The Infernal Serpent. An Overview: Music, Art, Literary References, Locations etc.


First transmitted in the UK on the 3rd January 1990.

This episode is not based on any of Colin Dexter’s novels.

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This is episode 1 in series 4. Chronologically this is episode 12.

Colin Dexter appears in the church funeral scene at 46m10s and at 46m51s.


Directed by John Madden: He also directed the following episodes; Promised Land (the fifth episode of series 5), Dead on Time (the first episode of the sixth series) and The Way Through the Woods one of the Morse ‘specials’.

Written by Alma Cullen: She also wrote the following episodes of Morse: The Secret of Bay 5B, Fat Chance, and Death of the Self. She also wrote an episode, ‘Fun Times for Swingers’ (1996) for the TV series A Touch of Frost. She now writes mainly for the theatre.

Episode Jag Rating (out of 10):



The death of a senior fellow outside his Oxford college of Beaufort, during an apparent mugging, while on the way to give a controversial speech, leads Morse to suspect the prominent environmentalist was killed because of his beliefs. The death appears to have been a heart attack and Morse is just about to give up on the case, which is what his superior wants him to do, but feels that Master Matthew Copley-Barnes (Geoffrey Palmer) and his family, including a well-known reporter, Sylvie Maxton (Cheryl Campbell) who lived with the family when she was young, are not telling him everything about some mysterious packages the Master is receiving. (The title is from Paradise Lost by John Milton.)


(Some spoilers will be contained within the review)


This is not one of my favourite episodes but I think this is a lot to do with one of the subject matters, incest and child abuse, which can make for uncomfortable watching. However, all the cast are very good in this episode, especially Geoffrey Palmer as Master Matthew Copley-Barnes.


It isn’t often we see actor Geoffrey Palmer playing such a horrid character as most British people will associate him with the loveable characters of Ben Parkinson in ‘Butterflies’, Jimmy Anderson in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and one of my favourites as Lionel Hardcastle in As Time Goes By.

As I said above one of the subject matters, the other being environmental issues, is a difficult subject to watch but I suppose the writer and the production team were very brave to tackle such a subject in 1990 as unlike now the subjects of incest and child abuse were barely in the news never mind mainstream TV.

Great to see the wonderful actor Tom Wilkinson in the episode.


Co-incidently his character, Jake Normington, who runs off to America when the situation in Oxford becomes too uncomfortable for him is emulated by Tom himself who left for America to seek work there in films and achieved that with some great success. His films include, Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Michael Clayton to name but a few.

I love actors who can react facially to convey an emotional. So many actors are incapable of doing this properly and always end up gurning. This is one reason why I love John Thaw as an actor, his ability to convey so much facially without having to say a word.

I love this reaction from Mrs Copley Barnes (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) when Lewis mentions to a woman who plays on a Steinway piano that he bought an electronic keyboard for his kids. Lewis’s reaction is also worthwhile.

What makes this episode better is the wonderful music especially during the scene that introduces Tom Wilkinson’s character. I think the music is Gregorio Alligri’s, Miserere. I’m afraid my knowledge of Choral music is very basic. I must do something about that.

My score of 6 out of 10 is probably, on reflection, an unfair score and should probably be a seven but I don’t believe any higher than that.



The piece of music at the beginning is I believe Piano Sonata No. 25 by Beethoven (1770 – 1827) or at least the middle section of the piece. I am not completely certain.


The music is being played as Sylvia arrives to find Mrs Copley Barnes giving a lesson to one of her pupils. The piece is by Mozart and is called Piano Sonata in A, K.331:1 Andante Grazioso.


This piece is being sung by the college Choir and being conducted by a friend of Morse. It is by Gregorio Alligri (1582 – 1652). The piece is called Miserere mei, Deus.


This piece is played during the break in and arson attack on Mick McGovern’s house. It is by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) and the piece is called Prelude and Fugue in C Minor BWV 546. BWV relates to  Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis  which is the best known and most widely used catalogue of Bach’s compositions.


The next piece is being played by Imogen and Sylvia. It is by Georges Bizet and is called Bizet: La Poupée (The doll) N°3 from Jeux d’enfants op.22.


Morse is talking to Sylvia who then plays the piano remarking that the piece was exercise for the fingering. It is by Mozart and is Sonata No. 11 in A Major for Piano, K331:1 Tema Andante Grazioso


I’m afraid I am unable to identify the choral piece when Mrs Copley Barnes decides to kill herself.

