Colin Dexter’s Memorial Service: Colin, A Jewel Who Was Ours.

Hello everyone, I hope this post finds you all well.

This post is, of course, about Colin Dexter’s memorial day . It was a sublime experience to have been part of the day. Sublime in respect of the music, the speeches and the palpable love and admiration their was for Colin during the day.

To write that I was happy and grateful to have been invited would be a huge understatement. Thank you to Sally Dexter, Colin’s daughter, and Jacqueline and Muir Gray (they were the main organizers of the memorial day) for allowing me to be part of it.

I hope you don’t find this post to lengthy. I wanted to try and give you the full experience.

All photos taken on the day and published here are the copyright of Sally Dexter. Sally very kindly emailed them to me to use in this post. Thank you Sally.

The service began at Christ Church Cathedral.

The entrance to the cathedral are the two archways that can be seen in the middle of the photograph. It is a beautiful cathedral and smaller than I expected.

On everyone’s seat was a programme of the service.

The programme confirmed what I had been told the previous week but was sworn to secrecy, Barrington Pheloung was appearing with a quintet. I actually saw Barrington at the Randolph Hotel when I came down for breakfast. He was busy talking to other people so I didn’t want to interrupt.

The inside front page included a lovely photograph of Colin at the entrance to Christ Church Cathedral.

In the cathedral I was sitting next to Celia Montague who I had met at the Town Hall that morning. Celia painted the the Colin Dexter portrait which you can see at the top of the page. She also had a part in a Morse episode, Twilight of the Gods. She played Adele Baydon,  Andrew Baydon’s (played by Robert Hardy) wife.

As the 400 plus attendees settled down the quintet began to play. It was one of my favourite pieces of music from the original Morse series and I know it is the favourite of many other Morse fans; Scubert’s String Quintet in C major, 2nd movement. The piece was used in the episode Dead on Time where we get to meet Susan the woman who broke Morse’s heart and made it difficult for any other woman to get close to Morse. It was also used in the Endeavour episode Lazaretto. Of course in the Endeavour episode Morse meets Susan’s mother and sees Susan from afar at her father’s funeral.

 

The quintet were superb and the acoustics within the cathedral were tremendous. There were a few tears while the above piece played and I have to admit my lip trembled somewhat.

The Reverend Canon Dr Edmund Newey Sub Dean of Christ Church welcomed us all to the service and then introduced the following hymn as one of Colin’s favourites.

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed,
All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call?
Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—
Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand!
While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand,
Dying, and behold, I live.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want,
More than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am;
Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart;
Rise to all eternity.

Words by Charles Wesley ( 1707 – 1788) and music by Joseph Parry (1841 – 1903)

The first guest speaker was Dr Eve Poole who knew Colin during her childhood. Dr Poole had one of Colin’s books dedicated to her and her sisters, The Secret of Annex 3, by Colin Dexter, for Elizabeth, Anna and Eve.

Here is Dr Poole’s speech,

I discovered how easy it is to get a book dedicated to you when I was about 13. All you have to do is ​gather your sisters, and gang up on ​his best mate at ​your grandfather’s funeral. And hey presto, The Secret of Annex 3, by Colin Dexter, for Elizabeth, Anna and Eve.

Everyone owns Colin now, but when I was small, I thought he was ours​. ​​Every summer the family made the long pilgrimage by train from St Andrews to Oxford, to 51 Carlton Road​,​ in S​u​mmertown. I thought they named it for us, too, because for us it only existed in the Summer. Dr Grandpa would have warned Colin of our impending arrival and, soon enough, we would see him barrelling up the street from his house round the corner. We would run to the door because we knew what he had: a box of jelly babies. He would bestow these on the three small girls with the same solemn instruction each year: don’t bite their heads off; don’t bite their feet off. We argued about this typically sph​inx-like utterance a lot in between visits, and decided probably it meant you ​​had ​to b​ite them in two lengthways​, or suck them until they dissolved​.

My father would also rush to the door, because the main purpose of Colin’s visit was to collect the weary Dundee schoolteacher and take him and his father to the Friar Bacon for his first holiday pint. As you’ll know from Morse, the pint was sacred to Colin. We have a brilliant black and white photograph of us all sitting cross-legged on the grass in the back garden, Colin in the middle clutching his pint of Flowers; us his acolytes holding up orange squash in poor imitation.

