Worthy 'Endeavour': 2017 marks 30 years on the screen for Endeavour Morse

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Jacqueline Spendlove / TV Media
Shaun Evans stars in "Endeavour"

Shaun Evans stars in "Endeavour"

We certainly do love our British TV detectives. From "Sherlock" to "Midsomer Murders," "Father Brown" to "Grantchester," and "Broadchurch" to "Wallander," British crime shows prove just as wildly popular with audiences on this side of the Atlantic as they do with our British counterparts.

One English sleuth in particular is celebrating a significant anniversary on the screen this year. The fourth season of "Endeavour" marks 30 years on the screen for Det. Insp. Morse, who made his first appearance in 1987 in the eponymous detective drama "Inspector Morse," played by John Thaw. In "Endeavour," we're given a look at a younger, fresher Morse, and the "Masterpiece Mystery" offering has found great success both here and across the pond. The season 4 premiere airs Sunday, Aug. 20, on PBS.

"Endeavour" -- the rather unfortunate first name of Insp. Morse -- is a prequel to the long-running series that first introduced us to the character (and in which said first name is seldom uttered). It stars Shaun Evans ("Teachers") in the title role, and the character is decidedly less curmudgeonly than the man, as "Morse" fans know, he grows to be.

Whereas in the original series, Morse is an established, middle-aged detective, the 1960s-set "Endeavour" shows us a 20-something Morse just starting out in his career, at which he nonetheless proves highly adept. The character's traits and personality are well established and recognized in "Inspector Morse" -- brilliant, if more than a little prickly and sullen, with a fondness for English ale, classic cars and crossword puzzles. Evans gives us some of this in "Endeavour," but the series also shows us the younger Morse as a separate, softer entity.

"This is a character who's pretty melancholy and who's in his mid-50s and is alone, drinks too much, is not a happy person," Evans said of the character in a Masterpiece Studio podcast. "And I know that's kind of a cliché for detectives, but there was something about it that I thought, 'That's interesting.' How do you get this guy now to where he is then? And if we can start to see who this person is when he's in his mid-20s, then that's an interesting starting point, I thought ... what is there in your mid-20s that makes you who you are in your 50s?"

Roger Allam ("The Thick of It") stars opposite Evans as Det. Chief Insp. Fred Thursday, Morse's colleague and mentor. Other members of the Oxfordshire Police Criminal Investigation Department include Police Community Support Officer Reginald Bright (Anton Lesser, "Game of Thrones), Det. Sgt. Jim Strange (Sean Rigby in his first main role) and Det. Sgt. Peter Jakes (Jack Laskey, "X Company). Dakota Blue Richards ("Skins") plays Woman Police Const. Shirley Trewlove -- a somewhat uncommon sight as a young female constable in the '60s.

Dakota Blue Richards as seen in "Endeavour"

Dakota Blue Richards as seen in "Endeavour"

While both Thaw and Evans paint an excellent picture of the ornery detective, it's Colin Dexter whom you can thank for the character. "Inspector Morse" is based on a series of books by Dexter, who penned 13 novels about Morse, as well as several novellas and short stories. The author won a number of awards for the books and, in 2000, was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature. It's unsurprising that his stories and characters, so popular on paper, have been a success on the screen as well.

"Endeavour" isn't the first "Morse" spinoff. "Inspector Lewis," another "Masterpiece Mystery" series, is centered on Det. Insp. Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately, "The English Patient," 1996) Morse's sergeant in the original series. It, too, was a huge hit for ITV and "Masterpiece," running for nine seasons and drawing millions of viewers each week.

"Endeavour's" four-episode fourth season aired in January on ITV in the U.K. and, as has been the case with previous seasons, the numbers speak for themselves. The season averaged seven million viewers, enjoying a slight uptick from season 3's average of 6.8 million. A longer fifth season of the drama is already in the works.

As for Morse's pearl anniversary on the screen, don't think the milestone is going unnoticed. Keep an eye out this season for tributes to the original inspector in the form of cameos and character appearances. Thaw's daughter, Abigail Thaw ("I Want My Wife Back"), already has a regular role in the series as Dorothea Frazil, the editor of the Oxford Mail newspaper, but his widow, Sheila Hancock ("The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," 2008), also appears this season in a guest role. Watch for an appearance by James Laurenson ("Boney") as well, in a nod to the first-ever "Inspector Morse" episode, in which he played Tony Richards.

Russell Lewis, "Endeavour's" creator and a writer for "Morse," returns to script this season, so you can expect the storylines to be just as compelling as ever. Don't miss the return of the "Masterpiece Mystery" drama when "Endeavour" debuts its fourth season -- a milestone one for the character of Endeavour Morse -- Sunday, Aug. 20, on PBS.