The Remorseful Day

Not for the first time, I’m going to make an admission that will no doubt expose me to public ridicule. I can’t watch the last episode of the TV series Inspector Morse (The Remorseful Day) without bursting into tears at the end when it is revealed that the eponymous detective has died. Not that it comes as a surprise – the story has plenty of scenes that make it clear that Morse knows his days are numbered. Take this one, for example, wonderfully acted by John Thaw who was himself very ill while this episode was being filmed; he died in 2002.

The poignant quotation is from a poem by A. E. Housman. Here’s the poem in its entirety.

How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

When Morse talks about Wagner in the clip, you know this is a man coming to terms with his own mortality. It even makes me feel a bit guilty for not being all that keen on Wagner myself. Perhaps I should persevere too. In that respect, as well as many others, I’m rather more like Lewis than Morse, although I do share the Chief Inspector’s love of crossword puzzles.

I watched this episode when it was first broadcast in 2000 and cried at the end then. I’ve seen it many times since, including a late-night repeat last saturday night, and it’s always had the same effect. The very first episode, The Dead of Jericho, was screened way back in 1987 and I’d enjoyed the series right from the word go. Morse became like an old friend to me over the following twenty-odd years and it’s never easy saying goodbye to people you’ve grown accustomed to for a long time.

Should I be embarrassed about crying whenever Inspector Morse dies? Perhaps.  But I’m not.

40 Responses to “The Remorseful Day”

  1. Cry baby Says:

    Should you be embarrassed? No! Let it all out I say.

    I found myself blubbing on a flight to Los Angeles after finishing “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, and also was alarmed to find myself sobbing at the end of “Watership Down” on DVD when watching with my kids (who were totally unmoved by the way). Art Garfunkel and Mike Batt have a lot to answer for (and I am not talking about weird hair or Katy Melua).

    I’m interested that you have made a couple of “I don’t watch much TV” comments on here – methinks he doth protest too much.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Peter Coles. Peter Coles said: The Remorseful Day: […]

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    Never saw a single episode, but other things can have the same effect on me – and another fine Housman poem.

  4. I like Morse and have recently watched them all after my parents bought me the box set. I didn’t cry at the end, but I was sad.

    Mind you, I never realised that Oxford was such a dangerous place, with so many murders and all. I guess the only place more dangerous is Midsommer.

  5. telescoper Says:

    I find myself saying “I don’t watch much TV” when people talk about the telly at work. I certainly haven’t seen most of the programmes that provide topics for discussion. But I do watch detective things when they’re on (Rebus, Morse, Poirot…), Match of the Day, the BBC News, and the occasional documentary. I also really like watching Time Team.

    I generally watch more DVDs than broadcast TV. Besides a stack of mmy favourite movies – especially Film Noir – I have all the Morse episodes on DVD, all the Poirot’s, all the Sherlock Holmes and, of course, most episodes of Columbo.

  6. telescoper Says:

    ps. It almost goes without saying what a fine actor John Thaw was, but I think Kevin Whateley is superb as Lewis in The Remorseful Day. Near the end, after he has just arrested Yvonne Harrison’s murderer (her daughter), his face is a picture of bottled-up grief. He (but not the audience) has just learned that the Chief Inspector has passed away. As the murderer tries to explain her motive, Lewis can barely disguise his contempt for her and his desire to get away. Eventually she says “Inspector Morse will understand” at which point Lewis, with tears in his eyes, blurts out angrily. “Inspector Morse is dead.” It’s a wonderful piece of acting.

  7. Morse (and Thaw) is quite brilliant – you are right to cry.

    Whately was on Front Row recently and am sure would agree

  8. Mark McCaughrean Says:

    Interesting; although I’m well aware of it, Inspector Morse pretty much passed me by, as I left the UK at the end of 1987 and didn’t return to live there again until 2005. Sounds like I should buy the box set and catch up (after finishing my Battlestar Galactica and Spooks sets), but until then, for me, John Thaw will always be DI Jack Regan of The Sweeny :-)

    As for Wagner, I often feel I should spend the time to get to know him better too. I enjoyed several live performances from The Ring and other of his operas, but have never (yet) experienced the life-changing epiphany that so many of my astronomical peers have had.

