Master and Man in Masterpiece, Part II

Yesterday, I wrote about the ongoing PBS mysteries Inspector Morse, Lewis, and Endeavour, analyzing how the series seems to be playing with the medieval concepts of three orders:  the knights, the peasants, and the religious orders.  Mostly, it focused on the differences between Inspector Morse and Lewis in Inspector Morse.  Today, I look at the sequel, Lewis, and the prequel, Endeavour.

Although Lewis was a figurative peasant in Inspector Morse—a man to Morse’s master–once Lewis became the titular character in his own series he unified the concepts of master and man in one person.  As an inspector, of course, he gave the orders and saw them carried out. Yet his private life, when shown, was often centered around a figurative field that he plowed:  his kitchen; his family; his cooking.

But it’s his sidekick that connected the series with the three orders for me.  James Hathaway is from the third order:  those who prayed. He is a religious young man once drawn to the priesthood whose crises—of faith, sexuality, or both—caused him to seek a career as, in his own terms, a “copper.”  Hathaway is a Cambridge graduate, and thus continues, in a minor key, the Inspector Morse concept that Lewis is part of a duo in which he is intellectually subordinate.

The permeability of the inspectors is the point at which I think the show is having fun with the idea of masters, men, monks, and their permutations. Lewis in Lewis is a master; he’s the guy giving the orders. But he’s also a man; with his focus on suburban family life and his cookery, he is a tiller of fields, just domestic and contemporary versions rather than a lord’s parcel.

Hathaway is similarly dual rather than unitary: he’s a man, taking orders, but also a (figural) monk, with religious leanings and sensibility. Indeed, Hathaway, who was raised on an estate and (at some points) treated as an equal of the lord’s children, raises the possibility of unifying all the medieval estates in one person:  he is a member of those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed.

The idea of dual or unitary figures is continued in Endeavour, which takes us to early 1960s England and a youthful Morse.  He is a man here, with some trappings of a master (the Oxford education, primarily).  His master is a lower-middle to middle-class Britisher who is one of those who have fought—in World War II, very specifically. Arguably both master and man. (Indeed, many of the characters of the older generation in Endeavour are knights–those who fought, indelibly marked by WWII.)

Contemporary retellings of master and man, once I start to think about it, abound.  In the 2003 film Love Actually, Billy Mack—the aging rock star played by Bill Nighy—is, because of his celebrity, a type of master to his loyal roadie and manager, Joe. Mack’s giving up a Christmas party hosted by Sir Elton John to spend the day with Joe recasts the custom of giving the servants presents around the holiday season to celebrate their loyal service (think Boxing Day).  Yet Joe, the manager, is also the putative master.

Indeed, one could argue that sans the middle-aged Morse, all these characters represent the contemporary world as embodied versions two or three of the medieval orders, at different times and in different contexts.

Master and Man in Masterpiece, Part I

I am very fond of narratives set in academe.  So today’s post is going to focus on peri-ac in popular culture:  the dreaming spires of Oxford and a television show set there, the PBS Mystery series called, in various incarnations, Inspector Morse, Lewis, and the latest, Endeavour (  Detectives in Oxford, often called to the university, pursuing murders in the town and among the gown.

I was late coming to the first of these, Inspector Morse.  A detective show featuring a college is right up my alley, but I was unenthusiastic about some other sleuths on Masterpiece Mystery—I find Miss Marple a bit tedious and Inspector Foyle a study in grey—and simply didn’t tune in enough to know that Morse was my cup of tea.  So I only became a fan once he was gone and had been replaced by his sidekick, one-time Detective Sergeant Robbie Lewis, promoted to the rank of inspector and then to the title of his own TV show.

So I love this series, now, and have steadfastly watched as it returned every summer, morphing to a different duo (Robbie Lewis and his sidekick, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway), and then to a different era (the early 1960s of Endeavour, a prequel showcasing the young Morse).

My initial focus on Lewis, though, led me notice motifs in the show that may have gone unnoticed had I started with Morse. The interlinked series seems to be knowingly playing with the medieval concepts of the three orders–concepts of master and man and their mutability in contemporary life.

And what is the three orders, you ask?  Lucky for you I’ve got my meta on. I am indebted to Peter Speed’s sturdy trilogy, among the first books I was assigned in graduate school. Their titles serve as a handy recap of the three orders: 1) Those Who Fought (knights and squires; kings and masters were a subset), 2) Those Who Worked (peasants, usually tilling the land of those who fought; the yeomen, as it were), and 3) Those Who Prayed (the religious orders). The idea of triple status, Speed cheerfully tells us ended only with the revolutions of the Enlightenment.

In the original Inspector Morse the titular character was the master—those who fought. Why?  The class distinction between Morse and Lewis in the original Inspector Morse was marked:  Morse has an upper class education and accent; Lewis is a relatively uneducated lad with a Geordie accent; Morse is an aesthete who loves opera; Lewis’s information on cultural or historical subjects is often lacking or comes from television.  Morse gives the orders, often condescendingly and in haste; Lewis carries them out.

Morse’s transport is also distinctive, just like a knight’s steed would be. In righting wrongs on the streets of Oxford, he drove a bright red Jaguar.  The international provenance of the operas he listens to links him with a cultivated elite—those who ruled. Lewis was a dogsbody, often on foot.  Master. And man.  Yet I think as the series morphed into Lewis, Lewis became a type of dual-order character.

Part II, explaining more about this, comes soon.