Abigail Thaw comes face to face with the ghost of her actor father
- Credit: Archant
Abigail Thaw’s latest role is particularly poignant, helping none other than a young Morse - the part created by her late father John
Endeavour is more than just another role in another detective drama for Abigail Thaw – she’s done plenty of them: from her 1990 television debut in The Bill to recent guest roles in Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie’s Marple and Poirot.
This time, however, was different because there were moments in last year’s pilot episode of Endeavour which will always remain with her.
She played Dorothea Frazil, the busy editor of an Oxford newspaper, who tries to help a young, doggedly determined detective, eager to solve the case of a missing schoolgirl.
As he leaves, she asks him to repeat his name. When he does, she looks quizzically at him, saying: “Have we met?” He denies they have and she concludes the enigmatic scene by saying: “Another life then.”
It’s played out to perfection – unsentimental and so it should be because the detective in question is the young Morse and she, in real life, is the daughter of the late John Thaw who played him for 14 years until the series ended in 2000.
“That scene was lovely and it touched me,” enthuses Abigail, who reprises her character in the new series. “It was also a pivotal scene in the story, but then Russell Lewis is a clever writer and I think he struck a good balance between something very poignant for me and something very relevant to the drama.”
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Shaun Evans takes on John Thaw’s mantle and he has the unenviable task of making Endeavour Morse believable. What did Abigail think of Shaun’s performance?
“As soon as I saw his face up there, I knew he’d got it right,” she confirms. “He judged it perfectly with sharpness and there’s an edge to him. My dad would have been very pleased with Shaun and the outstanding quality of Endeavour.”
Acting out a scene, for her, can be totally different to what it eventually looks like on television.
“I often come away feeling that didn’t go very well. I’m incredibly self-critical and I never feel that I’ve got it right. With Endeavour, I was so swept away by that particular scene and that entire moment.”
Endeavour is set in 1965 when police and journalists were forced to use their brains, thumb through piles of papers and get their results by good old-fashioned legwork.
Speaking about how the fractious relationship between Morse and Dorothea will develop, she says they strike up a “perhaps reluctant, slightly rough relationship” eventually meeting each other halfway and, by the end, there’s mutual respect and “they also look out for each other”.
But the scene that touched her most from the pilot didn’t involve her. It came right at the end when Morse decides that Oxford isn’t for him and it’s time to leave.
His boss, the world-weary, seen-it-all-before DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) allows the young Morse to drive his Jag to the station.
While they’re waiting at the traffic lights, Thursday suggests to Morse: “What you need ask yourself is where you see yourself in 10 years’ time?”
Morse looks in his rear view mirror and, in a masterful and imaginative piece of direction punctuated by the opening bars of Inspector Morse’s haunting theme, he fixes his eyes on the image of himself as an older, wiser man.
It’s John Thaw as Inspector Morse whom he sees in his mirror and it sets the scene for what is to follow now.
She says: “It was so emotional that I bawled my eyes out. I’d read in the script that my dad would appear in the rear-view mirror but I’d completely forgotten about it.
“I had a huge shock when I saw it on television – I hadn’t realised that they would actually use my dad’s face in that final scene and it knocked me for six.”
Like her dad, she also went to RADA where she met actor Nigel Whitmey, her partner of 25 years with whom she has two daughters. Abigail, 47, who has lived in Muswell Hill for five years, loves the area.
“I love cycling and there’s something special about turning onto Muswell Hill Road, then Highgate Wood and beyond. There’s so much to do here and it’s a great place to bring up children”
She acknowledges that becoming an actress has dominated her life both personally and professionally and it’s “given her much joy”. She didn’t have a theatrical upbringing as she was brought up by her academic mother after her parents divorced when she was still young.
Her dad, though, was always there to see her success: first in rep, then following her theatre career and always offering advice. She spent much of last year touring with Hayley Mills and Belinda Lang in Ladies In Lavender.
Curiously, he wanted her to be a journalist – or a musician rather than become an actress because he didn’t want her to go through the hurt and rejection many actresses experience in the profession.
She says: “When I used to complain to him about not getting work in general, he would say: ‘Maybe next time – onwards – keep going and keep your chin up.’ He was philosophical.
“When I auditioned for a role in Inspector Morse – without him knowing, and didn’t get it, I think he thought it was quite funny.”
She pauses for one of those philosophical moments before adding: “But I didn’t find it funny at the time – in fact, I was outraged.”
n Abigail Thaw stars in Endeavour, which begins on ITV1 on Sunday at 9pm.