Neil Dudgeon: the Midsomer Murders star talks to Saga

Neil Davey / 09 April 2014

Neil Dudgeon, DCI John Barnaby in Midsomer Murders, talks to Saga about stepping into John Nettles’ shoes.

There aren’t many TV shows that can survive the departure of their leading man. There aren’t many that make it to 100 episodes either. And there are even fewer that can take what they do to another country. The one that can though? Midsomer Murders

Neil Dudgeon sums up the Midsomer Murders’ centenary episode as “a very enjoyable experience”. He’s got a point. As he explains, “it was a huge honour to film a milestone episode, go to Denmark and work with Danish actors that we have loved watching on TV and the country was incredibly welcoming.”

The episode – The Killings of Copenhagen -  sees Barnaby and Nelson join forces with two female detectives when the boss of a Midsomer biscuit company is found dead in Denmark.  Poulsen (Ann Eleonora Jørgensen – who played Pernille Birk Larsen in The Killing) and Degn (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen - Katrine Fønsmark in Borgen) are city detectives, sceptical about working with coppers from a sleepy English village. But Barnaby and Nelson soon discover the dead man had more linking him to Copenhagen than just his famous Golden Clusters.

“They were great to work with,” says Dudgeon of his co-stars, “like a female Barnaby and Nelson. We first met them at the readthrough at Pinewood Studios in the UK, did a little bit of filming in London, and then out to their territory in Copenhagen.  We also found time for them to show us around the city a bit, although we were only there for one week so work had to be a priority!”

Danish television 

While shows such as Borgen and The Killing have become enormously popular in the UK, Midsomer Murders has a similar appeal in Scandinavia. 

“I understand that it has been airing in Denmark for 12 years, DR, the country’s prime public service broadcaster screens it on Saturday nights at 9pm, where it beats all competition with a 30 – 40% audience share.

“I think as people we relate to them well,” explains Neil of this Scandinavian audience. “Against this calm, reserved and composed exterior it is all deceit, affairs and ultimately murder underneath!”

Mind you it’s not just Scandinavia that loves the adventures of Barnaby and Nelson. “I am told it sells now to 225 territories,” reveals Neil. As to why that happens, Neil has a theory. 

International success

“I think the international success is [down to] the whodunit angle, and the beautiful English countryside. It’s not a totally modern police procedural series. Midsomer is not so detailed about the real intricacies of real police work and forensic detail, it has an ‘other worldly’ side to it which I think people find appealing.

“It’s a big proper two-hour show that you can get immersed in. In two hours you have time to look at all the suspicious characters, red herrings and all. The locations are a vital ingredient, the village green and old churches, vast stately homes, and sweet little cottages.”

Of course, Neil wasn’t the original lead. John Nettles was the star of the first 81 episodes. Those are big shoes to fill, but Neil feels like he’s settled in. 

“The show is essentially the same,” he says. “The components aren’t any different: the wonderful characters, the pretty locations and the relationship between Barnaby and Nelson. The writers and everyone in the show know what they are doing and I hope I have delivered my part in the process.

Creative murders

“I have now filmed 20 episodes so I am starting to feel like an old hand, and with the arrival of DS Nelson bringing a totally new dynamic to the partnership with Barnaby, the viewers seem to enjoy the chemistry. Gwilym [Lee] is a great bonus to the series. We saw lots of marvellous people but when Gwilym came in, I thought: ‘He seems nice, I hope he’s as good as he looks’ and he was. He’s been fantastic in every way - he is great to have on set around the cast and crew - and is always enthusiastic and interested.”

One of the great things about Midsomer Murders is, of course, the fantastically creative murders. Neil agrees. 

“My favourite murder has to be from an episode set at a vintage car rally when a young man is killed by a starting handle. When the body is brought out, the crank handle is sticking out of his chest. Also in another episode there is a poor man who is found dead in a vat of cider. 

“I like the ones that are slightly comedy gruesome, like when Martine McCutcheon is killed after a giant wheel of Midsomer Blue cheese falls on her. The more exotic and bizarre the murder the better.”

Read Neil Dudgeon's Wikipedia here 

Midsomer Murders – The Killings of Copenhagen – is out now on DVD. Subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition for this and more great articles delivered direct to you every month 

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