In the end, he decided to quit after three series in the lead role of DI Richard Poole, something he admits now he’s still not sure was the right decision.
“I’d really, really enjoyed it, I was very proud of it, it just felt right. It had always been the agreement to do three, and – I don’t want to sound ungrateful – I didn’t want to be defined by it.
“At that point, I thought, I either leave now and there’s time to establish another character to take over, which had a nice rhythm because my character had taken over from someone in the story, or I’ll be in this until I’m kaput. And (fellow detective) Camille will be wheeling me around. To this day, I don’t know whether I made the right decision or not.
“The golden rule is, don’t quit the hit. At the time, I read about how critics thought I was crazy to leave the show, but I think it was the right choice. There were other things I wanted to do – including comedy again. It’s a different muscle and it’s really fun to think there are other things you might try.”
Despite this, Ben admits he has difficulty watching his replacement Kris Marshall on the show, particularly when it looked as though relations were warming between him and short-shorted local detective Camille, played by actress Sara Martins.
“I’d be lying if I said that part of me doesn’t envy Kris Marshall. It’s a fabulous show to be a part of, and there’s something about having that amount of time to develop a character, and all those stories to follow through,” he says now.
“I still enjoy the show. What I found hard to watch was Kris Marshall getting it on with Camille.” He chuckles. “He was rebuffed, but not forcefully enough for my liking. I felt a little bit betrayed. And it’s a great, great gig, and he’s completely made it his own.”
Things have worked out for all involved, it seems. Ben is as busy as ever, just off the back of playing Rupert Murdoch to Tracey Ullman’s Jerry Hall for her comedy show – the mind boggles – and about to host a panel show, which tests our most beloved comedy stars on their knowledge of old sitcoms (‘I Love Sitcom’ – watch this space for more on that).
Meanwhile, ‘Death in Paradise’ goes from strength to strength, with Series 6 to kick off in the darker months, bringing DI Humphry and his Caribbean cohorts to the far chillier climes of London for one storyline, a decision Ben Miller is strongly in favour of.
“I was constantly pitching for Richard going back,” he tells us. “I thought it would be fascinating to see Richard among his old cohorts, all of whom clearly detested him as they sent him to the island in the first place.”
Following his experience on ‘Death in Paradise’, Ben, like so many others, remains an avowed fan of crime drama, hence the success of his show and others currently showing on UKTV’s Summer of Drama. Why are we so drawn to these shows? Ben’s done his research and gently informs me, “We’re all murderers, potentially.”
He continues: “The most interesting thing I found out during research was that, there’s no one particular type – they’re like you, they’re like me. Under the right circumstances, anyone can commit murder, if pushed. That’s what we’re fascinated by, the dark side of our own selves, that we could possibly go there.”
Of all the genres on offer and despite so many variations on a theme, however, it seems we never fully tire of the standard procedural, familiar characters solving a terrible crime, red herrings, cliff-hangers and all, within an hour, complete with ad breaks. Ben has his own list of faves –“Columbo, Cracker, Frost, all brilliant” – but cites one that stands apart from the crowd.
“For me, growing up, it was ‘Inspector Morse’,” he says fondly. “There was so much texture to him, and John Thaw was marvellous, even though he claimed he never understood any of the stories while he was filming, he just said the lines. Kevin Whately was brilliant as a sidekick. Oxford looked wonderful, and it felt like a window on the world.”
One thing ‘Morse’ shared with ‘Midsomer Murders’ and many others was the narrow middle-class world it depicted, something Ben points out you could never say about ‘Death in Paradise’.
“One of the joys of working on the show was working with such a completely multiracial, diverse cast,” reports Ben. “It’s such a rare thing, to see so many brilliant actors.
“I talked to them, and they’d say they weren’t working much, because there aren’t enough parts out there. It completely erased my ideas about race and difference. You can’t be in the Caribbean for that long without realising there is no such thing. You meet every different kind of possible person from different ethnic and cultural background, and after you while, you realise, it’s all just people isn’t it? That’s obviously something you would theoretically expect, but to actually experience it was an incredible part of the whole experience.”
“Everything that looked effortless on screen was actually the fruit of much discussion. We didn’t want the white people to be bad, the black people to be good, or vice versa.
“The longer we were out there, the more we were influenced by the actual Caribbean.”
Ben Miller’s early episodes of ‘Death in Paradise’ are currently showing as part of UKTV’s Summer of Drama’. Click here to see what other old favourites are being dusted off and given a fresh airing. Tap the first picture below to open our slideshow: