THE CHRISTMAS HAUNTING
Neil Dudgeon plays John Barnaby
Neil Dudgeon welcomes a new arrival to the dangerous countryside of Midsomer Murders when DCI Barnaby teams up with a detective sergeant, played by Gwilym Lee.
Says Neil: "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."
Neil feels as settled in the drama as his character does in the villages of Midsomer.
"After filming almost 20 episodes, I feel that 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!''
"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. I would describe him as bluff and ironic.''
He adds: "I think the whodunit angle is one of the main reasons for the success of MIDSOMER MURDERS. It's a proper two-hour show that you can get immersed in because there is time to look at all the suspicious characters, red herrings and all. You have the whodunit 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 different writer, and a cast of 15-20 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."
Neil starred as Jim Riley in Life of Riley and his other roles include The Mrs Bradley Mysteries, The Gift, The Nativity, Common as Muck, The Street, Messiah, Roman's Empire, Out of the Blue, Resnick, Sorted and the award-winning feature film Son of Rambow. His theatre credits include Road and Blasted at the Royal Court, and Closer at the National.
When he's not working, Neil enjoys spending time with his family and indulging his hobbies.
"My passion now is the arts and I like going to galleries and exhibitions. I still enjoy football; I have a season ticket at Fulham and get there when I can. I also go to the gym when I get a bit of a late start on set, but then I undo all the good work when I arrive and have a bacon butty!"
Gwilym Lee plays DS Charlie Nelson
Gwilym Lee takes his life in his hands as he joins the cast of Midsomer, tackling a never-ending caseload of murder and mayhem in the pretty English countryside.
Gwilym stars as DS Charlie Nelson alongside Neil Dudgeon as DCI John Barnaby. He replaces Jason Hughes who played DS Ben Jones for more than 50 episodes.
He says: "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."
Gwilym got a slice of the action straight after joining the show:
"I have jumped into my first freezing river, it was the coldest, windiest, wettest day since we 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."
In the first episode, "The Christmas Haunting", Nelson faces the prospect of spending the festive season alone.
"He arrives in Midsomer quite close to Christmas and unbeknown to the rest of the characters is living in a hotel. Suddenly they realise that he has no-one to stay with over the Christmas period so Kate invites him to become her lodger," says Gwilym.
DS Nelson's look is quite a contrast to previous sidekicks.
"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."
Adds Gwilym: "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 has time for everyone on set and there's always a twinkle in his eye. It's like joining a big family, all the cast and crew have been very welcoming."
Gwilym grew up in Birmingham where he paid rugby at county level. His parents are Welsh and he studied English Literature at Cardiff University. His first job was alongside Jude Law in Oedipus and he also appeared with Derek Jacobi in the National Theatre's production of King Lear, winning a Sunday Times Award for his portrayal of Edgar.
His TV credits include Restless, Fresh Meat, The Hollow Crown, Monroe, Animal Ark and Land Girls and he has also appeared in the films The Tourist and Isle of Dogs.
One of four children, 29-year-old Gwilym is the only actor in his family.
"I come from a medical background - my father was a paediatrician and my mother was a haematologist and my sister and brother also work in paediatrics. My brother does a bit of teaching at St Thomas's hospital and I sometimes help him out with role-playing exercises, teaching good bedside manner alongside the scientific part of it.
"When I told my mum I'd got the part in Midsomer she was delighted. She's like my own personal publicist and has really spread the word. She is my biggest fan and the rest of the family are very pleased too. They are incredibly supportive."
When his first episode is screened at Christmas, Gwilym will be involved in special festive traditions with his family.
"We always have a very traditional Christmas at my parents' home, with stockings in the morning and then going to see if Father Christmas has left anything by the tree. We always go downstairs in age order, so I go first as the youngest - I'll be 30 and the oldest is 36!
"My dad then goes to the hospital where he used to work dressed as Father Christmas and gives out presents to all the newborn babies and we follow as his pixies. It's very cheesy but traditional.
"Back home, we have family friends round for drinks followed by dinner in the evening about nine o'clock. Mum cooks everything and we can still be at the dinner table at one in the morning!"
Fiona Dolman plays Sarah Barnaby
Fiona Dolman feels very at home in Midsomer now, despite its high death toll.
"I feel very settled in Midsomer country and the best thing about being a regular character is that you don't get killed, you get to stay! I've always been a big fan of the series so getting the role of Sarah Barnaby was the perfect job.
"I love working with my on-screen family, Neil Dudgeon and Sykes the dog. The relationship between Neil and I was very easy from day one but I feel it has gone from strength to strength. We get on and there is a good chemistry between us.
