The Last Bus to Woodstock. An Overview: Music, Art, Literary References, Locations etc.

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Above is the original cover of the 1975 edition.

First transmitted in the UK on 22nd March 1988.

This episode is based on the very first Inspector Morse book published in 1975.

Colin Dexter can be found at 56m.40s sitting in the audience listening to the talk on the Earl of Rochester.

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Directed by Peter Duffell. (His only Morse episode)

Written by Michael Wilcox (His only Morse episode).

Sadly, this was the last episode which featured Peter Woodthorpe as Max

Jag Rating (out of ten)

Synopsis.

Eighteen year old Sylvia Kane is found dead in a pub car park by the boy she was meeting that night. She has not only been run over by a car but it also looks like she had been assaulted. As Max the pathologist remarks to Morse, “It’s a puzzle”.

She had been seen earlier in the rain soaked night in the company of someone else, gender unknown. Sylvia is offered a lift by a passing car but her companion decides to wait for the bus.

In Sylvia’s bag Morse finds an envelope addressed to a Miss Jennifer Coleby of Aldgate Assurance Company. The envelope contains only a letter which in itself has been devised by the writer as a puzzle.

Morse and Lewis are soon wrapped up in a story of sex, intrigue and possibly blackmail.

Review

This is a great episode that is well acted, written and directed. The direction is simple and straightforward and is all the better for it. It’s surprising that this is the only episode that Peter Duffell directed. The wonderful Christopher Lee said of Peter Duffell, “Duffell (is) Britain’s most under-rated director”.

Not only do we get to see Morse smiling but in my opinion he says one of the best lines of all the Morse episodes, “Coded messages. Murder. Right up my street. Not a bad way to start the day.”

The episode’s main theme is sex in some of its many guises. There is infidelity, sexual assault, seduction, attempted seduction, promiscuity and flirtation. Morse talks of sex and asks, “Is sex more trouble than its worth? I keep wanting to find the answer.” It is no surprise that the works of the Earl of Rochester are mentioned during the episode. He lived a debauched lifestyle which consisted of sex and drink and ended in his death at only 33 from a venereal disease. Even Lewis is giving sex a bad name by relating to Morse how he feels about being “the public executioner in my house” as his wife will have warned his progeny, the result of sex, that their father will punish them for their bad behaviour. Sylvia Kane was the result of “Five minutes in a layby”.

There is very little in the way of love in this episode. The only real love that surfaces is Morse’s and Angie Hartman’s love of English Literature. Morse and Angie discuss lust and love. Angie relates that she believes that the difference is that lust kills. However, Morse replies that “love might kill. Maybe love is more dangerous.” Personally, I’m with Morse on that one.

It may be no co-incidence that Morse doesn’t lust after any of the female characters in this episode. The episode is possibly alluding to Morse’s apparent abstinence, forced or otherwise, from the world of sexual encounters. Is the episode writer trying to say that abstinence or celibacy is the safer lifestyle? The safer option? It’s not only Morse who is living the life of celibacy, but also Angie Hartmann. Is it a co-incidence that they are the two characters who find a connection through English Literature?

Like so many Morse episodes it works on different levels and that is why so many people enjoy the series.

For many British fans it is a matter of spot the Soap actor. There is Perry Fenwick who plays Jimmy in this episode. he has been a stalwart of Eastenders for many years playing the character of Billy Mitchell. Then there is Shirley Stelfox as Mrs Kane who has appeared in Emmerdale for many a year as Edna Birch. Then we have Ian Bleasdale who plays the time and motion expert in a hospital and ironically had a part in the long running Casualty as Josh Griffiths. Amanda Wenban who plays the typist at Aldgate Assurance Company where Sylvia Kane worked had a part in Emmerdale sometime ago.

One of my favourite characters from the episode is Ms Jarman played by the wonderful Fabia Drake. She has a great scene with Morse and Lewis.

Ms Jarman played a traveler three years earlier in the superb film Room With a View. There she played Miss Catherine Alan who travels around the world with her sister, Miss Theresa Alan played by Joan Henley.

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Fabia Drake is in the foreground.

So, this is the last episode of the second series and in my opinion the strongest of all four episodes. The next episode and the first from series three is ‘Ghost in the Machine’ a tale that is reminiscent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. I’m looking forward to watching that episode again.

MUSIC

Not very much music in this episode. Only two pieces of classical and one guitar piece.

00h13m42s

Morse and Lewis are on their way to the offices of St. Aldgates Assurance Company. The music playing in the car is part of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s (1756-1791) opera ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’. The section we hear being played in the car is the overture.

00h27m22s

The second and last piece of classical music heard in the episode is played during Max’s visit to the Crowther’s house. The music is again by Mozart and is Piano Sonata in C (K545). (The Köchel-Verzeichnis or Köchelverzeichnis is an inclusive, chronological catalogue of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which was originally created by Ludwig von Köchel. It is abbreviated K. or KV).

00h28m13s

While John Sanders is getting ready to go out and play snooker there is a slide guitar piece playing. Unfortunately I can’t identify it but I believe it is probably a piece written by Barrington Pheloung.

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. On how to access these playlists please read the relevant post by clicking here.

ART

00h29m30s

Our first piece of art is in the Crowther’s dining room.

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The above is a pastiche of a work by the English painter John William Godward, (1861-1922). The original by Godward is called ‘In the Prime of Summertime‘.

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00h42m59s

The next paintings are on the living room wall in Jennifer Colby’s house.

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The painting on the left is ‘The Playground‘, by English painter Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976).

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The painting on the right is ‘Late white tulip, Golden garlic, Mountain garlic‘ by the German apothecary and botanist Basilius Besler, (1561–1629).

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01h11m26s

On the kitchen wall of Jennifer Colby’s house we have another L.S. Lowry.

