is speculation that 007 DANIEL CRAIG could play Morse on the big screen. Ok, nonsense. That’s a rumour I started. Here. But it gained attention and is it really an accident that Craig now plays Benoit Blanc in the KNIVES OUT series? That’s basically Morse in a way, on the big screen. Craig has a John Thaw quality, too (masculine but sensitive; world weary yet charismatic, both actors model timeless acting craft at its best).
And yes, I know: Morse does not jump into bed with countless women, save the world or get in fights (gun/fist) on regular basis. But then, neither, frankly does James Bond in his own internal logic /narrative universe.
We perceive 007 in a certain light because we have 25 movies and each is a compressed unit of adventure. As in every single story should possibly be his most interesting day ever or else it’s not worth telling? The Bond of the books gets his fair share of action, of course (bedroom and battle).
To compensate for that pleasure, Ian Fleming manages to convey an equal amount of office politics and paperwork pressure upon James. Those scenes are brief but ‘there’ in most of the novels and short stories, such that the movies, of late managed to make that almost the premise of the mission itself. Yes, Skyfall and SPECTRE: looking at YOU!
Morse simply has more concentrated doses of the banalities with which Bond is occasionally punctuated. The television films from 1987-’93 ended up embellishing the mythology a tad, with each writer for the screen wishing to plant new ideas and traits upon Dexter’s template (Julian Mitchell did that a great deal). Yet the core team is constant at Oxford Police HQ.
Morse’s Boss, (Supt. Strange) sees his relationship to the Inspector as almost father/son or mentor/pupil, even though he and ‘Endeavour’ are of the same generation, give or take a few years.
Morse is frequently given a talking to, by Strange, for taking certain maverick decisions which invariably end up being refined and mopped up by Sgt. Lewis. Morse is a great detective but a terrible policeman. It is often Lewis, the nominal ‘sidekick’, who provides the case cracking ‘Eureka’ moment.
James Bond is equally torn between being lone wolf loose canon and team player. His missions are one man affairs. But the set up, prep, briefing and sometimes both infiltration and extraction depend on the wider Mi6 family.
Whilst one does not wish that dynamic to be overdone (SPECTRE: looking at you, again); its absence is felt when neglected. M, Q, MoneyPenny and Bill Tanner are part of the Bond universe and mythology.
Morse is by no means an exotic jet setter, but on occasion, did get to switch territory. Italy, Ireland and Australia, for starters. He was also thrust out of his comfort zone, to areas such as the Acid House party scene, albeit with a remaining connection to the world of academics and science for hire. Bond has to be as at home in an Embassy as a terror training camp, and should ideally be able to shift modes at a moment’s notice. Both are robotic creatures of habit hence and remain bachelors (just not ‘confirmed’ ones ;)).
Morse as good as defined himself in terms of remaining ‘unmarried’ although his heart was broken by a girl to whom he was engaged while undergraduates at Oxford. Susan/Wendy’s leaving Morse was the reason he failed to secure a degree and in turn embarked on the path that led him toward a career in the Police. He does enjoy women, though much of that is what the writer, Colin Dexter, termed ‘sexual daydreaming’ rather than bed hopping passion.
Morse gets charmed by a particular ‘type’ of girl: glacial, elegant, skinny, blonde, classy, clever, with very occasional exceptions and punctuations to prove that rule. John Thaw was great at conveying that trait, among many other subtle touches he gave the character, onscreen.
Bond, by contrast, always knew he would have to marry after playing the field. A reluctant yet necessary societal surrender in the countdown toward his mortality, post retirement, perhaps. And yet he fell genuinely in love with his wife, (Teresa/Tracy), before she was tragically assassinated on the wedding day. After that? James was determined to never allow another get that close to him and his world, though he did of course enjoy affairs in the field.
Would 007 have settled down and embraced pipe/slippers/some other equivalent? Unknown. Fleming died before he could finish Bond off for good. But it’s a fair bet that the creator would have wanted to have the last word on the super-spy pulp hero. Fleming frequently spoke of bumping Bond off or humiliating him such that retirement was the only option. The timeless, ageless loop of Bond adventures is to some extent, a product of his being an unfinished story: immortalised on screen and in endless continuation novels beyond Fleming.
Dexter, by contrast, succeeded in killing off Morse definitively, via bathetic heart attack, in 1999’s The Remorseful Day (filmed in 2000; John Thaw sadly would die in real life, just two years later). In the interests of balance, Morse enjoyed a preceding quasi happy ending of sorts, via Adele Cecil in Death is now my Neighbour. Just like Bond riding off into the sunset with a girl as an adventure closes. You know it cannot last, necessarily. But if you want things to end there, they could. Looking at you, SPECTRE. Again. 😉
Both heroes enjoy cars: vintage, fast, classic, perfect. They are cultured men, although Morse probably champions the higher arts more organically than Bond, who simply understands them as part of panoramic everyman knowledge.