    But mixing aspects of the post, if you want surefire tears, for me it’d be the finale of Strauss’ Die Frau Ohne Schatten, the famous trio from his Rosenkavalier, or the end of Mahler’s 8th. Oh gawd, the more I think about it, there are any number of classical pieces where I end up going to pieces …

  9. telescoper Says:


    For me also there’s a lot of very cathartic music, including Strauss (esp. Im Abendrot from 4 Last songs) and Mahler (Ruckertlieder #5) but many other pieces too.

    As for Wagner, I do think parts of Lohengrin, Parsifal, Tristan und Isolde, and the Ring (especially Gotterdammerung) are magnificent, but I’ve never totally fallen into any of his operas in the way I’ve done with other composer (especially Puccini).

    One day I’ll post an item asking readers to post the music that makes them cry. That’ll separate the men from the boys.


  10. “It even makes me feel a bit guilty for not being all that keen on Wagner myself.”

    As Mark Twain said, Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

    In Germany, a big “society” event (or, as the French say in an atypical anglicism, “les people”) are the Wagner performances in Bayreuth. As such, politicians have always attended them. Angela Merkel and her husband, however, are actually serious Wagner fans. Her husband (Joachim Sauer; “Merkel” is the surname of her first, divorced, husband) is a chemistry professor in Berlin (Merkel herself is a physicist by training, as is Oscar Lafontaine) and stays out of the limelight, granting interviews only if they are about his work and doesn’t accompany his wife on political journeys. As a Wagner fan, though, he does attend the performances at Bayreuth together with Merkel, making one of his few public appearances. This prompted a magazine to dub him the Phantom of the Opera.

  11. The aeroplane going over as Lewis says “inspector morse is dead !” ,got me

  12. Much of Houseman’s poetry has had me in tears.
    I found the tears therapeutic, being able to “let go”!
    I hope each of my eight sons will discover what I have.
    But then – I have been known to weep at adverts from TV!
    Could be I’m just a ‘softie’!

  13. K. Harris Says:

    One would have to be quite heartless not to cry at the news of Morse’s death. The scene where I lose it is in the morgue when Lewis kisses Morse goodbye, acknowledging the deep affection he felt for Morse, despite their very complicated relationship,an affection he could never have shown to Morse when he was alive.

  14. Leigh Checker Says:

    I too have been a great fan of Inspector Morse, and have over many years watched all of his movies (episodes?). One of my beloved sons gave me the boxed set of the DVDs for one Christmas. I have just watched ‘Remorseful Day’ on Cannel 7two, and once again sobbed my silly old heart out. I do wish that the video at the beginning of your site still had John Thaw quoting that beautiful evocative poem.

  15. Sandra De Weirdt Says:

    Shivers down my spine

    Gosh, what a sublime episode this one is.
    The poem, the music (a.o. Pheloung’s masterful “theme”), the setting (and the Jag of course!), it all comes together in this grand finale…………

    Farewell Morse – we all miss you deeply

  16. Very agreeable TV show, I’m sure many will sympathise. Seems especially moving that Morse and Thaw seemed to die together.

  17. I’m just finishing up The Remorseful Day after watching the complete collection from beginning to end. I haven’t yet finished the episode but am already primed to sob.

    One should not be ashamed to cry. The ability to feel strong emotions and react to them is a part of what it is to be alive; some might even say to be human. Since animals have been shown to display emotions as well, I can’t say I agree with the latter part. I certainly agree with the former.

    Farewell Morse.

  18. Deb Williams Says:

    Having watched all the episodes of Morse over the years, several times over, I had avoided watching the final episode of Morse for the last 12 years as I knew it would be so sad to see him go. I’ve finally watched it this morning and cried lots as I knew I would. A moving episode, beautifully acted.

  19. satyasarika Says:

    Loved the Morse character so much! Cried last night when I saw the episode and cried this morning thinking about Lewis kissing Morse’s body goodbye. Now I will see everything John Thaw ever did that I can get my hands on, as well as seeing the Inspector Lewis episodes I’ve not yet seen

    • Ray Jones Says:

      I quite agree with you about anything with John Thaw in it as well Inspector Lewis. They’re not (IMO) as good as Inspector Morse, but they’re good. I’ve seen them all too.

  20. […] Ensanguining the skies How heavily it dies Into the west away; Past touch and sight and sound Not further to be found, How hopeless under ground Falls the remorseful day. […]

  21. And malt does more than Milton can
    To justly God’s ways to man

  22. I just saw Endeavour, the end of Season 2…I always loved Morse, the character, and Thaw, the man. Loved the way he quoted poetry and his learned side…To this day I miss him…Loved his sense of humor too and how he played so wonderfully with Lewis.

