A Review of Morse Episode, ‘Happy Families’. Plus the Locations, Music and Literary References.

Hello and welcome to another in my series of posts about the original series, Inspector Morse. Before I continue I would just like to write a huge thank you to all my followers, old and new, and thank you for your continued and very much appreciated support.

I am contemplating expanding my blog to a full blown website to allow me to hopefully make you the reader’s experience better. One idea I have for the website is to have a forum or discussion board for everyone to share their thoughts, ideas, stories regarding the three series. It would also allow Morse, Endeavour and Lewis fans to ‘talk’ and hold discussions. I am at the moment looking at the costs involved in running the website. Meanwhile, let’s get on with this post.

Chronologically this is episode 22. (Series 6 episode 2).

First broadcast in the UK on 11 March 1992.

This episode is not based on a Colin Dexter novel.

Where’s Colin?

Colin actually appears twice in the episode but as the same character.

Colin is the homeless person with the trilby like hat.

Directed by Adrian Shergold: Adrian also directed, Greeks Bearing Gifts.

Written by Daniel Boyle (not to be confused with Danny Boyle who directed some episodes of Morse and is famous for having directed the movies, Trainspotting, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire  etc). Daniel also wrote the episodes, Second Time AroundDead on TimeDeadly Slumber and The Day of the Devil.

Daniel also wrote the Lewis episode, Whom the Gods Would Destroy.


Sir John Balcombe, who runs one of the top companies in the UK, is found murdered in the kitchen of his grand, prepossessing castle. Only a short time earlier in the night Sir John and his two sons, Alfred Rydale (Lady Emily’s lawyer) and Margaret Cliff, a friend of Lady Balcombe, were celebrating the birthday of his sombre, unhappy wife Lady Balcombe. During the rather lukewarm celebration Lady Balcombe mentions that not everyone she loves is present.

While Strange is on holiday, Superintendent Hodlsby is holding the fort but has ambition to replace Chief Superintendent Strange in the future. Holdsby asks Morse to attend a press conference.

At the press conference Morse’s haughty attitude antagonises the tabloid press. One of the reporters, Billy, decides to write about the crime but with Morse as the main focus. To this end he and his photographer stalk Morse in an attempt to discredit him and his way of life.

Sir John’ and Lady Balcombe’s son, Harry, is found dead, his neck broken and a chisel embedded in his chest. Subsequently the letters S.F. are found to be scratched on the chisel. The same initials were found on the hammer that killed Sir John.

Who is apparently trying to rid the world of the Balcombe family and what is the motive? Lewis and Morse tiptoe their way around the aristocracy who give life to the phrase that money doesn’t always bring one happiness. While many would enjoy having their picture in the paper Morse can’t fathom why his private life would be of interest to anyone and why his love of classical music and reading are deemed inappropriate and elitist.

One of the newspaper headlines above a photo of Morse is ‘Clever Dick’. Inspector Morse will prove that headline correct as he manoeuvres himself around aristocratic flummery, red herrings and those who define dying as ‘moving over’.

(warning, this review may contain some spoilers)

I will write up front that this is not one of my favourite episodes, hence the score of only seven out of ten. I will come to my fundamental problems with the episode later in my review.

The episode has Morse once again negotiating aristocratic flummery. At the other end of the scale he has to contend with tabloid journalists and their need to write from a salacious angle. No point letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Inspector Morse’s need for privacy is well known and this episode emphasis that characteristic.

This episode is an interesting one but it does have problems with its plot. Sir John Balcombe was killed with a hammer but their was no blood on the floor. If not from splatter surely it would be dripping from not only the hammer but the killer as well, Margaret Cliff. No blood evidence was found between the dead body and the moat where the hammer was thrown. If Margaret wrapped the hammer in something immediately why didn’t she also throw that in the moat. If it was wrapped in something why were no fibres or similar found on the hammer. If it was wrapped in plastic then why not throw it in the moat with the hammer inside.

Secondly, how did Margaret manage to sneak up on Harry in the woodland. Anyone who has walked through a woodland knows it is almost impossible to do so quietly.

