Absolute Conviction: S6E4. Review, Music, Locations, Literary References etc.

Hello fellow Morsonians. Thank you to everyone for your kind thoughts regrading my situation. Thank you for the emails, comments and also for simply visiting my website and reading my posts. I am feeling better and the doctor is setting up visits to a counsellor.

Anyway, let’s get on to something more important, a review of the Morse episode Absolute Conviction.


Chronologically this is episode 24. (Series 6 episode 4).

First broadcast in the UK on 8th April 1992.

This episode is not based on a Colin Dexter novel.

Where’s Colin?

Colin appears at 35 minutes and 29 seconds. He is in the chapel listening to a sermon by Brian Thornton.

I think Colin also makes an appearance near the beginning of the episode (1 minute 48 seconds). I believe that is Colin cleaning the aisle of the church.

He also appears again at about 15 and a half minutes when he is removed from the church by the chaplain.


Directed by Antonia Bird (1951–2013): Antonia only directed one episode in the Morse series.

Written by John Brown (1944-2006): John only wrote one episode for the Morse series.


The death of Lawrence Cryer in Farnleigh prison leads Morse and Lewis into a game of follow the money. Lawrence Cryer was one third of a trio, the others being Alex Bailey and Brian Thornton, who were imprisoned for fraud. The trio swindled many investors of millions of pounds including many small investors who lost everything in the property fraud.

Was he killed by the born again Christian Brian Thornton or is Alex bailey hoping to keep the millions of pounds that are rumoured to be lying in a bank in some foreign country for himself.

Cadet officer DS Cheetham believes the key to the case is in finding out where the money is and is hoping that any success will fast track future promotions.

Meanwhile another inmate of HMP Farnleigh knows Morse from when he was arrested on the charge of murder sixteen years previously of which Charlie continues to insist he is innocent.

As Lewis and Cheetham do their best to solve the case and to impress Morse, he finds himself finding it difficult to motivate himself to solve the case as he cares not a jot about the three fraudsters. However, he is interested and attracted to the governor of Farnleigh prison, Hilary Stephens.

(warning, this review may contain some spoilers)

As with so many of the Morse episodes this one is littered with many great British character actors; Diana Quick, Richard Wilson, Tony Steedman, Steven Mackintosh,  Sue Johnston. Jim Broadbent, Phil Davis and Sean Bean, (who for once doesn’t die). It is a smorgasbord of great British talent and what helps to make this a great episode.

Is it a perfect episode? No! As David Bishop wrote in his wonderful book The Complete Inspector Morse “This story is efficient, rather than engaging, while the endless red herrings and false trails begin to frustrate the viewer”. David is absolutely correct but where I would disagree is in it becoming frustrating. In fact I remember when I first watched this episode all the ‘red herrings and false trails’ had me watching the episode even more intently to try and see if I could correctly identify the killer of Lawrence Cryer. I didn’t. The final murder also came as a shock. As intently as I was in watching the episode I didn’t see the anagram clue.

Morse is out of his comfort zone in this episode and John Thaw portrays that sublimely. He runs the gamut of emotions from anger to pleasure, frustration to satisfaction, embarrassment to confidence and self deprecation to praising both Lewis and Cheetham on their good work.

The direction is solid and Antonia Bird allowed the camera to linger on scenes to allow the viewer to enjoy the moments. All too often directors feel the need to edit a scene with close ups and quick edits but Antonia refrained from doing that. One scene that illustrates it beautifully is when Hilary Stephens meets Morse outside the chapel after hearing him sing.

Watch the clip and then read my analysis of the scene below. Let me know if you agree with what I have written.

Morse is often thought of as a loner even though we know he does occasionally sing in a choir (Dead of Jericho) or take part in an opera (Masonic Mysteries). He comes across as rather stand offish but here we see him engaging with another choir member in conversation. We normally only see Morse in conversation with other policeman or people he is investigating or the occasional girlfriend.

Up to this point Hilary Stephens has looked upon Morse as officious and giving off an air of superiority. This superiority could have been maintained if he stayed above her on one if the stone steps. However, Morse comes down to where she stands and any thoughts she may have had regarding his sense of superiority are gone.

