Hello everyone and welcome to my review and overview of the Morse episode, The Wolvercote Tongue. This was one of my first posts so it is not as comprehensive as my later posts. But, I am returning every so often to add more information to this post.
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Originally aired in the UK on 25th December 1987
Book published in 11th July 1991 as ‘The jewel That Was Ours’.
Colin Dexter can be spotted at 32m17s sitting in the pub behind Morse and Lewis. The episode writer Julian Mitchell is the chap to Colin Dexter’s right.
Directed by Alastair Reid.
Screenplay by Julian Mitchell.
Jag Rating (out of ten)
Interestingly the Wolvercote Tongue is based on another piece in the Ashmolean Museum, The Alfred Jewel. To find our more about the Alfred Jewel click HERE.
A group of Americans are on an exclusive holiday in England and as part of their trip they stop in the historical city of Oxford. For one of the Americans, Laura Poindexter, this is more than just a holiday. It is her intention to loan a rare piece of jewelry known as The Wolvercote Tongue to the Ashmolean Museum on Oxford.
The Wolvercote Tongue in the background with the buckle in the foreground.
However, before the loan transaction can be carried out the tongue is stolen and Mrs Laura Poindexter has been found dead in her hotel room. Mrs Poindexter’s apparently died of a heart attack but Morse is certain that things are not that simple. When Morse’s main suspect Eddie Poindexter, Laura’s husband, goes missing Morse’s suspicions grow exponentially.
Well, here we are with the first episode of the second series and what a cracking start to the series it is. This episode includes one of my all time favourite Morse scenes.
I love that moment at the end of the scene where Morse and Lewis both laugh.
Julian Mitchell is once again on writing duty and does a splendid job. This is Julian Mitchell’s third screen writing duties for Inspector Morse and we are only onto the fourth episode. The director, Alastair Reid, does a good solid job of what is his second directorial (and his last) job as director of Inspector Morse. He also directed the first episode, The Dead of Jericho.
This episode, of course, includes the British national treasure, Simon Callow who plays Theodore Kemp. I wish he had had more screen time. I also believe that Kenneth Cranham who plays Cedric Downes is a good actor and it would be nice to see him turning up in a future episode of Lewis or even Endeavour. However, he did appear in another John Thaw series, Kavanagh QC.
One feels that the Morse and Lewis relationship is becoming stronger and healthily symbiotic. There is some lovely interaction between Morse and Lewis in this episode: when they are sitting on Morse’s couch; talking to Cedric Downes at the train station; in the pub; and when they Morse is talking to the Dr. Swain. (see above clip). Not forgetting when they are on the bridge and Lewis is explaining why he is doing a double shift; his wife is decorating and he doesn’t want to be part of that domestic scene.
As always in Morse episodes there are little gems of humour. Those little bright, sparkling pieces of humour are one factor as to why Morse was a wonderful series. The ‘gem’ of this episode is where Morse and Lewis are interviewing Sheila Williams in the hotel manager’s office. Lewis has offered a drink to Sheila and turns to Morse to ask him if he would like a drink.
Lewis doesn’t just do a double take it is almost a triple take. Lewis is speechless and the look on his face is priceless. Wonderful scene, absolutely wonderful.
My only criticism of the episode is the killing of the lovely Lucy Downes. I understand how angry Cedric was. I understand his feelings of being made a cuckold. But, killing her in the middle of London? In a phone booth? Seems irrational. It is possible that he had a mental breakdown but he had the wherewithal to take the locker key from her bag. It is a small criticism and in no way distracts from what is a great episode.
Our first piece of music is a sixteenth century composition by John Dowland (1563–1626). Though the music was definitely written by Dowland it is uncertain if he wrote the lyrics, ‘Flow, my tears‘. The piece is played during the banquet scene attended by the Americans, Sheila Williams and Cedric Downes.
Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their last fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.
Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days, my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.
From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts, for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.
Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world’s despite.