The above problems and those I mention below may give the impression that I hate the episode but I don’t. The direction is fluid and keeps the episode moving at a cracking pace. Rupert Graves is excellent as the slimy tabloid journalist and seems to relish the role small as it was. As I have said many times before the character actors help create a satisfying episode and should always be applauded for making the Morse series as great as it is. Alun Armstrong, a mainstay of British television, should also be mentioned for a very good performance as the ambitious Superintendent Holdsby. He certainly made you wish for Strange to return from his holidays a.s.a.p.

The screenplay isn’t top notch and certainly isn’t one of Daniel Boyle’s best. I think of all the episodes he wrote, The Day of the Devil, Deadly Slumber, Dead on Time and Second Time Around, Happy Families is his weakest.

My problems with the episode are the following. The characters of Harry and James Balcombe are stereotypes of the upper class; twits in other words. Their characterisation borders on the cartoonish and veers from foolish, childish behaviour to adult, mature behaviour in a grating incongruous way.

I find it hard to believe that a child psychologist, Margaret Cliff, would not have foreseen the consequences of telling Jessica that Lady Balcombe was her birth mother. It doesn’t ring true.

The side story of the journalist Billy, (Rupert Graves) feels like it was shoehorned in at the last minute. It doesn’t ring true and never really amounts to much other than to give Morse a great line to end the episode; “it was something I read in a book”. I suppose it does allow John Thaw to get his acting teeth around a gamut of emotions and helps to cement one of Morse’s characteristics; a need for privacy.

Episode Jag Rating – out of 10.


At 37 minutes and 50 seconds Billy, the journalist, and his photographer Chas sneak onto Morse’s property to take a photo of Morse at home. Morse is listening to Mozart’s  Soave ‘Sia Il Vento‘ from Cosi Fan Tutte.

At 54 minutes and 27 seconds Margaret Cliff is teaching Lady Balcombe how to play the piano. The piece they are playing is Mozart’s Piano Sonato D, KV 311

The section being played by Margaret and Emily Balcombe starts around the four and a half mark.

Literary References.

I didn’t come across any in this episode.


At 43 minutes and 32 seconds the scene is in the Balcombe sitting room. Behind Harry we see a large painting.

This is a painting by George Stubbs (1724 – 1806) titled ‘Brood Mares and Foals‘.

This actual painting was sold in 2010 for 10 million pounds.

At one hour and one minute Morse visits James Balcombe’s office in London. Morse admires a painting on the wall.

The painting is called Portrait of a young woman known as “La Bella” by Palma Vecchio (also known as Jacopo Negretti). painted in the 16th century.

Thank you to Nancy who identified the following.

Nancy wrote, “I tried to find exact match for one of the posters above Morse’s desk in episode “Happy Families.” Unfortunately, the light and focus are very poor. However, the details that I can see (especially the hunting dogs) are hinting that it may be poster very similar to Ashmolean Museum Oxford poster of “The Hunt in Forest” by Uccello. This painting also featured in the Lewis episode The Point of Vanishing.


The main location in this episode is the castle/home of Sir John and Lady Balcombe.

The location is Shirburn Castle, Watlington in Oxfordshire.

Here is a picture sent to me by Barbara, one of my subscribers.

It is Barbara’s husband’s great grand-uncle who was the estate manager at Shirburn Castle, standing on the grounds at a flower show. Thank you Barbara.


Next up we have Mr Rydale’s office in Oxford.

The office is on New College Lane.


46 minutes – Morse meets Joshua Masterson.

This is the cloisters of New College.


This is Holywell Street and the entrance is to New College.


At 5 mins Morse asks Lewis if there is a butler in the Balcombe castle. Lewis replies that he hasn’t seen one. Pity, says Morse, it might have saved us a lot of time. This is very similar to a conversation in the Morse episode Ghost in the Machine. In that episode Morse asks Lewis to go and talk to the au pair and the housekeeper. What, no butler replies Lewis.

This episode was the last appearance of Elizabeth Kettle as the WPC. Her first was Second Time Around. She appeared in five episodes.

