More mayhem amongst the country lanes and hedgerows -

Celebrity magic, a folk festival and the launch of a new English sparkling wine become the backdrops for murder and mayhem as Neil Dudgeon and Gwilym Lee return to the beautiful but deadly countryside in a new series of the top-rating Midsomer Murders. . .

Sunday, 1st February 2015, 7:00 am

Neil Dudgeon gets to perform alongside the crème of the British acting fraternity in Midsomer Murders 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 that Sykes the dog has wandered off.

“So it’s always a bit complicated but because you know they are really not actors but delightful 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 getting impaled in bed by a medieval chandelier!”

Despite the more extravagant murders, Neil believes Midsomer Murdersnever 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!”

Gwilym Lee had to learn how to perform magic tricks for the new series of Midsome. 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 magic tricks but for this episode I had to learn to make coins disappear through a glass. So hopefully 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 jump and the stunt co-ordinator filmed it on his phone. When I watched I realised that I really need 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 Midsiomr 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!”

This week’s episode - Murder by Magic:

Landlady Hannah Altman is crushed to death by a giant Perspex box during a magic show by famous illusionist Gideon Latimer aimed at raising funds for St Cyprian’s Church. Kate finds that cables to the box were deliberately sabotaged – it’s murder. But Gideon, his wife

Annabel and manager Theo Bainbridge didn’t even know Hannah.

Evangelising curate Andrew Maplin tells vicar Magnus Soane that the tragedy is God’s

vengeance for the pagan traditions still held deep in Midsomer Oaks. Barnaby and Nelson fear Gideon was the real target, especially when Annabel reveals hate mail has been sent to Melmoth Hall, his newly-acquired country seat. That night a group of masked pagans hold fire-lit ceremony. . .

A quick chat with Amanda Burton

Amanda Burton relished the chance to play possessive mother Carole Latimer in this week’s episode.

“I was very attracted to the role of Carole. She is overly possessive, she has a total focus on her son and enjoys her position of being the mother of a very famous magician. She also has a dark side to her and wasn’t always what she seemed.

“So that all added up into an interesting character and draws me to the part like a moth to a flame.

“Carole is quite smart and well-groomed. She lives quite a high life on the back of her son. She doesn’t have to worry about the pennies so she gets to stay in a big house, with lovely clothes and a nice car.

“But she lives vicariously through her son and her lifestyle is dependent on Gideon’s success, so she treads a precarious line. “

Amanda was delighted to be part of the long-running series. “It was lovely to be part of a drama that has had such longevity. It was like walking into a well-oiled machine and I was thrilled to join the Midsomer family. I didn’t know Andrew who played my son but we had fun off-screen which was great, as the relationship between them on-screen is very intense and focused.”

Midsomer Murders, ITV, Wednesdays 8pm.