Richard Hewett
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Investigating Morse
Detecting innovations in sound and image
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One of the most popular and successful crime dramas of the 1990s, Inspector Morse (ITV, 1987-–2000) starred John Thaw as the Oxford detective with a passion for classical music and real ale, and encompassed seven series and five special episodes. While existing academic work has lauded the series for its ‘quality’ and ‘heritage’ signifiers, to date little research has been conducted with regard to its innovative approach to sound and image. The series was particularly notable for how it either juxtaposed these elements – as in debut episode ‘The Dead of Jericho’, in which Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ and Hubert Parry’s ‘My soul there is a country’ contrast with a police raid – or allowed them an unusual degree of dominance, as when Brian Johnston’s cricket commentary, a radio call-in show and the strains of Saint-Saens’s ‘Concerto for Cello’ compete for the viewer’s (and Morse’s) attention in the opening to ‘Deceived by Flight’. Such experimentation set the series apart from contemporary generic conventions, developing a self-conscious style that helped ensure its success, leaving audiences by turns captivated, unsettled and entranced, and reaching viewing figures of 18 million in the process.

This chapter draws upon examples from a range of episodes to examine how the series employed sound and image in often unusual, dissonant or defamiliarising ways. Inspector Morse’s pioneering approach to these elements created a truly distinctive look and feel, particularly when compared to its crime drama contemporaries, and this will be unpacked here in detail for the first time.

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Sound / image

Moments in television


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