As Morse approaches Hilary we can only get a side view of her face and not much of that. But we do see her head tilt to the side in an almost playful coquettish way. She is displaying a slight embarrassment in finding out Morse sings and trying to show sympathy and a touch of empathy by titling her head.

She now sees Morse in a different light. She can barely stop smiling. Her appearance at the choir meeting and her subsequent desire to tell Morse how much she not only enjoyed his singing but that she was almost in tears puts Morse on the back foot. Morse doesn’t know how to react to her praise other than bashfulness and self deprecation. He tries to distract himself by wrapping his coat around himself like a protective barrier. He then puts his hands in his pockets as if trying to control himself, to stop himself from from becoming tactile.

But, Morse breaks what could have become a romantic scene by asking her “Why have you come?” He could have asked her to join him for a drink to continue the sexual energy that was in the air but his police curiosity won the day. He was not in control of the situation, Hilary was and this was his way of regaining his composure and some measure of control.

The subplot of the rivalry between Cheetham and Lewis is well acted and well written. Each officer is vying to not only solve the case but are vying for the favour of Morse. In what must be one of the funniest endings to a Morse episode, Lewis gets a feeling of oneupmanship over Cheetham.

There will be spoilers in the clip below.

Episode Jag Rating – out of 10.



Death and the Maiden Quartet for Strings by Franz Schubert. Morse is at home while Lewis works at the police station.


String Quartet in C Minor, D 703 – Allegro assai by Franz Schubert. Morse and DS Cheetham drive to Roland Sherman’s house.


Death and the Maiden Quartet for Strings by Franz Schubert. Music being played by Roland Sherman.

Another section of the Death and the maiden was used in the Endeavour episode Canticle.


Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18: Allegro scherzando. (The section used starts about halfway through the piece in the video).


Mi tradi quell’alma ingrata aria from Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Morse and Lewis drive to interview Emma Cryer.


Chorale: Erkenne mich, mein Huter (St Matthew Passion) by Johann Sebastian Bach. Morse singing with the choir.


Chorale: Erkenne mich, mein Huter (St Matthew Passion) by Johann Sebastian Bach. Morse is in his car outside Farnleigh Prison.

Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion has also been used in the Morse episode, Who Killed Harry Field? It was also used in the Endeavour episodes, Trove, Sway, and Neverland. 

For a music list for all Episodes of Morse Series with Downloadable PDF & Excel Sheet, click here.

Literary References.


While Morse and Cheetham are having a drink Morse says, “Liberty plucks justice by the nose.” This is from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Act one, Scene three.

Duke Vincentio talking to Friar Thomas:

For terror, not to use, in time the rod
Becomes more mock’d than fear’d; so our decrees,
Dead to infliction, to themselves are dead;
And liberty plucks justice by the nose;
The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum.


Ar around one hour and 16 minutes Morse and Ms Stephens are met by the college chaplain. He says to Ms Stephens “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” When he leaves she asks Morse what he said, Morse replies, “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase found in the work of the Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires.



The governor’s office is full of paintings but unfortunately I can only only identify a few as the others are never shown in enough detail. First we have a large painting behind her desk.

Thank you to Kathleen Avalone who noticed that the above is a print of Prisoners’ Round by and Vincent Van Gogh and not  Exercise Yard at Newgate prison by Gustave Doré, 1872 as I originally thought.

The governor moves toward Morse and Lewis and we see this painting.

This is Vincent Van Gogh’s L’Arlesienne: Madame Ginoux with Books.

The above painting is one of a series of six that Van Gogh painted, five while in an asylum.

Hilary Stephens invites Morse and Lewis to sit. On the wall behind her is another Van Gogh.

This painting is Agostina Segatori Sitting in the Cafe du Tambourin. Like the previous painting this woman is a cafe owner. Vincent paid many cafe owners for food and drink by way of his paintings.

What were the set designers trying to convey with the use of two Van Gogh paintings? That the ‘lunatics’ were taking over the ‘asylum’.

In Roland Sherman’s house there is a large mural in one of the rooms.

This is based on Roy Lichtenstein’s painting  Whaam!

Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Whaam!’ 1963



Time – 33m27s

Pub – The Greyhound Inn, Stocks Rd, Aldbury, Hertfordshire HP23 5RT


Pub Today –

greyhound inn

Location –

Greyhound Inn map

Info – This pub was also used as a location (see pic below) for the 1969 film Crossplotstarring Roger Moore. (clicking on the film name will take you to Youtube page where you can watch the full film.


