Most of what I knew about John Thaw I learned from Inspector Morse. Because they were the same person, although not the same persona. I first knew Morse, the crusty British homicide inspector, and developed a fondness for him – his aspirational love of literature, opera, and classical music. His disdain for contemporary culture. His poor Sargent Lewis, who took the brunt of Morse’s abuse and his superior, elitist attitude. Morse drank too much – loved a good bitter – and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. He struggled to articulate his softer emotions, so when he did, it was heady stuff. When he fell in love, he fell hard. And when it didn’t work out, as was always the case for one reason or other, he took it stoically and buried himself in his work or his books or booze, and returned to his solitary life.
It was much later that I met the actor, John Thaw, who was completely unlike Morse in most respects. He was sensitive and vulnerable and not afraid to laugh at someone else’s joke and didn’t have an elitist bone in his body. But his was an incredible actor who persevered for years to rise from his humble beginnings to play Shakespeare on the world stage and earn accolades worldwide. I was amazed that one man lived inside the other and wondered if that wasn’t true for each of us. I liked them both for different reasons.
When Morse died on screen, and Thaw died in real life, I felt like I’d lost two friends, or brothers, or fathers. When I see John Thaw in old Inspector Morse episodes, I want him to be alive again. It tears at me if I let it. And I wonder why. Sometimes I listen to the theme music over and over and wish I was hearing it for the first time.
But of course. The music. How does music work? It taps into your emotional memory. I learned to love Morse when I was married and the kids were small. The weekly broadcast on WXXI, our local public TV station, was one of those evening rituals my wife and I would enjoy after the kids were in bed. We would hunker down (maybe with bowls of rum raisin ice cream) on the living room couch in the blue glow of TV screen and lose ourselves to Morse and the towers and quadrangles and pubs and punts of Oxford. Oh yeah, and the murders that Morse would solve – eventually. That was the other thing I liked about him. He made mistakes, but always seemed to right himself. Or at least accept being righted.
I have the theme looping on YouTube as I write this. Just missing Morse and everything connected with his memory. I suppose I should think of it as a celebration. I’m sure John Thaw would want it that way.