Neil Dudgeon has enjoyed a successful three year stint on the ever popular who-dun-it series Midsomer Murders. Stepping in as the original DCI Barnaby’s cousin, he has managed to avoid coming to a gruesome end whilst relieving the inhabitants of Midsomer of their murderous neighbours. Taking the reins for Midsomer’s much anticipated Scandinavian themed 100th episode, we asked Dudgeon about life both in front of the camera and further afield.
Looking at the housing crisis of late, you’d image one area in particular to be struggling. There must be many a blacklisted house in Midsomer for nobody likes to purchase a crime scene. When speaking to Neil Dudgeon, we just can’t help but ask: “For an area the size of Midsomer, aren’t there an awful lot of murders? It must be the most dangerous place to live in the UK!”
Laughing, Neil explains, “People often say, ‘Ooh, there are all those murders!’ But the thing is, it’s not a village, it’s a county! I’m going to have t-shirts made, honestly. When I think of it, I imagine the size of Midsomer as covering the area that we usually film in, which is Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. So if you add all of those bits up, and then think that there’s been something like 300 murders in about sixteen years…well, I don’t think that’s that bad…”
That may be so, but working on a show where the main hook almost exclusively entails someone’s untimely demise must take its toll on the demographic…
The classic teatime detective series has been on air since 1996, so when taking over from John Nettles in 2011, who played the role of DCI Barnaby for an impressive fourteen years, did Dudgeon worry that he had big shoes to fill?
“There were a few worries when I very first started. I was thinking to myself, ‘is it going to be alright?’” …” But then you have to put that to one side and think, ‘I need to stop worrying if it’s going to be alright, and make it alright, and do my job!’ If people like it – great. If they don’t like it, then I suppose I’d either be asked to leave or maybe I’ll be one of the people murdered in the next episode…”
One thing Dudgeon had over Nettle was a huge archive of episodes to explore. In direct competition with a worldwide audience of sofa-detectives, has Neil ever managed to solve a murder before Barnaby?
“I have to confess that I’m pretty slow at it! I always insist that when I get the new script I want to sit there and read the whole thing in one ago, before the game is given away. It’s my only chance to look at the story like the viewer, where you start off not knowing anything. So I just concentrate line by line, scene by scene, on what information I, as the viewer, am getting.
“In the course of this, I’m thinking, ‘oh it must be the man standing with a pitchfork in the middle of the night!’ But then its ‘oh, he’s dead now, it must be the accountant!’ I usually get to about 2 pages from the end where they’re having the showdown scene and I’m still thinking that this might be a bluff… it might not be the person shooting at Barnaby saying ‘I did it!’ – this may still be a red herring…!”
But the fact that Dudgeon, like the rest of us, can’t unpick the plot, only proves the show’s longevity as it reaches its centenarial episode.
“Having a hundred episodes of a two-hour show kind of made me realise it’s like making one hundred feature films over sixteen years. In the climate of modern television in which things are commissioned and then if they’re not a smash hit within about twenty minutes then they’re cancelled; that’s incredible. There is a colossal amount of work involved and it really is a huge thing. It’s been a tremendous success, and I’m so glad I’ve had the privilege of being able to go anywhere near it.”
The Midsomer Murders 100th episode special is released as a special box set featuring the film and a fantastic full-length making of the episode feature.