Hello everyone, I hope this blog post finds you all well as I begin my weekly post on the weekly events that have transpired in the Morse universe: Morse, Lewis and Endeavour and all those who sail in those particular ships.
As always let’s start with the Twittersphere.
Jack Bannon @jactorbannon (Sam Thursday) on Twitter.
Laurence Fox @lozzafox on Twitter and Instagram.
Mr Fox’s new tattoos.
The above tattoo is dedicated to his son Eugene.
Endeavour Twitter run by Mammoth TV and ITV. @endeavour
Shvorne Marks on Twitter. @shvorne
Roger Allam on Twitter. @all_allam
@hannahgracelong Hannah is the writer of the blog about all things crime drama.
@shaunevansonly A fan twitter account.
Dakota Blue Richards @dakotabluer on Twitter.
The following article appeared in the National newspaper
The Scot who cracked the Morse code
Kevin Whately and John Thaw, above, became two of the best-known faces on TV in Britain, thanks to the creation of the Inspector Morse series by Kenny McBain.
As a classic TV detective series marks 30 years since it first aired, Barney MacFarlane pays tribute to the unsung Scot who brought the Inspector Morse phenomenon to our screens
THIRTY years ago this month there began a phenomenon whose ripples are still felt today in TV studios around the world.
With a vaguely biblical and not overly-hypnotic title, The Dead Of Jericho broadcast on ITV in January 1987, its name referring to a district of Oxford, not a Trump-esque wall. It was the first episode of what was to become the most popular detective series in UK television history.
Inspector Morse, starring John Thaw and Kevin Whately, ran for 33 episodes until 2000 – several after the supposedly agreed last one in 1993. At its peak, 750 million viewers watched it in 200 countries, with 18 million of those in Britain.
And there’s hardly a week goes by in which a Morse episode is not showing on ITV3.
Yet the man responsible for bringing it to the screen – and so much besides – was a young Scot who died young and whose name is barely known in his own country.
Kenny McBain, above, was the gifted son of working-class parents and spent his early years in a tenement in Townhead, Glasgow, to the north of George Square. His father ran a fruit and veg shop in Parliamentary Road, handy for the fruit market situated at that time in what’s now the Merchant City.
A primary school teacher impressed on his parents how bright their son was and encouraged them to let him take the entrance examination for a place at the prestigious Hutcheson’s Grammar, for which he won a bursary.
Later, McBain won a scholarship Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, initially to study music, his first love. He was a fine clarinet and piano player.
“I remember as a little girl going to see Kenny playing in the Glasgow Schools Orchestra at the bandstand in Queen’s Park – he was first clarinet,” recalls Julia McBain, youngest of his three sisters. While other boys might play air guitar, “Kenny would be in his room, playing the piano or conducting a Mozart symphony on the record player with his ivory baton”.
At Harvard, however, he changed direction and became involved in theatrical projects. His great friend, John Pym, whom he met at Harvard, said: “Kenny made a deliberate – not to say calculated – decision to put music aside and to throw himself into theatre.”
Pym, writer and former editor of the prestigious Time Out Film Guide, added: “He became president of the Harvard Dramatic Club in 1968. Kenny was very determined to make his career, right from the very beginning.”
That “single-minded sense of purpose” as Pym puts it, was to pay off back in the UK. After graduating in 1969, McBain moved to London where his early forays in television included directing a Doctor Who episode and a couple of Coronation Street slots. Then he went on to be a producer and director on the BBC children’s drama series Grange Hill to great success, and following that the Boon crime drama series which ran from 1986-95 and starred the gruff Cockney Michael Elphick.
McBain became involved in the Inspector Morse project after reading some of Colin Dexter’s novels set in Oxford. McBain bought the rights and sold the idea of a TV series to Ted Childs, who became its executive producer for Central Television.
It was McBain’s idea to have the format as one-off, two-hour long dramas, much to the opposition of executives at the time. Dexter, too, fretted over the concept. “I thought it might well turn out to be tragic misjudgement,” Dexter once said, adding: “I am wrong even more times than Morse.”
The format has proved worth its weight in gold not only for the Morse brand but also for copycat series, such as A Touch of Frost, starring David Jason.
Broadcaster and writer Mark Lawson, who presented the BBC4 arts show Front Row, said: “I have intermittently tried to remind the world of the extent to which Kenny McBain literally changed the shape of the TV schedules.
“The current ITV thriller series Unforgotten follows the Morse pacing and shape.”
And the marque itself continues. Endeavour, concerning the young Morse, has just begun its third series on ITV, and in the same two-hour format. Connections, too, are bound to the original Morse series. Abigail, daughter of John Thaw, who played the dour, grumpy inspector, is the editor of the Oxford Mail in Endeavour, and in the last episode of the current series, Sheila Hancock, Thaw’s widow and Abigail’s mother, will make a guest appearance.