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This one is titled ‘Old Church and Steps’.

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01h24m46s

The next painting, or to be more accurate, line drawing is on Morse’s living room wall.

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The one i’m referring to is on the right. It is a line drawing by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) titled ‘Picasso in Antibes’.

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Would never have thought of Morse as a admirer of Picasso. As for the print of pyramids on the left, I have no idea.

01h31m40s

Our last painting is on Jennifer Colby’s wall.

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This is Pierre-Auguste Renoir‘s (1841-1919) ‘The Umbrellas’.

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Literary References

00h02m56s

The following quote is said by Peter Newlove in the pub.

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“The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees Is left this vault to brag of.” Macbeth – Shakespeare.

00h27m27s

Dr. Crowther talking to Max and quoting the following;

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“After Death nothing is, and nothing, death, The utmost limit of a gasp of breath.” Seneca (Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist)

00h38m33s

We are in Jennifer Colby’s house and Morse is talking to Angie Hartman;

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“A gentle Knight was pricking on the plain.” – Edmund Spenser, From ‘The Faerie Queene’, 1590. For the full verse click here.

00h55m10s

Morse to Lewis in the pub.

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“As Trees are by their Bark embrac’d, Love to my Soul doth cling”. A Pastoral dialogue between Alexis and Strephon by John Wilmot the Earl of Rochester. The full verse can be found by clicking here.

01h40m33s

Morse talking to Lewis in the hospital.

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“All this to love and rapture’s due; Must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?” The Imperfect Enjoyment by the Earl of Rochester. The full verse by be found by clicking here.

CAST

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Diana Payan as Vikki Phillips – Born in 1943 in South Africa

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Ian Sears as John Sanders – Couldn’t find any biographical details.

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Jill Baker as Jennifer Coleby. – Born 1952 –

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Terrence Hardiman as Clive Palmer – Born April 6th 1937 –

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Amanda Wenban as Typist Born. – May 24, 1955 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

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Jo Unwin as Receptionist.

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Anthony Bate as Bernard Crowther – Born August 31, 1927 – Died June 19, 2012

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Shirley Dixon as Margaret Crowther. – Born – No info found.

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Peter Woodthorpe as Max. – Born September 25, 1931 – Died August 12, 2004

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Fabia Drake as Mrs Jarman – Born January 20, 1904 – Died February 28, 1990

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Ken Law as Shop Assistant in sports store. – No info found.

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Holly Aird as Angie Hartman. – Born May 18, 1969 (age 45)

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Perry Fenwick as Jimmy – Born  May 29, 1962 (age 52)

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Shirley Stelfox as Mrs Kane – Born April 11, 1941 –  Died: December 7, 2015.

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Vass Anderson as Mr Bentley – Born – No info

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Paul Geoffrey as Peter Newlove – Born 1956

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Ian Bleasdale as Time and Motion Expert – Born 1952

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Kate Percival as Lab Assistant – Born – No info

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P.J. Davidson as the Gamekeeper – No info

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Ingrid Lacey as Mary Widdowson – Born November 6, 1958 (age 55)

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Jenny Jay as Sylvia Kane – No info.

 PUB Locations

The Fox and Castle pub where Sylvia Kane is killed is actually in Windsor, Berkshire.

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The Fox and Castle – Address: 21 Burfield Rd, Old Windsor, Windsor, Berks SL4 2RB

TIME – 54m 57s

PUB – Thanks to Neil McLean for identifying this pub. It is the The Crown at Bray, High St, Bray, Maidenhead SL6 2AH

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PUB TODAY

LOCATION

LOCATIONS

The ironmongers featured in the episode is Gill & Co and unfortunately closed down in 2010. It claimed to be the oldest ironmongery in Britain, some 480 years old. It featured not only in this episode but also in the episode, ‘The Dead of the Jericho’. In that episode Lewis visits the ironmongers to ask about the keys that were made for Anne Stavely’s house.

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 It was located on the High Street off Wheatsheaf Passage.

 

 

 

 

Author: Chris Sullivan

After having looked after my mum for some 11 years she is now unfortunately in a nursing home. I'm afraid her dementia worsened as did her physical capabilities. UPDATE: My mum died from Covid-19 on the 6th May 2020. So, for the first time in 21 years I find myself no longer caring for anyone. Apart from my mum I was also a single parent to two children and also looked after my dad who had Alzheimers, (he died in 2005). So, I have decided to return to University to try and get another degree this time in English Literature. (My other degree I got some 30 years ago is one in Ecological Science). After a year at college I have passed all grades and now will start Edinburgh University in September 2019. I am now in second year having passed all the requirements in first year.

58 thoughts

  1. Wouldn’t you think someone in the world would have taken over Gill & Co?? I loved Fabia’s appearance. Just the kind of old lady I want to be – interested in the world and self-sufficient. She was great in Room with a View which I watched not too long ago. One of the actors in it was a very young Rupert Graves. This was a wonderful blog entry, and I so enjoyed it. I just finished watching Last Bus for (I think) the third time. I am happily old enough to have seen Morse when it was first on PBS (in the US) all those years ago. Then I watched all the shows on Netflix streaming, and then bought the DVDs and am going through them. As always, thank you for your good, good work.

    1. Hi Nan.Yes, it’s always a shame when a small business that has been around for so long goes out of business. ‘Room With a View’ is not only one of my favourite films but favourite novels. As always than you for your very kind comment Nan.

  2. > Like so many Morse episodes it works on different levels and that is why so many people enjoy the series.