"I like the fact that they are normal, surrounded by all these murders and eccentric characters. Potentially that could be dull, but their relationship is sparky and a bit naughty too. Barnaby is not angst-ridden; he doesn't come home and hit the bottle but instead helps her in the kitchen and if Sarah is working, he will do the cooking.
"It's an equal relationship and mirrors what a lot of working couples do. They manage to make it work and I like the fact that they get on well and both love their jobs and yet respect each other's space. It's not a case of opposites attract - they are similar, sharing a fundamental set of values and they approach problems in a similar way."
Adds Fiona: "Neil is great fun and I love working with him. I like sitting with him when he is being interviewed as he has a very dry sense of humour. He brings real energy to the character of Barnaby.
"And Sykes is the consummate professional, as ever. He hits the mark and does the right thing, as long as there is a sausage at the end. He knows us better now and is a bit more affectionate because he recognises us as his screen mum and dad," says Fiona.
Sarah Barnaby is headmistress of Causton Comprehensive School.
"She has a calm sense of authority. She's not the type to be pushed around, but she manages her career problems sensibly. She is diplomatic, she doesn't walk over people or impose her will.
"In terms of the children, she refers to the boys as young gentlemen and her way of schooling is to prepare young people for the real world. She knows them all by name and makes it her business to be in touch with everything. Her approach is up-to-date, backed up by old-fashioned values.
"I've got some friends who are teachers and I spoke to them to find out what she would have done to get to be a headmistress. They told me that you learn to be a diplomat, a bit of a politician, and that's how she is."
Fiona's credits include Heartbeat, The Royal Today, Holby City, Doctors, New Tricks, Coronation Street, Paradox, Waterloo Road and the feature film Ways to Live Forever.
Tamzin Malleson plays Dr Kate Wilding
Tamzin Malleson gets away from the forensic lab in the new series, thanks to the arrival of new detective Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee) who becomes Dr Kate Wilding's lodger.
"It is great for me to play something other than professional. Instead of giving out technical information, you see another side of her, which is rewarding for me. She and Nelson have a great relationship but there is no sexual chemistry, they're just a couple of people who get on," explains Tamzin.
"Initially there is a bit of teasing - Kate is the landlady and she plays on that a bit. She is untidy and Nelson has a touch of the OCDs about him, which is a nice detail. Kate is also more involved with the Barnaby household as Sarah and she do a bit of female bonding."
Tamzin adds: "It's good to be in scenes where the characters talk back. They get great actors into Midsomer but by the time they get to me they are on the slab and not talking!"
Dr Wilding has been a regular part of Midsomer since series 14.
"Kate is ambitious and she's a bright spark. She fills in the bits that the viewers can't see. She gives a summary of how the murder took place and what weapons were used, so she gives clues without showing the gore. She has a sense of humour, albeit a gallows sense, but it's a way of dealing with the gruesome things she sees every day."
"The relationship with Barnaby is more cemented now. She is very comfortable in his company and likewise him with her. There's a level of professional banter and mutual respect. She stands her ground with him but she's a nice person. Neil is very good because you think you are getting a straight copper performance but he makes it slightly tongue-in- cheek. It's perfectly pitched and very Midsomer."
Later in the series, viewers will learn more about Kate when her parents pay a visit.
Explains Tamzin: "Geoffrey Whitehead and Jacqueline King play Kate's parents Giles and Laura Wilding. They are introduced in 'The Flying Club' episode when they come to stay to see the airshow. Giles is a retired surgeon who wanted Kate to follow in his footsteps. He can't quite understand her choice of profession; he thinks it's a bit Twilight Zone and a bit morbid. Kate pulls him up on that and says what an important role forensics and pathology play.
"When they arrive, Kate is in the middle of a murder investigation and she is slightly embarrassed and irritated that her parents are there. They are retired, twiddling their thumbs and not knowing what to do. They drive each other mad and Kate is caught in the middle of it. It's quite touching, though, and hopefully viewers will relate to it."
Adds Tamzin: "Being at the airshow was fascinating, watching incredibly complicated stunts with little bi-planes, you can't help but be in awe of the pilots' skill. It's so good that we were there to film and it wasn't CGI-d in afterwards."
Tamzin enjoys being a regular in the series. "I get on so well with Neil and Gwilym and it is such a well-oiled machine. The series is a total delight to work on, even though it's not a glamorous role.
