EVEN now, Mackenzie Crook tells me, if people spot him in the street they will often shout “Gareth” at him. “If I go out into town I can probably guarantee you that one person will stop me and say ‘I love The Office.’” Crook admits. “I am constantly reminded of it.”

In the 14 odd years since Ricky Gervais’s sitcom The Office shuffled off our television screens, Mackenzie Crook has appeared in Hollywood blockbuster movies alongside Johnny Depp and performed Chekov on Broadway. And yet the ghost of the programme that made him famous lingers in the folk memory. In Crook’s case that ghost has eyes like billiard balls, wears a bowl cut and is called Gareth Keenan.

“But that’s not a problem at all,” he says. “It’s only ever affectionate and complimentary.”

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It is time that changed though. Because fine and all as The Office was, Crook’s latest incarnation is better. This week sees the return of Detectorists, the sitcom Crook writes, directs and appears in and quite frankly, it’s a little masterpiece.

For those who are not in the know (and if you’re not I’ll expect a note from your mother) Detectorists is the gentlest, quietest sitcom on TV. It’s also the best; a beautifully shot bucolic vision of Englishness in which Crook and Toby Jones play two anything-but-Alpha males who spend their days off in the fields of Suffolk looking for treasure with their metal detectors. (And I haven’t even mentioned Rachael Stirling).

It’s why we’re speaking and it’s why I want to talk to him about sheds and nature and masculinity. Oh, and Kurt Cobain.

In fact, one of the opening scenes of the first episode of the new series of Detectorists has a very Herald Face to Face vibe about it. Sitting under a tree Andy (played by Crook) and Lance (Jones) discuss who they would invite to their ideal dinner party, and Andy quickly rules out both Jesus and Kurt Cobain.

“He is one of my all-time heroes, Crook explains (he’s talking about Kurt here just to be clear) but the producers of the show used to produce Jonathan Ross’s The Last Resort back in the day and they were telling me a story of how they went out after the show with Nirvana.

“Dave and Kris were great company, but Kurt just sat there gloomily staring into his pint until he made his excuses and went off to look for heroin. And so I realised if I did invite my hero to a dinner party, he’s not likely to be the best of guests.”

It is Wednesday morning in north London and Crook is currently sitting in his office just around the corner from the home he shares with his wife Lindsay and his two children Jude (named after the Thomas Hardy novel Jude the Obscure; Crook loves Hardy) and Scout (named after the character in the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lindsay’s favourite.) The walls are covered with framed photographs and butterfly collections of a certain vintage. There’s a map of London too, dated 1812. “It’s a proper man cave,” Crook tells me. “One of my favourite places on Earth.”

It’s where he writes. Detectorists was born here. It was, he admits, an attempt to do something that was out of kilter with the prevailing trends in sitcom.

“I know that I was setting out to make an antidote to the particularly cruel humour that’s been prevalent recently,” Crook admits, “the comedy of embarrassment or awkwardness or whatever,” Crook says. “I’m a fan of some of those comedies, but I just wanted to see if it could be done – an uncynical comedy.”

Turns out it is. And now it’s reached a third and probably final series. Crook wasn’t sure he’d bring it back at all to begin with.

“At one point I was leaning towards doing a one-off, like an extended film version,” he admits. “But then I thought that’s not going to reach many people and it will be on once and then disappear. I really needed to man up and do another six-part series and probably call it a day then.”

“Manning up” and “man cave.” Such overt expressions of masculinity, however ironic, are not something you might readily associate with Crook who is, let’s be honest, a skelf of a man. But actually it’s Crook’s representation of masculinity in Detectorists that is one of its most appealing aspects.

Because as a gender we are not getting a good press at the moment. You may have noticed. Men, what are we good for, some of you may be asking? Not just for sexual harassment, believe it or not, despite what certain MPs, cabinet ministers, Hollywood producers and stars and that creepy bloke who works in your office might suggest.

Without wanting to overburden what is just a half-hour comedy drama after all, it’s possible that Detectorists is a timely reminder that not all men are guilty of toxic masculinity. Yes, they might be rubbish at emotional articulacy at times, yes, they might be obsessed with things that don’t actually matter in the long run (stamps, football, Roman coins). But they can also be caring, loving, committed. That’s a workable masculinity, isn’t it?

“I think that was part of the initial idea,” Crook agrees. “Early on, when I first started writing it, it was just these little snippets of bullshit conversation out in a field between Lance and Andy, exploring the way blokes talk to each other when their partners aren’t around and not inhibited by having to be macho or masculine in the traditional sense.

“And you know what? I know I’m not masculine in the traditional sense. But I’m a good dad and a husband so surely that makes me a good enough man?”

It does, it does.

Crook certainly seems a more self-confident man these days. The last time I spoke to him was in 2009. There was a diffidence to him back then, a weighing-every-word approach to answering questions. He feels a little more relaxed this time around.

“I do feel more rooted now than I ever have before,” Crook agrees. “I’ve reached this brilliant place where I’m enjoying this new branching of my career into writing and directing and I’m really excited about that.”

Partly that’s a result of taking control with Detectorists. He came up with the idea, writes and directs it as well as acting in it. “In the first series I was floundering around. I didn’t quite know what I was doing. I didn’t have any confidence. I leaned on people very heavily.

“The second series I gained a bit more confidence and this third one, yeah, I think I was properly directing which I wasn’t convinced I was in the first series.”

“I feel I’ve reached a level of maturity, which is weird at 46. I eventually got there. I have been so fortunate since The Office. Jobs have come along one after the other and slotted in just nicely. But I’ve always been aware that that could all dry up and that I should really have a go at creating something of my own. And yeah, I’ve found that discipline, it seems.”

Mackenzie Crook grew up in suburbia but the natural world was only ever a short bike ride away. “I spent a lot of my holidays at my family’s tobacco farm in Zimbabwe and so being in the outdoors is a massive part of my life. I assumed for a while I would go into ... I don’t know, zoology or something along those lines. It didn’t happen but it’s always remained a passion.”

Indeed, some years back he bought eight acres of woodland. These days he has his own shed – all men need a space of their own, he says – and since starting Detectorists even goes detecting. “I get out three or four times a year probably. But I’ve found some great stuff. I found my first gold earlier this year, a piece of Roman jewellery.

“Anything that’s over 200 years old and made of precious metal is declared treasure and so I had to hand it over. That was a bit of a heart-breaking moment and I’ll probably never see it again. But at the same time it’s a proud thing to know that I found something that is officially called treasure.”

Crook is still a jobbing actor, of course. He is working on a new animated version of Watership Down that will appear Christmas 2018. “I get called every few months to do a couple of lines and see how it’s getting on,” he says.

And then there’s Jez Butterworth’s new Sky Atlantic drama Britannia, set in the Roman Ages. It has just been recommissioned for a second series so that means he will spend most of next year with a shaved head and spending three and a half hours a day in the make-up chair to get that death warmed up look just right.

And after we speak he’s off to the BBC for a meeting on the next thing he is hoping to write for the corporation. Gareth is fading into the past with every day.

For now, though, we have the new series of Detectorists to enjoy. It’s a form of treasure too, you might say. I would say. A glimpse of a world where men can be a bit rubbish at times but are fundamentally nurturing, are essentially – and this is key – kind.

“Absolutely,” Crook agrees. “The kindness thing is very important. I remember hearing Stephen Fry talking about how to be kind has this whimsical, pathetic air about it. But kindness is a powerful tool. It’s a superpower to be a kind person.”

And you don’t have to be bitten by a radioactive metal detector to gain it.

Detectorists returns to BBC Four on Wednesday at 10pm.