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Midsomer Murders star John Nettles looks so different in throwback to early career

John made his big-screen debut back in 1970

TV and film writer
Senior Features Writer
April 25, 2024
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John Nettles became a TV staple after making his debut on Midsomer Murders way back in 1997. The actor played DCI Tom Barnaby for over ten years, cementing his name, and the show, as a favourite fixture on British television screens. 

But prior to Midsomer Murders, the actor had a successful career in a number of other shows and films. Take a look back at some of his earlier roles below – and you might be surprised at how different he looks!

WATCH: Do you remember when Holly Willoughby appeared on Midsomer Murders?

John Nettles' early career

After performing in amateur shows during university, John joined the Royal Court Theatre and began his career on the stage. The budding actor went on to secure his first on-screen role in the American movie, One More Time, in 1970. Just a year later, he landed a role as a series regular in the TV drama, A Family At War, before appearing in The Liver Birds, Holding On, and Enemy at the Door.

Actor John Nettles on the set of historical drama Holding On, circa 1977© TV Times/Future Publishing via Getty Images
John Nettles on the set of historical drama Holding On in 1977

But it was BBC One's detective series Bergerac that made John a household name. He played the titular character, Jim Bergerac, for a decade between 1981 and 1991 before returning to the stage. He went on to star in various shows with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before landing his Midsomer Murders gig. 

John Nettles as Jim Bergerac in the television drama series 'Bergerac', alongside French actress Cecile Paoli in 1981© Larry Ellis Collection/Getty Images
John starred as Jim Bergerac alongside French actress Cecile Paoli

John Nettles' later career

Alongside his stint in Midsomer Murders, John appeared in a number of other major shows, including Heartbeat, and French and Saunders. 

After leaving the drama, he starred as Fisherman John in the 2016 drama film Never Land, and also played Ray Penvenen in the second and third series of the BBC's popular period drama Poldark. 

poldark 1
John as Ray Penvenen in Poldark

In recent years, John, 80, has narrated several documentary shows, including Channel 4's Devon and Cornwall, and the BBC's reality programme My Unique B&B. He also lent his voice to the TV specials, Comedy Classics: Bread, Butterflies & Liver Birds, and Britain's Favourite 70s Sitcoms. 

John Nettles and Jane Wymark
John was joined by his former co-star Jane Wymark in the 25th anniversary special

John revisited Midsomer Murders for its 25th anniversary special in 2022. The programme saw John, as well as other former cast members Daniel Casey, Jason Hughes, and Jane Wymark, share their love for the drama, joining John's successor Neil Dudgeon to celebrate two decades on-air. 

Leaving Midsomer Murders behind

In 2009, John announced his decision to step down from his role on the show, with his final scenes airing in 2011. 

Opening up about his decision to bow out, he told The Telegraph that he "never thought" he'd go on to film so many episodes when he first signed up for the pilot. "It has been a joy to be involved in such a long-running series with so many good actors and great storylines. It's the end of an era for me," he said. 

Laura Howard, John Nettles and Jane Wymark© David Graves/REX/Shutterstock
John starred alongside Laura Howard and Jane Wymark in the popular series

Sharing the reason behind his departure, he continued: "I suddenly realised that I'm going to be the oldest detective in the business now that David Jason has thrown off the mantle. But it was a very difficult decision to make.

John Nettles and Jason Hughes on the set of Midsomer Murders© Bob Barclay/Shutterstock
John's final episode aired in 2011

"I'll have been doing Midsomer Murders for 14 years by the time Barnaby leaves. I've formed familial ties with the people involved in the show and they will be hard to break. It's always wise to leave people wanting more, rather than be booed off the stage because you bored them."

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