On Set With the ‘Endeavour’ Cast: Who’s Back, Who (and What) Is Missing & When It Might End

Courtesy of Mammoth Screen

It’s the end of 1970, and the investigators of Endeavour are trying to solve multiple murders in Oxford, England. Crime scene photos and a map cover one wall — this is serious business for Det. Sgt. Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) and his partner, Det. Chief Insp. Fred Thursday (Roger Allam, above left, with Evans). But between shots on this soundstage north of London, smiles emerge as the actors chat with longtime costars Anton Lesser (respected boss Chief Supt. Reginald Bright) and Sean Rigby (Det. Sgt. Jim Strange).

There’s reason for good spirits. When TV Guide Magazine visited the set last November, cast and crew were days away from wrapping Season 7 of the British mystery series — one of PBS’ Masterpiece programs — and it had already been renewed. Plus, the reunited leads share more screen time after their characters were sent to different divisions last year. “We all missed each other,” says Rigby. “We’d pass outside our trailers and go, ‘I haven’t seen you in ages. What’s going on?’ It’s been lovely being back together.”

Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse (Mammoth Screen)

The three new 90-minute installments show that the prequel’s Oxford-educated, opera- and crossword-puzzle-loving loner Morse has grown. No longer a novice detective, he’s more akin to the cantankerous white-haired character played by the late John Thaw in the PBS Mystery! staple Inspector Morse (1987–2000). “We’re getting closer now to the Morse everyone knows,” says producer James Levison.

Although they make only a few episodes each year — this one consists of three 90-minute installments — Endeavour has lasted longer than anyone dared hope. Now it’s close to equaling the number of episodes of its progenitor, 30 to Morse’s 33.

Members of the cast and creative team agree that credit for the drama’s success begins with Russell Lewis, the writer behind all the episodes. Besides penning baffling mysteries based around what was happening in the world at the time, he creates characters that keep viewers engaged. “What’s beautiful about the way Russ writes is he allows [the investigations] to affect the relationships,” says Levison. “I think that’s really what appeals to the audience: the emotional journey.”

But that’s not all they notice. Just ask Evans, who is clean-shaven after sporting a rather unpopular moustache in Season 6. “The amount of people who said to me ‘I didn’t like that ’tache!’ ” he remarks, sighing.

Anton Lesser as Reginald Bright (Mammoth Screen)

The actor directs the Sunday, August 9 opener, in which a young woman’s body is found on New Year’s Day. Morse eventually gets involved, but at the time the perpetually unlucky-in-love bachelor was waking up in Italy with an alluring woman he met at the opera (Stephanie Leonidas) — someone he hasn’t seen the last of. Sara Vickers does not appear as Morse’s great love, Thursday’s daughter Joan. Instead, the actress had a baby! “Hopefully she will be back next year,” Evans says. “[Joan] is one of the big loves of his life.”

Filming took Evans to Venice for a few days. “It’s not dissimilar to Oxford inasmuch as you can point the camera anywhere and it looks extraordinary,” he notes.

Back in England, the cases reflect a changing society: A promising female scientist fights for her due, racist rhetoric escalates before an election, and students at an all-female college oppose its going coed. Thursday, meanwhile, grows increasingly dour as the strain of the job takes its toll. Bright also has a rough year as he cares for his cancer-stricken wife.

For now it’s Morse’s relationship with Thursday that’s at a crossroads. Since they met, the erudite detective and the hardened veteran have looked out for each other, but they have some brutal clashes, according to Allam, whose wife, Rebecca Saire, and son William appear in Episode 2. “There’s disagreement over a case and Endeavour’s kind of critical of Fred — the world used is pedestrian,” he says. “That affects our relationship.”

Roger Allam as Fred Thursday, Sean Rigby as Jim Strange and Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse (Mammoth Screen)

And it’s the relationships between characters as much as the mysteries that matter to viewers. Since the pilot aired in 2012, Endeavour has nurtured an increasingly devoted coterie of fans, some of whom follow the series to Oxford when it shoots on location. Levison, who was new to the show this season, was warned about the turnout, but was still overwhelmed. “The first day we were just surrounded,” he marvels, “and I have absolutely no idea how they find out. It is remarkable, the fanbase, and how loyal they are.”

Even with such devotion, the Endeavour looks to be winding down. Allam, who initially didn’t want to sign for more than two seasons, is ready to hang up Thursday’s trusty hat should Season 8 be the finale. “I can’t imagine it going much beyond that,” he says. “I think everything needs an end.”

“There’s way less to go than we’ve traveled,” Evans reflects. “The amazing thing is that we’ve come this far. I didn’t think we would. And I think we’ve got something we should be very proud of.” A tremendous endeavor, indeed!

Endeavour, Season Premiere, Sunday, Aug. 9, 9/8c, PBS (Check Local Listings)