Colin Dexter Biography

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

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On September 29, 1930, Colin Dexter was born in Stamford, England, a small town in Lincolnshire about seventy miles north of Oxford, which would later become his residence and the scene of his Morse novels. Alfred Dexter, his father, was a taxi driver, and Colin was educated at Stamford School from 1940 to 1949. After national military service in the Royal Corps of Signals, Dexter read classics at Christ’s College of Cambridge University, from which he received his bachelor’s degree in 1953. For the next three years he was an assistant classics master at Wyggeston School in Leicester, an East Midlands institution about twenty-five miles west of Stamford. He married Dorothy Cooper, a physiotherapist, in 1956 (they eventually had two children, Sally and Jeremy). After receiving his master’s degree from Cambridge, he took a post as sixth form classics master at Loughborough Grammar School. In 1959 he moved closer to Stamford when he became senior classics master at Corby Grammar School. Early in his life Dexter described himself as a socialist in politics and a Methodist in religion, but later he added “lapsed” to each of these descriptors.

In 1966 increasing deafness forced Dexter to retire from teaching, and he became a senior assistant secretary to Oxford University Delegacy of Local Examinations in Summertown. Dexter developed a fascination with crossword puzzles, and he became so adept that he became national champion in the Ximenes competitions. He once said that this interest influenced his style of creating mysteries.

Dexter was forty-two years old before he became interested in writing mystery stories. The precipitating event occurred when he and his family were on vacation in Western Wales on the shore of the Irish Sea. A rainstorm confined him to a kitchen, where, with nothing to do, he wrote the first few paragraphs of a detective novel. Within a few years he published Last Bus to Woodstock (1975), which introduced Inspector Morse to the world. He had no plans for other Morse stories, but the success of his effort led him, in his spare time, to continue developing the character in a series of mysteries. Every year or two another Morse mystery appeared, and the novels began being translated into other languages, and Morse mania spread throughout the world.

To satisfy this great appetite for Morse, Dexter agreed to allow his novels to be dramatized for television. They appeared as part of the Mystery! series. While several films made use of Dexter’s plots, not always accurately, others used his characters to formulate plots of their own. Dexter decided to bring the series of novels to an end in 1999, and John Thaw, the actor who played Morse so effectively in the television series, died in 2002 at the age of sixty.

Dexter continued to be honored after the series came to an end. In 2000 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his services to literature. He also began to devote himself more assiduously to his hobbies, which, like those of Morse, included doing crossword puzzles and listening to classical music.