AFTER playing Oxford copper Robbie Lewis for more than a quarter of a century, Kevin Whately says it’s time to take a break, but believes he’ll be back filming next year.

Whately, right, has played Lewis on and off for 26 years, first as the sidekick to the late John Thaw in Inspector Morse and, since 2006, in his own spin-off Lewis, as boss to Laurence Fox’s DS Hathaway.

News that he wanted a break initially “horrified” the show's producers.

“Laurence and I told them this time last year that we wanted to finish it,” says Whately.

“I think both of us wouldn’t have minded going under a bus but they said, ‘Well we’re not going to kill you off' so we’ve agreed to have a sabbatical."

Whately thinks they’ll film more in 2014 and there are the remaining episodes of the current series, now showing on ITV1 on Monday nights, to enjoy.

The time feels right, as Whately, who turns 62 next month, notes: “I’m police retirement age and I’m sure Lewis would be thinking about that or would be kicked out anyway.”

Ironically, things have been looking up for Lewis of late and Whately is pleased “to see him get some personal happiness in his life”.

Given the show’s success, it’s surprising to hear Whately was initially tentative about signing up.

“I didn’t like the idea at all,” he says.

In the end, he agreed to film a one-off show “to see if we were laughed out of court.”

Seven years on, the show is distributed all over the world and attracts an international gathering of ‘groupies’ when filming in Oxford.

Whately says: “I didn’t know if he was interesting enough to carry a film or an entire series of films.

“I just thought he was a donkey and more of a sounding board essentially.”

Inspector Morse was of course John Thaw’s show and Whately talks fondly of the actor who died of throat cancer in 2002.

He said: “He insisted we share a dressing room. It was something he’d done with Dennis Waterman [in The Sweeney] and it meant we were always together, chewing the fat and maybe running through scenes together.

“It was a really great thing of him because I didn’t have any status in those days and I was so inexperienced.

“I learned everything from John. I just thought he was the best screen actor this country's ever produced.”