He began as Wexford’s strait-laced sidekick; thin, angular Detective Inspector Mike Burden, old-fashioned, conservative and bashful. And then, as tales of life in Kingsmarkham began to unfold on TV, so it seemed that author Ruth Rendell had decided to let Burden unburden himself of some of his hang-ups, loosen his tie a little, so to speak.
And it’s a very different detective who’s preparing to take the final curtain. For Wexford and Burden tackle one of their last cases in The Mouse in the Corner - after that, there are only two more stories featuring the policeman pair to be seen. “By the end of the series he is almost quite human,” says actor Christopher Ravenscroft. “He started off six years ago as intensely prudish, but has loosened up considerably during the series. After his first wife died, he had an affair with an actress - from a world he knew nothing about - and then he married for a second time, a woman (Jenny played by Diane Keen) who is much better educated than he is.”
“But the nicest thing has been that he has changed naturally, in the way people do change in real life,” says Ravenscroft. This has meant a constant challenge for the actor, and now he thinks it’s time to say goodbye to Burden. “I think we are stopping at the right time because we’ve been going for a long while and it’s hard to keep work fresh. This year I think the series has been of an especially high standard and I don’t know whether we could sustain that for much longer. I believe Ruth Rendell has no plans to write more Wexford books, but if she did and there was a demand for more on TV, I’d consider playing Burden again.”
When we spoke, Ravenscroft had just filmed Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter, the very last Rendell story featuring Wexford and Burden, which will be shown in mid-November. “I have mixed feelings - obviously a great sadness, but also excitement because I have no plans, nothing up my sleeve!” Far from finding that prospect daunting, he was looking forward to doing a greater variety of work, and hankering especially for the stage. “The last I did was Twelfth Night for Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company five years ago. I’d love to do more,” he says.
He was also cherishing spending more time with his wife Caroline, a theatre director, and grown-up son Jack, at their home in Manchester. During the making of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries he saw little of his family. “We would finish one story and immediately move on to the next, which was quite hard,” he says. “To be at home is a holiday in itself… so that will be terrific.”
Christopher nearly became a solicitor but opted for the theatre instead and made his TV debut in 1974 in John Halifax, Gentleman; he was also in several other series including Crown Court. And there was one other TV appearance he holds dear: a 1978 part in Coronation Street. His role? A policeman.