14 MARCH 1992, Page 47


Morse the pity

Martyn Harris

Inspector Morse is a cult, which means it is impossible to argue for or against it, or ever to understand why anybody should watch it. 'But it's so smug and hammy and badly plotted and plodding,' I say to Morse morons, and they giggle and hug them- selves and say, 'Yes, isn't it wonderful !'

At the start of last week's episode (ITV, 8 p m., Wednesday) in a fit of indignation I wrote down a piece of dialogue between batty old Lady Emily, who is• brushing her hair, and her nasty rich husband:

He: 'Brush, brush, brush. Ha! I don't know why you bother. You're getting old just like the rest of us.' She: 'What a cruel, cruel man you are!' He: 'Better a cruel than a foolish one!'

Can't they see this is bad writing, I ask the Morse morons in my house, and they say 'Yes, isn't it wonderful?'

So the next thing I do is make a careful note of the plot. This involves the murder of the nasty husband, followed by the mur- der of his two nastier sons, followed by the murder of Lady Emily by a nutty girl she believes is her illegitimate daughter. Morse thinks the killer is first one son, then the other, then the brother of a murdered stonemason who once had an affair with Lady Emily.

When he lights, completely by chance, upon the real killer, it turns out to be a kindly psychiatrist lady living in a cottage on the estate, who has had little to do so far with the rambling storyline, but is now the only member of the cast left alive, apart from Sergeant Lewis. This nice, plump, middle-aged lady, we are asked to believe, has beaten the brains out of two strong men and shot a third, for no better motive than that she thinks this carnage will secure Lady Emily's inheritance for the nutty girl, who is actually no relation at all. 'It is all

too idiotic for words,' I say, and the Morse

morons say; 'Yes, isn't it wonderful!' I think they are just pretending, like the peo-

ple who pretend to like jazz, or Star Trek, or tofu, or any other obviously awful prod- uct — and for the same reason, which is to irritate their friends.

The Camomile Yawn, as a colleague unkindly dubbed it, has been much better over the first two episodes (Channel 4, 9 p.m., Friday) than it deserved to be. Mary Wesley is only a modestly gifted writer who derives an inflated reputation from her knack of injecting insouciant sexuality into nostalgic evocations of the 1940s. Brief Encounter without briefs would be a rea- sonable summary of this formula, but solid acting plus gorgeous sets and Peter Hall's pacy direction save the series from whimsy.

Too much time has been spent already in bickering over whether a well-brought-up chap in 1939 would really use the F-word to a woman, and I am sure it is false sophistication which pretends to be bored by sex on screen. For myself I can take quite a lot of Jennifer Ehle (Calypso) and Tara Fitzgibbon (Polly) without any clothes on, though my wife complains, justly I think, about the camera's more modest glimpses of Toby Stephens (Oliver) and Nicholas Le Prevost (Hector). The former we see only in bathing trunks, vigorously sucking in a stomach which seems too com- fortable for one so recently returned from the Spanish Civil War. Hector we see only from the rear, as he micturates in his rail- way sleeping car, and while my wife thought his buttocks acceptable, we both wondered if this was credible behaviour. Would a 1939 officer in the Brigade of Guards really pee in the sink while a lady was present? Letters please, with personal recollections where possible.