Part Five: Oxford
Once we arrive at the Macdonald Randolph Hotel in downtown Oxford, we quickly freshen up in our room and then hurry down to meet our VisitBritian host for a drink in the famous Morse Bar, featured in the Inspector Morse episode, “The Jewel that Was Ours.” The bar was also the favorite watering hole of Colin Dexter, the author of the Inspector Morse book series.
Seren, our VisitBritian host, is sitting beside the fireplace, beneath Morse memorabilia and commemorative brass plaques hung over the mantelpiece. A petite, smartly dressed woman, she explains that her father was a jockey. When she was a teen, she complained about being shorter than her schoolmates. Her father would shrug: “There’s nothing to be done. You can’t breed rats from mice.”
We had assumed that Seren was our travel coordinator and tour guide but discover she is much more than that. She was, in fact, the inspiration behind the Masterpiece 40th Anniversary Sweepstakes. As a member of the VisitBritain staff, she had previously organized sweepstakes and other promotional events based on movies set in the UK, like the Harry Potter series. After the huge success of Downton Abbey in the UK, she anticipated a similar response in the US when it aired there. So she contacted WGBH in Boston, and . . . well . . . here we are.
After a late dinner in a nearby restaurant, Seren offers to walk us by some university buildings. She is apologetic: “I went to the University of Exeter and don’t come here often, so I don’t know Oxford that well.” She takes us to the Bodleian Library, the Radcliff Camera, and Sheldonian Theater. In front of the theater are twelve stone heads on pillars, which Seren says are the Twelve Caesars. The heads are distorted, as if chiseled by an amateur, and look grotesque in the moonlight. We shiver against the chill and retreat to the hotel.
Coming up next: Blenheim Palace, location of “The Lost Prince”