I had a Q&A with Elizabeth Kettle. Click here to read that Q&A.


This is strange similarity to two objects which appear in the office of Sir John Balcombe and the office of Alfred Rydale.

The small statues of a cavalrymen on horseback. Strange eh.


Anna Massey (who played Lady Emily Balcombe) also had an actor brother Daniel Massey who appeared in an earlier Morse episode, Deceived by Flight.

Daniel Massey as Anthony Donn in Deceived by Flight

At around 48 minutes and a half minutes Morse and Lewis are in the jag after Morse had talked to Joshua Masterson. The car doesn’t start. John Thaw keeps pressing the button to get it going and eventually it sparks into life. John turns to Kevin Whately and must have smiled as you can see Kevin return the smile and he even appears to look over at the camera crew possibly wondering if they were going to have to redo the scene.


During the episode the Jag’s rear view mirror can clearly be seen.

But in the final scene there is no mirror.

I’m assuming they took the mirror off so it didn’t block the view of the scene.


This episode is about a family falling apart due to hatred and acrimony. Ironically, the family that owns Shirburn Castle also split apart due to an acrimonious court case. Click here to read about it.

Quote Me. (Interesting dialogue from the episode)

At 13 minutes during the press conference.

Female Journalist – “Was it a brutal murder Chief Inspector?”

Morse  – “All murders are brutal madam.”

Female Journalist – “Could you give us some details Chief Inspector. My readers will be outraged at the lack of information being given out.”

Morse – “Your readers’ outrage I can understand but a salacious interest in details is quite another thing. Are you saying that is what interests them?”

Female Journalist – “No.”


At about 31 minutes, Morse walks into his office where Lewis is waiting.

Morse – “They’ve written about me in the papers Lewis. Not about the inquiry. About me.”

Lewis – “Fame can weigh heavy.”

Morse smiles.


At one hour and 23 minutes Morse and Lewis visit Nottingham looking for Stephen Ford’s brother.

Lewis knocks on a door.

Lewis – “Oh hello. We’re from Thames Valley Police. We’re looking for a mister Robert Ford.”

Nottingham Lady – “Ford? We won’t find him here me duck. No, he moved over, well. fifteen year now. He were the tenant before me. That’s how I know.

Morse – “Please can you tell us were he moved to? It’s very important”

Nottingham Lady – “Oh no love no. He moved over to the other side.”

Lewis – “Are you sure?”

Nottingham Lady – “Certainly, i’m sure. (To Morse) You alright love?”

Lewis – “He’s fine. Did Mr Ford have any relatives?”

Nottingham Lady – “Oh I wouldn’t know me duck. I mind my own business. And it’s no good asking around here they’re all new now.”

Lewis – “Thank you.”

Morse – “Moved over? What couldn’t she just say he was dead.”


The last scene of the episode. A journalist comes over to Morse who is sitting in his car.

Journalist – “Chief Inspector, do you have a confession?”

Morse – “I’m really very sorry but I can’t answer any questions at the moment.”

Journalist – “Can’t you just tell us how you got your break?”

Morse – “Yes, it was something I read in a book.”

Connections to the Endeavour and/or Lewis series.

Our first connection is the actor Jonathan Coy.

Joanthan Coy played the part of Harry Balcombe in this episode. More recently he appeared in the Endeavour episode Trove, series 2, episode 1.

Jonathan Coy as Archie Batten in the Endeavour episode Trove.


Next we have Anna Massey who appeared in this episode as Lady Balcombe.

Anna Massey also appeared in the first episode of the first series of Lewis; Whom the Gods would Destroy.

Anna Massey as Prof. Margaret Gold in the Lewis episode Whom the Gods would Destroy.


Next we have the wonderful Rupert Graves. In this episode he plays Billy a journalist for a tabloid newspaper.

Rupert also appeared in the Lewis series episode Falling Darkness, Series 4, episode 4.

Rupert Graves as Alec Pickman in the Lewis episode Falling Darkness


David Baukham in this episode plays a police officer.

David also appeared in an episode of Lewis.

David Baukman as Norman a reporter in the Lewis episode Old School Ties. Series 1, episode 2.

