© ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Neil Dudgeon plays DCI John Barnaby

Neil Dudgeon gets to perform alongside the crème of the British acting fraternity in Midsomer Murdes but often finds his scenes stolen by a baby or a dog.


He explains: "Barnaby becoming a doting dad is a strong storyline in the new series so we now have domestic scenes with his wife, dog and baby, which actually means two babies, as we work with twins. You know exactly what you're supposed to be doing in the scene and then on comes one baby, who starts crying, so we get the other one, and then discover thatSykes the dog has wandered off.


"So it's always a bit complicated but because you know they are really not actors butdelightful babies and a wonderful little dog you just have to go with it. You accept that it doesn't really matter what you've said or done in the scene after all. After all, the best actors can be unpredictable sometimes and that's half the fun!"


Neil admits that his favourite murders are the more exotic ones. "In the new series, a man gets drowned in a bowl of eggs and live eels. It's a nasty way to go but there's a reason for it. The ingenuity is marvellous and there are some pretty rococo ways of dying in Midsomer. My favourite has to be from an episode set at a vintage car rally when unfortunately a young man is killed by a starting handle. I also liked the one when Martine McCutcheon was killed by a giant wheel of blue cheese. The more bizarre the better!


"It's not shockingly violent like the things you see on the news. For me, gritty is more about emotional truth than graphic violence. But I don't live in fear of a gargoyle dropping off my roof and crushing me to death in real life, and nor am I kept awake by the chance of gettingimpaled in bed by a medieval chandelier!"


Despite the more extravagant murders, Neil believes Midsomer Murders never strays into farce.


"It doesn't take itself too seriously but I don't think we go too far in being tongue in cheek. You get the squires and lords who can be eccentric in beautiful surroundings but we have to play it straighter and that's what keeps it real. The discrepancy between the rural idyll and the seething mass of jealousies and death that runs underneath is what sets it apart."


The popularity of the series means that Neil often encounters fans from far-flung countries.


"We met a group from Sweden who were on a Midsomer Murders tour. They turned up at the same place where we were filming and applauded us as we came out to do the scene. Then they told some fans from the Netherlands where we were and they came along too. Another day two chaps from Germany turned up with T-shirts with our faces on which was a bit alarming!"


Neil starred as Jim Riley in Life of Riley and his other roles include The Mrs Bradley Mysteries, The Gift, The Nativity, Common as Muck, The Street, Messiah, Roman's Empire,Out of the Blue, Resnick, Sorted and the award-winning feature film Son of Rambow. His theatre credits include Road and Blasted at the Royal Court, and Closer at the National.


Gwilym Lee plays DS Charlie Nelson

Gwilym Lee had to learn how to perform magic tricks for the new series. Gwilym, who plays DS Charlie Nelson, impresses his colleagues after a case involving a celebrity magician.


He explains: "I had to have magic lessons, which is something I didn't ever think I'd be doing in my career but it was great fun. When I was a kid, I would play around with magictricks but for this episode I had to learn to make coins disappear through a glass. Sohopefully I will be able to entertain my nieces and nephews at Christmas now."


Another episode required Gwilym to jump out of a window when Nelson chases a suspect. "I enjoy doing stunts although I haven't done that many so far. In the last series I had to jump into a freezing lake and this time I jump out of a top floor window. I did a practice jumpand the stunt co-ordinator filmed it on his phone. When I watched I realised that I reallyneed to work on making a more heroic face as I jump!"


After filming two series, Gwilym feels at home in his role as Nelson. "He's originally from the city so it took him a while to get used to the pace of village life and the way that everyone knows everyone else's business. He's a modern guy - he can cook and keep the house tidy and look after himself, even though he lodges with Kate, the pathologist. They have a great relationship with an air of mystery to it. I'm not sure whether it will ever be a romance, but I wouldn't rule it out.


"It's great to be part of Midsomer Murders. It portrays a beautiful picture of the English countryside - a picturesque slice of life with completely eccentric characters who have weird secrets that get exposed. I like the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously."


Gwilym's role as a detective hasn't stopped him from becoming a victim of crime, however. "I was burgled and almost bumped into the guys as they were walking out of my house. I decided to phone the police, however, not have a go myself, as I am not Nelson outside working hours and I didn't have my prop warrant card with me!"


Gwilym played rugby at county level before becoming an actor and he still enjoys keeping fit. "I have done a triathlon with Dean Andrews who is a guest star in one episode - I did the running bit. I've also done the London Marathon for TV Times to raise money for leukaemia charities. It was an amazing event and I raised £4,500."


He is currently filming a BBC drama 'A Song for Jenny' based on the book by the same name and adapted for screen by Frank McGuinness. ''I play James, Jenny's boyfriend and it follows the story of Jenny Nicholson's family who are affected by the 7/7 bombings. Jenny was killed in the Edgware Road bombings and the story looks at the impact on the familyfrom the day of the bombings to the funeral.''


