As the fourth series of Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour prepares to hit our TV screens, Katherine MacAlister meets the show’s WPC Shirley Trewlove – actress Dakota Blue Richards

Dakota Blue Richards is no stranger to Oxford, despite her newfound role as the first ever WPC in Endeavour, a pioneering position in itself.

Because, aged nine, Dakota played Lyra in The Golden Compass opposite Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, Philip Pullman’s beloved Oxford trilogy, which grossed $372 million.

Now about to grace our screens again in Endeavour’s fourth series, the 22 year-old is reappearing as the female lead opposite Shaun Evans and Roger Allam.

“Shaun and Roger work so well together, as well as making the show so fantastic - there are so many great things about Endeavour,” Dakota says happily.

Her role of WPC Trewlove was a bit part to begin with in the last series, but worked so well, that her character was gradually built up into a lead.

“When I heard they wanted her back I didn’t read too much into it, but they worked out her part as they went along.

“It meant I didn’t realise how much would happen with Trewlove, so her story has been a leap of faith, and I could develop her character myself which has been brilliant.

“So it was quite a big step for the show, because no other females have been featured on this level before in Endeavour.

“And hers is also a story about women’s equality, and Trewlove’s own battle within the police, which is a big part of the story now – highlighting these issues. Because some of the characters are quite sexist and Trewlove is not on the same level as the others, despite being intelligent and an asset, someone not scared to take part in the group.”

So how did Dakota prepare for the role?

“I did a bit of research but it’s quite difficult because there are very few examples of female police officers, and not many examples to choose from.

“They were generally given the menial tasks to do, sensitive things – dealing with children, victims of assault or abuse, jobs that needed a female touch. So Trewlove has more responsibilities than most had.

“She doesn’t really have her own storyline though, but instead is a way of reminding Morse, and the audience, of the person he wants to be. He’s so driven and yet we know that he becomes more morose and cynical as the series goes along.

“So Trewlove is there to contrast with Morse’s character and to be supportive and kind to him whenever he needs it.”

The constant hints of a love interest with Morse tantalise us though. Does that develop?

“It’s an interesting storyline,” Dakota teases.

“But then Morse gets all the girls, there’s one in each episode. They all have their eye on him. But he is a very attractive man.

“Trewlove challenges his intellectualism and likes working out the puzzles. So they are quite similar in many ways. She looks up to him and that’s the best thing about their relationship.”

But what of their underlying flirtation?

“There is something more to it than just a working relationship,” Dakota concedes. “Trewlove hates seeing him unhappy. But they never spend a lot of time together in a non-working environment and he respects her too much to try anything.”

If WPC Trewlove is steely, determined and hardworking on screen, Dakota is even more so in the flesh: “Well, I started acting when I was 12 and have been working ever since. I think I’m more comfortable in front of 150 people on a stage than not.”

Growing up in the spotlight must have been hard though?

“People expect child actors to be damaged and screwed up but I’ve always been looked after by people who cared about me, and completed my education at the same time.

“So it wasn’t a normal teenage experience, but I got the best of both worlds. I’ve never had a plan. But then I’ve never had another job either, which is quite unusual for an actor. The Golden Compass gave me a platform to continue working, which I’ve done ever since and I have been incredibly lucky to have been acting for so long. It’s been incredible.”

Dakota played leads in movies Dustbin Baby, as wayward teenager April, and The Secret of Moonacre, as Maria. She also played the character Franky Fitzgerald in E4 teen drama Skins and featured in plays such as Arcadia, which came to Oxford Playhouse last year.

“Endeavour gives me regular employment which then allows me to spend the rest of my time in the theatre. But it does takes up a big chunk of my year because each series takes six months to shoot.

“But it’s easy because I get to spend more time in Oxford. I love it there; it’s just so beautiful and the buildings are really gorgeous. I can spend days on end there, it’s like nowhere else. It’s been incredible really.”

*SEE IT: The fourth series of Endeavour, starring Shaun Evans, Roger Allam and Dakota Blue Richards, returns to ITV1 at 8pm on Sunday