Neil Dudgeon Talks Midsomer Murders Success


Speaking at the TV Drama Festival today, actor Neil Dudgeon discussed the enduring success of All3Media International’s Midsomer Murders, which has been airing on ITV since 1997.

Dudgeon joined the cast of the hit series in 2010 as DCI John Barnaby. He talked about his journey on the show as it marks its 25th anniversary in conversation with TV Drama’s Anna Carugati. You can watch the session here.

Explaining the global and domestic success of the series, Dudgeon noted, “It’s simplicity as much as anything. The formula is: something, not necessarily a murder, happens in a rural location, and two police officers go to see what’s happening. Through the police officers’ eyes, the audience is introduced to the milieux and the new characters. We’ve always got new writers, new directors coming. Most of your cast are going to be new people every week. So every time [viewers] watch it, they see something that they know, but it’s completely different from anything they’ve seen before. That gives the show a lot of life. You’re constantly re-energizing the show with the new people coming in. And we’ve got the lovely countryside and the eccentric characters and the beautiful writing and the great actors. The formula allows for it to continually keep bringing up more and more variety.”

Dudgeon has long been a fan of the series and first appeared as a guest character early in the show’s run. “I understood the tone of the show; it’s a serious police whodunit, but it’s got this eccentricity, and the murders are a bit weird—it’s a little bit off-kilter as well. I thought, I get that, and I think I can step into that and find room to play around; do the serious and twinkly funny stuff and help with the eccentric stuff and all that.”

Earlier in his career, Dudgeon frequently portrayed villains. “I moved more toward the law enforcement side and then ultimately to Barnaby. When [Midsomer Murders] was created in about 1995/1996, the great vogue for television policemen was that they were all divorced. They all had very troubled personal lives. They were all alcoholics. They had their own kind of music that they listened to incessantly. They had their own car that they had to drive. There was this great sort of maverick thing going on, which largely continues to this day. The people who created this show thought, well, let’s do something different from that. Let’s not do all those police show tropes. Let’s have our policeman being a nice, contented man with a happy marriage and a lovely wife who spends all day trying to solve these terrible murders with a bunch of eccentrics and strange characters. And then he comes home to his wife, and he’s perfectly happy and has a nice, relaxing evening. I found the idea of that very interesting. And also getting away from that stereotype of the policeman who is all tortured and tormented. From an acting point of view, it’s very interesting playing the nice, solid, dependable, thoughtful person. It seems as though you’ve got a more muted palette to draw from, but in a way, that’s a kind of great challenge. How do you keep the personality in it and the character in it and nuances and the light and shade? It’s a very different kind of acting challenge and a very interesting one that I must say, I still very much enjoy.”