The idyllic countryside of the fictional English district of Midsomer has been home to some of the most dastardly crimes. Come Midsomer Murders’ 100th episode in season 16, there will have been 281 murders, 12 accidental deaths and 11 suicides. Debashine Thangevelo got the lowdown on what is coming up from Neil Dudgeon, who plays the beloved Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby, and newcomer, Gwilym Lee, who joins as the fish-out-of-water Detective Sergeant Charlie Nelson…
RULING THE CRIME-SOLVING ROOST
BRITISH actor Dudgeon took over the baton from John Nettles (DCI Tom Barnaby) after his last episodes were shot in 2011. He was introduced into the storyline as DCI John Barnaby, the cousin of Tom.
With several TV series to his credit, this has been his more prominent project to date.
Dudgeon says: “Playing John Barnaby is a great role. It’s also been good working with my new sidekick, DS Nelson, played by Gwilym Lee. He is very professional, has a sense of humour, and it’s good to bring a new character into the series as it will keep Barnaby on his toes.
“We also have an experienced crew who run everything seamlessly, but ultimately it’s all about the viewers and that they like it.”
During his tenure as Inspector Barnaby, the 53-year-old actor has settled into his role and the lifestyle at Midsomer.
“After filming almost 20 episodes, I feel Barnaby is now well embedded in Midsomer life. The villagers have taken me, the wife and the dog to their hearts, so we are now a fixture.’’
Shedding more light on his character’s background, he offers: “John Barnaby has a degree in psychology and his approach to his work comes from his interest in criminals and why they do what they do. He plays his cards close to his chest and adapts his persona to get results, even if it means he has to look weak or silly. He is also quite direct and has a likeable black sense of humour, which helps him get through the darker moments.’’
Season 16 begins with The Christmas Haunting episode. Having just arrived in town, Nelson joins Barnaby in trying to solve the crime of a man who was stabbed with an antique sword during a ghost-hunting party at a haunted house in Morton Shallows.
By the way, the 100th episode was shot in Copenhagen and features several Danish actors famed for their roles in The Killing.
On the well-crafted plots that resonate with audiences, Dudgeon reasons: “I think the whodunnit angle is one of the main reasons for the success of Midsomer Murders. It’s a proper two-hour show you can get immersed in because there is time to look at all the suspicious characters, red herrings and all. You have the whodunnit quiz element, alongside all the relationship storylines.
“The locations are vital, seeing all the beautiful English countryside, vast stately homes and sweet little cottages. Episodes have characters ranging from poachers to lords and ladies, and the humour is always trickling under the surface.
“It’s also nice that each episode has a slightly independent feel, a different director and a different writer, and a cast of 15 to 20 people on each one who bring new life to the film.
“Some episodes are very dark and macabre, while others can be relatively light and quirky. I like the variety and the change that each film brings.”
And he certainly takes each case in his stride, with admirable calm and an sharp nose for deducing the things that are amiss.
THRUST INTO THE THICK OF THE ACTION
GWILYM Lee as DS Charlie Nelson replaces DS Ben Jones, played by Jason Hughes, who had been with the series for six years and had an impressive 50 episodes in the bag.
Interestingly, Hughes’s decision to bow out stemmed from the unbearably long daily commute from London to wherever they were filming in Buckinghamshire, which took its toll on the actor.
And so city slicker Nelson steps into the fray.
Lee explains: “DS Nelson is from the city and he finds village life and the pace a bit different; it’s daunting how everyone knows everyone else’s business. He comes in with lots of police jargon and tends to talk too much. He likes green tea and is a bit of a health freak, getting up at 6am to go for a run. He’s a modern guy – he can cook and keep the house tidy and look after himself.”
As is par for the course in his sidekick role , Nelson finds himself in the thick of the action.
He laughs: “I jumped into my first freezing river, it was the coldest, windiest, wettest day since we’d started filming, but I had layers of thermals on and a wetsuit and my clothes over that.
“The wardrobe department were on hand with hot water bottles and big overcoats, so I was well looked after.
“There is a piece of evidence floating in the river so Nelson dives straight in. It’s a bit of a trait of his; he follows his nose and trusts his instinct.
“I love the outdoor life – cycling, running and climbing up mountains – so I’m trying to get in as much action as possible. I also love playing cricket so I hope they will write that into the series.”
Hinting at what to expect from his introductory episode, he says: “He arrives in Midsomer quite close to Christmas and unbeknown to the rest of the characters is living in a hotel.
“ Suddenly they realise he has no one to stay with over the Christmas period so Kate (Wilding, the pathologist) invites him to become her lodger.”
Lee hints that viewers shouldn’t expect him to fall into the same character bracket as his predecessors.
He points out: “We’ve broken with tradition, there is no suit and tie, instead he is more T-shirts and jumpers. He’s a bit more funky with jeans, nice jackets, a cool watch and the best pair of brogues ever.
“At the beginning of the series, the characters are trying to work each other out. Barnaby knocks the jargon out of him, but Nelson is still quite orderly.
“Neil has been great to work with, he puts so much into the role, but he has time for everyone on set and there is always a twinkle in his eye. It’s been like joining a big family – all the cast and the crew have been very welcoming.”
It will be interesting to see how Barnaby survives Nelson’s unorthodox ways to solve the new string of crimes in Midsomer.
Then again, with so much wisdom and experience on Barnaby’s side, it looks like the city slicker might be the one in for a few surprises.
• Season 16 of Midsomer Murders airs on Universal Channel (DStv channel 117) at 8pm on Fridays.