CORNWALL LOVES... MARTIN CLUNES

PUBLISHED: 13:45 21 July 2015 | UPDATED: 13:00 30 August 2017

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© Neil Genower

Port Isaac in Cornwall becomes Port Wenn for the seventh series of Doc Martin starring Martin Clunes

CAROL BURNS heads to Port Isaac to catch up with Martin Clunes during filming of the seventh series of Doc Martin

As I head to Port Isaac – an overcast spring day magically blossoms into the bright Cornish sunshine that is perhaps as much a star of hit ITV show Doc Martin as Martin Clunes in the titular role. We are in the fictional town of Port Wenn. It’s only May and the crowds are gathering to see actress Caroline Quentin on her first day filming for the new series set to air later this year.

Now filming its seventh series, the hit ITV show has become a regular visitor to the old harbour town in North Cornwall, creating havoc on its narrow twisting cobbled streets as fans roll up to watch their favourite show being made, hopeful of catching a view of the be-suited GP striding around the town scowling at his patients. The production company behind the show has even set up a special fund for the town in recognition of its starring role in the success of the show.

The sun always shines in Port Wenn,’ jokes Martin Clunes, as he introduces himself. The instantly familiar actor who has graced our screens for more than three decades is intimidating in the iconic stuffed shirt’ that has become so familiar to fans of the erasable general practitioner Dr Martin Ellingham. Part of the success of Doc Martin, is Cornwall,’ he says as I begin with the oft-asked question of the importance of the show’s location. His easy manner much more like the kind of friendly-family doctor you’d want to show your throat infection to.

Port Isaac and Cornwall are and remain strong characters in the series.’ This is one of the reasons, he says that Doc Martin continues to be made on film – the last TV show to be made this way. A recognition, perhaps, that film can capture something digital can’t. If you are going to take a picture – take a nice one,’ he tells me with Doc Martin’s trademark practicality.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Clunes reprises his role as Dr Martin Ellingham, the GP with a brusque bedside manner and a phobia of blood that ended his promising surgical career and brought him to the Cornish harbour town of Port Wenn. Without giving too much away, the grumpy Doc will be working on fixing his relationship with new wife Louisa (Caroline Catz). The couple married in the last series, but their marital harmony was short lived - and Louisa took their son James Henry to Spain. So will the Doc sort himself out and win back his family?

Not at first, it seems. Clunes admits the Doc is getting worse. I think it’s very funny being a grumpy doctor – there is a lot of scope for comedy. The last series had quite an emotional agenda and we are keeping this - but trying to walk into more door frames.’

This series will also see the blossoming (or should that be withering) of a relationship, despite the Doc’s forceful attempts to the contrary, with his unwanted companion, the inappropriately-named Buddy. Clunes’ relationship with Buddy, played by eight-year-old Dodger, couldn’t be more different when the cameras stop rolling.

Dodger came from the Dog’s Trust in Evesham after being found wandering around the streets of Bradford as a puppy, although meant to be a family pet, his owner Sonia Turner realised she had a star on her hands – and became his trainer. Dodger is now one of the stars of Gill Raddings Stunt Dogs and Animals (which incidentally provided Demelza’s dog in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Poldark).

Clunes has nothing but praise for his on-screen housemate who spends most of his time being shouted at, berated and shoved out of the way by the grumpy doctor. Dodger is amazing,’ he admits, happy to let him steal the scene. There’s nothing Dodger can’t do.

Dogs don’t know the difference between work and play – a bit like actors,’ he says. So when we started I wouldn’t shout at him, I’d just mouth the words and we’d add the shouting in later, because he wouldn’t understand, he’d just hear shouting. But he’s fine with it now. He knows I love him and we play a lot off camera.’

Martin is brilliant with him,’ says Dodger’s trainer, Sonia. He is such a generous actor and Dodger knows Martin so well now.’ And it’s not all bad. Dodger has had the scenes of his dreams in this series. He got to eat a chicken casserole and a lasagne!’

It’s no surprise that Clunes is so good with Dodger. He himself has four dogs, including one picked up as a puppy during his last stop off in Cornwall. I’m told fans who turn up to watch the filming at Port Isaac will bring their dogs to entice Clunes to come and say hello – he can rarely resist and takes the presence of the Clunatics’ - look out for the printed t-shirts - in his stride.

The crowds are beginning to grow, they are so on side, they are fantastic,’ he says of the watchers and well-wishers who patiently stand watching scenes unfold, happily shushing and moving at the production assistants request. Clunes will often stop and say hello. It’s the quickest way to get rid of them,’ he laughs. Filming can be really boring to watch.’

In series seven, Clunes is reunited with his Men Behaving Badly co-star Caroline Quentin, who plays a holistic vet determined to save Buddy from the clutches of the doctor – who is determined to free himself of his most loyal four-legged friend, going to extreme lengths to get rid of him permanently - but we are assured it will all work out well in the end.

Doc Martin is an unlikely romantic hero: more bad-tempered than Mr Darcy and who makes Mr Rochester seem easy going – but his on-again-off-again relationship with Louisa proved to be a major attraction of the show. Right from the start it wasn’t something we could have predicted,’ says Clunes. That’s why people were tuning in. People started saying to me “just marry her” and to Caroline, “why do you put up with him?”.

The last series was funny but had quite an emotional agenda, this series we are keeping this - but going back to the comedy; trying to walking into more door frames.’

As well as giving Cornwall a starring role, the show will feature local people as residents of Port Wenn. More than 800 local people turned up for auditions in Port Isaac for extras - and as the doors of the church hall opened for the auditions there was a queue of 150 babies hoping to be selected for the role of 11-month-old James Henry, the son of Doc Martin and Louisa.

While fans of the show know that Doc Martin is always threatening to leave his hated Port Wenn – Martin is clear he will be berating his patients for some time to come. The doctor is here to stay,’ he tells me.

The new series of Doc Martin is due to be aired in the Autumn.

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