Colin was also a spy. When we were allowed to accompany the grownups on their trips to the pub, to eat ​​W​alkers crisps in the garden and drink lemonade, he would dart ahead, hiding behind trees and post boxes​, and checking that the coast was clear for us. He would hold us hard by the elbow, and tell us dreadful classical jokes full of groanworthy puns, and always he was laughing. He beamed like a turnip lantern – he was like our own personal Lincoln imp or Cheshire cat.

He was also an extremely loyal friend to my Granny, the nurse his friend ha​d​ married, who was thus addicted to Dr and Nurse Mills and Boons. After she was widowed, he visited regularly, to scandalize her with tales of ​his ​new-found fame, and to drink her favourite tipple, gin and cinzano, drunk from the tumblers Dr Grandpa got free with his mustard. Colin even sneaked it into the nursing home for her – quite the kindest thing anyone could have done to brighten up her last days.

You know my Grandpa, too. Dr Grandpa was a pathologist. He, the Ancient Historian James Holladay, and Colin would meet up in the Kings Arms every night. Service of All the Dead is dedicated to him, because he was the churchwarden at Mary Mags where it is set. Max is very like him, down to the milk-bottle specs and nasal hmm-ing. Lugubriousness personified.

So I loved it when I realized that everyone owned Colin, not just us, because that meant they KNEW. They knew about Dr Grandpa and crosswords and ​pubs and Wagner and classics and Oxford, so the rhythm of my childhood summers is forever preserved in the pages of his books.​ Thank you, Colin, for giving us Morse, and for the jelly babies.​

The next speaker was Peter Waine, Chairman of the Housman Society of which Colin was a member. Colin was a an admirer of the poet A.E. Housman and Colin used a line from a Housman poem How Clear, How Lovely Bright for the title of his last Morse novel; The Remorseful Day. 

Of course a section of the poem is quoted by John Thaw in The Remorseful Day episode. Shaun Evans also quotes from the poem in the episode, Neverland.

Peter Waine reminisced about his meetings with Colin and quoted a verse from one of Housman’s most famous poem, A Shropshire Lad.

“Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.”

Alfred Edward Housman (1859 – 1936)

He also quoted from the Housman poem, How Clear, How Lovely Bright.

Here is the full poem.

How Clear, How Lovely Bright
by
A. E. Housman

How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

After Peter Waine’s wonderful tribute we had another piece of music played by the church organist and sung by the choir. A lot of lips were trembling during this piece and some others couldn’t stop from crying. Understandably. The piece is In Paradisum by Gabriel Fauré.

This piece is of course famous in the Morse universe. It is played over the death of Morse in the episode The Remorseful Day. The piece is also played in the Endeavour series. It is played during the pilot episode when Endeavour is on the bus arriving in Oxford.

Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924)

The words of In Paradisum by Gabriel Fauré are as follows;

In paradisum deducant te Angeli:
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem.

Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
æternam habeas requiem,
æternam habeas requiem.

May the angels lead you into paradise
May the martyrs receive you
In your coming
And may they guide you
Into the holy city, Jerusalem
May the chorus of angels receive you
And with Lazarus once poor
May you have eternal rest

The next speaker was Jonathan Crowther a crossword setter and close friend of Colin.

The character of Bernard Crowther in the episode, Last Bus to Woodstock was named after him. Jonathan mentioned being taken aback that his namesake was a murder suspect. Jonathan sets some of the hardest crosswords on the planet, the Azed from the Observer newspaper.

Next we had a recording of the Beatles song, The Long and Winding Road from the Let it Be album.

The next speaker was the wonderful Kevin Whately.

Kevin with Sally Dexter.

He spoke lovingly of Colin and recounted Colin’s inability to act naturally in front of the cameras. In particular he mentioned Colin’s cameo as a college porter in the Lewis pilot episode. He said that Colin just couldn’t walk and point naturally. That particular scene is included in my tribute video below.

Kevin then read a passage from Colin’s book Death is Now my neighbour.

It was late morning, as they were walking arm-in-arm down to the city centre, following the signs to the Roman Baths, that she asked him the question:

‘Shall I just keep calling you “Morse”?’

‘I’d prefer that, yes.’

‘Whatever you say, sir!’

‘You sound like Lewis. He always calls me “sir”.’

