Death In Paradise: 10 years of TV's hottest whodunnit

10 years of TV’s hottest whodunnit: Quirky killings, star guests, a Caribbean backdrop (and a bit of heatstroke). That’s the magic Death In Paradise formula…

  • The show, set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie, started in 2011
  • Ben Miller as DI Poole was first in succession of fish-out-of-water detectives
  • He was invited back for a secret cameo appearance in 10th anniversary series 

By Nicole Lampert For Weekend Magazine

Published: 22:31, 1 January 2021 | Updated: 00:53, 2 January 2021

Ben Miller wasn’t prepared for the emotional and physical impact a return to the Death In Paradise set on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe would have on him. 

His character DI Richard Poole was the first in a succession of fish-out-of-water British detectives seconded to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie to solve local crimes when the show started in 2011, but it has been seven years since Poole was killed off with an ice pick.

Invited back for a secret cameo appearance in the sun-drenched whodunnit’s 10th anniversary series – which starts this week on BBC1 – Ben drove straight to the set when he got to the island. He wasn’t due to be working that day but felt the siren call of the crew and cast he’d worked with for three years. 

‘I knew they were filming at the shack where the detective always lives, and as I drove there everything came back to me,’ he recalls today over Zoom. ‘I knew which coconut tree I should park under, and where I should get an ice cream from. 

The cast of the new series (from left) Elizabeth Bourgine, Josephine Jobert, Ralf Little, Don Warrington and Tobi Bakare

‘I could see the lights of the set ahead of me.

I trudged along the beach, pushed through the foliage and then I saw the yellow police truck, and I literally burst into tears. I hated that truck so much. It was so uncomfortable it was like riding in a bucket with wheels.

But I burst into tears and couldn’t stop.’ 

The series was created by writer Robert Thorogood after he heard about the suspicious death of English cricket coach Bob Woolmer at the 2007 Cricket World Cup in Jamaica, where he’d been in charge of the Pakistan team, and how local police had brought in Scotland Yard to help with the investigation. 

While that mystery was never solved, Robert pictured the idea of an uptight London copper trying to solve murders in the tropics – and one of the world’s most popular detective series was born. 

The show gets some of the BBC’s highest ratings, and is loved from India to Russia, Australia to Sweden, Kazakhstan to Canada. When it first appeared on British television no one could possibly have anticipated its massive success. 

The first reviews were brutal; at the time Scandi-noir dramas were all the rage, and no one knew quite what to make of this lighthearted crime series. 

‘There was a tidal wave of criticism,’ recalls Ben. ‘But the viewing figures were extraordinary.’ For all the beauty of the island, it’s a tough job that means being away from home for half the year. 

Ben left after two series because he hadn’t seen his newborn son for six months. ‘I was divorced once and I didn’t want it to happen again,’ he says. He was succeeded in the expat detective role by Kris Marshall, Ardal O’Hanlon and now Ralf Little, who’ve all had to work in the gruelling heat wearing a suit and tie. 

Death In Paradise: 10 years of TV's hottest whodunnit

Ben Miller as DI Richard Poole (pictured) was first in succession of fish-out-of-water British detectives

‘For all his cheerful memories of the job, Ben was reminded of this once he started work on his cameo as Poole, which comes in a two-episode story in the middle of the series. ‘I’m still bad in the heat,’ he says. 

‘I start to get heatstroke after about an hour.

They could tell I was getting too hot again, because I slightly lose the plot and start talking gibberish.’ When Ben decided to leave after his initial stint, there were fears the show would crumble without him. 

But at the end of the last series it was still drawing more than eight million viewers per episode. ‘It’s become the Doctor Who of police drama, hasn’t it?’ laughs Ben. ‘It’s pretty unique.’ 

JANUARY OR BUST 

Filming on this latest series was originally due to start in April, and most of the crew had already flown to Guadeloupe when the world was thrust into lockdown and the production was shut down. 

Despite a delay of 15 weeks, with filming starting up again in July, the plan was always to air the show around the same time as usual – in January – to ensure fans were not disappointed. 

‘It was a Herculean, some might say foolhardy, task to try to get it all done without changing the delivery date,’ admits Ralf Little. ‘But the show is so essential for that all-important escapism in January that we knew we had to aim for the same slot.’ 

