Maureen Paton – Mail OnLine
12th April 2013
Roger Allam is the seasoned old copper who takes Morse under his wing –
and gives him his first ale – in new prequel Endeavour
He bedded The X-Files star Gillian Anderson six nights a week in one West End play and he famously used a beard-trimmer as a body-strimmer to prepare for a drag role in another.
Yes, Roger Allam’s commitment to his art is emphatically not in doubt. And after an extraordinarily versatile career, this award-winning actor is finally about to reach the mass audience his talents deserve in ITV1’s new Endeavour series.
Roger plays the worldly-wise, middle-aged Detective Inspector Fred Thursday, mentor to the young Detective Constable Endeavour Morse in the 1960s-set prequel to Morse.
After the ratings success of 8.2 million viewers for last year’s pilot about the early career of the Oxford-based detective in the painstaking pre-forensics days, a series of four feature-length films by Morse writer Russell Lewis starts this week.
With the local police station still recovering from corruption scandals that have led to its takeover by a zealous new chief superintendent, Fred Thursday is one of the few trustworthy older coppers in the place when new recruit Endeavour Morse becomes his ‘bagman’, or assistant.
And Roger, a dapper 59, points out that DI Thursday’s pairing with Endeavour, played by 33-year old Shaun Evans, makes perfect sense as a way of winning over the original Morse audiences. ‘They were used to experience as well as deductive powers in their hero when John Thaw played Morse, so Thursday supplies the gravitas the brilliant young Endeavour hasn’t yet acquired – which makes them a great team,’ he explains.
Roger wears his Thursday trilby tilted at a jaunty, Bogart-style angle as one of several touches that provide light relief amid the murder mayhem.
Thursday also turns out to be responsible for introducing Endeavour to what became Morse’s trademark ale habit in order to steady the young detective’s nerves after he’s seen his first body in the morgue.
‘I’m the one who’s seen it all before and has to square the jaw,’ says Roger, who explains that Thursday, like a lot of detectives back in the 1960s, had been toughened up by war service in the 1940s. ‘He’s seen the worst of human behaviour. He fought at the notorious battle of Monte Cassino, where conditions were absolutely horrendous.’
Thursday is just the latest of many coppers Roger has played, most notably Inspector Javert, the implacable enemy of fugitive hero Jean Valjean in the original cast of the stage musical Les Misérables when it premiered 28 years ago.
‘I invented this wonderful death scene for Javert of going down on my knees and then leaning back like a limbo dancer to make it look as if I was falling off a bridge. I did it eight times a week for nearly a year and I’ve had trouble with my knees ever since – they don’t even allow me to jog these days,’ he laughs. Don’t expect too many chase scenes from Roger in Endeavour.
As for how joining a show about one of TV’s best-loved detectives will change his own life, the unassuming Roger, a vicar’s son from London’s East End, claims he hasn’t thought about it. Having spent the first decade of his career in the theatre he was something of a late starter on screen back in 1989.
Yet so successful a scene-stealer has he become – famously as grouchy government minister Peter Mannion in BBC2’s The Thick Of It – that he’s shaping up to be the new Bill Nighy. ‘We’ll have to see how I cope with the recognition – I do like to go round the supermarket and do the shopping,’ he smiles.
Married to actress Rebecca Saire, 49, with two young sons, Roger likes to get back before their bedtimes after a day on set. ‘It’s nice to have the creature comforts of home.’ He has said he felt ‘grounded’ by late fatherhood. He was 47 when William came along in 2000, followed by Thomas, now seven.
Today he’s sporting a beard to play Prospero in The Tempest at the Globe Theatre this summer opposite Merlin star Colin Morgan.
But the only sign of flamboyance is a pair of designer brogues – bought, he explains, to treat his feet after he got fallen arches from ‘ill-fitting First World War boots’ playing a pompous general in BBC2’s Parade’s End.