The only woman to get out of Midsomer alive: Detective Barnaby's daughter bows out of ITV show after 12 years
TV’s DCI Barnaby gives his daughter away – but in real life she still hasn’t found her ideal man.
It is a familiar scene. A beautiful blonde bride stands in a country churchyard, her proud father by her side. But unknown to the congregation, the bride has a secret.
After taking her vows, she turns her back on this idyllic world of chocolate-box cottages, clipped hedges and cricket pitches, never to be seen again.
The bride, of course, is the feisty Cully Barnaby, only child of the overworked Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles.
Father in law: Laura Howard enjoys her final moments as Cully on the arm of John Nettles
And the wedding scene, to be shown tonight, was particularly poignant for actress Laura Howard because it was her last episode of Midsomer Murders after 12 years with the show.
Explaining her reasons for leaving the mean streets of Midsomer – which has seen 193 murders in ten series – Laura says: ‘I was 19 when we filmed the first episode and 30 when we shot the wedding last summer.
Midsomer Murders has been quite prohibitive in terms of being able to do other work and it just seemed like the right time to say goodbye.
Midsomer family: Laura with her on-screen mother Jane Wymark
‘Surprisingly I didn’t get a big send-off – a lot of the crew didn’t know it was my last episode. The director did shout something like, “OK, that’s Laura’s last scene – you can go back to your trailer. Thank you and goodbye.” But most people didn’t seem to realise what was going on.’
One person, however, had not overlooked the occasion – John Nettles himself. Waiting for Laura in the trailer were a spectacular bunch of 30 roses, a beautiful bangle and a card. ‘They were all from John, and that made everything all right again,’ she adds.
Ironically Cully leaves Midsomer to work as an actress in London. ‘Cully’s not the wildest character, but it’s been lovely playing her,’ admits Laura. ‘I’d say she is a watered-down version of me. She doesn’t get up to much and she’s not wacky.
‘But the show isn’t about her – it’s about Barnaby and the murders. She is there to love her father. There’s something lovely about their relationship.
'That stems from John being so lovely himself. Working with him and Jane Wymark, who plays my mother, has been a terrific experience.’
Laura has recently been on stage in Suffolk in the controversial play about euthanasia called Switzerland. ‘I wouldn’t have had time to do it when I was under contract to Midsomer Murders for eight months a year,’ she says.
Laura was born into a very non-showbusiness family in West London – her father is a shipping consultant, her mother a psychiatrist – and lives alone in her South London flat. ‘I have had my own place since I was 19,’ she says. ‘I had flatmates at first and boyfriends have come and gone. Now I like living alone.’
She clearly has no immediate plans to emulate Cully by walking down the aisle. ‘I’m a bachelor girl,’ she insists. ‘I’m 100 per cent single and quite happy about it. I’ve been travelling since leaving Midsomer Murders, to France and the Caribbean. If I were married with a baby, I couldn’t hop over to Paris on a whim.’
Laura says she feels ‘a fraud’ because she never trained for an acting career.
‘I did a sitcom for the BBC when I was 15 and through that was taken on by an agent,’ she recalls.
‘But, weirdly, it was on the day that my A-level results came out and I was due to go to Goldsmiths University to read English that I got a job in Eskimo Day, a Jack Rosenthal TV comedy drama starring Maureen Lipman and Alec Guinness.
'My university plans went out of the window. Fortunately, I worked steadily from then on and just went with the flow.’
And her ideal man? ‘He has to be original,’ she says without hesitation. ‘He has to be a bit left-field, kind and intelligent. But he must be his own person. As far as looks are concerned, in my 30s I’ve discovered that they are not as important as I thought they were.
‘I used to look at a man and think, “He’s gorgeous.” But recently I’ve met people who I felt were ostensibly not my type, and later found they were fabulous.
‘I must admit, though, that the Midsomer wedding felt strange because everything had to be just like a real wedding. I had the dress – an ivory satin gown, tiara and veil – and John was in tails and a pale-blue waistcoat.
‘Everybody looked at me as I walked down the aisle. I found being on John’s arm very touching. I suppose most girls dream about their wedding day, but I have no idea what mine might be like.’ Then she laughs: ‘At least I’ve rehearsed for it.’
Midsomer Murders is on ITV1 at 8pm tonight (Sunday).
Garotted and poisoned...some of those who didn't make it
Midsomer Murders celebrates its 60th episode today – and since it began 12 years ago an astonishing
193 murders have been committed in this otherwise idyllic English county.
Whodunnit? Midsomer Murders - Dead Man's Eleven
Bizarre and gruesome murder weapons have included a candlestick, a pitchfork, a Celtic spear, liquid nicotine, a billhook used by woodcutters, toxic fungus, a necktie used as a garotte, a plough, a hammer and hemlock.
Midsomer has helped launch a surprising number of acting careers. Emily Mortimer was shot in 1997 while wearing her wedding dress, Orlando Bloom was speared with a pitchfork in 2000 and Jonathan Firth, the brother of Colin Firth, was shot in 1997 in a suicide pact.
Other famous Midsomer faces include Samantha Bond, Honor Blackman, Jemima Rooper, Debra Stephenson and Nick Moran.
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