Sitting back, relaxing in his mobile dressing room on location for ITV’s brand new three-part Ruth Rendell Mystery: A New Lease of Death, Christopher Ravenscroft looks uncharacteristically cheerful. ‘I’ve just had a fan letter,’ he grins. ‘It reads: “You’re a lucky bugger being married to Diane Keen. Perhaps you will smile a bit more now!”.’
As a matter of fact, he smiles a lot, although you’d never know it to watch him as Detective Chief Inspector Wexford’s dour sidekick, Detective Inspector Mike Burden. But that’s about to change now he’s married Jenny (Diane Keen).
‘Mike used to be prudish and irritable and some of it rubbed off on me. My family complained I’d become pernickety,’ Christopher says. ‘But we’re really very different. I enjoy reading, music and nosing around art galleries, while Mike Burden’s a cultural desert. Hopefully, Jenny’ll change all that.’
‘He’s an interesting character to play because so much has happened to him. When his first wife died, he was devastated, left to bring up two children alone. Then, later, he had this passionate affair. He was lonely, desolate and probably sexually frustrated. He became infatuated.’
He smiles as he recalls those steamy scenes. ‘We filmed in a house near Southampton, which was completely redecorated to fit this lady’s exotic character. They even brought in a different bed! I was nervous at first, but there isn’t time to get embarrassed. You’re busy trying to make the scene work and there’s a crew of 50 people around you!’
‘In the end their relationship didn’t work out, but if it hadn’t been for that affair Mike might not have been ready for Jenny. He needed someone to burst that bubble of loneliness. Jenny’s ideal for him… he’s loosening up no end.’
Diane Keen, for one, intends to see that he continues to do so. ‘I used to long for something nice to happen to Mike,’ she says. ‘I wanted to shake him and say, “For goodness sake, do something silly! Go for it!” In fact, Chris is a lot more open-minded and humorous than Mike Burden. But he has the same air of vulnerability. He also has something that Mike is only now just beginning to show… a most beautiful smile!’
A New Lease of Death explores a tougher, more ruthless side to Mike. He’s required to re-investigate a possible miscarriage of justice which also happens to have been the first case his boss ever worked on. ‘It causes a bit of a rift between them, but Mike follows his own lines of inquiry,’ says Chris. ‘Once you’ve seen it, you won’t be calling him boring any longer!’