    Indeed. It’s my favorite episode (so far) for that reason. I had to watch it three or four times to catch everything. In this case, there is the whodunit aspect (I liked that the final clue was a subtle detail on an X-ray), the different characters’ takes on love and lust, and the brilliant interweaving of the plot with the poetry. Even the title is a wonderful allusion to the Earl of Rochester, drawing the parallel between him and Crowther. I wondered why the letter was signed “E” but then saw that Rochester was often referred to as “E of R.”

    The series has the side benefit of getting me to read poetry that I was not familiar with.

    I ordered the book to see if there are more interesting details.

  3. I somehow couldn’t accept that a simple photograph would be next to that amazing line drawing. As you yourself have said, “That just doesn’t seem like Morse to me.” Thank you so much for this blog!
    If I’m not mistaken, that is a drawing of the pyramids by David Roberts from Napoleon‘s expedition to Egypt in 1798 to 1801.
    More info here:
    https://mickjennings.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/antique-prints-of-egypt-by-david-roberts-and-from-napoleons-expedition/

  4. Much appreciate this review and you work and what I write here is just for interest. It was a good episode and Colin Dexter who wrote the book from which it is adapted must have been happy with the script as he appears in a cameo role but having read the actual book which Colin Dexter wrote I think this episode good as it is is a travesty. The original bpok and plot are so much better and the TV production is not a patch on the original plot.

    The book is a real thriller and it is a murder not an accident. The book, the first in the series indicates that Morse love women and is in search of love. It has one or two very touching scenes that explain why in future episodes Morse cannot trust his choice when it come to women. Once bitten.

    The book is entirely different from the the video from the first scene. In the original the time was about 7 pm and when the two girls hitch a lift to Woodstock both girls get in the car, not one. The lady bystander gets in the bus alone. Later the witness does not come foreward with the car having a braoken rear light.

    And so the differences go on and on. Margaret Crowther lives on in the video because of her husband’s career commits suicide in the book, no destroying the car and tyres rolled down hill which is ridiculous and the end is very different for Morse does catch the murderer to his dismay.

    Why to TV producers feel they have to change the plot? They all do all the time and it is infuriating and when one finds out as I did, I feel I have been cheated. Many viewers never find out. I think in this episode the script writers lost the plot. The end is lame and disappointing. I suppose the TV producers think you will never find out but we do eventually.

    The audiobook is up on YouTube read by Colin Whately who knew both versions. I wonder if the original surprised him. Compared to the book I rate this -1 Jag!

  5. Firstly, thanks for this wonderful site. There’s a part in Last Bus to Woodstock that I’ve never understood. Sylvia has some money for Sue Widdowson from Crowther in an envelope addressed to Colby. Are we to assume that he gives the money to Sylvia when he’s picked her up that night? How did he know she’d be at the bus stop? He just happened to have it in the envelope?

    1. Hi Alison, and welcome to my website. Sylvia took the envelope while at work knowing or assuming it was money in the envelope. It was pure coincidence that Crowther was passing that bus stop at that particular time.

  6. Chris – I too would like to start by acknowledging all the work you’ve done on this site. Brilliant! I look forward to exploring it further and, as my wife and I work our way through the Morse catalog (for me, it’s the 2nd time), it will be fun to follow each episode with a check-in here. The fact that you are still actively maintaining the site, viewers and you are still commenting, increases the value immensely.

    We stumbled in tonight because much like @Alison Pidgeon we were confused by the ending – way too many questions left un-answered. And the double coincidences at the bus stop seemed a just way too convenient means to get out of the episode. So as a whodunnit – completely unsatisfying. Seeing this was the first Colin Dexter book in the series made me want to find a copy and see if the original was clearer about what happened. The comment of @Janette Miller above suggests such a reading is a double-edged sword.

    On the other hand, there is much to be said for this episode. Above all else, the scene with Fabia Drake is simply delicious. We re-wound that 3 times to enjoy the way she plays with those words, the ease at which she inhabits that character right down to the little “throw away phrases” that make this person so real. The expression on Morse’s face is one not often seen in the series – his eyes are sparkling and he looks ready to break into a huge smile – seemingly enjoying Ms Drake’s performance as much as us.

    The other part we enjoyed is the play between all the sexual themes, which you have broken down nicely. After the first season this was more the Morse I remember.

    And finally, we will now be on the lookout for the author’s cameo in each episode! Where’s Alfred Hitchcock? hah.

    Thanks again! We are glad we found you.

    1. Hi Zander and welcome to my website. Thank you for your kind words. It’s always a joy to know people are enjoying my website. Fabia Drake is wonderful. I hope you find many other posts of interest.

    1. Hi Nora and welcome to my blog. Crowther addressed the money to Jennifer because Mary Widdowson, his mistress, refused to take the money on a previous occasion.

  7. Angie Hartman enters Worcester College and is then seen in the front Quad. It’s in the library of this college that Colin Dexter get his first speaking park in ‘Deadly Slumber’….. “Mr Brewster”. At least two of my Inspector Morse books give the location at Christ Church College Library!

  8. Another good episode (slightly) spoiled by a poor perfomance from the young suspect. In this case, it’s Ian Sears as John Sanders. The other example is Spencer Leigh as Ned in The Dead of Jericho. The producers seemed to have problems getting good young male actors for those kind of parts

  9. Hi Chris, I have a question about this episode. It is one of my favorites. I just rewatched it and I am still not sure who made the sexual advances between Sylvia and Bernard Crowther in the car at the parking lot. I tend to think he did but then Sylvia had a rather promiscuous reputation. But then why did he pick her up to begin with? And he does talk about lust in his lecture. He does tell a different story to his wife but he would, wouldn’t he. What is your opinion?

