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Doing as the Doctor says

Thursday, May 8, 2014
11:48 AM

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“Port Isaac is idyllic and it ’s old-fashioned, and I love that. There is a saying that children and dogs don’t lie - and children and dogs

love it. Get them down to the beach and they’re in their element. It just works being down there, it really, really does” Cornwall has a long-standing tradition of providing eclectic, absorbing and elegant settings for television programmes. In recent years, Wycliffe, Wild West and Echo Beach have ventured to the county in search of the perfect backdrop; while reaching further back into the TV drama archives, Poldark used the county to great effect in enhancing its romantic saga which, to this day, remains one of the most successful book-to-TV adaptations (and rumour has it it will be returning to our screens).

So when ITV decided a decade ago they wanted to shoot their new comedy drama Doc Martin in the region, they knew the quality of the series already had a fine geographical platform to sit on. And after all, how could a combination of likeable actor Martin Clunes and Cornwall possibly go wrong?

By that point, the 52-year- old already had a great track record of fronting successful TV shows, starring in Men Behaving Badly – for which he won a BAFTA for outstanding comedy performance – Saving Grace, William and Mary, and more.

Of course, Doc Martin follows the travails of a curmudgeonly,

"Port Isaac is idyllic and it’s old fashioned, and I love that. There is a saying that children and dogs don’t lie - and children and dogs love it. Get them down to the beach and they’re in their element. It just works being down there it really, really does"

squeamish local doctor (Dr Ellington), set in the fic tional coved hamlet of Portwenn (Port Isaac in reality). It’s a concept that should have longevity,

and that has been proved some 10 years and six series on, with the terrestrial hit pulling in an average of eight million viewers per episode.

“Eight million? Have they nothing better to do?” begins Clunes, with typical modest abandon, as we begin our exclusive inter view. “Actually I think it’s more – there are 200 countries who have either bought the rights or remade the programme.” Though how could anyone ‘remake’ the comic individuality of Clunes, we query. “I think the question should be ‘ why would they possibly want

to?’” he retorts, w ith a trademark booming laugh.

Yet for all of Clunes’ excellence in the lead role and the astutely observed supporting cast - “the show’s success is based on the alchemy of all its constituent parts… we take an awful lot of care over the writing,” he offers – the actor suggests that the setting of Port Isaac is as an important factor as any other.

“It’s vital. Port Isaac has always been regarded as a character in Doc Martin, not just a place itself. It’s like a real-life living thing. I think just being there influences how we are as people and as actors, and the intention is that it has the same effect on those who watch from home – you can find your whole mindset transported, if you allow it to be.”

Certainly the sun-draped majesty of Port Isaac seems constant, but there are no special effects at play, just some clever manipulation of what’s on offer. “Well,” Clunes continues, sucking in as if he’s about to reveal one of the industry’s biggest secrets. “Maybe we should admit that when the sun emerges we get at least two cameras out for any bit of filming. We want the whole feeling of the drama to feel sunny, to keep it looking as good as it can. People do ask how it looks so sunny, particularly local residents who obviously have to contend with the wind and the rain, just like the rest of us. But the truth is we shoot as much as we can in the sun and pepper the episodes with those shots. Creative licence, you might call it!”

Clunes’s natural habitat is actually close by – he lives just over the border in Dorset. That made the decision to stay with the role over the past decade all the more easy.

“It’s idyllic and it’s old-fashioned, and I love that. There is a saying that children and dogs don’t lie - and children and dogs love it. Get them

down to the beach and they ’rein their element. It just works being down there, it really, really does. We film it nicely, too. And yes, personally, it was a huge draw. I live in one holiday location and I work in another one.”

The series was actually based on his own 2000 comedy film Saving Grace, but Cornwall had been a place that had passed by the actor up until the series was commissioned. “I think I’d been once, as a drama student in my teenaged years. It was just another place to me back then, and I didn’t quite see it for what it is.”

Not that he professes to know the whole region intimately even now. Clunes spends four-and-a-half months a year there, although the relaxed setting conceals what is a punishing workload. “People always say to me, ‘ when you go to Cornwall you should go here and you should go there’, but I don’t get a split second. The only bit of Cornwall I ever get to see is that little stretch of Port Isaac coastline, which is a shame but probably to be expected.”

With the considerable interruption of film crews and their associated infrastructure of lorries, cables and other paraphernalia, the actor is grateful for the patience of residents, even if in the early days some had to be reassured that their seductive environs weren’t about to be taken over by TV staff and subsequent tourists desperate to sample some of that Doc Martin peace.

“I think there was a feeling that we were coming along to rob them. I could understand them being cautious. But of course we only ever had the best intentions. We have never meant any harm and we give back to the community whenever we can - our executive producer is a local, as is the location manager, and we employ a local crew. We never came in like Holly wood folk bullying ever yone and smoking cigars.”

Clunes has previously stated that series six of Doc Martin could be the last time we see him in Port Isaac. Is that still the case?

“We are making a series next year, so I was lying again when I said that it might be the last one. We’ve got a good idea how to do the next one but

we really don’t want to repeat ourselves, and that’s always the challenge. If we run out of ideas I think we should stop – that’s important no matter what you do. “But I’d hate it if that day came. We are left completely to our own devices in Cornwall, as everybody at ITV is too busy worried about every thing else. Long may it remain that way!”

Series six of Doc Martin is available on DVD from 24 March.

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