The Resident speaks exclusively to Martin Clunes, and the comedy actor is keen to ensure that a decade-long obsession with Cornwall doesn’t hide his passion for south-west London
He might now be better known as grumpy medical man Dr Ellington, arguing his way around Cornwall in the popular comedy drama Doc Martin, but for Martin Clunes it is the south-west of London rather than the south-west coast that he will always regard as home.
The 52-year-old actor has been a terrestrial TV mainstay for nearly two decades, with the medical comedy/drama following on from his breakthrough role in Men Behaving Badly, which put the hitherto unknown Clunes on the map.
But ask him and he’ll tell you the acorn of his success came from Wimbledon, and growing up near the Common (pictured top).
‘Yes childhood was spent on the edge of the Common. In fact, as a child, I grew up pretty much on the Common. I was always there. I was born in our house and the family lived there for over half a century, from the 1950s. My mother died about three or four years ago and it was the right thing to sell it then, but that house and that area formed a huge part of who I am.
‘Of course, I’ve spent less time over that way since my mother died, but it will always have a special place for me – whizzing around on our bicycles, playing football… Happy memories.’
And that’s about as profound and reflective you’ll get this intriguing character. Pitch his character Gary Strang in Men Behaving Badly with dash more maturity, and you’re not far from the real-life Martin Clunes – he’s a hugely uplifting subject.
Father Alec (who passed away after enjoying only eight years with his son) was a classical actor, while his mother Daphne was on the board at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
‘Well your parents always get their way in the end, don’t they?” he laughs. ‘So yes, I suppose you could say that I started getting really interested in acting right from the start. My father was an actor, and his father was an actor, so I had no chance, did I? I didn’t really think about it much, to be honest,’ he admits. ‘That’s what we did in our family. We mucked around a bit, we acted. There are certainly worse things to do.
‘I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else, and you know what’s really great is that it doesn’t really change. Suburbia today is like suburbia 40 years ago – I love that.’
Of course, the lager-swilling exuberance of singledom youth as exemplified by Clunes and Neil Morrissey – and before him, Harry Enfield – was a world away from the sort of performance his parents had perhaps expected. But rather than being ungrateful for the break Men Behaving Badly afforded him, Clunes revels in the experience. ‘You hear people saying they were in something really successful and it drove them mad and it was a terrible time for them or whatever, but we all loved it, it was great fun. How could we not?!’
Fun is evidently a buzzword for Clunes – he admits he wouldn’t entertain any project unless he was ensured ‘a lot of laughs’.
‘To be honest, there’s nothing I do that needs to be painful, I’m just an entertainer.’ He adds, ‘I’ve always felt it is important to try to celebrate something on the day that you’re doing it. It’s too daft not to. So consequently I have spent most of my working life chuckling like an idiot as that is how I function best in doing what I do. Basically I dress up and prat around. You might as well be happy about it, that’s my theory. I’m not an angst-ridden performer or someone full of self-importance. The other way madness lies,’ he philosophises.
That uplifting outlook is reflected in Clunes’ performance in Doc Martin. He states that taking on such a role doesn’t require a game plan or a strategy. ‘A lot of the time it’s about taking a very sensible view of a type of person. The scriptwriting will do most of the work for you, and if you over-egg the styling of the character you’ll find it unsustainable further down the line. There isn’t a lot of me in the character, but there is an understanding of him. And jesus, the clothes and the haircut and the anger – he’s got worse as it’s gone along!’
Averaging over eight million viewers per episode, Clunes’ assertion that “people seem to love it” seems something of an understatement, but Doc Martin’s popularity continues to endure. While he says that the show’s success is based on the alchemy of all its constituent parts, Clunes, rather modestly, seems genuinely unsure as to why its appeal has managed to sustain for a decade.
‘I don’t know, I’ve never planned a long game in my life. You just make it and hope that people like it. I was reminded the other day that at a party after the first series I said if you’d have told me that I’d be making this for 10 years I’d be happy. Well it’s past 10 years now, so I’m still happy!’
Happy, too, that the show is now broadcast in one form or another in over 200 countries, making it a profitable export for Clunes, whose management company own the rights to series. How did this grumpy, misanthropic doctor become a worldwide favourite?
‘I have no idea!’ he laughs. ‘I couldn’t explain it. I’ve lost track of how many other countries have made their own version of the series. Greek, German, Spanish, French, Russian… We keep talking about all of us meeting up one day, having a Doc Martin party… a room full of grumpy doctors. It would be great!’