Fit For Murder Interviews: John Nettles

Title: Midsomer Murders
Episode: 1308 Fit For Murder
Interview: John Nettles
Network AU: ABC1
Network UK: ITV
Airdate AU: TBA
Original airdate UK: Wednesday 2 February 2011
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Interview: John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby: Mr Nettles’ departure from Midsomer Murders was marked by a series of parties and presentations stretching over several months, John explains: “We had almost a year of parties! The first one was a press launch held at a typical Midsomer country pub with wisteria fading around the door where Jane Wymark and I posed for photographers for one final time as Mr and Mrs Barnaby.”

Ever generous with his time despite the hot summer day, John answered every question, smiled for the cameras and autographed press packs for the assembled journalists, before beginning a night shoot which took him through to midnight.

Producer Brian True-May then held the first of many private parties to mark John’s departure.

John says: “It was a big bash at Brian’s house in the heart of Midsomer country, again the sun shone from the outset and I came with my wife Cathy to celebrate with the production team and ITV executives.

“Lots of the cast were there from over the years, a band played, the barbecue sizzled and the champagne flowed.  Brian presented me with an engraved claret jug to hold my favourite tipple and we each gave speeches, but we kept it short and sweet as it was quite an emotional day.”

In the final week of filming, John and Jane took the centre seats for the last ever cast and crew photograph which included everyone involved in series 13.

Adds John: “On the very last day of the shoot, at the final wrap, Brian bought champagne to the set and gave Jane a bouquet of flowers and presented us with a specially-made clapperboard showing Midsomer Murders’ last slate. There were quite a few tears!”

John’s role continued even after filming had finished with promotional trips to Italy, Stockholm and Sweden. “Even if I have left the production, I haven’t totally left the series as it has such a high international profile and we get invited to festivals all round the world. They can’t get rid of me that easily!” he jokes.

John began playing DCI Tom Barnaby 14 years ago in the pilot episode entitled The Killing at Badger’s Drift following many years with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“I never thought at the beginning that Midsomer would last this long. When we started, I was a 50-year-old crazy dreamer and it seemed a good idea to get out of the tights for a change and do some telly.  I thought that once we had adapted and filmed all of Caroline Graham’s books, I would return to the decent obscurity of the theatre.

“I think the series has succeeded because it is the quintessentially English whodunit with a pedigree stretching back through Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers as far as Conan Doyle. It celebrates the world’s preconceptions about English society and particularly English village society which suggests that every vicar has a dubious sexual provenance, every spinster is a homicidal maniac and every child a potential killer, particularly if he has been near a public school.

“I firmly believe that the international audience enjoys watching not only for the beautiful scenery, but because they believe that the eccentricities conveyed through the characters are absolutely realistic.  The odd murder just adds to the entertainment.”

Adds John: I think above all it is a reliable and comforting escapist drama. The deliberately retrospective style harks back to an earlier time of deference, good manners and a general orderliness.  This time is much preferable to our own, good always prevailed and evil was always defeated. As a matter of fact, that “golden age” never existed really but, we are talking of escapist drama here and there is none more escapist than Midsomer Murders. 

“It also has good storylines which almost without fail stump the viewer. It contains mystery and intrigue and some blood and gore but Barnaby has a 100 per cent track record for solving the crimes. So it is reassuring too.”

Making the decision to leave was not something John found easy.

“It’s been a great job. Although Barnaby and I are quite different, I am very fond of him and have enjoyed playing the role very much. I’ve relished the camaraderie and company of all the different actors who have graced our episodes down the years. I have enjoyed working with them all, without exception. 

“But by the end of series 13, I’d filmed over 80 episodes so I felt it was the right time to go. I didn’t want to be the oldest policeman on the telly. I want to do more stage work and I see myself spending my twilight years treading the boards. I’m also planning to do a bunch of documentaries.”
John has wasted no time in fulfilling his aims for life beyond Midsomer Murders. 

His first job was to write and narrate an acclaimed documentary about the German wartime occupation of Jersey, his second home during the making of hit crime drama Bergera, entitled The Channel Islands at War.

Since then he has appeared on stage as Claudius in Hamlet at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, alongside John Simm, Michelle Dockery and Barbara Flynn.

John’s other credits include The Liver Birds, A Family At War, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  He was recently awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to drama.

Source: ITV

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