Writer and creator of Inspector Morse

Born: September 29, 1930

Died: March 21, 2017

COLIN Dexter, who has died aged 86, was a successful writer of detective fiction and the creator of Inspector Morse, the cerebral and morose detective based in Oxford. The books became a television series starring John Thaw and two spin-offs followed: Lewis, starring Kevin Whately as Morse's side-kick, and Endeavour, which follows a young Morse in the early days of his career.

Dexter had never expected to become a writer. A teacher by profession, he said that the idea of writing a detective novel came to him when, on a rainy holiday in Wales, he read a couple of books in the genre and thought he could do better. He could, and produced the first Morse novel Last Bus To Woodstock in 1975. It was a hit and lead to a popular series and the television adaptation.

The last Morse novel, in which the character was killed off, appeared in 1999, but Dexter is still fondly remembered nearly 20 years on for bringing the stories of Morse to both the literary and the television world.

He was born in Stamford in Lincolnshire, where his father was a taxi driver, and gained a scholarship to an independent school. He then studied classics at Christ's College, Cambridge, and became a teacher in the subject.

Until his 30s, he taught at schools in Loughborough and Leicester, becoming head of classics at a school in Corby, but serious problems with his hearing meant that he had to find a different job, so he became an examiner with the Oxford University Board.

The Morse novels then changed his life, although he always appeared to treat writing as more of a hobby than a full-time job (he did his writing, he said, between listening to The Archers and going to bed).

The books were an immediate hit however, partly because of the curmudgeonly appeal of Morse, but also because of Dexter's great talent for a twist. "I've never said anything significant about motive," he once said. "Some very fine writers, Phyllis James or Ruth Rendell - their primary concern is to look into the abyss of human consciousness. Good for them, but not for me. For me, it's the twists and turns of the whodunnit."

Always gracious and humble, he told The Guardian after being presented with the 2012 Theakstons Old Peculier Outsanding Contribution to Crime Fiction award: "Never had I thought that the gods would be kindly enough to give me such a huge honour so late in my life.

"Yet here I am, in my early 80s, feeling a profound and heartfelt gratitude for the great honour bestowed on me."

When he killed off Morse in The Remorseful Day, he told despairing fans at the time that there was no going back. "I think I can state quite categorically that there's not going to be any resurrection from the dead or anything - that's it."

But while he spent a generation alongside the curmudgeonly character, he said that personal similarities with the opera-loving bachelor stretched little further than their shared love for a pint of bitter and a modest, no-frills lifestyle (although in later life they did share an illness: diabetes).

"The only thing that was really important to me about Morse was that he was very sensitive and rather vulnerable," he said.

"I've never had a very good visual imagination. I never had anyone in mind. If you write in the first person, it's always going to be little semi-autobiographical."

Similarities and differences aside, Dexter, an avid Thomas Hardy fan, spoke of the crossword-solving sleuth as a man he would happily have a drink with.

When the writer was awarded an OBE in 2000, recognising his charity work as well as his literary legacy, he said: "I think Morse, if he had really existed and was still alive, would probably say to me, 'well, you didn't do me too bad a service in your writing'.

"He might say, 'I wish you'd made me a slightly less miserable blighter and slightly more generous, and you could have painted me in a little bit of a better light'.

"If he had bought me a drink, a large Glenfiddich or something, that would have been very nice, but knowing him I doubt he would have done - Lewis (Morse's assistant Robert Lewis) always bought all the drinks."

Later, when his books became a television series, Dexter became a big fan and close friend of Thaw, describing him as a perfect fit for the role and reportedly declaring in his will that no other actor should ever be allowed to play the part. He was closely involved in the production of Morse and when all the novels had been adapted, wrote new scripts for the series for a while.

He also made cameo appearances in his series, including Morse, which ran for 33 episodes between 1987 and 2000, although earlier this year it was announced that he would not be making any further appearances in Endeavour.

Endeavour's creator and writer, Russell Lewis, said at the time: "I think he's allowed, after 30-odd years, to take tea in the pavilion. We haven't got him in the flesh this year."

Speaking to Radio Times, he added: "But there's a big part of the fandom that likes to spot Colin - like spotting Hitchcock. He'll be there in spirit, not in flesh. He'll be that little bit harder to find than usual."

Away from writing, Dexter had a deep love for the southern coast of England, once describing the town of Lyme Regis as his favourite place on earth. For decades, he would pile his wife Dorothy and his children, Sally and Jeremy, into the car for a summer holiday there.

Colin Dexter is survived by Dorothy, their children and two grandchildren.