Gwilym's first professional role was alongside Jude Law in Oedipus and he also appeared with Derek Jacobi in the National Theatre's production of King Lear, winning a Sunday Times Award for his portrayal of Edgar. Gwilym also played the lead role in Versailles directed by Peter Gill. His TV credits include Restless, Fresh Meat, The Hollow Crown,Monroe, Animal Ark and Land Girls and he has also appeared in the films The Tourist andIsle of Dogs.


Fiona Dolman plays Sarah Barnaby

Playing new mum Sarah Barnaby came easily to Fiona Dolman because she recently had a baby herself.


Explains Fiona: "The new series introduces the Barnabys as parents for the first time, trying to juggle work and home life. They are a realistic, modern family - they both pull their weight and having Betty strengthens their relationship. I didn't have to try too hard to play feeling shattered because my own daughter Maddie helpfully decided to wake up the night before filming, so no method acting was required!"


Fiona was pregnant during filming of series 16 and her daughter celebrated her first birthday while series 17 was being filmed.


"The baby strand was massively fortuitous for me. It was absolutely fabulous that the producers included my pregnancy in real time but now Maddie is slightly ahead of baby Betty and running around.


"For the role of Betty we have twin girls and they were completely delightful. Their mother was extraordinary - her husband was posted away and she was dealing with twins but completed unfazed. Because she was so relaxed, the babies were absolute sweethearts.


Everyone on the crew was pulling out their own baby photos so it brought a whole family feel to the set, which was lovely."


Adds Fiona: "I hope that having a child has brought a different dynamic to the Barnabys and a new sort of energy. I think it's a big strength that the leading character has a happy marriage. It's not always easy for them but they manage to carry on their careers. It's good to see a TV couple who have babies, jobs, a marriage that worksand a good time together."


Barnaby and Sarah even manage to get some time to themselves in the new series.


Explains Fiona: "My favourite episode is the music festival one. It's the first time that Barnaby and Sarah have left Betty for a night out so it was lovely to have some flirty scenes with Neil. I'm a single mum in real life, but talking to other parents I know it does take a while to get back into your relationship as a couple because there is a baby in the middle of it all.


"Sarah is very excited about a night out and they leave Nelson babysitting. Sarah wasn't too relaxed but Nelson does a great job. Gwilym is very like his character and has also put himself up for babysitting! In fact everyone has been very supportive. Tamzin Malleson and I just clicked from the beginning and she has a little girl who is older than Maddie so she is a good call if I'm ever worried about anything."


Sarah Barnaby returns to her job as a headmistress during the new series. Like her, Fiona enjoys combining motherhood with work.


"I have such great support from my family; they look after Maddie while I'm filming and it seems to work really well. I would love to do more theatre, but that would take serious practical arrangements so television is best at the moment."


Fiona's credits include Heartbeat, The Royal Today, Holby City, Doctors, New Tricks, Coronation Street, Paradox, Waterloo Road and the feature film Ways to Live Forever.


Tamzin Malleson plays Dr Kate Wilding

Tamzin Malleson is enjoying developing the lighter side of Dr Kate Wilding, away from the dead bodies and forensic labs.


"Kate is landlady to DS Nelson and they have become very good friends, so there's a lot of banter between them. He winds her up by making personal comments when they're working. It's good to have those lighter moments between the complicated forensic stuff.


"Her relationship with Nelson is almost too comfortable and Kate feels that Nelson should get out a bit more and live his own life. She's a bit older - she lives to work and everythingelse is takeaways or relaxing. She is perfectly happy with that and it ticks all the boxes but she feels Nelson should live a little.


"We always laugh at the domestic scenes because the four of us are together and don't seem to have any other friends. Kate always has a glass of wine in her hand, which is not that dissimilar from me and I am into my food like her. She has a great relationship with Sarah Barnaby and that reflects off-screen too as Fiona and I get on very well.


"When we get to the end of the series I know I'm going to miss the regular cast because the four of us do get on so well. I don't usually get to see the guest actors unless they are naked on a slab trying not to breathe, or drowned in a vat of wine!"


Dr Wilding has been a regular part of Midsomer since series 14.


"Kate is ambitious and she's a bright spark. She fills in the bits that the viewers can't see. She gives a summary of how the murder took place and what weapons were used, so she gives clues without showing the gore. She has a sense of humour, albeit a gallows sense, but it's a way of dealing with the gruesome things she sees every day."


Tamzin feels very at home in the Midsomer Murders countryside as she lives on a smallholding in Gloucestershire with her partner, actor Keith Allen, and their eight-year-old daughter Teddie Rose.


"I'm always busy at home because we live on a farm and are constantly battling nature. We have a pig called Harrison and he talks to you and is as affectionate as a dog but you don't have to take him for walks. My daughter loves him and tries to ride him from time to time which he doesn't appreciate!


"It's a struggle to keep up with the land but it's worth it. We grow our own vegetables - tomatoes, courgettes, beans and parsnips - which is why I never panic about unemployment as I'm always busy. I'm a homebody and I love being in the country.


"We have loads of apple, pear and plum trees and I make jams and always give Neil and Gwilym and the make-up ladies a jar of chutney or jam at the end of the series. Neil sent me a note to say that the job is worth doing for the jar of chutney alone!"