Time – 42m55s

I believe this is the  The Greyhound Inn, Stocks Rd, Aldbury, Hertfordshire. See information above.


At 50 minutes and ten seconds Lewis is chasing after Charlie Bennet. They pass through a pub.


The Bear Inn, 6 Alfred St, Oxford OX1 4EH.

Pub Today –


Location –

bear inn map

Info –  Said to be one of the oldest pubs in Oxford, with a history that can be traced back to around 1242.


First up we have the location of Farnleigh Prison.

The actual location is HMP Prison Grendon Springhill, Grendon Underwood, Buckinghamshire, England, UK.

In the episode there are a few scenes in what one has to assume as the prison church.

HMP Gendon Prison does have a church within its grounds so I assume they used that location.


Next we have the home of Emma Cryer, the dead man’s wife.

The location is Rossway Park, Rossway, Berkhamsted HP4 3TZ.

The only picture I could find of Rossway Houyse was this below.



The village Morse and Cheethem drive through at around 39 minutes ,

is  Aldbury in Hertfordshire.



Morse and Lewis are on their way to visit Emma Cryer.

The above is Merton Street.


In the same scene as above Lewis follows Charlie Bennett into Oxford’s covered market.


At one hour and 14 minutes Morse is singing with the choir.

This is the chapel at Eton College, Eton, Berkshire.



Morse  and Lewis interview Brian Thornton in what is supposedly the gardens of the prison.

The actual location is Slough Nurseries, Slough in Berkshire. This location doesn’t appear to exist anymore or maybe goes by another name.



At the beginning of the episode the camera pans around Alex Bailey’s (Sean Bean) cell. On the wall there is a newspaper clipping which has the headline “£40,000 a year for changing light bulbs.”

In the next scene we see a prison chaplain changing a light bulb in his church. Co-incidence? I doubt it.


In Roland Sherman’s house there is a large mural on one of the walls.

This is a depiction of the Hindenburg disaster that occurred on May 6, 1937 in New Jersey, United States.



Morse and Charlie Bennett are having a cup of tea in a cafe in the covered market.

This is the same cafe used as a location in the Endeavour episode Cartouche.

At 53 minutes and 40 seconds during the scene in the cafe, Charlie Bennett recalls how kind Morse had been when he was being interviewed about the death of his wife. Charlie relates that Morse had brought him a cup of tea. Morse replies that he must have been told to as he had just been made sergeant. From a previous conversation we know Charlie Bennett had been in prison for 16 years. The episode was filmed around 1991/92 so that would mean Morse was made sergeant around 1975/76. However in the Endeavour series he was made sergeant in 1967. Even considering the time it probably took the courts to bring Bennett to trial and then the trial itself, let’s say two years, then that still shows a discrepancy in the timeline.


The conductor of the choir that Morse sings with is Barrington Pheloung

Barrington is of course the man who wrote the music for the Morse, Lewis and most of the Endeavour series. He also was the conductor and arranger of those pieces by other composers.

This is Barrington again in the background holding the music sheet.


In the episode Alex Bailey sneers at Thornton’s act of being a born again Christian by saying “Ah, how could I forget the life of Brian.” A reference of course to Monty Pythons wonderful comedy film, Life of Brian.


When Morse says to Lewis, “We go directly to jail, Lewis.” he is of course referencing the board game, Monopoly.


In Memoriam.

The director of the episode Antonio Bird; 1951- 2013.

Image result for antonia bird


John Brown the writer of the episode,  1944 – 2006.


James Grout as Chief Superintendent Strange (1927–2012)


Preston Lockwood who played the college chaplain, (1912–1996)


Tony Steedman who played Lawrence Cryer, 1927 – 2001


Thank you to Ronan who relayed the  sad news that James Aubrey who played the pathologist died in 2010. (1947 – 2010)



Actors who appeared this episode and an episode of Lewis and/or Endeavour.

Diana Quick who played the governor Hilary Stephens,

also appeared in the Lewis episode, Dark Matter as Gwen Raeburn.



The two murders in this episode were committed by Charlie Bennett.

