I’ve been trying to brace myself for this news, but it hurts all the same.
Colin Dexter autographing my copy of The Jewel That Was Ours at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford in 2006. Our tour group had the impression that he was enjoying himself hugely. Someone asked him why he had to kill Morse, and he responded, sounding – and looking – somewhat injured: “But I didn’t kill him – He died of natural causes!”
Few English families living in England have much direct contact with the English Breakfast. It is therefore fortunate that such an endangered institution is perpetuated by the efforts of the kitchen staff in guest houses B & B’s, transport cafes, and other no-starred and variously starred hotels. This breakfast comprises (at it best): a milkily-opaque fried egg; two rashers of non-brittle, rindless bacon; a tomato grilled to a point where the core is no longer a hard white nodule to be operated upon by the knife; a sturdy sausage, deeply and evenly browned; and a slice of fried bread, golden-brown, and only just crisp, with sufficient fat not excessively to dismay and meddlesome dietitian.
Our tour group met Dexter at the Randolph hotel in downtown Oxford. A room was set aside where he could wax expansive and witty, chatting with us agreeably and holding us spellbound.
I felt very lucky that day. I’d met my favorite author and enjoyed some precious time in his company.
Lewis smiled in spite of himself. Why he ever enjoyed working with this strange, often unsympathetic, superficially quite humorless man, well, he never quite knew. He didn’t even know if he did enjoy it.
Dexter wrote thirteen Morse novels and also some short stories. He was not especially prolific (though the filmmakers were: There are thirty-three episodes in all). Dexter closed out the series in 1999 with The Remorseful Day. Although I’ve read the novel, I was never able to bring myself to watch the tv episode. The death of 60-year-old John Thaw, three years after the demise of his fictional counterpart, was especially poignant.
Morse thought it must be the splendid grandfather clock he’d seen somewhere that he heard chiming the three-quarters (10:45 a.m.) as he and Lewis sat beside each other in a deep settee in the Lancaster Room. Drinking coffee.
“We’re getting plenty of suspects, sir.”
“Mm. We’re getting pretty high on content but very low on analysis, wouldn’t you say? I’ll be all right though once the bar opens.”
“Is is open–opened half-past ten.”
“Why are we drinking this stuff, then?”
One of the most memorable book discussions I led while still at the library was of The Jewel That Was Ours. The quoted passages above are all from that novel. Somewhat confusingly, the tv version is title The Wolvercote Tongue. (The tv script apparently preceded the novel in order of composition.) At the end of that episode, divers are shown making desperate effort recover the jewel from the river. When one of them finds it, he holds it aloft in a manner that instantly puts one in mind of the Lady of the Lake clutching Excalibur.
As we were leaving, Oxford, Colin Dexter joined us as our bus proceeded through ‘leafy North Oxford.’ He graciously offered to point out the sights along the way. My husband recorded his commentary.
I especially like the obituary in The Independent.
For his services to literature, Colin Dexter was awarded the OBE in 2000.