The next piece of music is played in Morse’s car as Sergeant Lewis falls asleep. The piece is by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) and is titled ‘Les Troyens, (“The Trojans”) H133, Act III, Allegro Moderato. I’m afraid I couldn’t find a YouTube recording of the piece.
The last piece of music is being played by the piano player in the Randolph Hotel as the Americans sit around having a drink. The piano piece is from “Love’s Old Sweet Song”: it’s sung in the Irish tenors’ clip at 2:47 to the verses beginning with “Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low”. Thanks to A.B. one of my blog readers for identifying this piece.
If you enjoy all the music from the Morse series I have collected all the pieces I have identified thus far and have created playlists on YouTube.
In the forty-eighth minute we are in the house of Theodore Kemp and Lewis is talking to his wife, Marion. On the wall are three paintings. The first two are directly below;
While I was watching the episode I saw these two paintings and thought, the styles are fairly obvious. The one on the right is impressionist or post impressionist and looks very like the work of Matisse, possibly even Cezanne. The one on the left is a believe a Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema but I can’t find a name for the painting.
and I cannot identify that either. I apologise that I am unable to identify the above paintings but I am going to continue looking for answers.
Up next we have a another painting that looks familiar. The camera does only linger for a few seconds and and only on part of the painting.
It is the painting on the bottom left. It looks like a Turner but isn’t. I am beginning to think that the prop department found the above four paintings at a car boot sale or theatre prop store and they are unknown works by unknown painters. Unknown painters who are imitating famous artists and genres.
Morse and Lewis are at the river when a body has been found in the river. Lewis and Morse are discussing suspects and Morse in particular thinks the killer maybe Sheila Williams;
Lewis: “You think a woman could have done that to him?”
Morse: “Hell hath no fury, Lewis.”
The phrase we all use today is, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’. However this is paraphrasing the actual quote from a William Congreve (1670–1729) play, ‘The Mourning Bride‘, which reads in full “Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d / Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.”
This is not an actual quote form any piece of literature as far as I am aware. However, I thought I would mention it anyway. Lewis and Morse are discussing the case in Morse’s house and Morse theorises that maybe Laura Poindexter’s death was a “crime passionnel“. Translated from the French as a crime of passion.
We are still in Morse’s house with Lewis and Morse sitting on the couch. Lewis says that Morse has sex on the brain.
“It is when he thinks he’s past love, it is then he meets his last love” It is from the musical Maid of the Mountain, 1932. From a song called I believe ‘A Bachelor Gay’. Lyrics by Harry Graham. Music by Harold Fraser-Simpson. This song is quoted in the later Morse episode, ‘Sins of the Father’.
The last verse is;
At seventeen he falls in love quite madly with eyes of china blue
At twenty four, he falls in love once more, but with eyes of a different hue
At thirty four he’s flirting oh so sadly with two or three or more
And then when he thinks he’s past love, ah tis then he meets his last love
And he loves her as he’s never done before
And he loves her as he’s never loved before.
Morse and Lewis have wrapped up the case and are standing at the Trout Inn. Morse says that it was, “Love’s old sweet song all the time.”
Love’s Old Sweet Song is a Victorian parlour song published in 1884 by composerJames Lynam Molloy and lyricist G. Clifton Bingham. It has of course been recorded numerous time. Here below is the Irish Tenor’s version of the song;
The Trout pub is used three times in the episode; firstly when Morse and Lewis are standing on Godstow Bridge; secondly, when Morse is interveiwing Eddie Poindexter and his daughter Fiona; and thirdly when the divers are looking for the Wolvercote tongue.
Didcot Railway Centre is used when Lewis and Morse talk to Howard Brown, a railway enthusiast.
The Randolph Hotel of course plays a big part in the episode.
The beautiful Ashmolean Museum is where Theodore Kemp works and where the Wolvercote Tongue would have been displayed.
Cedric Downes is walking with the American tourists. This is New College.
Above is where the American tourists and Cedric Downes are walking.
TIME – 32m 13s
PUB – Randolph Hotel Bar, Beaumont St, Oxford, OX1 2LN. http://www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/our-hotels/macdonald-randolph-hotel/eat-drink/
INFO – The bar of the Randolph Hotel is now famously called The Morse Bar.