    Morse’s memory lives on in the verse…

    How beautiful to sight
    Those beams of morning play;
    How heaven laughs out with glee
    Where, like a bird set free,
    Up from the eastern sea
    Soars the delightful day.

    Thank you BBC…and all the supporting actors and hope you make many more Endeavour series.

    • telescoper Says:

      Point of information: neither Morse nor Endeavour was made by the BBC; both were shown originally on ITV in the UK.

  23. ronnievfein Says:

    I watched Morse from the beginning; cried when the series ended and Morse and Thaw died. I have been re-watching the series from the beginning again and love them just as much. Also love Endeavor and wondered how this soft-hearted young man became the grumpy but lovable/vulnerable old Morse. Now that I just saw the end of season 2 of Endeavor I can see the transition happening. I hope Endeavor goes on for a few more seasons. I also thinks it’s nice that Thaw’s daughter appears in the Endeavor series.

  24. Watched Endeavour this evening again with my husband and felt the omininous prediction that his boss Thursday would maybe die from his wound in the first episode of the next series, particularly after his comment that he would die a cop, and young Morse quoted that last stanza of the poem “May” by Houseman we all know so well.

  25. The problem with “cliff-hanging” Endeavour is that you know how your main character turns out. He’s not going to die, nor remain convicted in prison for the rest of his life.

    The Remorseful Day is about as bleak an ending for a main character as I can recall. Pretty close to life-like. Morse is old, in poor health, abandoned by his late love. The shine is off for the brilliant detective, reconciled to bird watching for the remainder of his “miserable” life. Even Lewis knows more about birding than Morse, their roles reversed. And, how life-like, Morse dies and Lewis can’t even be there because his profession calls. Well done!

  26. This episode is indeed powerfull, as the poem and music.
    By music, I write here to know if you have any idea what music is played while we can hear Morse read his love letter one minute earlier than the moment he collapses (it’s an harmonium -church instrument- playing, I think).
    Thank you so much.

    • telescoper Says:

      The scene in the chapel immediately before Morse collapses features the “Libera Me” from the Faure Requiem. The organ music playing when he suffers his heart attack is from the same work.

      • Thank you for your answer, but I was thinking more about the scene before this one. The scene where we can hear Morse read his love letter : “i’d rather be ill and nursed by you than be in full health and never see you again”. You can hear an harmonium in the background.
        You can hear the music I’m talking about here (from 7:15)

        Maybe it’s Faure’s Requiem also, but I’m not sure at all, and couldn’t find it while listening Faure’s work.
        Thank you for your time.

      • telescoper Says:

        Yes, Morse has just left the rehearsal of the Faure Requiem, which continues when the organist has finished making some adjustments. What you hear is the organ part of a fragment of another section of the piece, possibly In Paradisum, which comes next. It’s hard to identify because it’s heard in isolation.

        Incidentally the conductor of the choir is none other than Barrington Pheloung, who wrote all the original music for the series.

  27. Thank you for your answer.

  28. Berit Ladra, Sweden Says:

    I love Morse and am just now immersed in the last episode which I taped from Swedish television some week ago. I felt I needed to pause and find the entire poem.

    Yes, there are so many good detective series that can be watched over and over again even if you remember how they end – Morse, Frost, Midsomer, Columbo, Poirot, Murder she wrote. But my favourite is Miss Marple. The episodes are extremely enjoyable, whether with Margaret Rutherford, Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan or Julia McKenzie.

    When rewatching old whodunnits I frequently recognize actors that I have seen again in later films – nice, like meeting old friends!

  29. I cry every time I watch this episode. I loved the series I read all the books and I have been a fan of John Thaw since “The Sweeney”. I also love the poetry of A E Houseman.

  30. See I prefer Endeavour to Morse, but I have seen many Morse episodes. For me, Endeavour is particularly tragic because we see a young man with his whole life ahead of him. We see him grow in relationships and have plans and ambitions, but ultimately the audience knows how it ends. I thought it was especially poignant that the young Morse quotes the remorseful day in Neverland – i felt myself well up at that.

  31. The overture to Wagner’s Parsifal, has moments of transcendent beauty. It about one minute in, it shimmers and shines in a way music had not done before, and it still is copied endlessly in movies and television shows, when they want get you feeling weepy, or awed by beauty.

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