Interview with Sandy Johnson, Chiswick based director of ‘Beyond Paradise’

Image above: Kris Marshall and Sally Bretton in Beyond Paradise

New TV series – a spin off from Death in Paradise

The BBC TV series Death in Paradise is one of the UK’s best loved dramas, with ratings of over eight million. Not only is it popular here, but it has huge global appeal, screening in over 230 territories around the world.

The highly successful show which started with Detective Inspector Richard Poole (Ben Miller) being sent out by the Metropolitan Police to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie to investigate the death of a British police officer, is now in its 12th series, on its fourth Detective Inspector (Kris Marshall, Ardal O’Hanlon and most recently Ralf Little having succeeded Ben Miller in the role) and its umpteenth murder (there is one every week). Series 12 started on 6 January.

On Friday 24 February, BBC One screens the first of a new series Beyond Paradise, directed by Chiswick resident Sandy Johnson, which sees two of Death in Paradise‘s most popular characters in a spin-off set in Devon.

Detective Inspector Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall) met English tourist Martha Lloyd (Sally Bretton) in Death in Paradise Series 6, which caused him to leave the idyllic Caribbean island and head off back to England to pursue their relationship. Beyond Paradise picks up with the two of them engaged to be married and setting up home together.

Image above: Kris Marshall and Sally Bretton with other cast members from Beyond Paradise

Set in ‘Shipton Abbott’

Sandy, who has a long track record of directing successful TV dramas (Inspector Morse, A Touch of Frost, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Jonathan Creek, Benidorm) seems to have acquired the knack of choosing projects in lovely places.

Beyond Paradise has been filmed in Looe in Cornwall, which appears in the show as South Devon. I pointed out that would not go down well with any self-respecting Cornishman.

“They will be upset, but they shouldn’t care” said Sandy. “They’ll get over it. Looe is the perfect location because it’s not just a tourist place, it’s a working town with a fishing fleet. There is quite a lot going on there.”

He hopes the show will be popular and bring the town the tourist revenue it needs, in the way Vera and Shetland have brought a renewed interest in Northumberland and Shetland.

Looe becomes Shipton Abbott in the new series, and its guildhall becomes the police station where the bumbling Humphrey takes over a small team: DS Esther Williams (Zahra Ahmadi), PC Kelby Hartford (Dylan Llewellyn) and Margo Martins (Felicity Montagu), to help crack a surprising amount of interesting cases.

Image above: Looe, Cornwall; photograph by Paul

Setting up home with the mother-in-law to be

Unlike Death in Paradise, or other rural crime dramas such as Midsummer Murders, the murder rate is not infeasibly high. Instead of there being a murder a week, there are different scenarios: in week one a woman falls from her balcony; in episode two a whole family goes missing; week three sees a valuable painting stolen; episode four has to do with a mysterious crop circle.

While Humphrey has his hands full with all that, Martha is busy with her own project, setting up her own restaurant in Shipton Abbott, which is her home town. While they are establishing their careers they are also setting up home together, (filmed on a farm at Saltash), and among the challenges they face is how Humphrey can sufficiently impress Martha’s mother.

As the first episode starts Martha and Humphrey are in the spare room at Martha’s mum’s house as they do not have anywhere to live.

“They were such a convincing couple” said Sandy, the audience will have no trouble picking up the threads of their relationship five years on. “Their on-screen chemistry together is amazing.”

The new show will have a similar tone and lightness of touch to Death in Paradise, he said. It sounds like Death in Paradise meets Doc Martin and promises to be both escapist and funny.

One thing that is different, Sandy told me, is that we will see the crimes acted out in the detective’s mind as he goes back in time and imagines what happened.

I wondered why he thought Death in Paradise continued to be so popular. It was initially panned by the critics and only grudgingly accepted by them once its popularity with audiences became apparent. It is nearer to Agatha Christie than the current vogue for chilling and bloody crime dramas such as Happy Valley, which has kept the nation gripped on Sunday evenings.

Death in Paradise is almost family viewing” he told me and Beyond Paradise would be the same. It has an 8pm time slot, so they have been very careful not to make it too bloody.

Joyful, funny escapism

Writer Tony Jordan says the success of Death in Paradise is because it brings joy to people.

“There aren’t many shows around like that; everything’s a bit gritty, dark and depressing. There are not many shows that make you feel good by the time you get to the end of them.

“Humphrey is one of the most popular detectives we’ve had on the show, people loved him. There’s something about what Kris Marshall brings to the role. He’s got a warmth and a presence on-screen. He left with the love of his life, Martha, to go back to the UK. The question was always hanging in the air: whatever happened to Humphrey and Martha?”

As with Death in Paradise, the scenery will play a large role, Sandy told us. That bit of Cornwall has beautiful coastline and lovely countryside inland as well, picturesque fishing villages and windy roads with tall hedges.

Actor Kris Marshall grew up in Somerset and considers the West Country the most beautiful part of the UK:

“Probably my favourite spot in the area is in Cornwall, and it’s a Cove called Kynance Cove. It’s like a smuggler’s paradise down there. The sand is white and there’s crystal clear blue sea. If it wasn’t so cold, you would think you were in the Caribbean.”

Asked how he felt about coming back to the role, he said:

“Really easy, actually. It’s like slipping on an old pair of slippers. He’s a comfortable, lovely old friend -it’s just delightful to play him again.”

And Sally Bretton, how did she feel?

“It was wonderful to come back to this character after five years. I really like Martha, she’s very warm and driven, but she overthinks things, so she’s interesting to play…

“I think that people will enjoy the escapism that we know from Death in Paradise, but we have our own paradise here.”

Sandy has lived in Chiswick since 1992 with his wife Sheelagh Gilbey, former TV presenter on Play School, Do It and Zig Zag, who is now a drama teacher at Montessori nursery schools in the area.

Before he became a director he was an actor, his claim to fame being that he was one of the knights who said “Ni” in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

“We moved here one month before our youngest son was born. We love it here. We are regular visitors to the Tabard Theatre and it’s great that Chiswick now has a cinema as well.”

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