TIME – 1hr 13m 25s
PUB – Thanks to Neil McLean for identifying this pub. It is the The Crown at Bray, High St, Bray, Maidenhead SL6 2AH
PUB TODAY –
Here are some behind the scenes photos. A big thank you to Roy Slater for allowing me to use these photos.
Simon Callow as Theodore Kemp (Born June 15th 1949 – )
Kenneth Cranham as Cedric Downes (Born December 12th 1944 – )
Roberta Taylor as Sheila Williams (Born February 26th 1948 – )
Robert Arden as Eddie Poindexter (Born December 11th 1922 – Died March 25th 2004)
Christine Norden as Laura Poindexter (Born 28th December 1924 Died 21st December 1988)
Bill Reimbold as Howard Brown (Born 15th July 1916 – Died ?)
Helena Stevens (Also known as Ruth Dunlap) as Shirley Brown (Born 1922 – Died 25th Feb’ 2009)
John Bloomfield as Phil Aldritch (Born 1942 – Died ?)
Mildred Shay as Janet Roscoe (Born 1911 – Died 2005)
Jane Bertish as Marion Kemp (Born 7th August 1951 – )
Christine Kavanagh as Lucy Downes (Born March 24th 1957 – )
Cherith Mellor as Fiona Hall (Born ?)
Nicholas Bell as Dr. Swain (Born 15th August 1958 – )
Tim Faulkner as Hotel Manager (Born 12th August 1957 – )
Maureen Morris as the Nurse (Born 17th Sept’ 1941 – )
Hope you have enjoyed the post.
Chris, Thoroughly Delightful. Thank You Very Kindly.
I Had Written An in- Depth Soeply Which Went The Way Of Cyberspace Graveyards.
So, I Will End With Deep gratitude For Such Kind Efforts.
May I enquire What Illness Your Mum Has?
Wish You A Very pleasaNt Remainder Of The Weekend.
All The Best,
Thanks Maureen. I’m glad you like the blog. My mum has arthritis in her legs and has problems with her spine. She also had a couple of minor heart-attacks. She also may have developed dementia but we are awaiting the results of a CT scan and next month she has an appointment for a psychiatric assessment.
Hope you are well Maureen. Take care.
I Am a big Morse fan and am really enjoying your blog. I had a chance to stay at the Randolph last May which was a very interesting experience. The hotel was going through some renovations due to a fire which broke out earlier this April, so it was difficult to fully recognize from the Episode scenes.
Keep up the good work.
Hi Omar. So happy to read that you are enjoying my blog. I am very jealous that you visited not just Oxford but the Randolph recently. I haven’t been to Oxford for a long time. Take care.
I seem to have come late to your blog but am enjoying it. I love this episode, but it is marred somewhat by the awful American accents — perhaps not that noticeable to English ears but extremely distracting for this American. Not as bad, admittedly, as the American accent used by the book author in The Wench Is Dead — which, in addition to being unforgivably bad, also makes her seem completely dim-witted (perhaps this is the producers’ view of Americans?).
Anyway, I’ve been making my way through the entire series this spring so will continue to refer back here. All the best.
Hi Tom. It’s never too late to arrive at my blog as I have many new posts to publish. I understand you’re feelings regrading the accents as we Brits feel the same way when hearing other nationalities attempting a British accent. I hope you enjoy the rest of my blog.
Interesting comment re awful American accents: Mildred Shay for example is/was an American so I’m sure she was authentic. Haven’t checked all the others. I’ve lived in the US for over 30 years and the accents don’t ring particularly “awful” for me, but then I’m on the west coast so maybe our mileage differs 🙂
I’m really enjoying your blog. Please keep up the great work!
I was in Oxford earlier this week and had Afternoon Tea at The Randolph, plus of course a drink in The Morse Bar. I also did the Morse Walking Tour, which was fantastic!
I’m now re-watching all the films, in order and loving them even more.
