MIDSOMER MURDERS

DOUGLAS WATKINSON INTERVIEW


A scene from 'Dead in the Water' written by Douglas Watkinson

I am very pleased to present this interview with Douglas Watkinson, one of the premiere writers for Midsomer Murders. I would like to thank him for taking the time and patience to give an insight into how a script is developed for the series. He is currently preparing a new Midsomer mystery for us to look forward to.

JS

 I understand you originally started out as an actor; how did you get into scriptwriting?

DW

When I left drama school I didn't much fancy the idea of acting - it was great fun but seemed like a daft way to earn a living. I started writing half hour plays and sending them to television companies. Eventually, one of them was done!

 

JS

You have scripted a wide variety of programmes from soaps (Emmerdale) to comedy, is there a particular genre you prefer writing?

DW

I love comedy drama best of all - Boon and Lovejoy, they were my favourites.

 

JS

How did you become involved in writing for MM?

DW

Betty Willingale, who's known me for 200 years, asked me to contribute. She gave me my first job at the BBC - and many thereafter. I knew it would work if she was involved.

 

DW

Has writing for TV changed much since the days you were involved on Z Cars?

JS

Beyond recognition. Then, most things were made on video tape and there was much, much more drama being made. The BBC were putting out ten or twelve home grown series, serials, plays a week! Now there are less things made but, it seems, more people making them. Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.

 

DW

What are the problems involved in writing for MM?

JS

Keeping it credible, even though it's set in a world that doesn't really exist. For that reason I never murder more than one person in an episode now, though there might be an attempt at a second. Line by line, though, you have to believe what the actors are saying. If that doesn't happen, the audience switches off.

 

JS

Anthony Horowitz commented he found it enormously difficult to adapt Caroline Graham's stories for the series. Did you encounter problems adapting Faithful Unto Death and Death in Disguise?

DW

Good books are notoriously difficult to adapt. Bad books are easy, you can add what you want to beef them up.

 

JS

How long dos a normal script take and are there many rewrites?

DW

It takes me about two months in all and, no, there aren't that many re-writes. I don't mind re-writing - all good writing is re-writing, whether you do it yourself or someone asks you to make alterations - but I have to believe that any extra work is going to improve the script.

 

JS

Do you write with particular actors in mind?

DW

Sometimes. But not once has anyone I've envisioned played the part. Not even my son!

 

JS

Do you need to be on the set when your scripts are being filmed?

DW

No. I love going filming, though, once or twice an episode.

 

JS

Writing a 'whodunit' do you find it hard to conceal the murderers identity till the end?

DW

Yes and no, is the helpful answer to that. I think the audience likes to get there before Barnaby, sometimes, so I try not to make the murderer too obscure. Besides, when you get good actors like Diana Quick, Bruce Alexander, Bernard Hepton, etc, people know they aren't there just to provide the light relief. They're probably going to have dunnit.

 

JS

Do you first work out who the murderer will be and construct the plot from there?

DW

I work out how the murder happens and write it so that any one of the main characters could have done it. Often I don't actually choose the murderer till half or two thirds of the way through.

 

JS

Does the production company suggest 'themes' (i.e the supernatural element in 'Beyond the Grave' or do you just adapt your own ideas?

DW

My own ideas, basically, although Brian True-May did make the one word suggestion 'regatta' last year, out of which Dead in the Water came. He also said 'coast' to me a few months ago. Watch out for more water!

 

JS

Several MM's have the odd humorous or family scene. Barnaby's diet in ',Blood Will Out' was particularly well received, also Barnaby & Joyce watching the 'porn' video in 'Dead in the Water'. Do you like to incorporate these lighter moments in your scripts?

DW

I never write anything without humour in it - hopefully. It's the best way of enjoying the writing process and the actors grab at it.

 

JS

I believe you are busy working on a new MM script which we look forward to, Do you have any other current writing plans?

DW

Yes, I'm trying to persuade Joanna Lumley to do a comedy pilot of mine. I've written the script, I've got the producer, all I need is the girl. If anyone has any influence...?

 

With thanks to Douglas Watkinson for kindly answering these questions

INTERVIEW COPYRIGHT JOAN STREET

 

JANUARY 2005

 

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