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Clunes, Martin (1961-)

Actor, Director

Main image of Clunes, Martin (1961-)

Long-limbed, hefty of build and possessed of jug ears and pug-like features, Martin Clunes was never romantic leading man material, but has carved out a successful niche in the world of sitcom and comedy drama, first as the oafish Gary in Men Behaving Badly (ITV, 1992; BBC, 1994-99) and latterly as middle-aged curmudgeon Doc Martin (ITV, 2004-2009).

He was born into a theatrical family; his father, actor Alec, died when Martin was just eight years old. When he decided to become a thespian he was encouraged by his mother's cousin, actor Jeremy Brett, who generously offered to pay for an operation to pin Clunes' ears back. He politely declined, and following rep at Colchester made his television debut as a spoiled aristocrat in the Doctor Who story 'Snakedance' (BBC, 1983). However, employment was irregular - he initially supplemented his income by working as a model for artists Gilbert and George - until his role as William Gaunt's son in the undemanding domestic sitcom No Place Like Home (BBC, 1983-86).

This was followed by a second comedy, All at No. 20 (ITV, 1986-87), and guest appearances in Harry Enfield's Television Programme (BBC, 1990-92), usually essaying upper-class buffoons or condescending intellectuals. In 1992 he co-starred with Enfield in Simon Nye's Men Behaving Badly, centring on the mindless activities of flatmates Dermot and Gary, who were forever drinking beer and fantasising about upstairs neighbour Deborah (Leslie Ash). Early episodes were not well received, however, and Enfield left at the end of the first series, to be replaced by Neil Morrissey as the simple-minded Tony. When ITV dropped the show it was picked up by the BBC, and became one of the biggest successes of the mid-90s. Clunes' on-screen chemistry with Morrissey and Caroline Quentin, who played Gary's long-suffering girlfriend Dorothy, ensured that there were occasional moments of pathos amid the infantile anarchy, particularly when Gary's paranoid suspicions of Dorothy's infidelity were unexpectedly proven correct.

Film work included the bachelor party farce Staggered (1994), which he directed as well as starred in, and a diverting turn as Richard Burbage in Shakespeare in Love (US, 1998). He also found a new generation of fans by providing the voice of animated pup Kipper (ITV, 1998-2001). When Men Behaving Badly ended, he carefully avoided typecasting, playing serial killer John George Haigh in A is for Acid (ITV, 2002), taking the lead in Goodbye Mr. Chips (ITV, tx. 26/12/2002) and starring as undertaker William Shawcross in the romantic comedy William and Mary (ITV, 2003-2005).

It was not until Doc Martin, however, that he found his second defining role, stomping round the Cornish hamlet of Portwenn as misanthropic medic Martin Ellingham, a top vascular surgeon forced into general practice when he develops a phobia of blood. Produced by Clunes' wife, Philippa Braithwaite, the series has made his unique physiognomy one of the most popular on television. Recent work has included a daring re-interpretation of the character originally made famous by Leonard Rossiter in Reggie Perrin (BBC, 2009).

Richard Hewett

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Jeeves and Wooster (1990-93)Jeeves and Wooster (1990-93)

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as P.G.Wodehouse's immortal duo

Thumbnail image of Men Behaving Badly (1992-98)Men Behaving Badly (1992-98)

Decade-defining sitcom about two flatsharing 'lads'

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