"When I started I went shopping with the costume designer and got some silk shirts and a beautifully cut navy suit and a really good pair of high heels. But although you see Kate in a bit more casual dress this series, I'm still wearing the blue baby romper suit and face mask most of the time. I have to put shoe protectors over my shoes for the costume and I wear out four pairs of those pacing before I even do my lines. I don't think I'll ever get to wear those high heels and there are still no nights at the opera!"
Although she plays a doctor, Tamzin admits she is a bit squeamish. "I do have a slight phobia about bags of blood and needles going into arms. But I'm fine with pretend."
Away from acting, Tamzin also works as an artist and recently took inspiration from an episode of MIDSOMER MURDERS.
"The Christmas episode is all about a haunted house. The art department filled the house with peculiar taxidermy like monkeys and a fox with eagle wings as well as all kinds of masks. I took pictures and I'm planning to do a solo painting exhibition next year."
She has little relaxation time as she lives on a smallholding in Gloucestershire with her partner, actor Keith Allen, and their seven-year-old daughter Teddie Rose. "We have pigs, chickens and grow our own vegetables and we are surrounded by beautiful countryside."
Tamzin's credits include Teachers, Bodies, Dangerfield, Always & Everyone, Agatha Christie's Poirot, The Vice, Boy Meets Girl and the feature film 7lives.
Les Dennis plays Brendan Pearce
Les Dennis jumped at the chance to guest star in the Christmas episode.
"When I was asked to do Midsomer, I absolutely jumped up and down. I really love the show and watch the repeats when I'm home in the afternoons and I am in Midsomer heaven."
Les plays Brendan Pearce who becomes a suspect in the ghost-story themed episode.
"Brendan runs the tearoom and tourist office and he has written a book about the ghost of Rose Wilton, who died mysteriously after a snow storm. He wants Morton Shallows to become the most-haunted village in Britain so he's really keen that the murders help promote it.
"His wife Libs played by Elizabeth Berrington is very frustrated by him. They are drowning in a sea of debts but he is blocking it all out. He is quite loveable and very vulnerable, and although he is very positive, you do see that front drop during the film."
The Christmas episode was filmed during the hot summer weather.
"Filming in the hottest week in July has been challenging to say the least," says Les. "I had to wear cashmere with a big overcoat and massive scarf. I even dress as Father Christmas in a couple of scenes, wearing a lovely nylon outfit and a beard. I was well insulated in the sun but it was great fun and I enjoyed every minute of it.
"John Nettles was fantastic but Neil and Gwilym are making Midsomer their own and I am delighted to be part of the success. There is a kind of comic chemistry between them, and I liken them to Wilson and Mannering from Dad's Army, but you do believe in them as cops too. Brendan is quite intimidated by their questioning at times."
Les plans to watch his episode with his wife Claire and youngest children Eleanor, aged five, and two-year-old Thomas.
"We are moving house so I want to be nicely at home, sitting by the telly and watching this episode with a big fire and some chocolates. A very merry Christmas to everybody!"
Les carved out a career in comedy after winning New Faces, appearing with Russ Abbot and the late Dustin Gee. His acting credits include Extras, New Street Law, Waiting in Rhyme, The Slammer, Wounded and Life's Too Short. He has also presented Family Fortunes.
Mark Heap plays Simon Fergus-Johnson
Mark Heap brings his talent for portraying eccentric characters to Midsomer.
"I play Simon who has recently inherited a pile from his dad which he can't cope with. He wants to make money by marketing it as a haunted house but he's is a bit hopeless in trying to get the mansion to work. His wife is bored of him, probably because he is a bit boring, and she has turned to the bottle and to other gentlemen in the area. He's an ineffectual character, let's face it."
Adds Mark: "Simon's style is all Rupert Bear - colourful shirts and cords and Barbour jackets. We filmed the Christmas episode in summer and it was boiling hot, even though it was supposed to be winter."
Since filming the episode, Mark has been working in Guadeloupe on the next series of Murder in Paradise. "I play Alec Burton, a bird watcher. Then it's series three of Friday Night Dinner where I play the next door neighbour Jim, with his dog Wilson. I do get eccentric characters and wishy-washy or flaky types. It's funny how you start off thinking you can do Romeo and Juliet then your particular bent is whittled down!"
Mark's other credits include How Do You Want Me?, Stressed Eric, Spaced, Brass Eye, Happiness, Green Wing, Lark Rise to Candleford, The Indian Doctor and Spy.
Emily Joyce plays Valerie Fergus-Johnson
Emily Joyce enjoyed playing vulnerable villager Valerie Fergus-Johnson on her second outing to Midsomer.
