Martin Clunes on receiving an OBE, this year's Buckham Fair and Doc Martin
PUBLISHED: 16:16 19 August 2015 | UPDATED: 16:16 19 August 2015
© Neil Genower
As filming for the seventh series of Doc Martin comes to an end, Martin Clunes OBE is busy preparing for his next starring role at Buckham Fair. Carol Burns caught up with Martin and his furry co-star on set in Port Isaac
On August 23 thousands of people will descend on actor Martin Clunes family farm in West Dorset to enjoy a good old-fashioned fun day out at Buckham Fair.
This year’s event is rather special, not only coming so soon after Clunes received an OBE for – among other things – his services to the county of Dorset – but also reuniting the Doc Martin star with his four-pawed nemesis Buddy, played by eight-year-old canine superstar Dodger.
To date this annual dog and pony show, with fun fair, local food and craft stalls and plenty of exciting canine and equine displays, has raised more than £256,500 for its chosen Dorset charities which include Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, Weldmar Hospicecare Trust and this year - Julia’s House Children’s Hospice, which Martin is a patron of.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to receive an OBE,” admits Martin. “It is extra special to me as part of the honour is for community services to Dorset, which makes me very proud.”
Each year Buckham Fair has grown bigger and better, attracting people, including fans of the Doc Martin series, from as far afield as South Africa, Australia and the USA. You can even become a Buckham Fair Sponsor and have your photo taken with Martin on the day!
The Clunes family moved to the farm just outside in Beaminster back in 2007 and held the first Buckham Fair on Buckham Down in 2008. The plan, says Martin, has always been to create a fun event for the whole community and to raise money for Dorset charities. Both Martin and his wife Philippa are very much hands-on with Buckham and they are supported by a hard-working committee who help them organise everything from dog and pony show entries to sorting out the many stalls.
I caught up with Martin at Port Isaac on the beautiful north Cornish coast where he was filming Doc Martin. Now in its seventh series, the hit ITV show has become a regular visitor to the old harbour town. Its narrow cobbled streets attract fans keen to watch their favourite show being filmed, and hopefully see the besuited GP striding around scowling at his patients. The production company behind the series has even set up a special fund for the town in recognition of its starring role in the success of the show.
“The sun always shines in Port Wenn,” jokes Martin of the fictional Cornish town where Doc Martin is set. “I am sure that part of the success of Doc Martin is Cornwall.”
For those unfamiliar with the show, Martin plays the role of the notoriously grumpy Dr Martin Ellingham, a GP with a brusque bedside manner and a phobia of blood that ended his promising surgical career and brought him to Port Wenn. Without giving too much away, in the latest series Doc Martin is trying to mend his relationship with his wife Louisa (Caroline Catz). The couple married in the last series, but their marital harmony was short lived - and Louisa took their son James Henry to Spain.
“The last series was funny but had quite an emotional agenda, this series we are keeping with this - but going back to the comedy,” says Martin. “So I’ll be trying to walking into more door frames!”
Doc Martin is an unlikely romantic hero but his on-again-off-again relationship with Louisa, rather like the one Martin had as Gary Strang with his long suffering girlfriend Dorothy in the hit comedy Men Behaving Badly, proved to be a major attraction of the show. “Right from the start it wasn’t something we could have predicted,” he says. “That’s why people were tuning in. People started saying to me ‘just marry her’ and they would say to Caroline, ‘why do you put up with him?’”
This series will also see the blossoming (or should that be withering) of a relationship, with Doc Martin’s unwanted four-legged companion, the inappropriately-named Buddy, played by eight-year-old Dodger.
Dodger came from the Dog’s Trust in Evesham after being found wandering the streets of Bradford as a puppy, although meant to be a family pet, his owner Sonia Turner realised she had a potential star on her hands – and became his trainer. Dodger is now one of the stars of Gill Raddings Stunt Dogs and Animals (which incidentally provided Demelza’s dog Garrick in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Poldark).
