Obituary: Colin Dexter, crime writer, creator of beer, crossword and Wagner-loving Inspector Morse

File photo dated 19/04/07 of Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse series, who has died at his home in Oxford this morning, his publisher Macmillan has said. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday March 21, 2017. See PA story DEATH Dexter. Photo credit should read: Cathal McNaughton/PA Wire
File photo dated 19/04/07 of Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse series, who has died at his home in Oxford this morning, his publisher Macmillan has said. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday March 21, 2017. See PA story DEATH Dexter. Photo credit should read: Cathal McNaughton/PA Wire
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Colin Dexter, author. Born: 29 September, 1930 in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Died: 21 March, 2017, aged 86

Although he laid his famous character to rest almost 20 years ago, Colin Dexter OBE is most fondly remembered for bringing the stories of Inspector Morse to both the literary and the television world.

The series of detective novels, which were immortalised by actor John Thaw in the TV series, continue to grip readers long after Morse saw his last stand in 1999.

After a career that saw him pen 33 stories since his first novel, Last Bus To Woodstock, in 1975, Dexter passed away peacefully at his home in Oxford on Tuesday, 21 March. He was 86.

The timeless success of the Morse tales is proved in the string of prizes Dexter continued to receive into his later years.

A gracious and humble winner, he told The Guardian after being presented with the 2012 Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award: “Never had I thought that the gods would be kindly enough to give me such a huge honour so late in my life. Yet here I am, in my early 80s, feeling a profound and heartfelt gratitude for the great honour bestowed on me.”

Dexter killed off Morse in The Remorseful Day, telling despairing fans at the time: “I think I can state quite categorically that there’s not going to be any resurrection from the dead or anything – that’s it.”

But while he spent a generation alongside the curmudgeonly character, he said that personal similarities with the opera-loving bachelor stretched little further than their shared love for a pint of bitter and a modest, no-frills lifestyle.

A former classical languages teacher and Oxford University examiner, Dexter married and had two children.

He also had a deep love for the southern coasts, once describing the town of Lyme Regis as his favourite place on earth.

Decades after the days of piling his wife Dorothy and his children, Sally and Jeremy, into the car for a summer holiday by the sea, he told Dorset Magazine: “The only thing that was really important to me about Morse was that he was very sensitive and rather vulnerable.

“I’ve never had a very good visual imagination. I never had anyone in mind. If you write in the first person, it’s always going to be little semi-autobiographical.”

Similarities and differences aside, Dexter, an avid Thomas Hardy fan, spoke openly of the crossword-solving sleuth as a man he would happily have a drink with.

When the writer was awarded an OBE in 2000, recognising his charity work as well as his literary legacy, he told the Press Association: “I think Morse, if he had really existed and was still alive, would probably say to me, ‘well, you didn’t do me too bad a service in your writing’.

“He might say, ‘I wish you’d made me a slightly less miserable blighter and slightly more generous, and you could have painted me in a little bit of a better light’.

“If he had bought me a drink, a large Glenfiddich or something, that would have been very nice, but knowing him I doubt he would have done – Lewis (Morse’s assistant Robert Lewis) always bought all the drinks.”

Dexter also became a big fan and close friend of Thaw, describing him as a perfect fit for the role and reportedly declaring in his will that no other actor should ever be allowed to play the part.

But Dexter did loosen the reins when it came to other cast members on the show, even appearing in occasional cameo roles himself.

Actor Laurence Fox, who played DS James Hathaway in the Lewis TV spin-off series, summarised him best in a tweet shortly after Dexter’s death was announced.

Posting a picture with the legendary writer, he wrote: “Farewell wonderful Colin. Thankyou for your rich characters, your mischief and for being the best dinner companion anyone could wish for.”

Francesca Gosling