Morse… friend of mine phoned this afternoon with a bit of news that I simply have to share. You see, something has been happening that is actually rather good for music — and I wasn’t aware of it at all…

Yes, it’s true: while my attention has been directed elsewhere, people have been busily uploading entire episodes of the ITV series Inspector Morse (1987-2000) on to YouTube — with the result that all 33 of the shows can now be watched on demand in these pirated versions.

The reason this is good for music — classical music — is easily stated: the programme constitutes probably the greatest single force in the direction of this repertoire’s normalisation that British TV drama has ever seen., of course, this comes from the fact that the central figure was such a passionate music-lover, and was so often shown listening to his records, attending concerts, and so on. (In several of the shows, by the way, Morse was seen to own a high-end  Roksan Xerxes turntable: see the picture.)

More interestingly, however, there was the way that the music was employed as a significant element in the construction and editing of the show itself. In particular, the makers developed something of an ‘in-house’ tradition of using what might be quite extended classical extracts as part of the opening ‘set up’ for an episode.

Me being me, I have some fairly detailed thoughts (and a couple of gripes!) about the programme’s ‘stance’ with regard to Morse and his enjoyment of ‘high culture’; but I don’t want to bother anyone with any of that today — not least because there are things I want to direct interested readers towards before the programme’s copyright-holders discover that the shows have appeared on YouTube, and get them taken off again. let me quickly present three examples of what have always struck me as quite terrific Morse openings: each one has stayed with me since the moment I first saw it — which is a fair while ago, since I was an avid fan from the time of the very first screenings. I’ll present them in order of increasing length — which as it happens, is also their chronological order: am I right in suspecting that they got more and more adventurous as time went on…?

Here, to begin, is the very opening of the very first episode — not just a fine example of ‘starting as you mean to continue’, but also a pretty clear indication that the people who produced this programme really had taken the time to develop and refine their conception before the first show went out…

From ‘The Dead of Jericho’ (first broadcast 6 January 1987):

Next, the opening of ‘Dead on Time’ (first broadcast 26 February 1992):

And, finally, the start of ‘The Way Through the Woods’ (first broadcast 29 November 1995):

If anyone wants to know what any of these classical pieces are, then just ask — and I (or some other commenter!) will tell you In fact, any reader who wants to show off their knowledge of the repertoire will be more than welcome to post the titles below! Let’s see what this blog’s faithful readers are made of!

Incidentally, something else for which I think Inspector Morse deserves a bit of credit is that it contains what may well be the only attempt there has ever been to sneak a ‘contemporary music theory’ joke into a mainstream TV script

Morse: What are you going to hear?

Woman: ‘Metric Conversion’.

Morse: Is that one of those serialists?

I have no idea what episode that is in, or whether I’m remembering it accurately after what might be 20 years: perhaps someone can let me know?

All in all, Inspector Morse is a televisual achievement that richly deserves all the praise it’s received over the years — and, as far as the positive impact of its musical ‘evangelising’ is concerned, all the praise it hasn’t


MOcoverforblogIf you enjoyed this posting, remember that I am a regular contributor and columnist for the UK magazine Musical Opinion. The magazine’s website can be found here; to see its Twitter feed, click here; to see its Facebook page, click here. To subscribe to Musical Opinion, click here.


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