Hi Peter and thank you for the lovely comment. I will be in Oxford in about two weeks time so hopefully I can follow your example regarding tea and a drink at the Randolph. 🙂
The only American that offended me was the terribly annoying performance of Mildred Shay, which I think was wonderfully captured, but fear may be a common occurrence of Americans abroad. I must admit that after reading up on her, she must have known the part inside and out – what a wild life she led!
It may be the case that someone has added the piece of music you were missing to youtube only just recently.
Is this what you were searching for? Cheers.
What I don’t understand about the episode is the fact that Lucy assists her husband to dispose of the clothes. Why if she was caught red handed with the murder victim in a moment of passion?
Hi Simon. That has never made sense to me either or the fact that he kills her in the middle of London. Why wouldn’t he have killed her after accidently killing Theodore Kemp. There was no need to kill her though I suppose it was written as a crime of passion.
I don’t know if you are a horror fan or not, but Kenneth Cranham appears in the incredibly creepy Hellbound: Hellraiser II.
Hi Sheldon. I watched the first Hellraiser and didn’t like it and so I didn’t watch the second.
I found on Youtube a video from the 1932 film The Maid of the Mountains where Harry Welchman sings
At seventeen he falls in love quite madly with eyes of tender blue
At twentyfour, he gets it rather badly with eyes of a different hue
At thirtyfive we find him flirting sadly with two or three or more
When he fancies that he’s past love, it is then he meets his last love
And he loves her as he’s never loved before
Nice website. I often end up here after having seen a Morse episode.
I’ve become a fan of the Inspector Morse series while watching the Endeavour prequel series. My question (perhaps it’s been asked before) is about the closing theme to the Morse episodes: is that a “morse” code rhythm it begins with before the melody starts? If so, what is the message?
The notes at the beginning of the theme spell out Morse’s name.
Thanks, I thought it might. When these were first broadcast in the previous century I didn’t care for the character but now I’ve changed my mind.
I find the inconsistencies as to Morse’s preferences in music really irritating. In this episode for example he gets irritated by the fact that Lewis interrupts him while he’s trying to book tickets for Les Troyens. “I might get Madame Butterfly. I might get Handel for God’s sake. Yet in The Silent World of Nichlas Quinn he’s listening to Handel. In the first episode of Endeavour he’s listening to Madame Butterfly. In Death is thy Neighbour he says that the only use Vivaldi has is to cheer one up yet he’s listening to Vivaldi’s Gloria in the very first scene of the very first episode The Dead of Jericho. The writers have really been really quite inefficient.
I’ve just watched this for the first time. A first class episode, and was pleased to see a railway enthusiast portrayed as a normal sympathetic person. I, too, was upset that Lucy died, but also puzzled as to how it was physically done. It seems as if she was somehow stabbed through the glass of the phone booth.
Chris, I have done many searches for the hymns sung on Inspector Morse with no results. An episode opened with Morse singing in a church choir-practice which was, of course, interrupted by a police emergency call to action. I would love to know what episode and what hymn that was. It’s a good old C of E hymn. Hope someone knows the answer. Thank you for this marvelous blog. How is your university study going? Meris Robison
Hello Meris. In the Endeavour series it is revealed Morse was called ‘Pagan’ by his fellow undergraduates as he wouldn’t reveal his ‘Christian’ name of Endeavour. That leads me to think he would not sing in a church choir (his mother was a Quaker so hymns are not part of his tradition).
The episode which opens with Morse singing in a choir-practice is ‘The Dead of Jericho’.
I believe it’s a secular choir and they are singing “My soul, there is a country” by Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Hope that helps.
It’s actually in the Morse episode, ‘Deceived By Flight’ that we first learn of Morse being known as Pagan.
Ops again Chris! Yes of course it’s Morse rather than Endeavour that we find out he was called Pagan! Spending a week in the city of dreaming spires must have affected my brain.
😀 yes, Oxford can have that effect.