Martin has nothing but praise for his canine co-star who spends most of his time being berated or ignored by the grumpy doctor. “Dodger is amazing, he can do anything,” he admits, adding that he is happy to let him steal the scene. “Dogs don’t know the difference between work and play – they’re a bit like actors. So when we first started filming I wouldn’t shout at him, I’d just mouth the words, we added the shouting later, because he wouldn’t understand and think he had been naughty. But he’s fine with it now. He knows I love him and we play a lot together off camera,” says Martin, who has a number of his own much loved dogs at home, along with 14 or so horses, 200 sheep, a herd of cows, some chickens and a couple of cats.
“Martin is brilliant with him,” says Dodger’s trainer, Sonia. “He is such a generous actor and Dodger knows Martin so well now. And it’s not all bad. Dodger has had the scenes of his dreams in this series. He got to eat a chicken casserole and a lasagne!”
At Buckham Fair – where Martin judges the novelty dog show which includes classes like best trick and waggiest tail - he and Dodger will perform for the crowds in the show ring. “It’s Dodger’s chance to get his own back,” jokes Sonia, although she is giving nothing more away about what is planned.
It’s no surprise that Martin is so good with Dodger. He and Philippa have four dogs, including one picked up as a puppy during his last stop off in Cornwall: Penelope Jennifer is a Jackahuahua (Jack Russell chihuahua cross) and all are in attendance off-set. Fans that come to watch the filming at Port Isaac often bring their dogs to entice the actor to come and say hello, and he can rarely resist. But he takes the presence of the ‘Clunatics’ – look out for the specially printed t-shirts – in his modest stride.
Martin is also passionate about horse riding – he is current president of the British Horse Society – and as we chat he is bemoaning the fact he is banned from riding until the completion of filming. He admits that his pair of magnificent Clydesdales - Ronnie and Bruce, who have starred in their own TV series, aren’t that bothered as they’re currently having a whale of a time on Dartmoor in Devon.
Martin was a late-starter to horse riding; when his daughter Emily wanted to get a pony, he decided to join his daughter and wife on horseback. He first came across heavy horses several years ago whilst filming and says he had a “gut reaction” when watching these powerful animals in action. This quickly led to him putting out tentative enquiries to own one and the result is Ronnie and Bruce. The handsome duo always make an appearance at Buckham Fair, done up to the nines in all their gorgeous heavy horse regalia, and proudly led around the show ring by Martin during the heavy horse parade.
“When I ride them through Beaminister people don’t see it’s me on their backs, they just look at the horses,” says Martin, who is particularly excited that this year, for the first time, he will be taking part in the pony classes. “I’m going to be judging the pony the judge would most like to take home. I suspect it’s going to be a tough decision as I would probably like to take them all back to the farm.” I’m not sure what Ronnie and Bruce would think of that!
Back in the fictional world of Port Wenn, Clunes is reunited with his Men Behaving Badly co-star Caroline Quentin, who plays a holistic vet determined to save Buddy from the clutches of the doctor – who in turn is determined to free himself of his most loyal four-legged friend, permanently – but I am assured it will all work out.
Well we know it will because Buddy aka Dodger is going to be the star of the show at Buckham Fair, but as to what canine capers this furry thespian has in mind for his OBE co-star will only be revealed on the day!
Let’s go to Buckham Fair: 23 August
Gates open at 9am and events include novelty dog show (enter on the day), Rescue Dog of the Year, dog agility, dog and horse displays, gymkhana, pony fancy dress, heavy horse parade, fun fair, local food court and deli, craft stalls, beer tent, home baked cakes and so much more. The event takes place on Buckham Down just outside Beaminster, DT8 3SH (event is sign posted). Tickets on the gate £5 for adults, under 16s free. For a full programme and to download entry forms visit buckhamfair.co.uk.
The new series of Doc Martin is due to be aired on ITV in the autumn.
• Interview with Buckham Fair founders Martin and Philippa Clunes - Martin Clunes is the Doctor Dolittle of TV comedy. Acting might be his day job but animals are his passion. The Doc Martin stalwart houses a veritable menagerie at his Beaminster estate.
• Martin Clunes to star in ITV’s Arthur & George - The Dorset-based actor returns to our screen in March in an exciting new drama. If you want to meet Martin in person join him at this year’s Buckham Fair