George Baker, 75, is one of Britain’s best-loved television actors. Having started his career in the theatre at the age of 15, he went on to star in films such as Goodbye Mr Chips, The Spy Who Loved Me and The 39 Steps. In 1987 he was cast as Chief Inspector Wexford in ITV’s The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. A father of five daughters, Baker is married for the third time, to Louie Ramsay who plays on screen wife Dora Wexford. They live in the village of West Lavington in Wiltshire, six miles from Devizes.
In the Eighties, my late wife Sally and I were looking for somewhere to buy in Warwickshire. We were living in London and had rented cottages in Warwickshire for years and years. We never thought to buy, which was extremely stupid because by the time we wanted to move to the country it was too expensive.
Then Sally got ill with cancer and an old friend said, ‘Why don’t you come to my neck of the woods in Wiltshire and have a look?’ When Sally was in remission she went house hunting. It was 1989 and we’d been looking for four years by then.
I was living in a cottage in Romsey while I was filming the Wexfords and Sally came to see me and said, ‘I’ve seen it! I’ve seen the house!’ She was worried it would go, so I said, ‘OK, let’s look at it now.‘We rang the owners and drove back to West Lavington. We had a look around - the church was nice, the pubs were nice, the shop looked nice. Then we came to the house, which is gorgeous.
The original property, built in about 1880, has been built onto very cleverly. It is a bit of a Tardis. From the outside it looks like an old cottage but inside it has five bedrooms and two bathrooms - I have an awful lot of children and therefore grandchildren. The kitchen is enormous and to die for - it has an Aga and a central chopping area. I have always done all the cooking, so that was of great importance.
There is an office above the garage. All the studies I’d had before were the smallest room in the house and suddenly there was this wonderful space.
After Sally died in 1992, I never considered leaving. Sally chose the house, it proved to be a lovely home and I had integrated into the village. Twelve years ago, I founded the youth club and now I am chairman of many charities round about.
When Louie and I married in 1993, she came to live here. She loves the house. She’s not a country person - she was brought up in Hampstead - but she bought some green wellies and is now the most marvellous gardener. West Lavington is a small village - I think we’re 1,700 souls. The church is called All Saints and we have three pubs, The Churchill Arms, The Stage Post and The Bridge Inn. The Bridge has a wonderful restaurant run by a French chef, an Anglophile who has married a beautiful English woman.
In West Lavington, we have a Costcutter. We go into Devizes for Sainsbury’s, the lovely High Street shops and wonderful market on a Thursday which sells very good clothes, fish, meat and marvellous local produce. I also shop in Market Lavington, a bigger village, two minutes away by car. There is a wonderful butcher, a Co-op and a chemist.
Lavington School in Market Lavington is one of the best comprehensives in England. In West Lavington we have Dauntsey’s independent school, where the standard of drama is amazing. They did Sweeney Todd; Louie and I had seen it with Julia McKenzie and Denis Quilley and, I have to tell you, Dauntsey’s School did a better production than the National Theatre.