An excellent episode! I’m about to read “The Jewel That Was Ours”, having read several of the Morse novels but missed that one previously. Re-watching these early episodes reminds me of how much I miss Max in the later ones (no slight on Dr. Hobson or any of the other pathologists, and how I pleased I am with his prominent part in “Endeavour”.
Roberta Taylor is both funny and tragic as the perpetually tipsy tour guide, particularly when suffering at the hands of Mildred Shay’s outrageous Janet Roscoe. The rest of the Americans are (most of them played by actual Americans, too!) appropriately quirky and benign. Callow and Cranham are sensational, much as I appreciate the irony of Callow playing a Lothario (unless Dr. Kemp is out to prove something…). I always remember him as Rev. Mr. Beebe in Merchant-Ivory’s classic “Room with a View”.
I’m new to your website and also new to Endeavour Morse. I just binged all six seasons of Endeavour and loved them. I like the way the young Endeavour is so pure in his devotion to the job and he probably drank too much. His sense of humor is evident but the character, in general, is totally different to Inspector Morse. I’ve only seen 4 episodes but the midlife Morse, although still brilliant, comes across as an alcoholic womanizer and somewhat of a buffoon.
I recently retired from my career as a nurse practitioner. I’m certainly not the same idealistic RN I started out as, but my personality is pretty much the same. I’m wondering if you’ve had other comments about the difference between the old and young Morse?
Hi Kay. There have been quite a few discussions in regard to the old and young Morse. I know that many Morse fans will be unhappy to read that you believe the John Thaw Morse was a buffoon. But don’t worry unlike elsewhere on the internet you will not be deluged with hateful comments. I am very lucky in having thoughtful, understanding and interesting readers. I personally would not consider Morse an alcoholic womanising buffoon. He is lonely and would love to find the right woman. A womaniser implies someone who pushes themselves on women while Morse respects woman (though he can at times be rather patronising toward woman). Buffoon also implies a foolish or ridiculous person. I don’t believe Morse could in any way be described by any of those adjectives. But it is all rather subjective. Welcome Kay to my website. I hope you find many things to interest you.
I find the young Endeavor more attractive than the middle-aged Morse, both in looks and attitude. I admit I’ll never read any of the books so I rely on the screenplays to educate me about the characters. The idealism of Endeavor is refreshing even as I know it becomes very tarnished when the character grows to become Morse. I like the acting in both series but I can’t help but find the physical actor playing Endeavor to be more to my taste. Like Endeavor I wish for a world peopled with citizens not poisoned by hatred and ignorance, both traits that Endeavor is exposed to with each episode and inevitably lead to the cynicism of Morse. Perhaps the classical music both ages of Morse enjoys helps him cope with the grim crimes he comes into contact during his adventures in Oxford. I think the near lose to bribery of Inspector Thursday in the latest episode is a forerunner of the older character and the sadness that frequently overtakes him.
I feel the same way.
Having met the young Morse first I just can’t believe that that old fool short alcoholic man is the same character.
His clothes, his drinking, the way he talks to people, even his house is sad.
The wonderful young Morse grew to be a pathetic and charmless man.
A bit too much padding in this one for my liking. All the tour party stuff goes on forever.
Not only does Cedric kills his wife in a totally unrealistic way but he compounds the issue by having “the wherewithal to take the locker key from her bag”. There is no reason to hold on to the key, the logical thing to do is to throw it away. Keeping it nailed him.
I have to agree with you Adrian.
We noticed in this episode many scenes shot through windows involving workmen and/or cleaners. In the previous episode, a large number of scenes used reflections in mirrors. Interesting and curious. Any thoughts about that?
I’ve watched this episode several times and I am always awed by Simon Callow. I’ve seen him in other things and he is just extraordinary. I must say, as an American, the portrayal of the American tourists is unflattering and rather harsh, although I’ve been on tours and unfortunately have experienced and been embarrassed by some who show no respect for the country they are in or the residents of that country. And this is not the only episode where Americans are rude and obnoxious, i.e. in The Death of the Self. And for an American to throw a priceless historic treasure in the river- shameful! I like to think that the majority of Americans are not thought of that way. But sometimes a bad reputation is justly earned.