In Memoriam.

I should have thought of this before and I don’t know why I didn’t. Though we watch the Morse series primarily to see John Thaw and Kevin Whately it is also a  testament to all the characters who have appeared in all 33 episodes that we keep re-watching each episode.  This new section will entail showing those actors who have died. I will probably go back to previous episodes and include an in memoriam section in each one. Of course I won’t include the regulars like John Thaw and James Grout. It is also possible that an actor’s death has not been announced or published.


Sukie Smith as Lorraine

Gwen Taylor as Margaret Cliff

Martin Clunes as James Balcombe. Martin has appeared in many things over the years but probably his most successful is his Doc Martin.

George Raistrick as Sir John Balcombe

Jonathan Coy as Harry Balcombe

Andrew Ray as Alfred Rydale

Anna Massey as Lady Emily Balcombe

Mark Draper as Constable. Mark also appeared in the episode Second Time Around.

Rupert Graves as Billy

Jamie Foreman as Chas

Liz Kettle as WPC

Alun Armstrong as Superintendent Holdsby

Tony Guilfoyle as Journalist One. Father Ted fans will recognise him as Father Larry Duff.

Sophie Uliano as Woman Journalist

Charlotte Coleman as Jessica White. Most people will know Charlotte from the film Four Weddings and a Funeral where she plays the ditsy Scarlett.

Robert Demeger as Forensic Scientist

David Baukham as Police Sergeant

Ralph Nossek as Professor Joshua Masterson

Richard Ireson as Pathologist

Beryl King as Nottingham Lady

I hope you have enjoyed the post and in particular the new section, In Memoriam. Take care everyone.

Author: Chris Sullivan

Up until a few years ago I was my mum's full time carer. She died in, 2020, of Covid. At the moment I am attempting to write a novel.

65 thoughts

  1. I adore your blog, which I learned of recently, probably through the Inspector Morse FaceBook group. Thank you for all the backstory information you provide. As an Inspector Morse fan, I find all of it fascinating.

  2. Nice blog. Minor point here (depending on whom you ask, I guess): You seem to have mistaken New College for Exeter. Exeter is over by Jesus, Lincoln, Brasenose, Blackwell’s, the Bodleian, Radcliffe Camera, etc.

  3. You’ve missed out the music being played when Lady Emily visits the girl she believes is her daughter. Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto 1st movement. Thank you though. You’ve given me so much information on the music that I didn’t know in previous episodes.

  4. Here is a funny thing. My husband’s great-grandmother’s brother worked at Shirburn Castle on the grounds in the 1840’s. They had beautiful flowers.

  5. Very interesting. I just watched this particular episode again tonight. I agree with many of your observations. This episode has some weaknesses that were not ideal, and some were used for a purpose. Personally, I don’t care to see Morse misunderstand what anyone says. Being a crossworder, an Oxford student, and so strong with language, I like to think that few clue or possible interpretations would get past him. I say this regarding the “moved over – just say he was dead” scene. OK, he is emotional and under pressure here. But still, a mind like his not grasping that the first time around annoys me. Minor complaint on my part. Please keep up the good work of the site.

    1. I think he was just crabby – why don’t people just say “dead.” It wasn’t “moved” he was complaining about, it was “moved over.” Both he and Lewis understood what that meant.

  6. Re re re watched this ep last night!

    The things you listed didn’t bother me at all, especially the cartoonishness of the upper class twits. Martin Clunes was especially good at it.

    One thing that did irk me was the idea that the photographer would try to take a photo through a window with a flash gun.

    Thought the idea that the maid could be a dancer pretty preposterous too, she just didn’t have tje physique for it, although that could all be part of the OTT nature of the character I suppose.

    Oh, and Morse got inferred and implied the wrong way round when talking about the newspaper article. He said the article inferred he was such and such, when it [the article] *implied* such and such, but *Morse* inferred it; it’s inconceivable that Morse the inveterate crossword buff would not know that.

    I love that Lewis was by the time, and had been for a while, totally unabashed, when tackling Morse on his rudeness. Lewis really grows throughout the time of Morse, believes in himself a lot more, but is still fiercely loyal to his colleague. It was also great to see him deal with the press with such ease.