    1. According to Crowther testimony, Sylvia initiated and got angry when he couldn’t or wouldn’t respond. Totally lame.

  10. I also love Morse’s line, “that cunning old buzzard” about Mrs. Jarman when he knows she gave the description of the car. He so has a way with words! 🙂

  11. Regarding EmilyM’s comment above, which says, “Good question”, I assume you are referring to Kathleen’s question. Funnily enough, Kathleen posted the same question on another page of this website, which is where, I attempted to answer it. This other page, was Chris’s series of Endeavour connections, particularly in relation to, the Endeavour pilot episode. Here is the link to that:

    https://morseandlewisandendeavour.com/2016/02/06/endeavour-and-its-connections-to-morse-and-lewis/comment-page-1/#comment-319

    Alternatively, I could just copy and paste my answer from that page, onto this one, and here it is:

    In attempting to answer the most recent comment posted above by Kathleen, Sylvia Kaye and her unknown friend were attempting to catch a bus. However, Sylvia became impatient due to the lateness of the bus, she therefore decided to hitchhike a lift from a passing car, and she also persuaded her reluctant friend to come with her. Lo and behold, but who should come passing, driving his wife’s car, if memory serves me right, but Bernard Crowther. He offers a lift to the hitchhiker Sylvia, who happily accepts this invitation, but her friend, recognizing the vehicle, declines, and hurries back to catch the bus. I do not believe that Crowther even noticed the second lady. The key to the mystery of the episode resolves of course, around finding out who was Sylvia’s friend? As we know, it turns out to be the nurse, Mary Widdowson, and she was having an affair with the aforementioned married Professor Bernard Crowther.

    In the novel of the same name as this episode, Sylvia is described as a promiscuous young woman, so I am pretty sure she was the one making the sexual advances, and unfortunately for Crowther, he gave in to temptation, the feeling of lust you could say, while stationed in the car park of the pub with Sylvia. As DS Lewis would put it, they had some form of “rumpy pumpy”, before Bernard realized he was getting out of his depth, with a much younger woman he hardly knew, and he brought their sexual shenanigans to a close. They have some sort of tiff or physical argument, where they perhaps exchanged blows, which led to Sylvia angrily leaving the car, sporting some injuries, including scratch marks. I’m sure Kathleen, you know what happened next, that then led to the death of Sylvia Kaye. All I will say is, that the combination of a jealous Mary Widdowson and Bernard Crowther rapidly reversing his car to try to get out of the car park as quickly as he could, caused the untimely demise of Sylvia.

  12. I watched this again last night. It’s always been one of my favourite episodes. I noticed a couple of things. First, in the Fox and Hounds at the beginning, Newlove orders two drinks. When Morse is addressing the pub, he can be seen with a young girl, who I’m guessing is another of his students he is pursuing. Also, when Max visits the Crowthers, Bernard does indeed quote Seneca, but it is Rochester’s translation of him, another nice tie in.

  13. I first saw this episode, before I had read the novel it was based on. My thoughts were, it is a very decent and satisfying episode. I then read the book for the first time last year, and realised that the episode could have been ever better, if it had been a slightly more accurate portrayal of the novel.

    I understand, it is never easy for a novel to be transformed into a television drama, cuts have to be made, the plot or story has to be simplified, and so on. However, I would have liked, two central parts of the novel, to have been maintained.

    Sylvia Kaye in the novel, was murdered by an individual, through the use of a tyre spanner. In the episode, Sylvia’s death is very much an accident, a combination of a fight, leaving Sylvia on the concrete ground of a car park, and then a car accidentally reversing over her. Therefore firstly, this brutal murder should have been depicted in the episode. It made the novel all the more gripping, as by all accounts, a dangerous killer was on the loose.

    Secondly, Morse has a relationship with the nurse, Sue Widdowson in the novel, who becomes Mary Widdowson in the episode. However, Morse does not have any sort of affair with Mary, in the episode. This relationship Morse had, was a key part of the book, making it an engrossing read, particularly when the reader discovers the full implications, of who was behind the murder. It was thus disappointing, that this was not illustrated in any way, during the episode.

    To conclude my thoughts, I still believe, “Last Bus to Woodstock”, to be a fairly good episode, but compared to the novel, it has been toned down far too much for my liking, and is not quite as gripping. The novel’s more sordid elements are quietly airbrushed, such as Sanders’ addiction to porn. Perhaps that is understandable, as TV producers in the 1980s, would have thought it, too seedy for prime-time viewing. Nevertheless, the two main cuts from the novel, I have discussed previously, make the episode much less riveting viewing, than it could have been. According to David Bishop in his book, “The Complete Inspector Morse”, the story lacks urgency, probably because the only killing, is more accident than murder. Overall, Bishop believes the episode, was a solid and workmanlike tale, with some winning moments, such as the delightful scene, where elderly witness Miss. Jarmon, scolds Morse, for interrupting her.

  14. This is the second time I watched this episode, I didn’t like it the first time and I liked it even less the second time,

  15. Thanks Adrian, for kindly contributing to the discussion about “The Settling of the Sun”, and “Last Bus to Woodstock”. It is always interesting to hear your views on the various different, Inspector Morse episodes. Thank you also, for telling me, that you are watching the Morse series for a second time. I believe, I have seen most of the Morse episodes twice, but not all of them, and when you watch an episode again, you sometimes realise that you missed something important, the first time around. That’s all from me, for today. Thank you, and goodbye for now.

    1. One thing that makes me wonder – why are all these young attractive women interested in the much older, balding and generally boring Crowther?

      Why would a girl engage in “rumpy pumpy” in the car park with such a man when waiting inside is a young lad she’d twist around her finger. It’s not “promiscuous”, it’s positively nymphomanic like!

      Similarly, she and Crowther stopped for a drink on the way. I mean, was that usual with hitchhikers? If she’s impatient to get the ride vs the bus then adding half an hour for a stop seems very weird. Fair enough if the driver is Brad Pitt, but Crowther? He must have some amazing chat!