Opera is Morse’s passion where 007 sees it more as means to an end for dates /information gathering. Both are equally comfortable in that black tie / guest dinner / staged event context, though. It’s an Oxford thing. Trust me. 😉
They are smokers in the books though that has been downplayed /all but eliminated on screen. Bond has his Vodka Martini; Morse his real ale and they share a love of a good whiskey. Food wise, 007 is far more particular than Morse, who barely bothers at all as he considers booze more than enough of a calorie intake and coffee its antidote.
Critically, these characters serve as adverts for Britain at its very best. Propped by American money, of course (EON Productions make Bond films; WGBH Boston have helped with Morse on television). The products present an idealised, untouched England, from Oxford to London, still thrust into the relevant problems of today yet aesthetically and ethically constant, triumphant.
Ethical hedonists: neither Bond nor Morse can be thought ‘role models’ or perfect. But they are forces ultimately for good and their style, competence and code of unimpeachable, incorruptible ethics are to be admired. These are pulp heroes who operate in without ever being quite of the establishment, thereby retaining both elite and egalitarian credentials.
Bond and Morse save damsels in distress and confront femme fatales aplenty. Think of them both as detectives, who regularly get in way over their heads amidst conspiracies, family feuds and corporate ambitions within worlds which both attract and repel the two heroes, at once. It’s pure Hitchcock in that sense. Moral Paradox genre fusion.
Both characters are arguably a kind of modern answer to Arthurian Knight lore, sent into slay the dragons of any criminal empire built on bloodshed. Their opponents sometimes come from endless money, with possible ex Nazi /other nastily ideological undercurrents in certain cases, beyond the usual banality of everyday crime.
It’s very much a hangover of a wartime English idiom, which Ian Fleming shared, to some extent, with Colin Dexter and also, Roald Dahl. Dahl was a friend of Fleming and adapted You Only Live Twice for the screen. Fairy tales for grown ups: macabre, fantastical, brutal and yet romantic, charming and refined, too. That’s the formula in this type of literature and no novel or screenplay writer today can quite recapture its style convincingly.
- Shared Trivia:
- GOLDENEYE features Sean Bean, Michael Kitchen and Samantha Bond, all of whom also appeared in episodes of Inspector Morse.
- Rachel Weisz is now married to 007 himself, Daniel Craig and her debut was in the Morse ep, Twilight of the Gods.
- Harriet Walter is a cousin to Christopher Lee, who played Scaramanga in The Man with Golden Gun and both are cousins of Ian Fleming. Harriet featured in Day of the Devil : a Morse case from 1993.
- Danny Boyle directed the Bond short film, HAPPY AND GLORIOUS, for the 2012 Olympics. Boyle was also meant to helm Bond 25 /NO TIME TO DIE, though dropped out. He cut his teeth as a director on Morse episodes.
- Geoffrey Palmer appears as an Admiral in Tomorrow Never Dies (in which 007 brushes up on a little Danish at New College, Oxford: my old alma mater) and he also features as a Morse villain in INFERNAL SERPENT.
- Both Bond and Morse confront and defeat the memory of childhood trauma in adventures that use Tennyson’s poetry as punctuation (SKYFALL and DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOUR).
So: there you have it. Some coincidental overlap, with genuinely shared tropes and idiomatic signatures, in the pantheon of Brit-lit and film. Inspector Morse and James Bond: more in common than one might first think.
Post Script /Coda:
I once pitched a prequel series to Inspector Morse, for ITV. I titled the project ‘Endeavour’. My template was the reboot / prequel trend that had taken off with the Star Wars series, Batman Begins and yes, Casino Royale.
My ideas won the attentions of Morse creator, Colin Dexter and we had some entertaining telephone chats about the prospect. A real privilege and happy memories. Also: not bad for something pitched over a series of coffee breaks in half term from teaching in 2008?
My proposal was for a self contained set of television films, taking Morse from University, through the 60s and 70s, to the start of what we now know as the John Thaw iteration in 1987. And I wanted involvement from all the old writers and directors that had made Morse such a success.
IE: I envisioned a flesh and blood prequel series to the original television films. That’s a very different animal to the ongoing series ultimately commissioned, which now runs on ITV. But I continue to wish them well and suspect my stories will find a differing outlet, with a new character. Oh what might have been.
‘Regret is unprofessional (M, SKYFALL). 😉
JAMES BOND (AND ENDEAVOUR MORSE) WILL RETURN. HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND, ONE AND ALL. TRANSMISSION ENDS. X