Tamzin's credits include Teachers, Bodies, Dangerfield, Always & Everyone, Agatha Christie's Poirot, The Vice, Boy Meets Girl and the feature film 7lives. In between series of MIDSOMER MURDERS, she helped out at the Latitude Festival.


"Keith and I were running performance tents and working on the bars. It was great fun."


Executive Producer - Jo Wright

Crime novels, magic and paganism, folk ballads and English wine are ideal backdrops for the new series of Midsomer Murders, according to executive producer Jo Wright.


"Midsomer Murders may be set in the countryside but we like to look at rural issues that aren't old fashioned. Most countryside today is different from what it used to be. There are new and diverse industries which don't rely on agriculture and that throws up all kinds of wonderful themes for us to choose which we then mix with a classic whodunit.


"The first episode is about a crime festival and we went to the Harrogate Festival to meet experts in crime-writing, which was really interesting. The second one about magic came out of the idea that modern magicians like Dynamo have almost become today's rock stars and some are buying up big houses in the country.


"There is something fascinating about magic and illusions and our village in Midsomer has a background in paganism which ties in to the magic of the present day. We invested a lot of money on effects and it was great fun to do.


"The third story is the folk festival and we've brought in Lucie Jones from The X Factor and some guest stars like Clarke Peters from The Wire who is also a great singer. Setting up a festival is a way to bring money into the countryside as is the sparkling wine industry which forms our final episode."


The new series features music written especially by renowned singer-songwriter Seth Lakeman.


Says Jo: "The episode entitled 'The Ballad of Midsomer County' features a song by Seth. Lucie Jones plays Johnny's daughter Melody and she performs at the end of the episode. We're hoping to release some of the tracks."


As well as musical performances there is also some magic performed by Gwilym Lee in his role as DS Nelson. "I knew Gwilym would love the chance to do a bit of magic as he loves doing his own stunts. He's so game and competitive I knew he would work at the tricks to get them right. He has settled in so well and is incredibly charming."


Jo is proud of Midsomer Murders and its enduring popularity.


"One of the things I find fascinating is that it's not hard to keep it fresh each year. Great drama comes from great characters and with our regulars you have a spine to the drama which people want to watch. However good the whodunit element, you always need to keep the home life interesting. The horrible murders are juxtaposed with the Barnaby homely scenes.


"The Barnabys home life should always keep developing and now we have fun with baby Betty as well as Sykes the dog.''


The guest stars are important, too. "We make sure that the guest characters are interesting and then we can attract great actors to these parts. They come from across the board from soap stars to theatre leads and big TV names. You look round the table at a read-through and it's always amazing to see who's there."


Producer - Phil Hunter

Producer Phil Hunter believes the contrast between new dad DCI Barnaby's happy home life and his gritty day job tackling crime is fundamental to the success of Midsomer Murders.


"Baby Betty arrived in the 100th episode which gives us a serial element to the drama and cements the Barnabys as a family. We now have Barnaby, Sarah, Sykes the dog and Betty. Cut against the murder investigation in each episode, there will always be scenes with the Barnabys at home. People can relate to them as a family and they are a good contrast to Barnaby's work," explains Phil.


"They aren't flawed as a family like many cop shows where you usually find the detectives are deconstructed and the job owns them. Barnaby is passionate about his job but he doesn't have demons in his life. Despite the rather elaborate, macabre deaths, he goes home to a safe place at the end of the day. We wouldn't ever mess with that."


Adds Phil: "The cast really warmed to the addition of a new baby and Fiona who is a new mum herself is perfect to play the part. Kate and Nelson are there as a sort of aunt and uncle in the extended family and Nelson even babysits in one episode. It's a really warm place to be, and a great counterpoint to the murders themselves."


Sykes the dog is crucial to the drama, too.


"Sykes has a big part in each episode. He is central to the family; Barnaby talks to him and he listens and answers back. He's like an additional child in the household and in this series he has stepped up to his role as a sibling. He becomes a caretaker and is reasonably comfortable about the new baby in the room. He sees himself as a big brother! "The crew love it when Sykes is on set as he is always the consummate professional. There is usually a dangling sausage somewhere to help things run smoothly and he gets made a fuss of after a scene goes well. He is very much part of the crew."


Phil loves working with the leading actors Neil Dudgeon and Gwilym Lee. "The boys are shining examples of British acting talent - they are both really passionate about the show and are great professional actors, it's a joy to see them take a script and enhance what's on the page delivering brilliant and complex performances. They can go from the lighter moments to the more sinister scenes of crime with ease. Working long days with two leads who really care about what they do and respect the team they work with makes it a very happy place to be," says Phil.


Phil believes strong stories with clever themes woven through them are at the heart ofMidsomer Murders' success and believes series 17 provides four very distinct episodes that stand out for different reasons.


"It's also a snapshot of English life in the countryside and it's nice to be taken into that world. The veneer of beauty covering the deaths and dysfunctions is what makes it work so well. But no matter how it all looks, if I've guessed the killer in the first 10 minutes of reading a script then I know it's not going to work. I'm happy to get it wrong two or three times, that way I know the writer has crafted a clever and complex story that will allow us all to enjoy thered herrings along the way before Barnaby cracks the case".