      Same with the academics and students. I know it happened(s), but in Morse generally it’s rampant. Although so are murders to be fair.

      1. Ant, you make really good points and I wondered about that myself. Why would she even want to “mess around” with someone like Crowther. Maybe she thought he had money?

  16. I’m afraid this is a characteristic which returns in other novels as well. The way Dexter describes women and also how younger girls/women are attracted to older men. I’m sure it happens, but he wrote about it quite often.
    He published his first novel 45 years ago and the attitude in society was different. But when you read this today it feels very outdated and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

  17. Mary Widdowson “followed” Crowther’s car in a bus. That’s so unlikely. OK, Crowther stopped once or twice before the Fox and Castle, but still … And Mary knew Crowther’s favourite pubs, so in the pouring rain she went round them till she found the car parked at the Fox and Castle. She recognised Crowther’s voice, not the car, when he stopped for Sylvia. But why did she hit Sylvia in the car park? She didn’t know (and neither do we) exactly what happened in the car, but she didn’t have any reason the thump her friend, as far as I can see. And, unless Mary is an amateur boxer in her spare time, how likely is it that a fairly lightweight woman could knock another woman over with a slap? And why did Crowther and his wife get rid of one wheel from the car? Obviously in case it retained evidence of running over Sylvia. But Crowther only remembered a slight bump as he left the car park. Could he be sure which wheel it was that ran over Sylvia? I suppose he must have done. But that whole disposal of the wheel event seemed unnecessary to me, as the car was never examined by forensics.

    1. As always, you are spot – on , Bert. This is not a credible made for TV by any stretch of logic. I didn’t like it.

  18. The Lowry, in the kitchen – Old Church and Steps – is a painting of a church in Middleton, Manchester and is known locally as “the twenty-four steps”. Mr Lowry omitted a couple of the steps in the painting but the steps are still there together with the houses on the right. The church at the top is now demolished, sadly. I joined the Boys Brigade there in 1964 on Morton Street. The steps are situated on Boarshaw Road, Middleton. On the left is the waste ground, now a beer garden for the adjacent Whitbrook Inn, not in the painting. For any Lowry fans, the area, apart from the church, is mainly unchanged. Can be clearly seen on Google earth.

    BTW – This is a fantastic site – clearly a lot of effort to build it. Thanks Chris

  19. Hi Chris and thanks again for your very informative and enjoyable site!

    I watched this episode last night on ITV3 and like yourself and others, I thought Fabia Drake was terrific. What a fabulous and distinctive voice she had! – not to mention a very strong and distinctive screen presence.

    However, there is one thing that’s been puzzling me about the plot.. It concerns the envelope and note hand delivered to Jennifer Coleby’s office, intended for Mary Widdowson.
    Since there was no mention of Mary Widdowson at all – either on the envelope (addressed to “Jennifer Coleby”) or the note (addressed “Dear Miss Coleby”), how was Jennifer Coleby supposed to know that the note (and money) were not intended for her, but were to be handed over to Mary Widdowson? Presumably, had she got the envelope she would have been puzzled by what appeared to be a response to a job application that she hadn’t made, but how would she have connected that with Mary Widdowson?

    1. Hi Jay. You have posed an interesting question, however, it is one I believe, I can answer. Perhaps it helps that I have also read the novel this episode is based on. Jennifer Coleby, Mary Widdowson and Angie Hartman, of course, all lived in the same house. From what I remember of the book, where incidentally the nurse is called Sue Widdowson, and Angie was named Mary, Jennifer knew that the nurse, Miss. Widdowson, was having an affair with the married, Professor Bernard Crowther. Jennifer could have thus, grassed up Miss. Widdowson to Bernard’s wife. On the other hand though, Miss. Widdowson also knew that Jennifer was having an affair with her married boss, her senior colleague, Mr. Clive Palmer. The two women thus came to an arrangement, which I will explain very shortly.

      How did Jennifer and Miss. Widdowson know about each other’s intimate affairs, and why did Bernard drop cryptic messages into Jennifer’s office, with letters addressed to Jennifer, you may ask? On pages 300-2 in the novel, Morse attempts to explain this matter. Jennifer, of course, worked at the Aldgate Assurance Company. Anyway, here is a segment from these aforementioned pages, starting with Morse’s thoughts, regarding the two women seeing each other daily, during their lunch break from work.

      Morse – “The two of them met fairly regularly for a snack at lunchtime. They met in a little cafe next to M and S. I know that, Lewis. I’ve been there.”

      Lewis – “Jennifer Coleby must have known all about this then, sir”.

      Morse – “I don’t know about all. She knew enough, though. Too much, I suppose… I don’t know how it started, but at some stage they must have told each other about themselves. They tell me that women, and men, too for that matter, enjoy talking to someone else about their conquests; and some chance remark probably brought the two of them together, and a bond of conspiracy was soon forged. I think there can be no doubt about that. I suspect it was Crowther, perhaps after a couple of misunderstandings and disappointments over meetings with Miss. Widdowson, who suggested the idea of dropping some harmless-looking note addressed to Jennifer Coleby into the letter-box of the Aldgate Assurance Company. I’m pretty sure he had the sort of mind that enjoyed the idea of cryptic messges, and the practice grew and this became their normal channel of communication.”

      If this was Jennifer’s part of the deal for Miss. Widdowson, what was the nurse’s role in this little conspiracy? Miss. Widdowson would always go out with Bernard Crowther, on their assignations or dates, potentially leaving the house free for Jennifer and Palmer. Jennifer would thus arrange Palmer to come round to her house, when she knew the third house-mate, Angie, would also be out. If there was no date for Miss. Widdowson with Bernard, but Palmer was coming round, Jennifer would still expect, Miss. Widdowson, to be conveniently absent.