MURDER MOST BIZARRE 

With more than 70 killings over the past ten years, Saint Marie is one of the most murderous places on Earth, despite its tiny size. An air hostess, a hen party bride, a treasure hunter… the victims have been a varied bunch, and the ways they’ve met their maker have been just as quirky. 

There was an electrocution in a swimming pool and we’ve seen poisonings from rare frogs, people being shoved off cliffs, and one murderer who killed his allergy-suffering victim by removing the adrenaline from his epipen. A favourite method of administering poison is on the back of a stamp. 

The detectives are often stumped by doors that have been locked from the inside or watertight alibis, and it’s the intriguing puzzle they must solve to nab the culprit that makes the show so popular.

And the fact they always manage to do it in an hour. 

A FEAST OF FAMOUS FACES

Death In Paradise: 10 years of TV's hottest whodunnit

The show has also been the springboard to success for some up-and-coming actors including Humans’ Gemma Chan (pictured)

Death In Paradise: 10 years of TV's hottest whodunnit Death In Paradise: 10 years of TV's hottest whodunnit

Over the years some of our best-loved actors have taken guest roles in the series and this year will be no different with former Emmerdale actor and Strictly champ Kelvin Fletcher (left) and Our Girl’s Luke Pasqualino (right)

Over the years some of our best-loved actors have taken guest roles in the series, no doubt lured by the promise of sunshine and rum punch. 

The likes of Helen Baxendale, Samantha Bond, Rupert Graves and Peter Davison have all graced the show, and this year will be no different with former Emmerdale actor and Strictly champ Kelvin Fletcher, comic Jason Manford, Our Girl’s Luke Pasqualino and former Call The Midwife star Bryony Hannah set to appear. 

The show has also been the springboard to success for some up-and-coming actors including Humans’ Gemma Chan, Martin Compston of Line Of Duty fame and new Bond star Lashana Lynch.

LOOK WHO ELSE IS BACK

Death In Paradise: 10 years of TV's hottest whodunnit

Poole’s sidekick DS Camille Bordey (pictured, played by Sara Martins) is back for the same two-part story

Ben Miller’s character Richard Poole isn’t the only former star to return in this series. Poole’s sidekick DS Camille Bordey (played by Sara Martins) is back for the same two-part story. ‘The character never left me,’ says Sara. ‘I always hoped there could be a reason for her to come back.’ 

Meanwhile, DS Florence Cassell (played by Josephine Jobert), who left two years ago after the death of her fiance in the show, is back as a series regular. ‘When she left, she was destroyed,’ says Josephine. ‘Coming back is painful for her.’

PARADISE MAKES MY EYES WATER

Death In Paradise: 10 years of TV's hottest whodunnit

Ralf Little appreciates just how lucky he is to have landed the role of DI Neville Parker (pictured in the series)

Ralf Little is sunning himself on a balcony overlooking a pristine beach and a turquoise sea when I catch up with him over Zoom, but it’s fair to say he appreciates just how lucky he is to have landed the role of DI Neville Parker. ‘My friends are all furious with me,’ he admits. 

‘My brother and sister are both working hard in the NHS in the middle of a pandemic while I’m here in the Caribbean, so I know how much harder everything is for people at home.’ 

Ralf, 40, played a suspect in the second series of the show, but landing the lead part is his biggest role since he played mouthy teenager Antony in The Royle Family. Neville was sent to the island from Manchester after the mysterious death of a Mancunian woman. 

He solved that crime quickly enough, but then found himself stuck on the island with deep-vein thrombosis – he’s a chap who’s always got some sort of health problem.

Ralf can empathise. 

‘There’s something out here that I really am allergic to – I’m still not sure what – so our on-set medic has to have antihistamines for me,’ he says. ‘Dogs are one of my issues too, and there are lots of strays on the island – we’ve actually rescued two of them.

I can’t resist patting them but then my eyes start streaming. 

‘Neville still has lots of issues; he comes out in hives if he eats the wrong foods and has a nasty reaction to sandflies, but this series is about him learning to deal with his weaknesses. 

‘I think that’s one of the keys to the show’s success, that the detective arrives broken or incomplete in some way.

The process of being on the island heals them to the degree that by the time they leave, they are more rounded individuals.’

 

Death In Paradise returns on Thursday at 9pm on BBC1.

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