American TV may savor the good-cop/bad-cop concept.
But in England – where crime shows flourish – there’s old-cop/young cop. Just ask Neil Dudgeon (shown here), whose “Midsomer Murders” is starting a four-movie stretch on the Acorn streaming service.
“I spent a lot of times as a younger actor, (paired with) a senior actor,” Dudgeon told the Television Critics Association. “And the senior actor would do all the thinking and be rather brilliant at solving a crime. And then he would say to me: ‘Oh, look, he’s run off into the river. Chase him!’”
Or worse: “’Oh, he’s gone in the sewer now! Get him.’”
Now that’s changed. Nick Hendrix (shown here with Dudgeon), 36, plays Jamie Winter, the sergeant who does the chasing. Dudgeon plays John Barnaby, who does the thinking.
Barnaby is calm, thoughtful and “terribly, terribly English.” Dudgeon said. He’s part of a British tradition that goes from Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie tales and a flood of current TV mysteries, reaching Americans via Acorn or Britbox, plus Saturdays on Ovation and Sundays on PBS.
These tend to be quality productions, done carefully. It took nine months, Dudgeon said, to shoot this season’s six “Midsomer” movies. (Two reached Acorn last spring; the others arrive on consecutive Mondays.)
The British seem to have lots of mysterious settings to film in. The Sept. 27 film was shot in a classic mansion that Christie characters would have savored.
Stories are approached calmly, which is what the original producer, Betty Willingale, had in mind.
“She was looking at theTV landscape,” Dudgeon said. Its detectives “were all divorced and they drank whiskey all the time and they … drove this kind of sports car or that kind of Land Rover.
“And she said … ‘I don’t want any that. I want a murder mystery and the character of the policeman, he’s a nice, level-headed man with a nice wife and family. And he’s happy and it’s not about” him.
So she had Caroline Graham’s “Chief Inspector Barnaby” books adapted for TV. The result has thrived.
John Nettles played Tom Barnaby for a dozen seasons, retiring from the show at 67. Dudgeon has continued – as Tom’s younger cousin – for a decade … always with a younger actor nearby, to run through the river and the sewer.