Slumped on a settee after ten o’clock on a sultry summer’s evening, the television news and current affairs programmes were eschewed in favour of something less taxing, something where the good guys had a prospect of emerging as victors, something where the world had order amidst the disorder: a 2016 episode of Endeavour.
The young Constable Morse was on sick leave and living in a cabin on a lakeshore as a guest of a rich friend from university days. The plot was demanding of more concentration than was possible for a weary brain and the threads were difficult to piece together. The denouement centred upon the magician in a travelling show having had identical twin sons, one of whom was murdered by his brother only to be shot in turn by his father. Morse’s final words were, “There’s no real magic in this world, only love. The rest is just smoke and mirrors.”
A character who has not developed the irascibility that would be the mark of Chief Inspector Morse, Endeavour’s words seem more measured, but more open to challenge. Would the later Morse have concurred with the thought that the only magic in the world was love? Would he have thought that anything other than love was a deception? Morse immerses himself in his music, is it only smoke and mirrors? Is it without magical qualities? Is music without the capacity to change realities? Does it possess no potential to take something and make it different? Does music not possess a power that is without rational explanation, a power to achieve the inexplicable? And not just music, do written and spoken words not bring with them an opportunity to make reality seem different? And the visual arts, have they no magic? Are they also just smoke and mirrors?
And why is love so magical, doesn’t it have the capacity to bring hurt as well as happiness, can’t it bring pain as well as joy? Doesn’t love have the capacity to be mundane as well as magical?
By the time the series reaches 1969, Constable Morse will have become Sergeant Morse, a step toward becoming the character of Chief Inspector Morse played by John Thaw. It would seem very unlikely that such a character would venture into a cinema to see a musical, very unlikely that the script writers would suggest that Morse might appreciate the singing of Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon. The song Wand’rin’ Star includes the lines:
Mud can make you prisoner, and the plains can bake you dry
Snow can burn your eyes, but only people make you cry
Only people make you cry. Morse, whose heart was broken in college days, would have understood: love can be mundane as well as magical, and the tears can be caused as much by oneself as another. His music became his refuge, everything else was smoke and mirrors.