    Still, I loved it. It’s Morse, what’s not to like?

    1. Glad to read this I thought I was the only one that was irked by the “inferred” slip in this one.
      There’s a similar thing in one of the Lewis episodes where Hathaway quotes “vanity of vanities” in completely the wrong way, as he would know given he was training for the priesthood.

      1. Yup, just watched this episode an hour ago or so and while watching thought Morse should have said “implied” and not “inferred”. I agree, it’s inconceivable that Morse, given what we know about him, would make such an error.

    2. I noted the implied/inferred mixup. Since I cannot imagine Morse making that mistake, I took it to mean that it’s something the reader infers. He didn’t specifically say “the article infers,” just “it’s inferred” as a standalone sentence. But I agree “implied” would have made far more sense.

  7. I don’t think Margaret Cliff the psychologist told Jessica that Lady B was her mother. My understanding was the she told Lady B that Jessica was her long lost daughter, as a means of getting her on side for her (Margaret’s)
    revenge on the Balcombe menfolk. That’s what I thought. Despite her training, Margaret focuses on revenge for her brother not, it would appear, on the welfare of others.

    In the picnic scene, Lady B tells Jessica that she’s her mother with predictable consequences.

    Billy has similarities to Morse, as it’s mentioned he failed to complete his degree at Oxford. He knows his classical music as he recognises what’s playing when they’re outside Morse’s house to take the photo. He has a certain contempt for what he considers ‘college types’ . It would be interesting to know if there were any deleted scenes where he and Morse actually spoke. Unlikely but possible.

    Morse’s aversion to having his photo taken and in the papers is first signalled in Fugue.

    1. Yes, in fact, when Morse points out to Margaret that she assumed too much in thinking Lady Balcombe could keep that secret, Margaret is horrified and that precipitates the race back to the picnic scene, where they of course arrive too late.

  8. An excellent review. You mention that Rydale’s office is at (8) New College Lane. An interesting aside, is that the house next door at 7 would have been the home of Sir Edmund/Edmond Halley, Astronomer, back in the early 18th century

  9. The visit to Nottingham to find Steven Ford’s brother: pretty sure the street Morse and Lewis drive up is Walton Well Road. You’d think for a series set in Oxford, they’d avoid filming in Oxford to portray a Nottingham location.

  10. This is a lovely blog!!! I play Lorraine in Happy Families , it is a very sweet reminder of a brilliant shoot .. what a cast .. xs

    1. Oh my God, hello Sukie, lovely to hear from you. I’m glad you enjoy my website. Would there be any chance you could write something about your experience on the set and working with John Thaw? I would love to use it as post on this website. If you want to get in contact with me personally click on the ‘contact me’ option on the top right hand side of the page. I hope you and your family are well.

  11. Morse solves the case by the fortuitous finding of Cliff’s book on the book stall at the Police Fête (or Fete, as on the poster). Only reading the note on the dust jacket, Morse realises that Cliff lied to him about where she took her PhD. Mystery solved! I hate it when a criminal is caught out purely by chance, not by clever deduction. Morse didn’t even want to go to the fête. This is similar to the chance finding of a book in Deceived by Flight which, as far as Morse is concerned, reveals the whole plot. Martin Clunes was 31-ish when this episode was made. If his character was about the same age, it seems a bit unjust that Cliff should have held him even partly responsible for the death of her brother 20 years earlier, when James would have been about 11.

    1. Also, it was such a silly and irrelevant lie. We’re supposed to think that she lied about where she did her doctorate simply because she misplaced a _pen_ that could only have come from Montreal? Who would think a pen could be tracked down like that? And wouldn’t it be easier to just say “That’s not my pen”. It’s not like it was engraved. The risk/reward for lying about _where she did her doctorate_ is way too high. That’s a lie that’s far more likely to be exposed than “That’s not my pen.”

  12. According to georgestubbs.org, and several other sites, the title of the first painting is ‘Brood Mares [plural] and Foals’.

