Paul Foot

Morse code

(23 January 1993)

From Socialist Worker, No.1326, 23 January 1993, p.11.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

IT IS the last episode of Morse this week, and that is a cause of profound mourning all across the country.

The estimate is that more than 20 million households will have the telly on for Morse.

I started watching Morse too late – I used to scoff at friends who hurried home to catch it. “Just another police soap,” I thought. “What’s all the fuss about?”

In fact of course the appeal of the series has been that it is not a police soap at all. Morse is not real. He is most people’s role model of what a policeman/detective ought to be like.

He ought to be ruminative, gentle, rather highbrow in his tastes and radical in his politics. He ought to think his way to his solution. Above all, if he does his job properly, there’s no need for him to show his power.

If detectives were really like that, they’d be popular.

They are not like that. Talking about Morse, John Stalker said there are “plenty of eccentrics” in the CID but he had to agree that very few of those “eccentrics” (“oddballs” or just plain “nutters” might be a better description) are like Morse.

I rather doubt if you could find a chief inspector anywhere in the country who remotely corresponds to him.

The macho culture in the police force is now almost entirely dominant. This is not just reflected in the racism and sexism which are so often written about and so permanently obvious, especially in London.

Its effect on detection is to make a mockery of the very word. Crimes are “solved” not by any process which can be called detection but by “information” bribed from the underworld, the pampering of supergrasses, confessions extracted by threats, blackmail or (in extreme cases) good old fashioned torture.

Sophisticated inspector

No doubt it is the yearning for the good old days (which probably never existed anyway) of the sophisticated inspector and his happily married, jocular, hard working but always respectful sergeant which accounts for some of Morse’s popularity.

But that Is not all, not by any means. The success of the characters is that they have been blended into a series of extraordinary stories, some much better than others but all rooted in the real world and sensitive and responsive to it.

Last week’s episode, the best I’ve seen, was a quite outstanding, gripping and unpredictable story about rape and women’s reaction to it.

It was enriched by a brilliant performance from Harriet Walker who fooled, I suspect, all her audience with her caricature of the slightly scatty and helpless psychiatrist. Her steel ran deep, and it was reinforced by an astonishing (and gloriously impossible) outburst of uncompromising feminism from a policewoman.

This was high drama, superbly acted and brilliantly filmed. It was not easy to follow – I doubt whether more than a handful of people guessed the shocking ending.

Its remarkable popularity is a great slap in the face to the highbrows on the Independent Television Commission who believe that the telly watching public are a load of morons who have been led by the nose for far too long by lefties.

It was this “thinking” which led to the London independent television franchise being taken from Thames and handed to Carlton, a company which, to judge from its early offerings, can’t tell whether it has more contempt for itself or for its public.

Morse shows that if you give people good drama, well written and full of sophisticated humour and suspense, they will like it, and like it much more than all the safe sentimental pap served up to them to keep them quiet.


Last updated on 7.2.2005