Jonathan Creek re­turns for a spooky episode this­christ­mas.

To mark 20 years of im­pos­si­ble cases, baf­fling il­lu­sions and quirky com­edy, Jonathan Creek re­turns with a sin­is­ter one-off spe­cial. We em­bark upon a mag­i­cal mys­tery tour with its cre­ator, David Ren­wick…


He’s the for­mer ma­gi­cian’s con­sul­tant with a tal­ent for solv­ing im­pos­si­ble crimes, a duf­fle coat as iconic as Sarah Lund’s sweater in The Killing, and a mildly grumpy de­meanour that con­ceals a sharp, log­i­cal mind. Jonathan Creek may be a com­edy cre­ation, but he’s also one of TV’S great­est de­tec­tives.

A one-off Christ­mas spe­cial, “Dae­mons’ Roost”, will mark two decades of Jonathan Creek for its star, Alan Davies, and the se­ries’ cre­ator, David Ren­wick, who’s sweated over every one of its 32 episodes.

“I sup­pose it’s a bit like Sherlock Holmes’ ‘three-pipe prob­lem’, get­ting as few dis­trac­tions as pos­si­ble – that’s the only way I can con­cen­trate,” Ren­wick ex­plains to Crime Scene. “I then find that I tend to slip fur­ther and fur­ther out of the chair and that’s when I end up on the car­pet. Then what fre­quently hap­pens is I just fall asleep, and so I wake up and re­alise I haven’t thought of any­thing. It’s a long and very painful process – it’s a sort of mir­a­cle that you can come up with any­thing at all, re­ally.”

At least Ren­wick sees the funny side of his cre­ative agony. An hour in the com­pany of the Lu­ton-born writer is a re­minder of the healthy pes­simism that made One Foot In The Grave such a per­fect sit­com. Ini­tially, he had enough ideas to write six-part sea­sons of in­ge­nious, of­ten hi­lar­i­ous crime sto­ries, in­spired by clas­sic locked-room mys­ter­ies and ma­gi­cians’ se­crets – the re­sult was an im­me­di­ate rat­ings win­ner.

“The start­ing points were just hu­mour and puz­zles,” says Ren­wick. “I be­came in­ter­ested in the idea of the im­pos­si­ble crime and started read­ing John Dick­son Carr sto­ries, the Father Brown sto­ries – the so-called Golden Age of de­tec­tive fic­tion. From that, I worked back­wards to the idea of Creek be­ing a ma­gi­cian’s as­sis­tant – re­ally, in or­der to give him the ba­sic qual­i­fi­ca­tion to un­ravel things that were im­pos­si­ble.”

Gothic lo­ca­tions, sin­is­ter char­ac­ters and in­ex­pli­ca­ble phe­nom­ena of­ten height­ened the mys­ter­ies, which in­cluded a man who had sup­pos­edly sold his soul to the devil (“The Cu­ri­ous Tale of Mr Spearfish”) to the man­sion at­tic that seemed to swal­low up its guests (“The Grin­ning Man”).

“What ap­pears, at face value, as be­ing su­per­nat­u­ral is ei­ther a very clever, cal­cu­lated il­lu­sion or, in some cases, some­thing that hap­pened ac­ci­den­tally that has the ef­fect of ap­pear­ing su­per­nat­u­ral,” says Ren­wick. “But it doesn’t get any eas­ier and you do sort of feel, how many locke­d­room sto­ries can you come up with?”

Al­most three years on from the last se­ries, Ren­wick’s come up with an­other 90-minute spe­cial that star Alan Davies has de­scribed as the spook­i­est to date.

“I never cease to be amazed by how scary peo­ple have said that they’ve found the shows,” scoffs Ren­wick, who ad­mits to a hint of “hokum” con­cern­ing his horror plots. “Al­though there’s hu­mour, the guid­ing prin­ci­ple was to make the funny bits funny and the threat­en­ing, dra­matic bits threat­en­ing, and keep the dan­ger level real. But I never imag­ined it would be that fright­en­ing. It’s very much in the spirit of your av­er­age Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes. It’s about puz­zles – it’s a kind of es­capist ver­sion of the crime drama, rather than any­thing par­tic­u­larly gritty. It’s not se­rial killers or child rapists.”

In the ’80s, Ren­wick used hu­mour he found in horror movies for com­edy se­ries The Steam Video Com­pany, which fea­tured such sketch ti­tles as “Ami­tyville II, Lu­ton Town 3”. Over 30 years on, “Dae­mons’ Roost” fea­tures a horror di­rec­tor.