      To further explain Bernard’s cryptic letter-writing, addressed to Jennifer, here are a few more quotations by Morse and Lewis, from the pages I previously mentioned.

      Morse – “Bernard Crowther, you see, like most of these University fellows, didn’t work any regular hours at Lonsdale College. Something would always be cropping up at odd times – disciplinary matters, unexpected visitors, unscheduled meetings – and he could never plan his extra-marital escapades with any more than the hopeful anticipation that he might be free at any particular time in the days ahead. But much more important than this, his wife, Margaret might arrange something too, there was thus plenty that could go wrong and mess up the best-laid plans completely. So it seems to me that Crowther often didn’t know for certain until the day itself, even perhaps until a few hours beforehand, if and when he was going to be free to meet his mistress. But, Lewis, Lonsdale College is no more than a hundred yards or so from the premises of the Aldgate Assurance office.”

      Lewis – “You mean Crowther just walked along and dropped a note in?”

      Morse – “He did just that. I know what you’re going to say. He might just as well have written to Miss. Widdowson’s home address. However, she wouldn’t get the message any earlier, because the letter would be lying on the door-mat until she got in from work. In fact she’d almost certainly get it later than the note left at the office, which Jennifer would hand to her at lunch-times. But all this is assuming that Crowther could write the day before to arrange a meeting, and as I say I suspect that he very often couldn’t. Bernard would thus stroll along to Jennifer’s office on his walk from Lonsdale, and put a letter or postcard through the front door of this office. Simple – not even out of his way. It probably only happened at first when an unexpected opportunity arose, but as time went on it became the normal practice, so normal that he even followed it for his last and crucial message to her. And quite apart from being a neat and extremely useful device, it must have seemed a godsend to Crowther not to have to write actual letters as such to Miss. Widdowson. Like most people in such illicit affairs, he must have have had a dread of a letter going astray, being opened by the wrong person, or being found somewhere. No one could learn very much this way, could they, even if if he or she did find the letters?”

      In conclusion, I hope have been able to answer your question Jay. Sorry, I wasn’t able to explain it, in a more concise manner. However, I felt the quotations from Morse in the novel, helps one, to further understand the reasons why, Bernard, addressed letters to Jennifer, delivered by hand to Jennifer’s office, even though his letters were intended for Mary Widdowson.

      1. I have to agree with Jay that one shouldn’t need knowledge of the novel to understand the episode on which it is based. Those who write screenplays, for TV or film, based on novels always assume that the audience has not read the book.

    2. Hi Jay. If I remember correctly, this was not the first time that Bernard had offered money to Mary Widdowson. I have always assumed that Bernard had used the same method to pass money to Mary via Jennifer Colby and her place of work. So, Jennifer would know when opening the envelope that the money was intended for Mary as she was aware of Mary’s relationship with Bernard.

  20. I should have said, in my first paragraph above, that “Jennifer Coleby could have thus grassed up, both Miss. Widdowson and Bernard, to Bernard’s wife, Margaret.

  21. Naturally, we know why Jennifer didn’t grass, because as I explained above, Mary Widdowson knew that Jennifer was in a very similar position, she was having an affair with her married boss, Clive Palmer. As DS. Lewis would say, both these single women were having “rumpy-pumpy,” with married husbands. In other words, men who should know better.

  22. Sorry, I just realised, in my first long comment, I missed out the letter I, at the beginning of the last paragraph. I should have said, “In conclusion, I hope I have been able to answer your question, Jay.” Furthermore, I should also mention, once Jennifer handed Bernard’s letter to Mary, at lunch-times, she could then go back to work and tell Palmer that her house was free that night. Although, of course, they would need Angie to be out the house, as well. Possibly, if Angie wasn’t out that evening, Jennifer and Palmer would have to go somewhere else, certainly not his house, of course, given his wife could be there.

  23. Thanks James for that very comprehensive explanation. It certainly fills in the blanks and makes some sense of that particular plot issue.

    However, I think it’s unacceptable that an understanding of the plot of a tv episode should depend on having read the original book from which it’s adapted – especially in respect of an important plot point. The tv adaptation has to stand on its own. Many – if not most – viewers I would think, will not have the advantage of having read the book in advance. So, unless I’ve missed something (which is always possible!), coming fresh to the tv episode, without any such background knowledge, this seems to be a significant hole in the plot…..

  24. Thanks for your replies, Sheldon and Jay. You make a good point Jay, did the TV episode portray the answers to your interesting question, which I was able to, through my knowledge of the book? I’m not quite sure about that, because funnily enough, I read the novel about a year or so ago, for the first time, but it is a few years since I watched the episode. I may have to view it again, to see if my answers from the book, can be gleaned from the episode. From what you are saying, Jay, it would appear you cannot understand this part of the plot, by watching the TV portrayal. If that is the case, that is a slight weakness. Anyway, as I mentioned, I will aim to watch it again, to find out.

    Further above, in the comments on this page, I depicted another couple of flaws or weaknesses in the TV adaptation, if anyone wishes to take a browse of admittedly, my own opinion. I will briefly summarise those earlier thoughts. In the book, Sylvia’s death was not an accidental combination of unfortunate events, but a murder by Miss. Widdowson, in the pub car park, through the use of a tyre lever. In addition, Morse fell into an almost intimate relationship with Miss. Widdowson. Thus, Colin Dexter’s first novel set the trend for Morse being unlucky in love, and falling for the wrong woman. I would have liked both of these elements to have been included in the episode, as I believe it would have created more tension and excitement. Finally, I realise it must be very difficult to adapt a three hundred page book into a television crime drama, and on the whole, I feel this was achieved quite well, however there are some weaknesses which have been pointed out by many good people, who have written on this web page.

