SHAUN EVANS may well be the most modest actor on television. This of course is no bad thing but after five years as the lead on one of ITV’s most successful crime dramas, Endeavour, he turns out to be the last person to crow about his efforts. So we will do it on his behalf. Not only has Evans now successfully inhabited the shoes of John Thaw as Endeavour Morse but he has completely won over the viewing public, too.
By DAVID STEPHENSON - SUNDAY EXPRESS
The most recent films were broadcast last year, marking the 30th anniversary of Inspector Morse on ITV. Despite strong competition from BBC One, it got impressive ratings with almost seven million viewers, or a quarter of the available audience. That’s the highest since 2014.
The show, not surprisingly, was recommissioned for a fifth series, returning tonight, with the first of six films. That’s two more than last year, or 12 hours of television. Only ITV’s Vera rivals Endeavour for popularity when it comes to the single detective, now surely classed as a “minority group” on TV.
I catch up with ITV’s most cherished young detective while he’s filming in a field for another project, with a minor gale blowing around his ears.
As ever Evans wears lightly the prospect of two extra films: “Well, as an actor you have to make sure that you keep the freshness over the long shoot.”
Which indeed they do, with another quality production design, picking up the splendid period detail from 1968, the year in which the first story is set.
“Without a doubt everyone in the crew loves the show,” says Evans. “Each year, at end of the shoot, we talk about the series because it is not like we’re signed to six-year contracts on the drama. It doesn’t work like that.
“You have to make sure you have good viewing figures. Everyone on it is committed to keeping the excellence of the work: the actors, directors and the execs. And pretty much, the same crew has been on it since the start.”
In the first film, past and present collide in Oxford as the auction of a priceless Fabergé Egg attracts the attention of an infamous international thief – and the newly christened Thames Valley Constabulary.
But they soon have a bigger case to solve, as the gruesome death of a known gangster threatens to expose the growing threat of underworld Oxford.
Meanwhile, newly-promoted Endeavour, who has passed his sergeant’s exams, struggles as he is forced to mentor young Detective Constable George Fancy (Lewis Peek). He’s also sharing a flat with his sparring partner and colleague, Sergeant Jim Strange (Sean Rigby).
“That was a great idea from [writer] Russell [Lewis],” says Evans. “I took a little convincing but I think it works really well. A really comic thing. The lease was up on Endeavour’s place, so he asked me to move in. ”
And the new character, DC Fancy? Endeavour apparently takes a dim view. “He just doesn’t want to take responsibility for anyone else. That’s about it. He wants to do his own thing.” So much so in this fi lm that one character tells Endeavour he would be a spectator at his own funeral.
Explains Evans: “That’s about getting involved. Sometimes your intellect can stop you doing things. That’s how I take what she is saying; that it takes bravery to get involved and be open.”
The episode also sees the return of Fred Thursday’s daughter, but Endeavour’s apparent inability to make a romance work continues. In the episode, he is taken to task by a “common prostitute”, a tirade which appears to strike home.
“There’s a little bit of [romantic] action,” he reveals. “Not before time, if you ask me. It is interesting as well. It shows you another side of the character. He is a young man in 1968.
“Joan Thursday [Sara Vickers] is still part of the story. His involvement with other women is a subconscious knee-jerk reaction to the history between him and Joan. He’s trying to find his place in the world and who he’s going to spend it with.
“His relationships with other women show a slightly more rounded version of the character. I think it is OK to surprise people.”
And surprise seems the order of the day when it comes to the whole series. Evans isn’t committing to any great upheavals but writer Russell Lewis is contributing more to the debate.
He says: “A terrible storm is set to blow through the professional and personal lives of newly promoted Detective Sergeant Endeavour Morse and Oxford’s finest, leaving devastation in its wake.”
The first episode certainly points to clues about the future. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) appears to have endured quite enough of the Swinging Sixties mid-episode. He sits in his living room chair, whisky in hand, deciding if it is the right time to hand in his badge. Surely not? And end years of Twitter speculation about what his wife has packed in his legendary sandwiches?
Evans does nothing to dampen the speculation. Are we, I suggest, set for a tumultuous series? “It’s all change and all the cards have been thrown into the air,” he replies. “There’s going to be a big change... It’s a slow burn until the final episode.”
When I suggest that Detective Thursday appears out of sorts, he replies: “I’d like to say, but you’re going to have to wait to see how it unfolds.”
While speculation simmers, he notes that since the last series we saw the death of Colin Dexter, the creator of the original Inspector Morse books.
A frequent visitor to the set, Dexter is much missed: “It was very sad to lose him. But Colin was still in our thoughts as we made this series. We want to try and stay as true to his original vision as possible while also taking it in new directions.
“There was something brilliant about having Colin on hand. When we first started he’d go through all the scripts with a fine-tooth comb, not unlike myself. And he wasn’t backward in coming forward about expressing his opinions. We were very fortunate to have that.”
We discuss the popularity of the series. “Modesty” Evans takes over: “It is testimony to all of the people who make Endeavour, the writer Russell Lewis and all of the actors involved. Also the producers, directors, costume, make-up and the guest artists. Everyone brings their top game to Endeavour. We’re very lucky. I’m glad people love it because that is our intention.”
Shaun Evans obviously inherited the character, albeit in prequel form, from much-loved actor John Thaw. But does he feel he’s made his own mark?
“I come in and do my day’s work,” says Evans, “and hopefully people will enjoy it. Having never seen the previous ones [starring Thaw], I couldn’t say, but I’m very proud of the work I’ve done. We try to breathe life into the character and tell stories. I’m just lucky to be working; I’m not trying to leave a legacy.”