 Literary Quotes

Literary References


The Master Copley Barnes remarks that  Dr. Julian Dear’s attacker had “wild eyes”. The Master goes on to say that it reminded him of a young Wittgenstein, if that meant anything to Morse or Lewis. Morse replies by asking if the Master was referring to Wittengenstein before or after his Norwegian period.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. From 1929 to 1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge.

Wittgenstein came to feel that he could not get to the heart of his most fundamental questions while surrounded by other academics, and so in 1913 he retreated to the village of Skjolden in Norway, where he rented the second floor of a house for the winter. He later saw this as one of the most productive periods of his life, writing Logik (Notes on Logic), the predecessor of much of the Tractatus.


While visiting Imogen’s stables Sylvia talks to her husband Ron. Sylvia mentions that she used to be called ‘commendeble sylvia’. This is a reference to a song in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Song: “Who is Silvia? what is she”
(from Two Gentlemen of Verona)
Who is Silvia? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair, and wise is she;
The heaven such grace did lend her,
That she might admirèd be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness;
And, being helped, inhabits there.

Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling;
To her let us garlands bring.

At the end of the episode, Morse quotes from Milton’s Paradise Lost;

“Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile

Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d

The Mother of Mankind”


At seven and seven seconds we see a painting behind Morse as he is about to leave the Master’s lodgings.


The painting is by John Turnbull and is called The Declaration of Independence. The original is in Washington DC.

There was very little art to be seen in this episode and those that were seen briefly I couldn’t identify.

 Interesting Facts

The character of Matthew Copley Barnes appears as his younger self in an episode of Endeavour, ‘Trove’, season two episode one. He is played by Jamie Parker in the Endeavour episode.


copley barnes Trove endeavour

We also glimpse in this episode Dr. Matthew Copley Barnes’s daughter, Imogen and his wife, Blanche.

copley barnes family TROVE

Imogen Copley Barnes, his daughter and his wife Blanche. (The actors are not credited).



Geoffrey Palmer as Matthew Copley-Barnes (Born: June 4, 1927 – )


David Neal as Dr. Julian Dear ( February 13, 1932 – Died: June 27, 2000)


Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Blanche Copley-Barnes (Born: December 14, 1935 – ) She was married to Richard Pasco until he died in 2014. Richard is known for having appeared in the Morse episdoe, ‘Dead on Time as William Bryce-Morgan.


Pearce Quigley as Mick McGovern (No info)


Michael Attwell as Parsons (Born: January 16, 1943, – Died: March 18, 2006)


Cheryl Campbell as Sylvie Maxton (Born: May 22, 1949 – )


John Joyce as Mr. Gray (Born June 4, 1939 – Died November 2009)


Ian Brimble as Phil Hopkirk (Born: 1948 – )


Tom Wilkinson as Jake Normington (Born: February 5, 1948 – )


Irene Richard as Imogen Garrett (No info)


George Costigan as Ron Garrett (Born: 1947 – )


Denys Hawthorne as Chief Superintendent Rennie (Born: August 9, 1932 – Died: October 16, 2009)


Sydnee Blake as Mrs. McGovern (No Info)

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. 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. A busy time ahead made even busier by my writing a book on the TV series, Lewis.

27 thoughts

  1. Isn’t Cheryl Campbell such a wonderful actress! I love her as the German woman in the Lewis episode, Music To Die For. I agree with you that this is such a hard episode. Just terrible. On a note of levity, I mentioned Frenzy in another comment, and the wife in this Morse is the killee ;<) in that movie, and was in As Time Goes By as the registrar who married Lionel and Jean.

  2. The Miserere sung in this episode is the one composed by Byrd, not Allegri. “Jeux d’enfants” is by Bizet (Labèque is a pianist).

    PS There are a number of classical pieces not cited in the Music sections of some episodes, but I leave it to other followers of this fantastic blog to identify them -;)

  3. I had never heard the Miserere until I saw the episode (Old School Ties) with Hathaway playing it with his ‘new age’ group. I’ve since bought it on iTunes in two versions – one, the Acoustic Triangle which was Hathaway’s group, and two, a beautiful version on an album by John Rutter and the Cambridge (wish it were Oxford!) Singers called Stillness and Sweet Harmony, which I would recommend heartily.

    1. Perhaps the Miserere in this _Lewis_ episode is an allusion to the one used in the _Morse_ episode “Cherubim and Seraphim”, where it also occurs in an “new age” version?

