NB: SPOILERS INSIDE
In Colours – a title with at least two meanings – Morse has to tackle dark forces both in society and the army, with racial tensions bubbling under. But meanwhile, Fred and Win go ballroom dancing, while Morse has a spring in his step as he romances French photojournalist Claudine (Claire Ganaye).
Fascist supporter Charity Mudford, Lady Bayswater (a reference to Hitler’s mucker Unity Mitford) is attacked at the Oxford Union Debating Society, and Fred’s son, a corporal in the King’s Own South Oxfordshire Light Infantry, about to decamp to Germany, is involved in the death of a model.
We get references to the Battle of Mboto Gorge (remember that? Where Captain Edmund Blackadder won his spurs, ‘fought between the might of the British Army and the peace-loving Pygmies of the Upper Volta, and ending with the massacre of the Pygmies and the theft of their fruit’), to Warren Beatty (then hot from Bonnie and Clyde), and less edifyingly, to racism in the forces, and in shops with a ‘No Coloureds’ rule. Oh yes, there’s no doubt the shadow of Brexit looms large over this episode.
Fred is still absorbed in the mystery of Cromwell Ames, the supposed killer from last week’s episode – we bet he turns out to be not a person, but a factory or something such. But as his son’s involved, he’s excluded from the investigation of the death of model Jean Ward, stabbed while on a photoshoot on Army training grounds. Jean – actually a Creighton-Ward (the name of Thunderbirds’ Lady Penelope) was stepdaughter of Lady Bayswater – so was her killing political rather than personal?
Jean poses on an Abbot tank (correct for the period, in service from 1965), but is later found bayonetted from behind in a derelict building. Suspects include Dr Laidlaw (Dominic Thorburn), history lecturer from Morse’s old college Lonsdale and Jean’s ex-fiance; and Scottish PTSD sufferer Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ MacDuff (Ian Pirrie) (another Blackadder joke). But suspicion soon falls on black Private Oswald (Ray Sesay) when his cap is found covered in blood. But he can’t also be guilty of the killing of photographer Farridge, who is found shot by a German pistol – was it northerner Pte. Collier? (and is this a Likely Lads joke? – Terry Collier did serve in Germany).
Lady Bayswater (Caroline Goodall) talks about Nancy Mitford’s “U- and non-U” distinctions between the classes, while racist hairdresser Madame Hazel (Rebecca Saire, real-life Mrs Roger Allam) tackles anti-segregation protesters including Joan Thursday, who ends up in a cell. Agitator Marcus X (Marcus Griffiths) is an obvious reference to Malcolm X, who debated in Oxford in 1964.
Dodgy butler Barker (Steven Elder) reveals that either Major Coward or Colonel Champion could have been Jean’s real father; but Morse discovers that creepy Dr Laidlaw has both a huge collection of Nazi weapons, and an obsession with Jean. In a tense confrontation, Macduff is shot, Morse is chased into a minefield, but it’s nasty racist obsessive Laidlaw who gets blown to bits.
Fred quotes Henry Reed, Naming of Parts (and Macduff quotes Henry Newbolt, Play Up and Play the Game), so it’s a very literary episode, as well as being packed with historical references; but you have to respect the ability of writer Russell Lewis to reference Thunderbirds, Blackadder and The Likely Lads in one episode.
As for Morse, the impression given so far in this season, confirmed by Strange, is that he’s had enough skirt to satisfy the entire Thames Valley force; yet the older Morse always gave the impression of having lived an almost virginal existence. It might be rewriting the character’s history in a rather unconvincing way (and his relationship with Claudine seems rather emotionless), but it does add some depth to the character. Why, though, did Morse end up alone? Do we have revelations yet to come, maybe about Joan Thursday? Or will PC Trewlove throw over the cocky Fancy, and set her jaunty cap at Morse?
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