MIDSOMER MURDERS’ DCI BARNABY – ALIAS JOHN NETTLES OBE
Born in Cornwall in 1943, actor JOHN NETTLE’S birth mother was an Irish nurse, who came to the U.K during World War II. John was adopted at birth by Eric Nettles, a carpenter, and his wife Elsie. Maybe it was this early adoption which created such a positive character? Or maybe his studies in history and philosophy at Southampton University? His success as a documentary author? The breakup of his first marriage to Joyce? Looking after their daughter Emma? But no matter what it was, if ever there is a man with more conviction than John Nettles, about the statements he makes, I have yet to meet him.
When I interview John in Jersey in 1987, whatever he tells me explodes with such passion in those fiercely blue eyes, that it is quite mesmerizing. “Mine is a house to be lived in not looked at!” he declares. “I don’t like knick-knacks and ornaments. I love my rooms straightforward, very plain and unadorned. That’s the difference between my house and other people’s. “I am a very untidy and disorganized person. So if there are too many loose bits around, my place ends up a terrible mess. And I don’t even notice my surroundings then.” John’s 17th century Jersey farmhouse in the Channel Islands boasts only the barest essentials.
At first glance, you suspect that the uncluttered rooms, halls and corridors are as bland and aesthetically clean as they are, due to John’s recent arrival at his new home, for the last year’s filming of Britain’s most successful TV Police Series ‘BERGERAC.’ But he soon sets you straight on that assumption. “As the house is a farmhouse and that’s the feel of it, I go with that feel and enhance it, rather than change it to something which it is not.” Built from solid blocks of Jersey granite, its golden colour reflected by the sun, the ancient farmhouse stands in the midst of fields and narrow, curvy lanes, adjacent to hills and beaches, typifying the island’s varied landscape, through which, in spite of the pins in his hip from a recent bike accident, John loves cycling on his new bike, as well as doing four to five workouts each week with weights.
“That’s why I have put rough and functional things in it,” he continues. “I’ve bought a lot of cut-price furniture at sales, like a job lot of the dark curtains, which I love against the light walls. “When I bought a velour lounge suite I told the salesman I would recover it in hessian, because the coarseness of that material blends much better into the atmosphere of the rough walls and the natural stone everywhere. The man was horrified.” Then, a broad smile lightens up John’s serious demeanor.
“You don’t have to grow up here,” he laughs, “You can be a child forever: the wonderful beaches, surfing, canoeing, jet-skiing, swimming, scuba-diving and the constant social whirl. “I play hard and I work hard. But I had to find somewhere quiet, away from the beaten track, especially as my daughter Emma, now 17 – going on to 30 – lives with me and goes to school here.” Although his role as Jim Bergerac has made John Nettles a household name, ‘MIDSOMER MURDERS’ elevated him to a household ICON after the 90’s. The ‘Midsomer Murders’ TV Series is Britain’s biggest ever drama export with over 116 episodes and 19 series.
Over 20 years later and still shown in 200 territories worldwide, the TV series’ popularity remains strong, which is not surprising. Where else than ‘Midsomer Murders’ do you find over 120 regular weekly and sometimes daily murders with weapons such as: candlesticks, Celtic spears, liquid nicotine, slide projectors, poisonous frogs, arrows, hemlock, cocktail cabinets, King Neptune’s trident, vintage claret, toxic fungi, hit & run, hat pins, bill hooks, museum daggers, spades, wires across riding and bicycle tracks and more??
Usually it’s us common folk like my John and I who are true fans, never missing a weekly episode, but in Nettles’ case his own most avid ‘Midsomer Murders’ fans include Joan Collins, Johnnie Depp, Sharon Stone and ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, with celebrities like Orlando Bloom, Suzi Quatro and Jenny Agutter being just a few of many having made guest appearances on ‘Midsomer Murders.’
After 81 episodes Nettles finishes his DCI Tom Barnaby role at the end of the 13th series in 2011, when his TV cousin, Neil Dudgeon, takes over as DCI James Barnaby policing the mayhem of the dangerous Midsomer streets at the beginning of the 14th series. Yet in 2018, Queensland TV channels simultaneously screen different episodes with both actors, Tom Barnaby in one and James Barnaby in the other, in the same week. Neil Dudgeon is a great actor too. But John Nettles will always remain our favourite. And he chose his favourite spot in Jersey because his farmhouse with the quaint name of ‘La Grande Maison Du Francfief’ is a true retreat away from the hurly-burly of filmmaking on the opposite side of the island where ‘Bergerac’ Police Station stands, which is actually a school.
John loves his farmhouse because it is so typically Jersey and where he can write his books in peace and tranquillity. His last published book in 2012, ‘JEWELS & JACKBOOTS’ is now on Kindle. John continues about his farmhouse. “The rooms are large, are centrally heated, and the bedrooms are well separated from each other, which is what I need. Areas of privacy are absolutely essential. “Emma is at the other end of the house and we would not even have to meet, if we did not want to. She has her own en-suite bathroom, which is a must. If you’ve ever seen a teenager’s bathroom, you’ll know what I mean.”
And it’s the total freedom of farm life that appeals to John most, particularly that his “ridiculous tabby, Coco” and Emma’s dogs can roam absolutely free and unfenced, as he concludes: “Large cities are no longer built to human scale where you can live properly. They are too big for people to relate to in the human sense. They have become gross and distorted places with inadequate responses to people’s needs, as so many important things, like beauty are left out.”