Martin Clunes is back as the grumpy and opinionated GP in the new series of Doc Martin, which began this week. The former Men Behaving Badly star tells Susan Griffin about the Doc’s reaction to fatherhood and talks about his shock at how his life’s worked out.
The crowds had been growing steadily all morning, hushed whispers rippling through the village that the star of the show has been spotted on-set.
Finally, a dark car sweeps down the narrow, winding street of Port Isaac, the idyllic fishing village in north Cornwall and the location of successful ITV series Doc Martin.
As it glides to a halt, a tall man wearing sunglasses and a suit appears and waves to the doting crowd as the sound of applause and cheers fill the air. Martin Clunes has arrived.
It’s the kind of reception you’d expect to be reserved for George Clooney – and Martin looks as bemused by it as anyone. Not that he’s complaining.
“It’s great for any actor seeking approval, isn’t it? The fans are so nice, so on-side,” he says, when we find a quiet spot away from his adoring public. Not that it stops hardened fans sidling up to ask for an autograph or photograph, however. Although, to be fair, some of them have travelled from as far as Australia and New Zealand to visit the set.
Since its debut back in 2003, this gentle show has garnered an international fan base.
“The Americans are coming to see us now, too. Just this year, it’s really picked up a following,” says Martin, whose rubbery features are less exaggerated in the flesh. He’s quietly spoken and talks in vowels that are more Prince Charles than Gary, his beer-swilling former alter ego in Men Behaving Badly.
“They’re not just holidaymakers who’ve stumbled across us, they’re actively seeking us out. There are websites that tell them when we’re out and about filming.”
Now in its fifth series, the show picks up after the birth of the Doc’s baby.
“It’s uncomfortable because they’d – Doc Martin and on-off partner Louisa – split up. But the baby throws them together and a lot of things are up in the air and unspoken – it’s all a bit of a pickle,” he explains.
hough his character is brilliantly abrasive, socially inept and a little arrogant, Martin reveals that “surgeons have told me he’s too nice”.
“It’s always hard to get it right when you’ve got a main protagonist who doesn’t like anybody and nobody likes him.
“But I think there’s something quite liberated about his lack of social grace. It frees him up to say what he wants and get to the point, which few of us do.”
Given he’s the least likely father figure, it should prove entertaining to see how the Doc takes to fatherhood.
“He’s terribly Victorian and old-fashioned. He believes any progressive thought is American and to be frowned upon, but in secret he and the baby get on very well.”
Ignoring the old show business adage that you should never work with children or animals, Martin adds: “It’s great, we’ve got loads of babies, so the minute one cries, you hand it back and get the next one.”
It’s a humorous statement, made funnier by the fact he follows it up by saying how much he envies his character for being so straight-talking.
Looking across at the house that stands in as the show’s surgery, Clunes reveals he and his wife Philippa Braithwaite, with whom he runs Buffalo Pictures, the production company behind Doc Martin, considered buying that very house.
“Only briefly though,” he stresses.
Instead, they’ve kept their secluded farm in Dorset, to which he returns every weekend.
“When we first bought our house, there was some curiosity and some horror. I’ve been there 15 odd years now, so I’m not a novelty anymore. Whether I’ve been accepted or not is not for me to say, though,” he laughs.
He turns around and looks down towards the small harbour and across to the breakwater.
“This is my favourite type of acting; out of town, everything off the lorry, somewhere nice. There’s a lot of hanging around for an actor but you can never get bored here. There’s always something to do or look at.”
During the school holidays, his 11-year-old daughter Emily comes to visit the set, who according to Martin, has no desire to follow her dad into acting.
“She sees the hours and doesn’t think it would be much fun. She loves singing and has a lovely voice, but she wants to be a vet, which we’re trying to encourage,” he says.
That should come in handy considering that at the last count, the family own 14 horses.
“It sounds quite extravagant but I actually bought one down here, so I’d have something to ride when I get a day off.”
He’s even been made the president of the British Horse Society: “They didn’t ask me because I’m an expert, but I’m thrilled to bits about it,” he says.
As he approaches his 50th birthday, Martin admits he’s mystified as to how he ended up being president of a horse society and owning a farm. He smiles contentedly looking very much like a man who’s happy with life.
“I never saw that coming,” he laughs.
Martin was born on November 28, 1961.
His dad was an actor but died from lung cancer when Clunes was only eight years old.
He’s a keen camper van owner but is considering selling it when he turns 50.
His first marriage was to actress Lucy Aston. They divorced in 1997.
He’s best friends with Caroline Quentin who also starred in Men Behaving Badly.