    1. Hi James,
      I’m afraid I must disagree with you on the two exclusions from the TV show. I like the idea that we did not know the relationship between Mary and Bernard until the end and I’m glad that Morse did not intrude on that relationship since it seemed to me as one being a sweet and genuine companionship between two lonely people. I wouldn’t like that Mary purposefully killed Sylvia with a tire iron, as the book says, since she just didn’t seem that kind of person as we see when she tells her story to Morse. She lashed out at her out of jealousy but would never have killed her for it and was truly remorseful. If anyone is the “bad guy” in this, to me, it would be Bernard’s wife – a grasping and ambitious woman who knew Bernard had “other women before” and then tried to cover up a killing. And Jennifer did know about the relationship (even the coded notes) between Mary and Bernard so there’s that connection to the characters. All in all it is one of my favorites and I must say I like it just as it is!

      1. Hi Kathleen. Thanks for taking the time to reply, given that you must be very busy, “moving”. It is always interesting to read your informed comments. As Chris says, there is no such thing as a correct opinion or viewpoint, and we should thus, always be able to respectfully disagree with one another, backing up an argument with evidence, if one feels inclined to do so. I will be writing in more detail about some of the intriguing points you brought up, when I have more time on my hands, tomorrow. Thank you, and goodbye for now.

      2. I will be posting two sets of comments, one after the other, to slightly break things up a tad.

        Hi Kathleen once again. To make myself clearer, the novel and episode are actually quite a bit different to one another. I apologise if I have confused you at all, by speaking about events in the novel, when I’m not quite sure, if I have fully explained their context. You mentioned above, that we do not know about Bernard and Miss. Widdowson’s relationship until the end of the episode, This is also true in the novel, as we do not discover this either, until the later stages of the book. In addition, you said you are glad Morse did not intrude on the Bernard and Mary “relationship”, by falling for Mary, because you felt there was a sweet and genuine compainonship between two lonely people. In the novel, however, Miss. Widdowson is engaged to another character called David, not included in the episode, who had just finished his post-graduate year of research in metallurgy. Miss. Widdowson is only 23 in the book, she had known David for some time, but I felt she had become worried about her upcoming marriage, was perhaps a tie or commitment too soon for her, and of course, she had fallen victim to temptation, first with Bernard, and then with Morse. Naturally, you can still be lonely, if you are, in an unhappy marriage, like Bernard, or in an unhappy relationship, like Mary and David, but I thought it was worth my while, to state that Mary wasn’t exactly a single woman in the novel, which she certainly was, in the episode.

        I would now like to say, I have always enjoyed the episode, and I gave it 8 out of 10, before I had read the novel. Last year, I read the book for the first time, I thought it was a gripping and exciting story, and a very successful achievement by Colin Dexter, particularly given that it was his first Morse novel. It certainly gave me pause for thought, on my verdict for the episode, and I was possibly thinking of downgrading it to a 7, but in the end, I decided to stick to the 8, I originally gave it. It did make me wonder though, whether those elements from the novel, could have been included in the episode. To be honest, I disagree with myself sometimes, is that a first sign of madness!! In all seriousness, I am prepared to take your opinion on board, Kathleen, perhaps it would be a stretch too far, to portray in the episode, Mary Widdowson as the murderer. Therefore, the TV producers or powers that be, obviously agreed with you Kathleen, because they elected not to do that!!

        Nevertheless, I will share with you Morse’s deductions, as he outlined in the novel, how and why, Miss. Widdowson brutally killed Sylvia. You could let me know how credible you think this is, Kathleen. Furthermore, there is another difference in the book, Bernard was driving his car, not his wife’s, and he picked up both Sylvia and Mary, when they were hitch-hiking. Sylvia, of course, had become impatient waiting for the bus. In addition, Mary didn’t run back to catch the bus, having realised it was her lover driving the car, as depicted in the episode. Miss. Widdowson, actually, sat in the backseat of the car, while Sylvia sat in the front passenger seat. Here is the passage I just mentioned, from pages 289-91, in the novel, with Morse unravelling the murder of Sylvia:

        Morse – “Let me tell you what I think. I think that two girls were picked up by a man one night and that one of those girls was the man’s mistress. I think that this mistress usually travelled by car to see her lover, but on that particular night she couldn’t get there by car, and that was why she either had to catch a bus or hitch-hike. Unfortunately, and by sheer chance, she was picked up by the very man she was going to see. Unfortunately, too, there were two girls, and he had to pick them both up, and these two girls knew each other. Now the whole thing suddenly seemed too dangerous – and somehow they decided to forget their date and wait until the next opportunity arose. I think that this girl, the mistress, asked to be dropped off somewhere on the way. She probably made some perfectly natural excuse – she was a good liar – and she asked him to drop her off. But she knew where the other girl was supposed to be going, (meeting another man at the Black Prince pub) – no doubt the other girl had told her – and she felt uncontrollably jealous that night. She had perhaps sensed something as they’d all driven along together. You see, the girl who was sitting in the front was very attractive to men. And perhaps? Who knows? The man, the man she knew so well, had been unfaithful to his wife. He had been unfaithful with her! Why not with some other girl? So I think this is what happened. She got out of the car, but she didn’t return home. No. She waited for a bus and one came almost immediately. How she must have cursed her luck. If only she’d not hitched a lift! Anyway, she caught the bus and found her way to the place where she knew she might find them. It was dark there and she couldn’t see very much, but she saw enough. And she felt a murderous jealousy welling up inside her, not so much against her lover, but against that cheap slut of a girl, a girl she’d got to know but never liked, a girl she now hated with unspeakable fury. I think perhaps they may have spoken to each other when the man had gone – but I can only guess, and I may be wrong. I think that the girl who had just got out of the car could sense the deadly fury in the other girl’s face, and I think she tried to run away. But as she did a vicious blow crashed across her skull and she lay dead in a heap upon a cobbled yard. I think the dead girl was dragged by the arms into the darkest corner of the yard and I think the girl who murdered her walked out into the night and caught a bus that took her home.”