‘What do you call him?’

‘ “Lewis”.’

‘Does he know your Christain name?’

‘No.’

‘How come you got lumbered with it?’

Morse was silent awhile before answering:

‘They both had to leave school early, my parents – and they never had much of a chance in life themselves. That’s partly the reason, I suppose. They used to keep on to me all the time about trying as hard as I could in life. They wanted me to do that. they expected me to do that. Sort if emotional blackmail, really – when you come to think of it.’

‘Did you love them?’

Morse nodded. ‘Especially my father. he drank and gambled far too much…but I loved him, yes. He knew nothing really – except two things: he could recite all of Macauley’s Lays of Ancient Rome by heart; and he’s read everything ever written about his greatest hero in life, captain Cook – “Captain James Cook, 1728 – 1779”, as he always used to call him.’

‘An your mother?’

‘ She was a gentle soul. She was a Quaker.’

‘It all adds up then, really?’ said Janet slowly.

‘I suppose so,’ said Morse.

‘Do you want to go straight to the Roman baths?’

‘What were you thinking of?’

‘Would you like a pint of beer first?’

‘I’m a diabetic, you know.’

‘I’ll give you your injection,’ she promised. ‘But only if you do me one big favour…I shan’t be a minute.’

Morse watched her as she disappeared into a souvenir shop alongside; watched the shapely legs above the high heeled shoes, and the dark, wavy hair piled high at the back of her head. he thought he could grant her almost any favour that was asked of him.

She produced the postcard as Morse returned from the bar.

‘What’s that for.’ he asked.

‘Who’s that for, you mean. That’s for Sergeant Lewis…he means a lot to you doesn’t he?’

‘What? Lewis? Nonsense!’

Morse averted his eyes from her penetrating, knowing gaze; looked down at the frothy head on his beer; and nodded.

‘Chris knows why!’

‘I want you to send him this card.’

‘What for? We’re back at work together on Monday!’

‘I want you to send him this card,’ she repeated. ‘You can send it to his home address. You see, I think he deserves to know your Christian name. Don’t you?’

MONDAY, 18th March.

On the following Monday evening, Mrs Lewis handed him the card to her husband:

‘This is for you – from Inspector Morse.’

‘You mean you’ve read it?’

‘Course I ‘ave, boy!’

Smelling the chips, Lewis made no protestations as he looked at the front of the card: an aerial view of bath, showing the Royal Crescent and the Circus. Then, turning over the card, he read Morse’s small neat handwriting on the back. What he read moved him deeply; and when Mrs Lewis shouted through from the kitchen that the eggs were ready, he took out a handkerchief from his pocket and pretended he was wiping his nose.

The car read as follows:

For philistines like you, Lewis, as well as for classical scholars like me, this city with its baths, and temples must rank as one of the finest in Europe. You ought to bring the missus here some time.

Did I ever get the chance to thank you for the few (!) contributions you made to our last case together? If I didn’t, let me thank you now – let me thank you for everything, my dear old friend.

Yours aye,

Endeavour (Morse)

I will give you all a few seconds to wipe away the tears.

Next we had Don Manley reading Psalm 121.

1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

2 My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

8 The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Up next was a great thrill. Janis Kelly who has sung on many an episode of Inspector Morse sang what is colloquially known as Laudate Dominum. The words are Psalm 117. The music is from Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K339 by Mozart.

This piece of music was used frequently in the Morse episode Fat Chance.

For those who don’t know the soprano Janis Kelly here is some information.

The Glasgow born actor and singer is the voice of Rosalind Stromming in the Endeavour Pilot episode. She is the voice in Endeavour singing from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, ‘Un bel de’ (One Beautiful Day).

In the  Endeavour pilot episode she is also the soprano voice at 27m42s singing ‘Signora, Ascolta’ from Puccini’s Turandot. (This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Volume 2 also sung by Janis Kelly and used in the Morse episode ‘The Death of the Self’ first aired 25th march 1992. Yes guys, THAT episode).