  4. Amongst many other things in this blog, the actor pictures are so useful. I’ve just realized that it’s Pearce Quigley that played Bottom and Jamie Parker that performed both Henry IV and Henry V at the Globe. Thanks, Chris!

  5. The last music sample is the same one you identified earlier. Sylvie did play a few bars of it, but then she went on to play a different tune when she made reference to learning “fingering”. (I didn’t understand her comment about learning much later what it really meant. Was that a sexual reference? Surprisingly crude, if it was.) This was the tune that caused the gardener to come running in and yell at her to stop. I was hoping to find out what the piece was. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Paula. That piece you refer, when the gardener runs into the room, is the one I mentioned in my post, Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A, K.331:1 Andante Grazioso. Hope this helps.

      1. Hi, thanks for the response. Yes, she did start playing it, but then turned the pages and played something that sounded entirely different. Are you saying she was playing a different part of the same piece?

    2. After she flips the pages, I believe she starts playing from a bit later in the same movement, variation III. It’s the same piece, just a later part.

  6. Oh, another comment… What happened with Parsons? (I didn’t realize he had a name.) He’s the guy who burned the apartment. They didn’t catch him, or even find out who he was. How could they have let that slip through the cracks? Or did I miss something?

    1. Morse and Lewis were taken off that case by Chief Superintendent Rennie. So, we have to assume that the case was left open or passed to a more junior officer to deal with.

      1. True, but when does Morse ever drop a case he’s started? (And he didn’t really drop it, did he? I mean, they did get to the bottom of why everything happened.) If that’s really what the writers had in mind as a “resolution”, it seems like they would have been more conclusive about it. It seemed like an uncharacteristic omission.

  7. I’m watching this episode, as I often do, with IMDb open on my laptop so I can look up actors who catch my eye. It turns out Pearce Quigley, who played the young perpetrator, played Russell in “Detectorists.” If the name “Russell” doesn’t ring a bell, he was the bearded and bespectacled club member, the one who looked for all the world like a sheepdog. (He was very funny, too.) I can’t imagine anybody looking more different between stages of life than Quigley did in “Inspector Morse” in 1990 and than he did recently in “Detectorists”!

  8. One of my favourite episodes because it is brilliant in almost every regards. It is though the hardest Morse to watch because the core subject is so sensitively handled.

    Difficult to watch the episode without being moved to tears, particularly the final choral piece.

  9. Does Chief Supt Rennie appear in any other episodes?

    Morse is required to do some running in this episode, puts one in mind of Endeavour episodes where he also has to do some pursuing!

    The music throughout is great.

    1. No it’s the only one he appears in. The only constant chief super was Strange, and in the earlier series he wasn’t consistently in them. Why this was I don’t know, other than if the actor – James Grout – had other projects.

  10. I enjoyed the conversation about holidays, where Rennie asks Morse if he’s has ever been to Austria. He replies that he’s been to Salzburg for the festival and Rennie says ‘what festival is that then?’ You can imagine the reply Morse really wants to give to that one…

    Lewis’s obsession with the crime scene vomit and the inopportune time he chooses to mention it to Morse is noteworthy also.

  11. Does anyone know what Morse says to Quigley (the young man who would not reveal his name during questioning after being picked up at the funeral). I fear the word used is a slur or an attempt at a slur for the closeted homosexual Dons. Morse says something like, “I’m sure it won’t be difficult to find one or two of the old _______.” Sounds like em-patt-een-us. Does anyone know what word he uses here? It’s not in the CCTV on prime video it says mumbled or something in place of the word. I couldn’t find anything on Google. Its not that important but it’s niggling me as I try to watch the rest of the episode. Thought I’d try the experts! Love the blog!

    1. I’m binge watching the show during the quarantine and was intrigued by your question and finally found the word: “importuners” as in importune: to beg, urge, or solicit persistently or troublesomely; but also approach (someone) to request or offer sexual services, especially as a prostitute.

      The latter seems to be the way it is still used as a criminal charge which fits in with why Morse would use it.

      1. Thanks so much! I think the writers have used that that word before because I recall looking it up in relation to either Morse, Lewis, or Endeavour. Thanks so much for taking the time to hunt it down!

    2. The word is “importuners”, ie someone who importunes, which means broadly to pester someone constantly to do something, though in this specific context refers to approaching an individual to ask for homosexual sex. Unlike the verb, which is reasonably common, I am not sure the noun is much or even ever used; perhaps Morse just made it up.

  12. When Sylvie is leaving the Copley-Barnes, she comes down the stairs carrying her bag. The props department has failed again by giving her an empty bag.

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