“He’s a sort of Roger Cor­man kind of char­ac­ter,” Ren­wick says, “who was re­spon­si­ble for a lot of hammy horror films back in the ’70s.”

The “hokum” be­hind this episode in­volves the leg­end of a 19th-cen­tury sor­cerer, who sup­pos­edly sum­moned the pow­ers of hell to ter­rorise vic­tims stay­ing at Dae­mons’ Roost. The plot sees film di­rec­tor Nathan Clore (Ken Bones), the for­bid­ding cur­rent owner of the house, planning to re­veal the chill­ing facts be­hind an in­ci­dent that hap­pened there 15 years ear­lier. As grue­some rit­u­als are re­vived, Creek is called in to get to the truth.

The sin­is­ter, fea­ture-length episodes of­ten bring out the best in Ren­wick’s cre­ation, such as “The Grin­ning Man” (2009) and “The Ju­das Tree” (2010), fea­tur­ing Sheri­dan Smith as para­nor­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tor Joey Ross.

“With a 90-minute show I like to keep two or three strands go­ing in par­al­lel,” Ren­wick ex­plains. “So if the au­di­ence guesses one of them, then maybe there’s a cou­ple of oth­ers that they won’t guess. And I’ve al­ways be­lieved in try­ing to up the scale when it’s a spe­cial.”

The one-offs have also fea­tured such mem­o­rable guest stars as Rik May­all, Bill Bai­ley, Paul Mcgann and Joanna Lum­ley.

“We’ve had some won­der­ful peo­ple over the years,” says Ren­wick. “We’ve had most of The Young Ones, most of the Ab­so­lutely Fab­u­lous cast, just lots of good com­edy peo­ple. We’ve got War­wick Davis in this

one – he’s play­ing a vicar. We’re not re­fer­ring to his stature or any­thing, I just find him a very, very funny com­edy ac­tor.”

Creek’s side­kicks are also key to the se­ries, which man­aged to sur­vive the de­par­ture of Caro­line Quentin back in 2000. Af­ter­wards, he was part­nered with TV pre­sen­ter Carla Bor­rego (Ju­lia Sawalha), Joey Ross (Sheri­dan Smith) and now his wife, Polly (Sarah Alexan­der).

“It’s yet an­other dy­namic which re­freshes the fran­chise a bit,” says Ren­wick. “He’s now hap­pily mar­ried with a wife who ob­vi­ously isn’t very keen on these cases. It’s a kind of re­ver­sal of how it all be­gan, which was that he was the re­luc­tant in­ves­ti­ga­tor. So it’s a slightly dif­fer­ent chem­istry.”

Al­though Creek has man­aged to main­tain its ap­peal with dif­fer­ent side­kicks, the show’s longevity has been tested by what Ren­wick calls “chal­leng­ing” bud­get con­straints. In­cred­i­bly, for such a pop­u­lar se­ries, Ren­wick wrote this episode on spec and was only able to film it by top­ping up the BBC One bud­get with money from BBC Scot­land. “Dae­mons’ Roost” was shot near Glas­gow – lo­ca­tions in­cluded the Ard­gowan Es­tate in In­verkip and West Kil­bride’s Hun­ter­ston House – though it isn’t ac­tu­ally set north of the bor­der.

Over the last two decades, Jonathan Creek has evolved as its hero’s ma­tured, and his wind­mill home is long gone.

“Well, I think it’s been right that we have ob­served the change in his age and his sta­tus, to keep it mov­ing on,” says Ren­wick. “I mean, peo­ple say ‘Oh, it’s not so good since he left the wind­mill’, but we stopped film­ing him in the wind­mill 15 years ago. That was a big sort of cost is­sue.”

Davies, who turned 50 this year, is now play­ing a part-time sleuth who’s set­tled down with Polly and has even en­tered the cor­po­rate world. But the 20th an­niver­sary will see the re­turn of an old friend.

“There is a mo­ment for the fans where you see the duf­fle coat in this episode,” re­veals Ren­wick. “It’s a flash­back to an ear­lier in­ves­ti­ga­tion. So for this lit­tle snip­pet into his past, there was a lot of dye put into his hair and he re-donned the duf­fle coat. So the coat still ex­ists – I think it’s Alan’s own per­sonal duf­fle coat.”