Also from the Endeavour episode the soprano is Janis Kelly singing ‘Terzettino ‘Soave Sia Il Vento’ by Mozart. (This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Volume 2 also sung by Janis and used in the Morse Episode ‘Happy Families’ first aired 11th march 1992)

Janis Kelly’s voice is also heard in the following episodes of Morse:

  • The Day of the Devil’ first aired 13th January 1993. She was the soprano voice singing ‘Adieu Notre Petite Table’ from Manon by Jules Massenet. This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Volume 3).
  • The Death of the Self’ first aired 25th March 1992. Janis is the voice of Francis Barber’s character Nicole Burgess.
  • Cherubim and Seraphim’ first aired 15th April 1992. Janis is the soprano singing ‘Che Faro Senza Eurydice’ by Von Gluck. This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Volume 2.
  • Absolute Conviction’ first aired on the 8th April 1992. Janis sings ‘Mitradi Quell’ Alma Ingrata’ by Mozart. This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Volume 2.
  • Masonic Mysteries’ first aired on the 24th January 1990. Janis sings ‘Bei Mannern’ – Welche Liebe Fuhlen’ by Mozart from The Magic Flute. This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Volume 3.
  • Promised Land’ first aired on the 27th march 1991. Janis sings ‘Hab’mir’s Gelobt’ from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Volume 3.
  • Second Time Around’ first aired 20th February 1991. Janis Kelly sings ‘Senza Mamma’ from Suor Angelica by Puccini. This piece can be found on the CD Inspector Morse Vol. 1.

What a wonderful thrill to hear Janis live.

We next heard from The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy Dean of Christ Church. After this we had more prayers which included ; Our Father Who Art in heaven’.

Then we had the hymn Abide with Me.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me

Next we had the Dean of Christ Church giving a blessing;

The eternal God bless us and keep us, guard our bodies, save our souls and bring us to that heavenly country, our eternal home, where he ever reins, and the blessing of God Almighty, the father, the son. and the Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you this day and for evermore. Amen.

Finally the quintet played the Morse theme. That piece of music created many a tear.

After the service we all went to the Town Hall for the Civic Reception. The programme was as follows.

Yours truly leaving Christ Church.

Laurence Fox 

Sally Dexter and her mother, Dorothy.

I wish I had had the opportunity to record all the speeches but I unfortunately didn’t. I did write to ask Val McDermid if I could have a copy of her speech but she had just kept bullet points as aide memoirs. All the speeches were very good and mine was passable.

To be honest I can barely remember giving my speech. You be the judge. Here is my speech:

When I was an arrogant, angry young man many, many years ago, I could never understand why people could get so upset over the death of their favourite pop star or actor etc. My thinking was that they had never met the person who had died. I thought they may think they knew the person and their only interaction they had with the person they admired was watching their movies, listen to their music or read their books.
Of course when I got older and people that I had admired from afar passed away I began to understand why we as fans and admirers mourn that person like they were a close friend. In the case of Colin I never had the privilege to meet him but I have ‘known’ him for nearly 40 years having bought his first novel. Last Bus to Woodstock around 1980. The only other relationship that equates with that length of time is the one with my parents.
What I came to realize over the years through the deaths of people I admired was that their death was only part of the hurt one feels. Colin’s death was a bitter blow but the feeling of loss was compounded by the realisation that we will have no more of Colin’s novels, no more short stories or lectures and no more of those adorable, lovely cameos he made in the Morse related TV shows. That is why I believe that those who never met Colin but admired him feel profoundly saddened and emotional about his passing.
But we can and should re-read his novels, thanks to websites like Youtube we can watch some of his lectures and of course we can and should re-watch all three TV series to not only enjoy the episodes but to play the game that of his fans play, where is Colin.
On the subject of those cameo I have created a short compilation video of just a few of them. Enjoy.

Anyway, here are some photos taken during the Civic Reception.

Philip Pullman

Val McDermid

Kevin watching my video.

As a parting gift, Sally Dexter, Jacqueline and Muir Gray gave everybody the following items;

The above was published in 2007 by The Mysterious Bookshop. It is Colin being interviewed. I will scan and publish this soon.

Also part of the gift pack was a postcard of the Celia Montague painting. There was also;

I hope you all enjoyed this post and it help give you a flavour of the day. My next post will be some short location videos I did while in Oxford and also a video of inside the Randolph Hotel.

I am still awaiting answers back from Angela Griffin and Dakota Blue Richards regrading the Q & A.

Author: Chris Sullivan

With the death of my father a few years ago I have became my mum's full time carer. I am also in the process of writing a book on the TV series, Lewis.