  13. It might be just me but I’m not sure that Jessica’s reaction to finding her long lost mother would be to kill her. Wouldn’t she want to get to know her and reunite with her, especially after Lady Balcombe explained that she would never have given her away but for the fact that she was lied to? I did like the reaction of the housekeeper/dancer to meeting and speaking with Morse. Stark white hair with piercing blue eyes and class all the way – very understandable on her part!

    1. The girl was unfortunately damaged by events in the past and I assume that she blamed her ‘real’ mother for the way her life turned out. By the way, I received a nice email from Sukie Smith who played Lorraine saying that she enjoyed my website. I have asked her to write a post on her time filming the episode.

    2. I find the ending a bit ridiculous, especially with Morse and company racing to stop it. I would concede that the character of Jessica was written to be violent and volatile. But Morse’s immediate and almost timely recognition of the risk was a bit much.

  14. The worst part is that Margaret had NO way of knowing WHEN James will go check on her brother’s grave so she could shoot him. 6 JAGs

  15. I also found it somewhat dubious that a family of such immense wealth would be content to live in such a cold and dismal place that had such dreary interiors, which they could have so easily fixed up. (But then, on the other hand, Lady Emily’s husband and sons weren’t exactly creatures of any artistic sensibility, and they clearly called the shots.)

    My other reaction is what a magnificent actor Alun Armstrong is. Here he was angry and smarmy; in New Tricks he was a bit sad and eccentric; in Penny Dreadful he was kindly. In every role, he is completely believable. My mark of a good actor is one who is capable to being different in every role.

    1. Alun Armstrong has been a stalwart British character actor on British TV for many years and always brings a great talent and professionalism to all he does.

  16. Martin Clunes has said that – for a joke – he called Morse “Cheese Inspector” at one point in the episode. Can anyone spot it?

    By the way, Martin Clunes must hold some sort of record for typecasting. At this age he was always cast as posh young men. After Men Behaving Badly he was always cast as oafish layabouts. After Doc Martin he was always cast as grumpy old men. This must be a record, to be “typecast” in three different ways.

  17. What amused me watching this episode was that, despite the title “Happy Families”, it was obvious within the first 2 minutes that the various members of the family all hated each other. The very first scene shows the murderer playing the piano, and then her three victims, all together. The late great Anna Massey looked as if she was constantly sucking a slice of lemon in order to distract her from the trauma of being mother of Martin Clunes.

    I didn’t quite understand the final scene: I wasn’t sure if Jessica stabbed Lady Balcombe, or if it was Lady Balcombe who killed herself. Either way, it seemed an unnecessary addition to the rest of the story.

    The small cameo appearance by Ralph Nossek reminded me of his part in the first eve episode of “A Touch of Frost” which is my other favourite series of detective stories (along with Morse and Lewis).

    Amid the plethora of fictional murders in this episode, I was reminded of the fact that the actor Jamie Foreman (who played the photographer) is the son of the Kray-era gangster Freddie Foreman, who was tried for, and acquitted of, two murders in the 1960s.

    1. Jessica stabbed Lady Balcombe. Jessica hated her ‘real’ mother for giving her up for adoption.

  18. Hi Chris, great article… I saw this episode for the first time fairly recently when it was shown here in Australia on repeat, having never really “got” Morse in the past nor seriously watched it, but now backtracking having enjoyed all of “Lewis” and got to know and like that character and setup.

    Anyway when the shots of the Balcombe family home came up I thought, what a terrific setting, where on earth is it? Some very minor digging led me to Shirburn Castle as above, on which there was a wikipedia article but not much – see https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Shirburn_Castle&oldid=962678275 (article as at June 2020). I spent several happy weeks researching more, so far as I could, all the results put into an upgraded WP article including more photos etc. – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirburn_Castle for the present version. I think I will stop there! Note also that a fine set of pics of the castle, unnamed but unmistakeable, appear as a film location for hire at https://www.locationworks.com/library.php?reference=3808

    Now I feel I (almost) know the place, despite never having been there! (although I did live in Oxfordshire for a while, in 1974-5).

