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I'm a bit of a fusspot myself

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Christopher Ravenscroft would make a very good detective. As Wexford’s strait-laced sidekick DI Mike Burden, he has such a natural gravity it’s hard to believe he’s not for real. In real life, he answers questions in such a short, precise way, you want to confess all just to fill in the silences!

Even Christopher admits that he and Burden—who returns this Friday in a new three-parter based on Ruth Rendell’s latest Wexford novel Simisola— share the same fastidious little ways. ‘I can be quite pedantic and pernickety, just as Burden can,’ he says. ‘He works by the book and wants everything just so. That’s quite familiar to me. My family say I get worse when I’m playing Burden.’

It’s no surprise to learn that Christopher, 49, almost went into the legal world. He studied law at London University for four years before deciding to pursue acting. “My grandfather was a lawyer, but when I studied law I found it rather dry. I’d done acting at school and university so I decided to give it a go and went to the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol.”

So was giving up the law seen as an act of rebellion? He gives a small, disbelieving laugh: “No, not at all. My family were very supportive.”

Much of Christopher’s work has been in the theatre and it wasn’t until he landed the role of DI Burden that he found TV fame.

All 20 Wexford stories have been adapted for television, starring Christopher and George Baker as the down-to-earth detective — although it’s been three years since the last one. “We knew there’d be a sizeable break because when we finished last time, there wasn’t a new Wexford novel to film,” explains Christopher. “We had to wait until Ruth had written one. But it’s very nice to be back. George and I are great friends, it was easy to slip back into the partnership.”

His much longer partnership has been with his wife, theatre director Caroline Smith. The couple met “22 or 23 years ago” — although they only married eight years ago and their son Jack, then 13, was so embarrassed he refused to go to their wedding.

“Our relationship was good and we didn’t need to make a public statement,” says Christopher. “Then later we decided it would be nice to make a commitment. But we weren’t doing it for Jack, we were doing it for ourselves.”

These days Caroline works in Ipswich and Chris lives in London with Jack, 22. “Yes, we spend quite a lot of time apart but I think absence does make the heart grow fonder.” It’s hard to know what DI Burden might deduce from that — though he and his feminist second wife Jenny, played by Diane Keen, make an odd couple.

“Burden has loosened up over the years,” says Christopher. “He was an extraordinarily prudish and right-wing man but he’s gradually become less judgmental. I think that’s partly to do with his first wife dying and then later, Jenny’s influence. She has changed him.”

So would Christopher Ravenscroft have made a good lawyer? After all, so much of the solemnity and intuition already seem to be there. He thinks long and hard. And then pleads guilty. “It’s more than likely,” he announces with a small, grave smile.

George Baker as Wexford with Christopher Ravenscroft as Burden