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Inspector Morse’s escapades at Old Parsonage revisited: Colin Dexter is home again

Feb 22, 2023

The Oxford Collection is thrilled to announce the addition of a great British jewel to our eclectic collection of oil paintings at the Parsonage Grill.

This February, British luminaries such as poet ‘Paul Roche’ and landscape artist ‘Leslie Marr’ (painted by leading artists Duncan Grant and David Bomberg), were joined by Celia Montague’s portrait of ‘Colin Dexter’, English crime writer and author of the brilliant Inspector Morse novels, now in pride of place within our restaurant.

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Amidst history, architecture, academia and community… literature can be found at the heart of Oxford’s culture, thanks to local literary giants and their stories. From his series of novels, Colin Dexter’s Detective Chief Inspector Endeavour Morse GM has become a most beloved fictional character, locally and globally; a major contribution from Colin indeed. His writings have made the city a destination for mystery lovers worldwide, quite possibly placing Oxford on the map as the Murder Capital of England.

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Celia Montague – Painting between Oxford and Venice

Local portrait and landscape artist Celia Montague is the talent behind Colin’s painting and an alumnus of Oxford University’s St Hugh’s College. After graduating with an M.A. in Modern and Mediaeval Languages and a brief career as a barrister in London, Celia became an actress and played ‘Adele Baydon’ in ‘Twilight of the Gods’, one of the final episodes of John Thaw’s ‘Inspector Morse’.

In 2011, Celia met Colin for the first time during an Oxford Art Society exhibition at the town hall. She recalls, “I’d never met Colin, but he was giving the speech as guest speaker… it was extremely funny, in the manner of Gerard Hoffnung who taught him at school, I subsequently discovered.”

Colin wrote a poem for her:

“A wonderful cook is our Celia,
About the same standard as Delia.
And she made all the viewers feel good,
On the set when co-acting with Gielgud.
Always too when she’s painting our faces,
Her portraits are genuine aces.
Indeed, such is mine – a most typical gem –
Each brush stroke by Celia M.”

Based between Oxford and Venice, Celia has painted many distinguished sitters throughout her career, including the poet Craig Raine, the historian Sir Antony Beevor, the actor Neil Dudgeon, and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, to name a few. This particular portrait of Colin was presented at his memorial service at the Oxford Town Hall. Celia recalls the words of his sister: “you’ve caught him exactly”. Colin himself praised Celia: “You have a gift, to get who the person is on the canvas, and that’s very rare.”

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As Colin’s portrait was delicately set in place at the Parsonage Grill last week, Celia joined us for a coffee and shared the story of her encounter with the sitter and how the painting came to be: “…I thought it would be fun to paint him… you know, one of his characters painting the author.” The two exchanged details and made an appointment. She continues, “When I turned up, I thought I was just going to talk to him, and he said, “where are your paints?” I thought I was going to have to talk him into it, but no… We had about five sittings, and he talked throughout; he was a great anecdotalist… When I drove away with it [the painting], (it was then exhibited in St Barnabas Church), he said, “mind where you go with that painting!”.

There is a special bond between the Parsonage and Colin; Celia shares, “I came here [Parsonage Grill] to dinner with him, and it was his very favourite place in Oxford, and then we met Jeremy one evening…”

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The addition of the painting completes Jeremy’s personal homage to Colin and his link to the Parsonage Grill, which he frequently visited, as well as Quod and the Old Bank Hotel, both of which present a charming bench outside named in his honour.  So too, complementing the Parsonage’s bohemian walls is Colin’s handwritten, original manuscript from book eleven of his Inspector Morse series, titled, ‘The Daughters of Cain’, where the Old Parsonage Hotel features throughout.

Chapter 49: ‘I’m just going out to catch a bus to the City Centre. With a bit of luck I’ll be there in twenty minutes — outside Marks and Sparks — that’s where it stops, and then I’m going to walk up St Giles’, and I’m goin’ in the Old Parsonage for a drink. I’ll stay there half an hour.

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We are proud to be exhibiting his portrait with a new, gilded wood museum frame and plaque by P.R Elletson in Wiltshire, complementing the equally delicate nature of the painting with Colin’s soft demeanour and relaxed stance. It’s as if he were ready for Afternoon Tea in Parsonage Grill himself. Celia, who’s always retained ownership of the painting, says, “he’s been framed as he should have been framed… I’m delighted as I couldn’t think of a better place for it.”

Colin Dexter – Oxford’s Literary Luminary

Becoming a luminary of our city and nation, Colin was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature in 2000. A year later, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Oxford, an honour awarded to those who have rendered eminent service to the city. In 2005, he became a Fellow by Special Election of Oxford University’s St Cross College, and in 2011, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of Lincoln.

“His characters have engaged and inspired us. In many respects, he has joined that burgeoning pantheon of Oxford writers of crime fiction that includes, in a range, stretching from Dorothy L. Sayers, Edmund Crispin, Ronald Knox and Michael Innes.” – The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

The popularity of the novels saw the eponymous character first appear on television in 1987, portrayed by actor John Thaw in the 33-episode drama series, ‘Inspector Morse’. Most recently, the revival of his adventures starred Shaun Evans in the 2012 prequel series, ‘Endeavour’, also filmed right here in Oxford, the hometown of the character and author. “I bought all of Colin Dexter’s books”, Shaun tells the Oxford Mail in 2017, further adding, “Oxford is so accommodating to us… I love the colleges and The Bodleian, the Radcliffe Camera, the gardens and the quads, the beautiful little houses, so it’s an amazing job in that respect.” After 9 series, ‘Endeavour’ is coming to an end with its finale premiering this Sunday 26th February 2023.

Fans of the novels and TV series can visit the famous buildings of Oxford and get a glimpse into the world of academia as described in Colin’s novels. With the help of ‘Inspector Morse Tours’, led by our expert tour guide, Isabella Underhill, they can experience some of Colin Dexter’s and Inspector Morse’s favourite places to eat and drink… finishing up with a glass of champagne in the Parsonage Bar or terrace.

Be sure to a closer look at Colin’s portrait next time you dine with us!
Click here to book a table at the Parsonage Grill.