Davies re­mains as at­tached to the show as he is to that coat. “Alan has al­ways been in­cred­i­bly loyal,” says Ren­wick. “If he weren’t in­ter­ested or felt that he didn’t want to do any more then that would be fine, and nor is he in­sist­ing that I keep writ­ing them. He’s well aware of how hard it all is, plus he likes to spend time with his wife and chil­dren. So we’ve both got a very re­laxed at­ti­tude about it. The dif­fer­ence is I’m 15 years older than him so I kind of feel more retirement age.”

Ren­wick has gone on record about the TV stars who turned down play­ing Creek,

which in­cluded Ni­cholas Lyn­d­hurst and Hugh Lau­rie. But Davies was a per­fect fit for a se­ries which was partly mod­elled on a fa­mously di­shev­elled TV de­tec­tive.

“It was when we were do­ing One Foot In The Grave,” Ren­wick re­calls, “and the pro­ducer, Su­san Bel­bin, and I said it would be a nice to do a de­tec­tive show, some­thing like Columbo that’s just about puz­zles but with a lot of hu­mour. We still try to keep that el­e­ment of hu­mour go­ing and it comes out of the com­edy depart­ment.”

TV com­edy has been Ren­wick’s ca­reer for 40 years and his CV in­cludes writ­ing for Les Daw­son, Kenny Everett and The Two Ron­nies, in ad­di­tion to cre­at­ing One Foot In The Grave and Love Soup. How­ever, his crime cre­den­tials shouldn’t be over­looked: as well as Creek, he wrote four episodes of Poirot in the early ’90s, win­ning an Edgar Al­lan Poe Award for the episode The Lost Mine.

“That was be­fore I even started One Foot In The Grave, ac­tu­ally,” he says. “It was be­cause Brian Eastman, who pro­duced all the early Poirots, was a friend of mine and just asked if I fan­cied do­ing some, which was a lot of fun.” Jonathan Creek, as is the case with Poirot, is al­ways be­ing re­peated (look out for it on UKTV Drama) and the view­ing fig­ures for any new episodes are re­mark­ably con­sis­tent. Yet for all of its en­dur­ing ap­peal, the show has been care­fully ra­tioned in re­cent years, as Ren­wick at­tempts to in­vent new plots. He ef­fec­tively called time on the show in 2004, but was tempted back, four years later, by the op­por­tu­nity to fea­ture Sheri­dan Smith in Creek and to di­rect his cre­ation for the first time. “The BBC have al­ways been won­der­ful,” he says, “and they have never said that they didn’t want any more.” There’s also the prospect of an Amer­i­can re­make. “BBC Amer­ica are hav­ing a go, they’re try­ing to pitch it again this year. That would be quite fun if it ever hap­pened. I think there’s a sug­ges­tion that they might re­verse the gen­ders and make it a wo­man with a male sidekick.”

A US ver­sion would of­fer an al­ter­nate Creek for fans, just as Ele­men­tary is a State­side take on Sherlock Holmes.

The two sleuths will face a rat­ings bat­tle for the first time this Christ­mas. In the last se­ries, Ren­wick poked fun at Sherlock via the char­ac­ter of Ri­d­ley, whose foren­sic ap­proach and con­fi­dent de­duc­tions turned out to be hope­lessly in­ac­cu­rate.

“I don’t see us as par­tic­u­larly sim­i­lar shows, re­ally,” he says. “Sherlock is so dif­fer­ent, it’s so high-en­ergy and just full of pro­duc­tion, it’s so elab­o­rate. I think we’re kind of much more in the Columbo depart­ment, we’re rather more slow-paced and more mea­sured.”

De­spite the big an­niver­sary, Ren­wick re­mains non­plussed about all the fuss: “It had to be pointed out to me it was 20 years. It’s cer­tainly quite hor­ri­fy­ing, re­ally, to think that it’s been that long.”

Asked about TV plans, Ren­wick smiles and says, “I’m planning noth­ing other than pos­si­bly happy retirement.” Given Vic­tor Mel­drew’s grumpy ex­is­tence af­ter he stopped work­ing, though, we sus­pect Ren­wick will come up with an­other in­ge­nious case for Creek be­fore too long.

Maddy and­creek out­side his iconic wind­mill home.

Bill Bai­ley played Kenny Starkiss in two episodes. Sheri­dan Smith tempted Ren­wick to re­vive the show.

Creek sur­vived­caro­line Quentin leav­ing in 2000.

Jonathan Creek is re­turn­ing to BBC One this Christ­mas.

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