Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter

On this date in 1930, English crime novelist Norman Colin Dexter was born in Stamford, Lincolshire, to Dorothy (Towns) and Alfred Dexter. His mother worked in a butcher shop and his father ran a petrol filling station and taxi company.

After completing grammar and secondary school, he fulfilled his national service with the British Army’s Royal Corp of Signals as a telegraph operator. He studied classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1953 and receiving a master’s in 1958.

He taught Latin and Greek literature at several grammar schools before increasing deafness forced him to stop. The last straw was that during a lesson on Virgil’s “Aeneid,” a boy was playing pop music at full volume on a radio but Dexter supposedly heard not a note.

He took employment as senior assistant secretary at the University of Oxford, running the English and classics syllabuses for the examination board from 1966-87, when he retired to concentrate on his writing.

Dexter had started writing general studies textbooks, then in 1975 published “Last Bus to Woodstock,” his first mystery novel, about a young woman killed while hitchhiking. It introduced readers to Detective Chief Inspector Morse of the Thames Valley Constabulary of Kidlington, described by a reviewer as “a gruff misanthrope with a sensitive soul, in love with the music of Wagner and the poetry of A.E. Housman.” (New York Times, March 21, 2017)

Dexter was on the same page as the reviewer, once calling himself “Short, fat, bald, deaf; a lukewarm socialist; a Low Church atheist; a lover of crosswords, Wagner, cask-conditioned beer and the scholar-poet AE Housman; a hater of American musicals, Australian cricketers, litter and the political prejudices of Sir Peregrine Worsthorne.” (The Telegraph, March 21, 2017)

Twelve more novels in the series (and about 80 corpses) would follow. Dexter was, wrote mystery magazine editor Andrew Gulli of The Strand, “one of the greatest crime novelists of the 20th century and deserves to be ranked alongside Chandler, Christie and Doyle.” The television drama “Inspector Morse” based on the series aired on ITV between 1987-2000 and starred John Thaw as Morse. It also spawned a sequel and a prequel. He devoted a book in 2010 to his hobby, “Cracking Cryptic Crosswords.”

He won numerous writing awards, was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature in 2000 and was elected to the Crime Writers’ Association’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

He married his wife Dorothy (née Cooper), a physiotherapist, in 1956. They had a daughter, Sally, and a son, Jeremy. He died at home in Oxford at age 86. (D. 2017)

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