"Valerie is a woman who missed out on her childhood. Her mother died when she was 12 and her father had a stroke when she was 13 so she became the primary carer. Now her father has died, she is free and becomes preoccupied with her childhood and the playground that she visited. She has spent her whole life looking after other people, so when someone does something for her, even a little thing, it is hugely touching and a bit confusing," explains Emily.
"Her childhood sweetheart Ollie Tabori comes back to find her and I think she nearly has a heart attack! It's a very sweet love story because their souls connected and they never stopped thinking about each other.
"I hadn't worked with the gorgeous James Murray who plays Ollie but what a lovely man he is. It's good to work with an actor when a level of trust is needed, and the whole story needed treating carefully. It was very delicate and I hope we found the vulnerability.
"Valerie has a natural, slightly girlish look; she wears feminine dresses but is slightly practical with it, which picks up the idea of her childhood and being fairly old-fashioned."
Emily's first appearance in Midsomer was in the episode "A Worm in the Bud" in 2002.
"I played Bernadette Sullivan who was a hard-nosed character, so it was nice to come back to a more vulnerable role. It's one of the most enjoyable things I have done recently, the production values are so high and you're given time to rehearse and chat and get it right. I think it's easier to play someone who's not like your real personality. Hard-nosed people are pretty damaged and they come across as harsh, but they are just as vulnerable as everyone else really. I like to find people's cracks."
When the episode is screened, Emily will be enjoying a family Christmas with her children aged nine and 13. "We have the Christmas tree and all the presents but we've started going to the pub on Christmas Day which is nice because we see friends as well as family. I am the chef and bottle washer and shopper - it's a lot of hard work for one day of the year but it's worth it."
Adds Emily: "My friends' children all get excited about seeing me on TV but my own children are incredibly cool and not really interested!"
Emily starred in more than 50 episodes of My Hero and her other credits include Grafters, The Glass, Little Devil, Mutual Friends, My Almost Famous Family, Lewis and New Tricks.
James Murray plays Ollie Tabori
James Murray was delighted to get his teeth into the complex character of Ollie Tabori.
"Ollie is written mysteriously and deliberately so, he is a major in the marines and he's been on a lot of tours and seen a lot of action. He feels directly responsible when any of his troops are killed, and that manifests itself by him being unguarded and unpredictable.
"He's a bit unstable and he has a bad temper. The reason he comes back to Midsomer is that he wants to get back to where he was born and rekindle a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Valerie."
Explains James: "He feels with Valerie that he will get a kind of safety away from war. He's a bit standoffish and his manner is quite strange, which could lead people to think he could be the murderer, but his agenda for coming back is quite different."
Ollie's outwardly military demeanour is in contrast to his internal torment.
"He's confident and stands tall but it's all about what goes on in his brain," says James. "It's always a challenge to get over to the audience someone who is suffering internally. Midsomer Murders was a good role for me - anything that looks difficult when you first read it is always fun to try and conquer."
James will be spending Christmas with his wife, actress Sarah Parish, when the episode is screened. "We always look forward to Christmas, although a lot of it is spent on the road visiting various relatives, but we are as traditional as anyone else. It's all about the food and wine and of course this year watching MIDSOMER MURDERS with a box of chocolates!"
James' other credits include Sons & Lovers, Cutting It, North Square, 20 Things To Do Before You're 30, Under The Greenwood Tree, Primeval, Chaos and Beautiful People.
Hannah Tointon plays Pippa Fergus-Johnson
The role of unhappy teenager Pippa Fergus-Johnson is a stark contrast to Hannah Tointon's own family background.
"Pippa comes from a family who neglect her. She has had a difficult upbringing, her mum is a drunk and her dad doesn't really know she is there. She's searching for attention and is in such desperate need for love," explains Hannah.
"She was close to her grandfather and then he died, so she's a sad teenager. She grasps on to the paranormal as a way to take her mind off real life, and be closer to her granddad again. She wears a lot of leather and biker chic, all black and doesn't worry about how she looks."
In real life, Hannah enjoys a close relationship with her parents and sister Kara, also an actress.
"Kara and I are always there for each other, but we don't really talk about work, we just get on with learning the lines. I am the younger sister and Kara got into the business first, then I followed.
"At Christmas we all have a real family get-together with mum and dad, all the traditional big roast dinner and mine pies. My mum is the cook, she loves us coming home and looking after us and it's a lovely time to be together."
Hannah's episode is likely to be family viewing in the Tointon household. "I've grown up with the series and I absolutely love it, so I was very excited and pleased to get the part."
Hannah's credits include The Hour, Switch, The Inbetweeners, Hollyoaks and Dream Team and she also appears in the new series of Call The Midwife. "I've been practicing giving birth in front of the mirror," she laughs.
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