      3. Wow, James, you are certainly right about the book and the TV episode being totally different in so many ways. A very different and more complicated, not to mention a much more devious and sinister plot. Thanks for the analysis and interesting read of the book.

      4. Thanks for kindly replying Kathleen. I am pleased to see you enjoyed reading my analysis or explanation of the many tantalising plots in the novel. One thing I forgot to mention, you wouldn’t think that would you, I had enough chance, didn’t I, given the length of my previous comments!! I should have said this, though, the novel finishes in a similar way to the episode. Morse and Lewis uncover that Sylvia was having physiotherapy on an old arm injury. They connect this to the elderly lady witness at the bus stop, that is Miss. Jarman’s remarks. She had heard one of the girls say to the other, “we’ll have a giggle about it all in the morning.” It suddenly thus dawned on Morse and Lewis, that with Miss. Widdowson’s role as a nurse, she may have known Sylvia, who of course, was having treatment at the hospital. Indeed, that was the case. The day after the infamous night in question, when they both went hitch-hiking to eventual devastating consequences, Sylvia was due to meet Miss. Widdowson, for her continued physiotherapy treatment. Anyway, that is all from me for now. Thank you, and all the best.

      5. Sorry, you must all be getting fed up hearing from me. I thought I would just state, following my last comment about the similar ending of the novel to the episode, that of course, Miss Jarman’s witness statement, of what the girls said to each other, is slightly different in the novel compared to the episode. Given that in the episode, Miss. Jarman saw one girl get in the car to hitch-hike, while the other one ran back to the bus, all she actually heard, was one girl say to the other, “see you in the morning”. Meanwhile, in the novel, what she witnessed was, Sylvia successfully persuading Miss. Widdowson to hitch-hike with her, by saying, “we’ll have a giggle about it all in the morning.” A giggle that obviously, very sadly and shockingly, never materialised. At last, I feel I have finally concluded my analysis. Perhaps I need to have a lie down in a dark room!! Anyway, thank you, and goodbye for now.

      6. That’s a good humorous response there, Kathleen. I think you might be referring to the US Presidential Election!!! Therefore, I’m not surprised you need a lie down, after all the recent political unrest in the US!!! In all seriousness, I wish you and your fellow Americans, a democratic and peaceful resolution to the current deadlock.

  25. My next point concerns your comments, Kathleen, about Bernard’s wife Margaret. You believe, if there is a villian in this episode, it would be her, and I would agree with you on that. However, in the novel yet again, this is portrayed very differently. Margaret, suspicious that her husband was having an affair, had followed Bernard, in her own car, on the infamous night in question, when he had picked up two hitch-hikers. She had followed him, all the way to the Black Prince pub, and she saw him with Sylvia in the back of the car. She could watch no more, and went home. The next day, with the shocking news of Sylvia’s death reverberating, she became convinced that Bernard had murdered Sylvia. She never told anybody of her suspicions, and she committed suicide, gassing herself in her kitchen. She left a note to the police, explaining she had murdered Sylvia. This, of course, was Margaret trying to take the blame, sacrificiously, for the shocking deed, she thought her husband had committed.

    On the other hand, Bernard has a heart attack, not long after his wife’s suicide, and he is admitted to the Radcliffe. In hospital, Bernard remembers the events of the night Sylvia was murdered. He thinks about the second hitch-hiker, his lover, who the police have still not uncovered. On that terrible evening, he had dropped her off at Begbroke, before driving on to Woodstock with Sylvia. When he had finally freed himself of Sylvia, after their “rumpy-pumpy,” in the car, as he was driving out of the car park, Bernard, thought he saw someone else in the yard. Not long after, on his drive home, he also thought he saw his wife’s car, some way behind him. Bernard, thus came to the conclusion, his wife had killed Sylvia, when the news surfaced the next day. Back to the hospital, and Bernard has a second heart attack, which is fatal. Before dying, he dictated a letter to Morse, confessing to the murder of Sylvia.

    If you are still following, sorry about the length of these remarks, Bernard unfortunately, made the same mistake as his wife. They both died, thinking the other had committed the terrible act, and they both wrote letters, trying to take the blame, very unselfishly, which as it turned out, neither did. Perhaps, this shows there was still a lot of love between them.

    My final comment, will be brief. You said Kathleen, that Jennifer did know about the relationship (even the coded notes) between Bernard and Mary. I had already agreed with that in an earlier post, on this page, when I attempted to answer an interesting question, posed by Jay. Anyway, that is all for now, thanks for your fascinating views of the Morse universe, Kathleen, and I very much agree with you, “Last Bus to Woodstock,” is a very good episode. It was surprising to learn though, from recently reading the novel, that it is quite a bit different, from Dexter’s original work.

  26. In my last but one comment, I missed out the word, (it), sorry about that. I should have said, “Miss. Widdowson is only 23 in the book, she had known David for some time, but I felt she had become worried about her upcoming marriage, (it) was perhaps, a tie or commitment too soon for her.” Anyway, that is all from me for now, thank you, and goodbye.

  27. Sorry I have just noticed in my second long comment, another mistake. I should have said, “As he was driving out of the car park, Bernard, thought he saw someone else in the yard. Not long after, on his drive home, he also thought he saw his wife’s car, some way IN FRONT OF him.” I mistakenly said, “some way behind him,” but of course, Margaret had left first, disgusted by what she witnessed in Bernard’s car, so she would have been ahead of Bernard, sorry about this error.

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