TV Interview: Martin Clunes – Doctored Success, Or Beyond The Harbour

March 21, 2023


Martin Clunes plays Dr Martin Ellingham in Doc Martin – Season 10 is now available on Britbox.


What have you enjoyed most about making the series?

My favourite work experience is when everything is off the lorry in the middle of a field. That is when I am happiest because I just love the way a film crew works. I know what everybody does and appreciate the way that they do it. To be a part of that, amongst like-minded friends is just jam. That’s my job and that is successful. I was happy in the field, but to have other people liking what we made as well in the way they have around the world, it’s mental. And of course the fact that I get to go to work with my wife [Philippa Braithwaite is the producer], and to be down in Cornwall. I can’t pull out one thing and say that was the most enjoyable thing about making the series. But when I drive down here and as I approach Port Isaac and see the sun setting over the sea, the view is breathtaking. We have rented the same house each time we came to film, apart from for the first series when we had a swishy house in Rock. Our daughter Emily was a baby then, and we had Mary the cocker spaniel.


The changes in your own family life have been reflected around the cast and crew?

Emily was a baby when we first went to Port Isaac, and she is 23 now. She was born during the filming of Saving Grace, and she was a toddler when we made the Sky film which preceded the ITV series. She came down with us, and went to the local nursery in Wadebridge, and now she drives herself down to Port Isaac. So it became her second home too. She has been to every single visitor attraction in the area more than once. She had a walk-on part and dubbed an ‘ouch’ on the sound, but acting is not her thing. When she was tiny she found it weird seeing me working on set with people all round me, make-up artists patting my face, having my tie adjusted by a costume assistant… She would watch on the monitor, and when they said ‘cut’, she would rush in and sort of grab me. It was like putting herself between it and me. She would say ‘Was that you who said that?’ about what she’d seen me do and say on the monitor. Chris Bird the gaffer on this – I worked with his dad, the only gaffer to get an OBE, on Men Behaving Badly, and Chris used to go onto set with his dad, and now Chris’ boy Harry comes out with Chris. We have all bounced into each other’s kids every other year. Caroline’s daughter was born between series, Jess has had two boys since she started on the series, and Joe moved to Cornwall and has three children.


What changes to the village have you seen since you first began filming in Port Isaac? What has it been like filming in the village now with so many fans eager to watch the action?

There’s more people, especially out of season. We generally try not to be here during the season because enough people were coming in. That has increased. I seldom go into Port Isaac without a crew so I am buffered. But there are people I know and faces I recognise in the crowds. Even though there’s more people, we can still film in the village. We just need a little more manpower than we used to have to hold the crowds back. They are generally sweet. In London, people will try to mess you up during filming by beeping their car horns, for example. You don’t get that here. In fact when we are filming, we marshal the traffic through the village.


The series has attracted a huge array of guest stars over the years.

Yes! Sigourney Weaver, Danny Huston, Caroline Quentin.., We were gutted that we couldn’t find anything for a homoeopathic vet – the character she has played – in this last series. We did try to find something. Her daughter Rose is in an episode of this series, though. Roger Lloyd Pack, Claire Bloom, played my mother, Ben Miller was a crazy park ranger, Kenneth Cranham was Louisa’s father, Richard Johnson was a curmudgeonly colonel, Julie Graham was PC Penhale’s estranged wife, Anne Reid was a woman who ran a cat sanctuary. Celia Imrie was there – her son Angus is in this series and he remembers coming with her as a boy to Port Isaac when she filmed an episode in the first series.


Have actors approached you to play a role?

Tom Conti is a good example. I’d never met Tom , but I remember my mum taking me to see him in Whose Life Is It Anyway at The Savoy all those years ago. He came up to us at a Dame Edna Everage event and said ‘I really like your show, it’s the only witty thing on television’ and it lodged in there, and we offered him the role of a surgeon who was scrutinising the Doc in the ninth series. We have a standing joke on the series of making up funny names for the patients. I came up with one this morning – Robin Banks! With Jess, who plays the doc’s receptionist Morwenna, we have a list of names on our phones that we have used. We kept the list in the appointments book on the desk of the surgery. Everybody contributes suggestions for funny names. The names are never in the script. Jess and I throw them in. I do it to surprise Philippa (Braithwaite, the producer) in the rushes.


Do people still bring their dogs for you to make a fuss of?

People know that I love dogs. It makes it much easier for everyone because there is no awkwardness about what to say. I never tire of meeting the dogs, and seeing how people are with their dogs,. It opens conversations rather than this uncomfortable thing of them asking for a picture with me. But if they can get a picture of me with their dog, they are over the moon. We used to bring our own dogs to Cornwall, but Heidi is blind, and where we stay there are lots of levels so she would be falling down all day long, and they are fine at home.


What will you miss most about not returning to Port Isaac?

Just being here. It is a lovely place. Famously, acting is a lot about standing around and waiting, and the amount of time I have spent outside that surgery, just standing waiting and gazing out to that view over the harbour and out to sea, I don’t think there is any point in my own garden where I have stood that long. Driving myself to work every morning through the lanes, seeing the sea. Just the whole vibe.


Would you come back here if you weren’t working?

Probably not. It would be a bit odd to be walking around Port Isaac when I am not working. When Emily was little and she was here with us, my mum would come down, and people would visit us here, and we would go out on down days. But now, may be because I am getting older, the minute I get some time off I go home because it is only two hours drive away. I don’t really have down time. I always need something to do.


In series five you bought a horse while you were here?

Yes. Ben Catel, who I saw at the Royal Windsor Horse Show where I was for the Platinum Jubilee Pageant. We gave the horse to the costume designer on the early series. Ben is a Lusitano, a Portuguese dressage horse. We also bought Emily’s pony Saracen from nearby Camelford where Emily went to riding school .


Do you have a souvenir from Port Isaac to remind you of your time there?

When we were building our farm I bought some Delabole slate to use. It looks really nice and when I look at it I can say ‘I’ve earned that’.


Now ten series on, what would be the souvenir you’d want to take away?

The Guide Dogs for the Blind spaniel model from outside the chemist – the gift shop which becomes the chemist shop in the series. It is one of those old models that you put money in to raise funds for the charity. It’s owned by a prop house and is hired every time we film. Prop houses famously don’t sell anything, so we will have to talk. We have the Doc’s car. We bought it, and although it is pretty old now it still looks great on camera.


What was it like to take part in the Platinum Jubilee celebration at the Royal Windsor Horse Show?

It was so lovely to see the reaction of the crowd to the Queen. But you could also see that it was nice for the Queen. She was waving and leaning out to see people as she went round. She just loves horses. The most poignant moment was when her own pony was led into the arena with a saddle on but no rider, and also when her granddaughter drove the Duke of Edinburgh’s carriage into the arena.


What’s next?

Next I am going back to the Pacific to explore more islands for a second documentary series, Islands of the Pacific for ITV. The first was shown earlier this year. I’ve been asked to be president of the World Clydesdale Show in Aberdeen in October and I am going to take my two Clydesdales up with the carriage.