After solving more than 200 TV murders, actor John Nettles tells Roz Laws why it is time to leave the crime-ridden highways of Midsomer villages.
At 65, John Nettles has reached the age where most people retire and put their feet up.
So it is not a huge surprise that he is quitting as Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, scourge of criminals in the Midsomer villages.
By the time he finishes filming Midsomer Murders next August, he will be the oldest detective on TV and a good five years older than any real serving officers.
Not that John is planning to give up work altogether. He has plenty of ideas for his life after 13 years spent in Midsomer, but he is also looking forward to spending more time at home in the Midlands.
One person who is fully behind his departure is his wife Cathy.
John said: “She’s delighted I’m retiring. It has become a year-round job, and it has got to the stage where I have more bed scenes with Joyce Barnaby than my real wife!”
He still has another series to film and knows how he would like Barnaby to exit, although he is unlikely to get his wish.
“I wanted to die in noble fashion in the service of my country and be buried with full military honours in Westminster Abbey. But this was frowned upon by almost everyone.
“My good friend Robert Powell died defusing a bomb in the drama Doomwatch and he was given a state funeral, but none of us has achieved that since.
“I think Barnaby will just fade away and not return. ‘Never go back’, the great philosopher Tom Baker said to me some years ago.
“It was a difficult decision, you form ties with people and they will be hard to break. But while I’m very sad to be handing in Barnaby’s badge, he has solved more than 200 murders, which I think meets the targets of modern policing!
“I see the series carrying on very well without me, although I shall be very jealous and critical, of course.
“The new lead needs to be a sympathetic, not abrasive character, charismatic and friendly so people identify with him.
“Barnaby is the last-gasp paternalistic copper, he is very out of time in that respect. That type of policeman doesn’t exist any more, now coppers are administrators and bureaucrats rather than charismatic Morse-type policemen.”
An announcement will be made in October as to who will step in to play a new lead character.
In the meantime there are two new Midsomer Murders films, being shown on ITV1 from July 22, which feature death at a golf club and the brutal murder of a former Cold War spy after a village cricket match.
John said: “They are extraordinarily silly murders and the fact Barnaby takes it so seriously invests the rural lunacy of Midsomer with a gravity that is far beyond what it merits.”
The actor has spent many a happy hour on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. He worked there in the 1970s, then bought a house in the area when he spent five seasons with the RSC between Jim Bergerac and Barnaby.
Now he would love to go back, but there is one role he shies away from, that of King Lear. In fact, he is scared of the role.
“I want to do a bit more stage work. I see myself spending my twilight years on the boards.
“I couldn’t do Lear, though. I’ve seen more good actors fall over Lear than any other part, wonderful actors whose abilities are far in excess of mine. I would be rather frightened of it, it’s the ultimate test.
“I also want to do a bunch of documentaries. I’m going to Jersey to do a series on the German occupation during the war, which will take me back to my grandchildren.
“I’d also love to guest star in a US drama like CSI: Miami, but I’m too old to do another long-running TV drama.”
One offer he won’t be taking up is to reprise the role that shot him to fame, as Jersey detective Jim Bergerac.
“If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked to do Bergerac again, I’d be a very rich man. There have been some wonderful plans to resurrect him. The latest one was going to be all about Bergerac’s daughter. They said ‘you won’t have to do much, you’ve become a boat builder and your daughter, a detective chief inspector, comes to you for advice’. I said ‘I don’t think it will work, frankly’.”
In between his new jobs, John will enjoy relaxing at his home on the Warwickshire/Worcestershire border with Cathy and their five chickens, called the Spice Girls.
He can also spend more time in his favourite Indian restaurant in the neighbouring town of Broadway.
“The best thing I ever tasted is the goat curry, made specially for me.
“It’s so good I suggested to my wife we move into the house next door to the restaurant and knock a hole through the wall so we could access the restaurant more easily. But that particular idea was frowned upon by my wife. Can’t imagine why...”
* For more details on the drama go to www.midsomermurders.net