14 thoughts

  1. Thank you so much – what a wonderful summary of the day. How lovely to be invited and even more so to be part of the occasion- of course I recognise some of the people in the photos (Shaun, Abigail,Kevin and Laurence) but it would be nice to have the pix captioned if you can (I appreciate they are not all your photos)

  2. That’s beautiful and a wonderful thing Sir, thank you for letting us share it with you. And you are now part of the Legacy and legend that was and is Colin Dexter.

  3. many thanks for sharing Chris. how moving.i havent seen video yet due to bad connection but yr speech is lovely. not meaning to be nasty but noted you spelled Shaun as Shawn and their where you mean there (at the beginning of yr post). are we allowed to usr the photos? thanks again for sharing in such detail, very much appreciated!

      1. O.k., of course, fair enough. Fortunately people can see them on your blog. I have watched the video now, very well done. From the photo of Kevin watching it I gather that it was well appreciated by the people at the service too. Thank you once again for your lovely report.

  4. My dear Christopher.
    Yes, I have shed now a few tears while being on your wonderful BLOG and reading your Report from Colin Dexter’s Memorial Service last week. You have done an amazing and beautiful job. Thank you for letting us also be a part of that Memorial for Colin. I adore your videos and each of the photos you shared with us here.
    A word to your speech. I loved it, and I understand so well how you felt while writing it. Unfortunatelly I am not a native English speaker and in occasions like these, I am at a loss for words. As you know, I came only a few months ago to know about the universe of Colin’s Inspector MORSE, LEWIS and ENDEAVOUR – yet I can so well understand what it means to loose an idol !
    It touched my heart deeply to know that Sally Dexter has personally invited you – that you had been able to talk to Kevin Whately and if I recognized well, there was also “Shaun Evans, Abigail Thaw, Laurence Fox, Sheila Hancock and many more invited to attend the Service.
    I am myself a webmaster and been invited to attend the funeral of the late French author Juliette Benzoni in 2016. It is no shame to feel like you had lost a close member of the family – it shows what a great and délicieux (as the French say) man you are.
    Thank you again for all you do in memory of two great personalities – that of Colin Dexter and John Thaw.
    I am looking forward to come by from time to time to stay on your Blog for updates.
    Best to you, Linda from Zürich/Switzerland

  5. Wow. This is deeply moving. How wonderful to be there. Very cool, that photo of Kevin & Shaun together 😉 Hearing Janis Kelly – O.M.G.. The mention of Robert Hardy gave my upper lip an additional tremble. But Kevin reading the excerpt about that postcard – well… Thank you…

  6. Hello Chris and thank you for sharing your post on what looked to be a wonderful and poignant day. Your speech was touching and your video appeared to go down very well!
    I was lucky enough to meet Colin whilst staying at The Randolph in 2012 and was struck by his naturally gracious persona and a genuine interest in my opinion on the education system in the West Midlands – ever the scholar! How honoured you are to have been invited to speak, an integral part of this wonderful occasion.
    As always, thank you for your detailed and informative posts. Please continue for as long as it gives you pleasure, your efforts are much appreciated.
    Sarah

  7. I’m so jealous. I was standing outside Christ Church Cathedral during the service and didn’t know it was going on. I later went on a tour and the guide said she was there. She sat by Laurence Fox. He told her that a Hathaway series may be a real possibility. Someone else on the creative staff said the same thing. Here’s hoping! Some of the people on the tour saw the actors. I had a pint in the Randolph Morse Bar before the tour but didn’t see anyone. I guess I have to be happy with knowing I was in the same city. It’s a great place to visit. I used your pub crawl. Thanks for that. All the pubs I visited were so amazing and the food was wonderful.

  8. That was a lovely account, I am so pleased you got to be part of that wonderful day. I know it will stay with you forever.

  9. Thank you so very much for this lovely report. I can only imagine what an emotional experience it must have been for you, actually being there, because it was so much so for me, just reading about it, and listening to the music, reading the speeches, looking at the pictures. You did so very well with your own words of tribute.
    Again, thank you for letting us be a part of it with you, and letting us see it through your eyes.

  10. This was an absolutely beautiful and eloquent, appreciative and heartwarming account of what was obviously the perfect memorial to this wonderful man. His work has brought a great deal of enjoyment to us all, and now your writing has as well. Thank you!

Leave a Reply