English actor John Nettles has enjoyed fame and success as a television actor. He’s one of a few actors who have worked extensively in television and stage without necessarily venturing onto the big screen. Interestingly, Nettles has starred in several TV shows that became international hits.
Nettles is famous for playing television detectives. His distinct, deep voice has also seen him rake up credits as a narrator for several TV series and documentaries. Besides his work as an actor, Nettles is also a published writer/author. Here’s John Nettles’ phenomenal journey through his life and stellar acting career.
He Was Adopted At Birth
John Nettles was adopted by a carpenter, Eric Nettles and his wife, Elsie Nettles, when he was born. Nettles’ birth mother, an Irish nurse, relocated to the United Kingdom to work during the Second World War. She didn’t feel she was responsible enough to care for a child when Nettles was born and offered him up for adoption. Nettles was named John Vivian Drummond Nettles by his adopted parents and was born in St Austell, Cornwall, England, on October 11, 1943.
How John Nettles Got Into Acting
Growing up, John Nettles never really considered a career as an actor. He had watched and loved several TV programs and films but never thought of being an actor. After graduating from St Austell Grammar School, he enrolled at the University of Southampton in 1962 to study Philosophy and Logic. It was while at the university that he was first exposed to the world of acting. Nettles became interested in acting and developed a passion for it, making him consider it a career choice. After graduating from the University of Southampton, he joined the Royal Court Theatre. Nettles performed in several plays with the group before landing a television role.
John Nettles’ Early Acting Career
Nettles made his on-screen debut in 1969, playing John Franklin in a guest appearance on the BBC2 TV series The Expert. He began the 70s playing minor roles in films and TV series. Nettles played a minor role as Dixon in the comedy thriller One More Time (1970) and the 10th Cavalry Trooper in the Western action romance film The Red, White and Black (1970).
However, in 1971, Nettles landed a recurring role as Ian McKenzie on ITV’s family drama series A Family At War. He joined the cast in the second series and appeared in 14 episodes. In 1972, he also joined the cast of BBC1 sitcom The Liver Birds, playing Paul. He began as a guest in series 3 and was upgraded to a recurring role in series 4, 5 and 6. In series 7, he appeared as a guest character. In total, Nettles appeared in 19 episodes from 1972 to 1976. Nettles’ last credit in the 70s was playing Det. Sgt. Roy Lewis in an episode of ITV’s TV drama Enemy at the Door (1978).
John Nettles On Bergerac TV Series
Playing the titular character was unarguably John Nettles’ breakthrough role. The 80s began with the actor starring in his first TV movie, The Merchant of Venice (1980) as Bassanio. When it came to casting for its lead role, Bergerac‘s creator, Robert Banks Stewart, insisted Nettles played the part. Although a relatively unknown actor at the time, Banks Stewart fought to have Nettles play the character because he felt he was a perfect fit (and right he was!).
In comparison to other police crime drama series at the time, Bergerac was expensive to shoot. As such, it was created as a collaboration between the BBC and the Australian Seven Network. Nettles’ character, Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac, was a recovering alcoholic who recently had an unpleasant divorce. The character was known for his unorthodox behavior as a police officer, relationships with women, and burgundy 1947 Triumph Roadster.
Bergerac was an immediate hit in the UK, with many believing John Nettles was originally from Jersey. Nettles played the character throughout its 9 series and appeared in all 87 episodes from October 18, 1981, to December 26, 1991. Bergerac also aired in other European and international countries like France, Netherlands, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand. In a 1993 episode of the BBC One comedy series The Detectives, Nettles reprised his role as Jim Bergerac in a guest appearance.
John Nettles On Midsomer Murders
Although John Nettles said in an interview that he wouldn’t play another on-screen detective, he was back on-screen as Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murders. It was not rocket science choosing John Nettles as the lead actor after his success in Bergerac. Interestingly, Joyce Nettles was the casting director for Midsomer Murders from 1997 to 2002. Joyce Nettles was John Nettles’ first wife, whom he married in 1966 and divorced in 1979.
DCI Tom Barnaby’s (John Nettles) wife in Midsomer Murders was named Joyce Barnaby. Like Bergerac, Midsomer Murders was an instant hit for audiences in the UK and has been exported to over 200 countries worldwide. Its pilot became the highest-rated single drama in 1997, with 13.7 million viewers. As the name suggests, the series follows DCI Tom Barnaby solving murders in the fictional county of Midsomer. John Nettles left the show after appearing in 81 episodes from 1997 to 2011. In his words, “It’s always wise to leave people wanting more, rather than be booed off the stage because you bored them.”
His Other Work On Television
John Nettles may have left Midsomer Murders, but he’s still active as an actor. After his departure, his next major appearance on TV was playing Ray Penvenen in 9 episodes of Poldark from 2016 to 2017. In a TV Special, Britain’s Favourite Detective (2020), Nettles reprised his role as DCI Tom Barnaby. John Nettles‘ most recent credits are as a narrator in Devon and Cornwall (2020–2021) and My Unique B&B (2021).