About 6 years ago we went to Australia and Tasmania with another couple on a personal wildlife tour. The local guide, we were told later, was very hesitant to take us because she said, “They are all fat and rude and won’t fit in my Jeep!” Thankfully she relented and found us to be quite the opposite on both counts. We hoped that we gave her a more favorable impression of Americans and I think we did.
This is my second time through the Morse series as I had originally watched Morse and then Lewis before learning of the prequel. After getting all caught up on Endeavour, I had a great urge to re-watch Morse and Lewis. I’m so glad I found your blog as it adds a lot of depth to my interest in the series. I appreciate your research and commentary on the series. I hope your latest degree is going well. I am a retired teacher from US who is deeply enjoying my love of British mystery series. I look forward to your commentary on some of the episodes you haven’t done yet. I enjoy the relationship between Lewis and Morse in reverse roles of the relationship between Thursday and Morse. The scene where Morse is trying to get away from the long comforting of the drunk and crying Shirley made me chuckle.
Hello Stephanie and welcome to my website. Thank you for such a lovely compliment regarding my website. Humour is an important part of the Morse Universe though the latest series of Endeavour has forgotten that. I hope you find many other posts of interest on my website.
According to imdb, Bill Reimbold was 12th March 1926 to 8th August 2014
Hi Edward, I am enjoying reading your analysis and comments on the different Morse episodes. As far as this one goes, I absolutely agree with you about that creepy husband and I thought he was despicable the first time I saw this episode. He let his wife lie there, stole the jewel, threw a priceless artifact in the river and committed insurance fraud. No redeeming qualities whatsoever. In fact if I were his daughter I would want nothing to do with him!
At 32:23-33:39 Randolph Hotel Bar. It looks like the man in the brown jacket, wearing a brown striped tie, drinking beer and sitting behind Morse and Lewis is Colin Dexter.
As mentioned in my review and my videos on the subject of Colin Dexter’s appearances.
And Julia Mitchell the screenwriter with him!
I don’t understand why Morse was so irritated at Dr. Swain. I don’t think he’s abused anyone quite so ruthlessly and warrantlessly. It was almost unhinged. I liked that Max needled him about his misbehavior twice afterward and Morse had nothing to say in response — because he knew he had behaved badly.
Hi Jeff, I always had this same thought. I didn’t understand why Morse was so snarky with the doctor and for no reason that I could fathom. And then to laugh about it instead of realizing he went off the deep end with him.
Offensive comment about Americans Mr. Colston, as are most of yours. And, really, that “cheesy” story ?? And I don’t recall mentioning any disparaging remark about James Grout being naked, nor would I make one about anyone.
All Edward Colston, all the time.
I never said you made a disparaging remark, Kathleen. I just jokingly replied to the comment you made here, in reply to Peter’s comment where Grout appears naked in an episode of A Very Peculiar Practice: https://morseandlewisandendeavour.com/2014/07/27/the-last-enemy/comment-page-1/#comment-13606
Most of my comments are offensive? That pleases me greatly and I’m flattered you think so. I’ll keep commenting some more.
Much love to George Washington.
I hope that from now on NONE of your comments are offensive. This comments section is for many, a safe haven from such things.
Just watched this as part of my Morse re-watch. It’s a fantastic episode with amusing scenes and characters, some of which have been mentioned in the post and comments.
I really felt for Lewis when he first saw Mrs Kemp.
I too never really understood Lucy Downes murder. Did Cedric go to London specifically to kill Lucy, because she only went outside Paddington Station to call home and the phones at the station were busy. In addition, we never saw how it happened or any blood etc on either Lucy or Cedric (and IIRC he was wearing a light suit). Cedric took the luggage token/key, but must have left something that identified her, afterall Morse was informed in Oxford of her death in London.
One related question, the book came after the TV epsiode, so I wonder if Colin changed the fate of Lucy in the book after seeing that in restrospect in the TV episode it didn’t really work.