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Little things that remind me of you

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Big George Baker will be smiling as he strides around his kitchen, wine glass to hand, putting the finishing touches to his Christmas lunch. It won’t be easy for him. It’s his first Christmas without his beloved wife, Sally, who died of cancer earlier this year. But the man who has become a favourite as TV detective Reg Wexford in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries is determined not to let his cheery mask slip. As usual, he’ll be cooking for a houseful of people. Chicken liver pate to start, plum pudding to finish and—the highlight—a nice plump goose stuffed with chestnuts and prunes.

And there will be tinsel and presents and a walk across the rolling Wiltshire countryside. But, inevitably, the welcoming atmosphere in his picture book cottage will be tinged with sadness. Sally has gone, and so has George’s brother Terry. He died 18 months ago at the age of 52. Terry was a top London agent and a wonderfully larger-than-life character who loved nothing better than a day at the races in lively company. Terry’s widow, Valerie, will sit next to George and the two of them will share a toast to their absent loved ones.

And George is determined not to be gloomy. “It wouldn’t be fair to my daughter Sarah or Valerie’s children if we went round with long faces,” he says. “I’m prepared for Christmas. I know I’ve got to get through it without Sally.” The most difficult moments come when he least expects them.“I’ll be walking along the street, and something will remind me of her, and I’ll be quite overwhelmed.”

George’s Christmas will begin tonight with midnight Mass at the little church in his village, West Lavington, where Sally’s funeral was held last March. The poignancy hasn’t escaped him, but he’ll be singing Christmas carols heartily and trying hard not to dwell on it.

Earlier tonight, Wexford fans will be delighted to see there’s a repeat (ITV, 7.30 pm) of The Ruth Rendell Christmas Mystery. George will be watching. He filmed Achilles Heel in Corsica, and Sally, very ill by then, flew out to join him. It’s a favourite of his, bringing back memories of the time he and Sally shared there. “I know she is never very far away from me,” he says.

George Baker with Sally Home