Colin Dexter was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and was educated at Stamford School, a boys’ public school. After completing his national service with the Royal Corps of Signals, he read Classics at Christ’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1953 and receiving an honorary master’s degree in 1958.
In 1954, he started his teaching career in the East Midlands, becoming assistant Classics master at Wyggeston School, Leicester. A post at Loughborough Grammar School followed before he took up the position of senior Classics teacher at Corby Grammar School, Northamptonshire, in 1959. In 1956 he married Dorothy Cooper, and they had a son and a daughter.
In 1966, he was forced by the onset of deafness to retire from teaching and took up the post of senior assistant secretary at the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations (UODLE) in Oxford, a job he held until his retirement in 1988.
Dexter featured prominently in the BBC programme How to Solve a Cryptic Crossword as part of the Time Shift series broadcast in November 2008, in which he recounted some of the crossword clues solved by Morse.
The first books that he wrote were General Studies text books.
He started writing mysteries in 1972 during a family holiday. “We were in a little guest house halfway between Caernarfon and Pwllheli. It was a Saturday and it was raining—it’s not unknown for it to rain in North Wales. The children were moaning… I was sitting at the kitchen table with nothing else to do, and I wrote the first few paragraphs of a potential detective novel.” Last Bus to Woodstock was published in 1975 and introduced the character of Inspector Morse, the irascible detective whose penchants for cryptic crosswords, English literature, cask ale, and Wagner reflect Dexter’s own enthusiasms. Dexter’s plots are notable for his use of false leads and other red herrings.
The success of the 33 episodes of the TV series Inspector Morse, produced between 1987 and 2001, brought further acclaim for Dexter. In the manner of Alfred Hitchcock, he also makes a cameo appearance in almost all episodes.
More recently, Sergeant (now Inspector) Lewis, his character from the Morse series, features in 27 episodes of the new ITV series Lewis. Dexter is currently a consultant on the TV series Endeavour starring Shaun Evans and Roger Allam. This series is a prequel to Inspector Morse. As with Morse, Dexter occasionally makes cameo appearances in Lewis and Endeavour.
Dexter selected English poet A.E. Housman for the BBC Radio 4 programme Great Lives in May 2008. Dexter and Housman were both Classicists who found a popular audience in another genre of writing.
Awards and honors
Dexter has received several Crime Writers’ Association awards: two Silver Daggers for Service of All the Dead in 1979 and The Dead of Jericho in 1981; two Gold Daggers for The Wench is Dead in 1989 and The Way Through the Woods in 1992; and a Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1997. In 1996 Dexter received a Macavity Award for his short story Evans Tries an O-Level. In 1980, he was elected a member of the by-invitation-only Detection Club.
In 2000 Dexter was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature. In 2001 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Oxford. In September 2011, the University of Lincoln awarded Dexter an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
Norman Colin Dexter OBE (29 September 1930 – 21 March 2017).