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By Tim Oglethorpe for MailOnline
Updated: 05:41 EDT, 22 January 2010

Birthday Fanfare for Him Card | Zazzle.com | Birthday Cards ...
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As retirement parties go, the one John Nettles is planning for himself looks like being a deadly serious affair. It will be held on August 19 , at around 4pm, when he is due to shoot his final scene as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby in the long-running Midsomer Murders series.

‘There won’t be a lot of fuss,’ he says. ‘I’ll say my last line and when the director shouts “Cut!” I’ll shake the hand of my sidekick, Jason Hughes, and give any corpses laying around a farewell kiss.

Finally gone: John Nettles has announced his retirement from Midsomer Murders

There’s bound to be one or two. This is, after all, Midsomer, that idyllic belt of Middle England which happens to have probably the highest murder rate in the world.

‘And after that, I shall go home, open a rather nice bottle of Beaujolais and reflect on 14 years investigating some 200 rather unpleasant deaths amid the most deceptively beautiful countryside populated by people who may be outwardly charming, but in every episode turn out to have the most ingeniously brutal and twisted minds. But in Midsomer, that’s been their way of life – and death – for as long as anyone can remember.’

Nettles is 66, and gave notice a year ago that he is giving up his role at the end of the next series, the 13th.

There was a lot of speculation at the time that he might have fallen victim to youth-obsessed TV executives who regard the slightest sign of a grey hair or a wrinkle on their stars as a turn-off for audiences.

However, this was never a likely scenario, as Midsomer Murders not only tops the ratings here, but the series sells to more than 100 countries around the world, including the U.S. and China.

‘She tells me that she’s become a karate expert and wants Now Nettles – who returns with another new Midsomer story on Wednesday, investigating the death of a journalist, played by Rik Mayall – wants to put the record straight.

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‘When I started out in this series, I still had a lot of my acting career in front of me. Now I’m pensionable age, and it is mostly behind me!

‘I looked at David Jason when he said he was quitting A Touch Of Frost and I realised that with him giving up the mantle, I would be the oldest detective in the business.

Nettles is 66, and gave notice a year ago that he is giving up his role at the end of the next series, the 13th

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My final episode will be the 82nd. That’s enough for anyone. I’ve come to a natural end and the last thing I want to do is to bore people.

‘I want to try other things before the Grim Reaper comes knocking. I will still work, but at a slightly less frenetic pace. Midsomer Murders has taken ten months out of every year and it’s played havoc with my family life. Now, it’s time to restore some order.’

In the series, DCI Barnaby is a family man and, being a local, usually manages to get home for dinner with his long-suffering wife Joyce, played by Jane Wymark (pictured below with onscreen daughter Laura Howard) – although he is invariably called out again when yet another bloodied body is found.

But with his mind always focused on work, Barnaby seems too distracted to pay her very much attention. ‘You do wonder how they ever got together to have a family and a proper relationship,’ admits Nettles.

In the original books, author Caroline Graham painted a picture of a very active sex life for the detective and his wife Joyce.

‘But the audience for the TV version seems to like it tamer,’ says Nettles. ‘And that means no steamy scenes, no chance of seeing the horrors of Barnaby’s sex life on full display. 

Nettles with his fellow actor Jane Wymark, who plays his onscreen wife

The television series not only tops the ratings here, but also sells to more than 100 countries around the world

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‘Scenes in the bedroom, yes – I think I’ve spent longer between the sheets with Jane than I have with my real wife Cathryn over the past 13 years.

‘But never anything more intimate. Although I get the impression there are women out there who would like to see Barnaby in more intimate situations – probably with themselves.

‘Some of the letters they write to me are eye-watering in their detail.

I have one particularly excitable correspondent, in Norway, whose letters have become fruitier as the years have gone by.

‘She sends me diet sheets because she says I’m too fat, which I am. And she sends me presents, including an expensive watch, but Cath decided they were over the top, so she sent them back.

‘Unfortunately, she put our address on the back of the package, so now this very devoted lady writes to me at home instead of having to go via my very protective agent. to grapple with me – or perhaps, more accurately, Barnaby – on the mat at her gym. I fear I may have to decline her kind invitation.’ 

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He gets a lot of fan letters from women in France. ‘ Midsomer is a huge hit there and it’s all down to the guy dubbing me into French. He’s a middle-aged, balding fellow and even he would admit he’s not the most attractive person in the world, but he has the most fantastic voice and makes me sound like God’s Gift.

‘I don’t sound so good in the German version. My voice sounds like a screeching cat, which I suppose is why I don’t get many fan letters from frauleins!’

Nettles quashes speculation the series will end when he goes. Indeed, the show’s producers have been auditioning for a new screen detective to take over and, although they aren’t due to announce his name until later this year, behind-the-scenes gossip is that they are already 95 per cent certain of their choice.

‘Now I feel I’ve sung all the songs I want to sing as Barnaby, it’s time to join another choir. It’s about wanting to do other things with my career before it’s too late, including stage work. I haven’t been on stage for 14 years and I need to go back.

‘The first night will be petrifying. When I finished my first long run as a TV policeman – as the Jersey policeman Jim Bergerac – it was a long time before I felt comfortable on stage again, and I don’t suppose it will be any easier this time. But I have to do it.

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Good-Bye and Good Luck Jumbo Good Luck Card, 14

‘And there’s another reason. I want to spend more time with my family. I want to see much more of my grandchildren, my daughter Emma’s youngsters, Nathan, eight, and Sophie, two. They live on Jersey, so I haven’t been able to get there very often, but when I leave Midsomer it will be a bonus to be able to fly over whenever I want.

‘And my wife is very pleased I’m leaving – although I suspect she will have plenty to keep me busy when I have more time on my hands. Almost by a process of osmosis, she is introducing more and more animals to our home for me to look after. The list includes two kittens; five chickens named after the Spice Girls; three cats, a dog, and a donkey called Hector.

‘I have a feeling that Hector is payback time as far as my wife is concerned. I smuggled a plasma screen TV into our front room when Cathryn wasn’t at home, and when I went away she installed Hector into the paddock.’

He smiles widely as he tells this tale of domestic tit-for-tat and it is clear he has found a partner for life in Cathryn, a former actress whom he met while appearing in pantomime with the late comedian Les Dawson in Birmingham in 1987.

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‘Les was telling an interminably long joke about a turtle, at the hotel in which we were staying – an abattoir with sheets, as he called it – and I thought it only gentlemanly to take this pretty, young dark-haired woman, who was clearly very bored, away from him, mid-flow, and buy her a drink.

‘Things moved on from there,’ says Nettles, who has no doubt why his 14-year marriage to Cathryn has endured. ‘She knows me so well,’ he says quietly. ‘I can relax – I don’t feel the need to act in her presence.’

Marital contentment wasn’t always his lot. His first marriage, to casting director Joyce Nettles, mother of his daughter

Emma, ended in divorce after 13 years, John blaming himself for the break-up.

‘I was a Sixties man and people tended not to stay married in those days. Marriage was a minor inconvenience which you could throw off. I was – in the past –

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