In this month of November, as well as remembering my deceased loved ones, I found myself also remembering the death of a much-loved fictional character. Over the years I was a huge fan of the television series Inspector Morse. I would never miss an episode and I can remember, during the years 1996-2000, when I was parish priest in Prestonpans, that I enjoyed nothing better than staying home on a Wednesday night, making a big mug of tea and a sandwich, and settling down from 8-10 p.m. to watch Inspector Morse on ITV, watching out for the cameo appearances of the author of the books, Colin Dexter, who, like Alfred Hitchcock, liked to put in a brief personal appearance in each episode. I liked everything about the series - the stories, the setting, the pace, the music, and the characters. Also, the acting was wonderful.
Just to show how sad I am, I once traveled to Oxford and spent a week, as part of my summer holiday, visiting some of the haunts connected with the series. I had a pint of real ale, Morse’s favourite tipple, in the Turf Bar; the Eagle and Child, and the Bear Inn – not all on one day of course! I perused the world-famous Blackwell’s Book Store on Broad Street. I visited the Asmolean Museum, the Sheldonian Theatre, the Bodelian Library, and the Oxford Union. I walked and relaxed in the Botanic Gardens, and at that stage I could have told you which episodes each of these places featured in. “Get a life!” I hear you say, but I had a really enjoyable time.
I even remember the date Morse died. On Wednesday 15th November, 2000, having just revealed that his first name, a well-kept secret to the end, was in fact Endeavour, we saw Morse collapse outside the Oxford University Church, while inside they were singing Faures Requiem. What made it even sadder was that he didn’t have his browbeaten but loyal sidekick, Sergeant Lewis, with him. “Get Lewis for me”, he said, as he was carried into the ambulance. But Lewis never got there in time, Morse never got to say what he wanted to say, and, in the end, he had to call Chief Superintendent Strange over and simply say, “Thank Lewis for me” - and that was that, those were his last words.
There have been a couple of spin-off series that I have enjoyed as well- Lewis and Endeavour – but they couldn’t quite live up to the original. The actor who played Morse so wonderfully, John Thaw, died only 15 months or so after his on-screen death, aged just 60.
I like being able to connect with the actual settings for books I read, or television series I watch, and of course that applies even more so to the settings for the Gospels. I have only ever made one trip to the Holy Land but it will remain always with me as a sacred and special memory. To visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; to walk around Nazareth; to dip my feet in the River Jordan near to where Jesus was Baptized; to go out into the desert where Jesus was tempted; to enjoy a glass of wine in Cana; to go out in a boat on the Lake of Genessaret; to visit the ruins of Simon Peter’s house at Capernaum; to celebrate Mass on the Hill of the Beatitudes; to go up Mount Tabor, the setting for the Transfiguration; to look over Jerusalem from the place where Jesus wept; to enter the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany; to be in the room where the Last Supper was celebrated and the Eucharist instituted; to pray in the garden of Olives; to go down into the dungeon where Jesus was kept overnight by Caiphus; to walk the Via Dolorosa; to stand on the site of Calvary; to kneel in the Holy Sepulcher; and to go up the hill from where Jesus’ Ascended into heaven, hearing an echo of Jesus’ last words before He returned to the Father, and to feel a part of His final commission to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. Oxford was good – but the Holy land was incomparable, and no matter how tenuous the exact authenticity of some of these sites may be, they still brought the Gospel story alive, and I truly felt I was walking in the footsteps of the Lord.
You all know this poem about walking in the footsteps of the Lord:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?” The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you”