ITV Magazine - New Year 2019
Fans of the nostalgic detective series are in for a treat on Sunday evenings as an approaching new decade is marked by Seventies moustaches and more aggressive policing. Buckle in… Endeavour is back
There’s something going down in the heart of Oxford. Around the corner comes Police Chief Superintendent Reginald Bright, hugging the limestone wall. He’s followed by a menacing-looking man in a trench coat, who withdraws a bladed weapon. At the other end of the street is another thug with a bulbous nose and peaked cap. For fans of Endeavour, ITV’s prequel to Inspector Morse, things are about to get very real.
‘It’s like a cowboy shoot-out’, grins Anton Lesser, the actor who plays Bright, as passers-by on bicycles weave around the crew. To say more about Bright’s fate would constitute spoiler territory but, suffice to say, the sixth season of Endeavour offers a major sea-change for the law-enforcers of Oxford City Police CID. The year is 1969 and a new decade is fast approaching.
‘At the end of last season, we all go our separate ways’, explains a suited-and-booted Shaun Evans, the actor who has effortlessly slipped into John Thaw’s brogues to become our eponymous hero, the younger Endeavour Morse. For those in need of a recap, Icarus, the final episode of season five, saw the announcement that Cowley Police Station was set to close, with the dissolution of the Oxford City Police and merger with Thames Valley Constabulary.
‘The idea was to ring the changes with a creative refresh’, admits producer Deanne Cunningham. ‘Certainly, in episode one, viewers will find it’s quite different from where we left them. Everybody’s torn asunder, in separate places’. With all left reeling after the death of DC George Fancy, DS Morse is back in uniform (now complete with a Seventies ‘tache) overseeing a country police station in the ‘one-horse town’, as Shaun puts it, of Woodstock.
Bright, meanwhile, has been reduced to organizing traffic. ‘It’s a come-down for him. His authority is undermined’, says Anton. He also has changes in his personal life, with viewers introduced to Mrs. Bright (Carol Royle) after years of veiled references to her.
‘Everything in his world is reversing and collapsing, and therefore becoming much more interesting and complex’, he continues. ‘It’s what I’ve been waiting for years! I’ve been saying, “Let’s see a bit more of the man behind the uniform.” I think audiences love that: to see into the characters they’ve become familiar with.’
Then there’s Morse’s boss DCI Fred Thursday – played by Roger Allam – who has been moved to the new police station, a brutal concrete structure. ‘He’s been bumped down a rank’, says Roger, who arrives to chat after finishing his scenes for the day. ‘Things are not good in Thursday land.’
The old-school copper must adjust to working with new boss DI Ronnie Box, played by Simon Harrison, ‘an aggressive Sweeney-type’, says Roger, in what feels like an oblique nod to John Thaw, who made his name in 1970s show The Sweeney. Together with his junior, DS Alan Jago (Richard Riddell), Box represents ‘a different way of policing’, says Deanne, ‘rough and ready – Flying-Squad style. It’s anathema to Morse and Fred.’
There’s no question, this four-episode season of Endeavour is straying into darker territory.
With the whole production for series six spanning 20 weeks, there are just 13 days to go now on the fourth and final episode that we’re here to witness being filmed. Directed by Oscar-nominated Jamie Donoughue (Shok), it’s another story that reflects real-life history, namely that of Ronan Point, a tower block in East London that collapsed in 1968, killing four people and injuring 17. After the first episode sees a tower block being erected, this final film shows a catastrophic consequence (requiring some complex visual effects). ‘It’s an epic story’, says Deanne.
‘Within the block, we find a body that has been there for a year, which has a connection to a body we find at the beginning of the series’, says Shaun. ‘It’s a good way to round up and bring back all the characters we’ve introduced this season.’
Technology is rushing headlong into Endeavour’s world. In the new police station, there is a computer. ‘In ’69, Thames Valley did actually have a very early collating computer’, explains Paul Cripps, Endeavour’s set designer. The production borrowed one from the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge. ‘It’s about the size of a small upright piano.’ There are other innovations too – not least a vending machine that causes Thursday some bother.
Does this gradual move into the Seventies mean there will be a seventh season in the offing, with Endeavour team joining the dots ever closer towards the Eighties Inspector Morse? ‘When you’re coming towards the end of a project, you need to have a period of peace away from it, to allow the experience to settle’, says Shaun coyly. ‘Who knows…?’ In the meantime, there’s a wonderful sixth season to relish.
The sixth series of Endeavour will return in February on ITV.