McBain was also responsible for bringing in Kevin Whately to play DS Lewis as a young Geordie with technological nous, a better foil for Morse, he believed, than the older Welsh assistant of the Dexter novels.
McBain also gave Morse the famous MkII Jag instead of Dexter’s Lancia. Dexter himself attributes the phenomenal success of Inspector Morse to McBain, and readily agreed with McBain to play brief Alfred Hitchcock-style cameos in many of the episodes.
Whately, too, emphasises the part McBain played in his career: “It changed my life completely.”
The late Anthony Minghella also owed much to his friend McBain. The two worked together on Grange Hill and Boon, and McBain brought Minghella – later to win a Best Director Oscar for The English Patient – to the Central Television studios as a writer.
COMPOSER Barrington Pheloung was also McBain’s man, winning fame for his memorable theme tune based on the M-O-R-S-E code letters of the detective’s surname. That tune still accompanies the closing credits of Endeavour.
The spin-off sandwiched between the two, Lewis, the role played again by Whately, ended its run in 2015, the original Inspector Morse series having boosted ITV’s coffers considerably and having received a Queen’s Award for Export in 1989, just days after McBain died aged 42 following an 18-month battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
All a million miles from his early days. There is an abiding notion that if you want to do something badly enough you will achieve it. Certainly, one or two items in McBain’s family history encouraged him to do well.
His maternal grandparents left Lithuania in the early 20th century, and their story remains one of the great clichés of the period, paying for a ship’s passage to take them to America, they embarked days later to discover they were actually in Greenock, but unable to do anything other than knuckle down and get on with their lives in this strange, new country.
Also seeking a better life than was their experience in Skye, McBain’s paternal grandmother made the long journey to Glasgow with her mother and sister.
Another example of achievement in the family was his big cousin Frank Lynch, who founded an entertainment empire in Glasgow that consisted of music and dance club the Electric Garden, the famous Apollo rock venue and the groundbreaking Muscular Arms pub. Lynch also managed Billy Connolly for a few years.
When McBain got to the hallowed halls of Harvard, the Glasgow boy’s strength of character allowed him to mix freely with many of the well-to-do students there. Future stars he befriended included Stockard Channing, who won an Emmy award for her role as First Lady Abbey Bartlet in the West Wing, and John Lithgow, currently excelling as an ageing Winston Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown.
There was another, too, who made something of himself, and, as John Pym remembers, “known at that time as plain Tom Jones”. McBain’s eldest sister Frances recalls the time she visited Harvard in the late 1960s. “Kenny introduced me to one of his friends there, a young man with a pock-marked face and a wonderful, deep southern drawl.”
And as Rhett Butler might have done, “he whispered, ‘My pleasure to meet you, ma’am’. Then he took my hand and lightly brushed my fingertips with his lips in the way gentlemen were once taught to do”.
THAT young gent became better known as Tommy Lee Jones.
So what have we left to remember the exceptionally talented and televisually precognitive genius who retained his Glasgow accent and dry wit, often travelling back to see his family and keep up with the latest news in Scottish football?
Despite dating a few beautiful, talented girlfriends, McBain never married so has no widow or children to remember him. His old tenement, too, is long gone, demolished during the urban motorway development in Glasgow.
Other reminders of the phenomenon that is Morse are to be found among the famous “dreaming spires”. Visitors to Oxford often take part in the guided Morse tour which has proved a great success.
They can also enjoy a drink at the themed Morse Bar in the city’s five-star Randolph Hotel where many of the scenes were shot.
There is a plaque that hangs on the wall in the Bafta HQ in London’s Piccadilly, that says “In memory of Kenny McBain by Ted Childs”, placed there by the man in overall charge of the Morse series.
Childs said in an obituary he wrote for his colleague: “Above all, Kenny was a sincere and generous human being. He will be much missed.”
Now 82, Childs wrote recently: “Of the five involved in the foundation of the series – Colin Dexter, John Thaw, Kenny McBain, Anthony Minghella and myself – only two survive: Colin and me. “And we were the two oldest.”
Click here for my review of Endeavour S4E1 ‘Game’.
Click here for my review of Endeavour S4E2 ‘Canticle’.
Click here for Hannah Long’s review of ‘Game’.
Clcik here for Hannah Long’s review of ‘Canticle’.
Click here to see the website Den of Geek’s top ten Morse episodes.
Here is my video of my top ten favourite Morse episodes, part one.
Here is part two.
For those who do not know I have a Youtube channel that includes videos I have created about Morse, Lewis and Endeavour. I have also uploaded clips from the three shows.
The videos that have racked up the most views are my tributes to Clare Holman and her character Dr. Laura Hobson. It comes in two parts. Of course there may be spoilers contained within the videos.
That is all for this week my fellow Morsonians. I hope you are all well and next week is a good week for you. Take care.