    Regards – Tony Rees, Australia

  19. I see this is a review from an earlier edition of your wonderful blog and thus imagine my comment has been made elsewhere.

    Nonetheless, the literary reference is surely Tolstoy: Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

    Warm regards from foggy Berkeley—

  20. Dear Chris. Hello from Norway. Let me first say I really enjoy your blog. Every time I’ve (re-)watched a Morse or Lewis episode, I go to your site to read your insightful comments and information. As regards “Happy Families”, have you (or anyone) any idea why James counts to ten in GERMAN (eins, zwei, drei etc.) when he’s about to dig up the corpse?

    PS. I love it when real (albeit slightly peripheral) actors from the Morse-osphere appear in your blog. Like the lovely Sukie Smith (Lorraine) and Liz Kettle (WPC “Lydia”).

    1. I am wondering the same thing, why did James count in German? I thought it might be some clue, but turned out to just be a distraction.

  21. Is Brenda Blethyn the most successful killer in Morse history? She wipes out a whole family by the end….

  22. What is the music that is playing in the kitchen when Morse and Lorraine are speaking?

  23. I quite like a lot of things about this episode (the performances, some neat plot twists) but I do think it marks a decline in quality for Daniel Boyle’s Morse scripts (for the reasons you say, Chris). For what it’s worth, my Boyle Morse scripts ranked in order are: 1 Second Time Around (peerless), 2 Deadly Slumber (excellent late-period episode), 3 Dead on Time (terrific, moving story) 4 Happy Families (see above) 5 Day of the Devil (still enjoyable but extremely silly. Very atypical Morse episode)

  24. I realize I’m late to the party, but I liked this episode, too! And you want to know why? It’s because I (sort of) accidentally read this post before I saw the whole episode. I was coming to see what you’d written about Martin Clunes as soon as I saw he was starring, but then I got sucked into reading the whole post. And I’m so glad I did! I mean, I was shocked to read whodunit, but it made watching the story unfold so much more enjoyable for me. I was able to focus on the experience as a whole, as opposed to stacking up clues in my head (and then erasing them). I know it’s crazy, but I’m going to read the blog posts first from now on! There have been so many episodes that didn’t make sense to me, but I didn’t like them enough to watch them again. Problem solved 🙂

    Also, is it just me, or is this the first episode where Morse is in this nice new office?

  25. Daniel Boyle always seems to include a bit of incongruous humour in his stories. The horribly OTT Sam Kelly character was the worst thing about ‘Second Time Around’ but didn’t spoil a great episode. This time though, there’s a bit too much of it. The two oafish Balcombe boys seem to be out a sitcom instead of a pretty dark police drama. The ‘roll-up, roll-up’ shenanigans at the summer fete don’t sit well either. Plus, I’ve never quite understood the housekeepers ‘hot-under-the-collar’ reaction after Morse’s questioning. Is she so taken with him that she’s broken out into a sweat?

  26. Another episode I have not seen for years, and unlike some, has not got better with age. The scene setting is convincing, the location stunning, the acting excellent; but once the blood starts to flow it descends into something of an Agatha parody. Set pieces in a country house and the obligatory limited range of characters just shout formulaic pap. The upstairs/downstairs angle with Lorraine seems pointless and quite why she is so flirtatious is a mystery. 248 RPA looks to be polished up this time, all that filler was made to shine! I fancy the rear view mirror simply fell off rather than was removed to clear a camera angle as suggested above, as the interior glimpses always suggest it was way past its prime. The flaky start up scene probably wasn’t the first cough the cast and crew had suffered. It had after all been pulled out of a scrapyard by the crew and bodged to make a passable mobile prop, apparently pushed by long suffering crew on more than one occasion.
    As is often the case with the lesser Morse’s, a less than convincing episode is not un-enjoyable, just less enjoyable.

    1. Loraine aka me , flirted with morse because he had Enormous star power and chutzpah … he was such a mighty man …

      1. Hello Sukie, lovely to hear from you again. I hope you are well and thank you for your comment.

  27. Not one of my favourite episodes for some reasons. Firstly, it was Morse who is supposed to not really understand children that has to point out to a psychologist the danger of Emily telling Jessica that she was supposedly her mother. Secondly, how did Margaret Cliff know he was going to the grave. I did wonder if Emily was in on it, but it was only mentioned her part in her husbands death. Third, and the biggest one for me, was an obscure book in a police station fete.

