John Nettles has scored a rare double by creating a second top-rating TV detective. Millions of viewers welcomed his return to television crime as DCI Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murders, 15 years after he first found fame as Jersey heart-throb Jim Bergerac.


"I'm delighted to play a cop again, especially someone like Barnaby," explains John. "Midsomer Murders is a very quirky series, it's what I think of as English baroque. No-one is quite what they seem to be and nothing is as it appears. Behind the lace curtain lies the psychopath and inside the Fair Isle jumper is a potential killer.


"It's like the intellectual challenge of a whodunnit but it's a puzzle, not too clever. It's contemporary but spiritually it's in the 50s. It is not procedural cop drama like Lynda La Plante and some others. It belongs to an entirely different world and they never meet."


Adds John: "The only normal person there is Barnaby. He's the chap who has some toehold on reality and that's the trick of it. He's really the viewer, asking questions to find out who committed the crime and not to be too intrusive."


John's second incarnation as a TV cop is worlds apart from his first as Bergerac.


"Barnaby wears three-piece suits. He's a regular cop, middle-aged, fat, happily married, not dysfunctional in any way. He expresses himself very well, whereas Bergerac was positively catatonic when it came to saying anything.


"He's anti-romantic, with terrible taste in clothes, lives in an awful house and drives an ordinary car. His world is ordered, polite, very English. Bergerac's world was one of easy sex and physical violence. He was the fist fight on the cliff top, the flash car and the faster woman."


One of the appeals of Midsomer Murders was the opportunity to work with a wide range of guest stars as the village characters.


Says John: "It gives a lot of scope for that host of English actors who are wonderful at playing eccentricity. I enjoy it because you get to meet such a lot of wonderful actors, some of whom have been my heroes since the year dot, like Richard Briers who is part of the mental furniture.


"Also the wonderful Gordon Gostelow, who dresses up as Robin Hood at one point in Death's Shadow. You can't be in a scene with him because he steals it, which is exactly as it should be. To meet these people in the flesh is terrific, a great joy."


After coming out of Bergerac, John enjoyed a successful run with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and lives close to Stratford-upon-Avon in a converted barn with his wife Cathy and their two dogs.


"I enjoy living in a rural community, and the Buckinghamshire villages where we film Midsomer Murders are utterly beautiful. Sadly, though, the vibrancy and intensity of village life as we portray it is of the past. But the series has done very well in America because it's how they see the English and how we would like to see ourselves if the truth be known!"


John still visits Jersey regularly to see his daughter Emma, who lives there.


"Ironically, she works for the Jersey police, although she's a civilian, not out on the beat. But she doesn't get teased mercilessly because she's not called Nettles, so her work-mates probably don't know I'm her father!"


After playing two such successful TV detectives, John can see the appeal of police work.


"I would like to think I'd have made a decent cop and I would have given it a shot, but to be a good policeman these days demands so many rarer and extraordinary qualities and those who have them should be treasured. It's no picnic - Barnaby's job is idyllic compared to the political and sociological considerations which have to be taken into account. All in all, I think I'll stick to acting."


When Death's Shadow is screened, John will be busy re-creating his role as King Rat in Dick Whittington, this year at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham.


I've done the panto for the last nine years, with Jeffrey Holland and Lesley Joseph. It's a great challenge and we only get Christmas Day off, but it's terrific after nine years we're still a happy crowd."


John also narrates several major television series, including Airport, Disaster and X-Cars.