Charlie’s first victim was Lawrence Cryer;

Charlie said that the murder was actually an accident. Charlie and Lawrence struggled after Lawrence caught Charlie in Alex Bailey’s room.

The murder he did admit to was that of Roland Sherman;

Charlie killed Roland by injecting him in the chest with digitalis.


Sean Bean as Alex Bailey

Richard Wilson as Brian Thornton

David Fielder as Prison Chaplain

Susan Doran as Young Doctor

Luke Williams as George Newcombe

Robert Pugh as Geoff Harris – Prison Officer

Diana Quick as Hilary Stephens

Tony Steedman as Lawrence Cryer

Cheryl Hall as Laura – Secretary


David Howey as Dr. Stephen James Archer

James Aubrey as Pathologist

Steven Mackintosh as DS Cheetham

Jim Broadbent as Charlie Bennett

Richard Hampton as Coroner

Jonathan Firth as Peter Thornton

Suzanna Hamilton as Emma Cryer

Pete Lee-Wilson as Paul – Journalist

James Grout as Chief Superintendent Strange

Paul Dalton as Rob – Photographer

Phil Davis as Roland Sherman

Sue Johnston as Mrs. Bailey

Kevin Walsh as Andy Metcalfe

June Watson as Mrs. Harris

Preston Lockwood as College Chaplain

Georgia Mitchell as Doctor in Casualty


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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.

13 thoughts

  1. You wrote: This is a print of an painting of prisoners in the Exercise Yard at Newgate prison by Gustave Doré, 1872. I think this is Prisoners Round by Van Gogh?

  2. An interesting episode, just to add some trivia perhaps, Stephen Macintosh played DS Cheetham the Chief Constable’s nephew, which seemed to get Morse’s back up! – as a Detective Sergeant he would have hardly have been a ‘cadet’. (Richard Wilson also played a Detective Inspector filling in for Garfield Morgan in the Sweeney in one episode), Richard of course being in this episode, so a chance to work again with John Thaw. Charlie Bennett (Jim Broadbent’s character) in Absolute Conviction was also referred to as ‘Guildford’ by Sean Bean’s character, as a cruel joke because he was always claiming innocence for his crime, ‘the Guildford 1’ DS Cheetham blotted his copybook early on in the episode with an unauthorised wire tap on a suspect in the investigation. A good episode which I personally liked, very convoluted!

  3. Chris, this is an excellent overview of this episode and I enjoyed reading. I recall in this episode that Morse accidentally refers to Cheetham as “Lewis”, when he is walking up a path with Cheetham and says “I need a drink Lewis”. Has anyone else spotted that?

    In general, for me, all the episodes stand as an indelible testimony to the genius of John Thaw and his supremely evocative portrayal of this complex character, which pulls on our heart strings to this day. All of us can relate on a human level to Morse and he continues to make us feel safe and to inspire us to persevere through adversity.

    1. Hi Andrew and welcome to my website. I did notice the mention of ‘Lewis’. It was intentional and in the script. I think the idea was that no matter how much Cheethem tries to impress Morse he will never replace Lewis. Lewis will always be who Morse turns to.

  4. What about the reference to the nickname “Guildford”? I’m assuming its to Lord Guildford Dudley’s execution by Bloody Mary and his innocence in the plot of Lady Jane Grey, right?

    1. Hi Gene. The ‘Guildford’ nickname is in reference to the Guildford 4. The Guilford 4 were four men imprisoned for bombings. They always professed their innocence and eventually their convictions were quashed.

      1. Ha. My historian’s brain went right to the historical! Thanks for the info.

  5. Thought the name Cheetam was appropriate for one who so easily had the phone tapped to impress Morse.. .he was a cheater!

    Loved it when Morse said, I need a beer Lewis.

    Also thought the director did a great long pan of Morse leaning against a wall while waiting for the Governess to complete her phone conversation after choir practice. We caught Morse having a think, and great profile shot of him

  6. I hope you do some more of these. I’m a first time watcher of the Morse series and I’m really enjoying them and your website is the perfect companion to the series. Especially great for finding out where I know various character actors from.

  7. Didn’t James Aubrey, who played the pathologist in this episode, die back in 2010 ? Another for the in memoriam section sadly.

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