    1. Emily was in on it. She saw her son leaving and I think she let Margaret know. The whole point of the book at the fete was to refute Billy’s making fun of Morse’s reading books.

      1. I think the whole point of finding the book at the fete was so Morse could read that Margaret Cliff had attended university in Canada (on the back cover bio) and make the connection with the pen from Montreal

  28. Two issues: I thought it curious that Martin Clunes name does not appear in the cast at the start (unless this was cut to shorten the episode for broadcast). And, why did the police team have so much trouble digging up the remains of Steven Ford when the grave had previously been disturbed by his sister?

    1. Hi Alwyn. I checked on my British DVD and you’re right, Martin Clunes name is not in the credits at the beginning of the episode. Good point about Steven Ford’s grave.

      1. Martin Clunes was (not quite) a big name in 1992. Probably why he doesn’t sneak into the opening credits

  29. I’ve gone through all the Endeavors and Morse up to this episode so far. For the first time since I’ve been watching, I really couldn’t stand this one.
    It’s a 1 Jag for me, if that. None of this makes any sense.

    1. A psychologist does not comprehend the danger of leaving two mentally ill persons alone with each other.

    2. The psychologist turns out to be the murderer and there’s nothing to show how she could have committed the crimes.

    3. The psychologist lures the mentally ill woman into her murder plot – of the woman’s own family members – and then lies to her that she has located her daughter

    4. The family members are incredibly clueless; more so than usual.

    5. Journalists who are all English Literature majors at heart – bully a man for reading.

    1. Good points Carolyne. Though the journalists maybe, “all English Literature majors at heart” they are tabloid journalists who will do what they can to bring everything down to the lowest common denominator.

  30. I thought it was kind of a wink-wink nudge-nudge, after all the Masonic subplots in previous episodes, that the original murder victim in this episode is a literal stonemason!

  31. When Morse and Lewis go to Nottingham, this is in Oxford at 43A Walton Well Road, right by the Oxford canal.

  32. Another great post!
    In addition to the complaints that you wrote:
    -The scene where the young woman appears before Morse still makes no sense, even after the attempted explanation by the psychologist. By the end we realize that she had zero motivation to do that.
    – Who the true culprit was was clear long before the end.
    – That teapot gone crazy trope had already been used way too many times for it to have been repeated here.

  33. I always enjoy a “Morse” episode, even when the plot is full of holes and improbabilities, which this one surely is. I don’t want to rant too much, but how do these scripts get approved? Do people really sit around and read them and say “That sounds good, let’s go with that” ? The other posters have covered it pretty well, so I apologize if I am being repetitive here.

    The biggest hole IMHO was pointed out by Adrian. How did Dr. Cliff know that James would come out to her brother’s grave at that particular time? Was she just staking out the place night after night? And why does James count in German to find the grave? What was James doing out there anyways? He knows the police are watching the estate. The two constables were only footsteps behind him as he runs to the gravesite. What could he accomplish?

    Dr.Cliff kills three family members, two while an active police investigation is underway and the property under police guard. She bludgeons the father, tracks down and stabs one son, and then shots the other. Very talented and capable killer. Must be part of her Canadian psychology training. As Dan says, she must be the most successful killer in the Morse universe. Morse interviews her, but doesn’t really look into her background, despite the fact she lives on the estate. Bad police work, as a simple background check would have confirmed her maiden name was Ford and that she did her Ph.D. in Montreal, not Cambridge. And why did she lie about that? Did she know she left her pen behind and that it was a clue?

    Apparently that castle runs with a household staff of one, Lorraine. And the kitchen hasn’t been updated since 1915. I think I saw game hanging on the wall. Isn’t this the 1990’s?

    Who believes that any of these upper-class twits can run a top-20 business? They act like children.

    Ok, enough. I still love “Morse”, though.

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