Midsomer Murders has become something of a British television institution.

Encapsulating the small-scale rivalries of middle England, the long-running drama more often than not sees harmless disputes rapidly escalate into deadly encounters.

Now, following a prolonged pause in production due to Covid, the British drama is set to return to ITV on Sunday nights with four brand new episodes.

Starring United and Life Of Riley actor Neil Dudgeon as veteran police officer DCI John Barnaby, alongside The Crown and Marcella's Nick Hendrix as DS Jamie Winter, together the pair tackle all manner of crimes across the fictional county of Midsomer.

With 2021 marking 10 years in the role for Dudgeon, 60, the actor sits down to tell us more about the forthcoming episodes.

What were your initial thoughts on returning to set?

We started filming again at the beginning of October. On the first day, when I first arrived back and we started shooting The Wolf Hunter Of Little Worthy, it was all on a glamping site. It was all very Midsomer - except that everybody was distant and wearing the masks. I thought, 'This is really weird and really strange and a little bit unnerving', and within about 15 minutes I was quizzing Mark Williams and Sean Redmond about whether they'd murdered somebody. I sort of slipped back into the Midsomer world with the frightening ease.

Did social distancing pose any problems when it came to shooting?

Midsomer is a very physically affectionate set, if I can put it that way. There's lots of handshaking, hugging and kissing in the mornings, that sort of thing, and that's had to stop. Sometimes you wonder, 'What's that point in going to work without that?'. But we've struggled on.

What can we expect from the forthcoming episodes?

We shot two episodes before Christmas, which are going to be broadcast shortly, I believe. The Wolf Hunter of Little Worthy and The Stitches Society, we did those before Christmas. And then we reconvened again in January and we shot another episode. There's The Stitcher Society - it's an episode about a village where lots of people have got heart problems and they're all people of a certain age or a similar age to me. Also, in that is Nimmy March - some older viewers may remember a series years ago called Common As Muck from the mid '90s.

Can we expect to see any other familiar faces?

In that episode, there was a young man who appeared on set who I had just seen in an entire series. Jacob Fortune-Lloyd is his name, who is in The Queen's Gambit, which is fantastic. And then there he was on our set being fantastic... In The Sting Of Death episode is Griff Rhys Jones, who was fascinating and hilarious and lovely to spend some time with. And then also I must mention Derek Griffiths, who was a hero of my childhood from Playschool and Play Away and those are things when I was a tiny little boy.

Are we right in thinking you took part in a spontaneous yoga class on set?

We had a day when we were filming scenes in the church. And for those scenes, we had an actual yoga teacher and her yoga class. And so, we went outside and I saw that the yoga teacher had started to put the class through their paces or warm-up and I thought, 'Ooh, I'll have some of that!'. And so I went and joined in at the back and we were doing all the warrior two [poses] and all those sort of things, right there in the graveyard with all the other ladies. And it was fantastic, a fantastic way to start the day.

And it's now been 10 years since you took on the role of DCI John Barnaby?

I never had any idea that it will go on this long. They said come in and do a few episodes of Midsomer and I thought, 'I'll give it a try. I hope I don't destroy the show inside one episode because that would be very embarrassing, after John Nettles has done it so marvellously for 13 years and I bury it inside one episode'. That would have been very embarrassing. But we got through that first series and then they wanted to do it again and I thought 'Hurrah!', and sort of repaid the faith of the people who cast me in it.

Yourself and co-star Neil Hendrix make a formidable partnership. Is there a lot of laughter working together?

We've had a couple of times over the last couple of episodes where we've tried to play the scene without actually making eye contact because it made us laugh too much. And that is, I think, a low point for any professional artist, to be quite honest. I'm outing us both here.

Do you think you'd make a good police officer?

In a way, I think why we'd be great policemen or great detectives is, as you well know, you're far more likely to be murdered by a family member or a close acquaintance than by some random person. Well, in Midsomer, there's always loads of people who might [want to] murder you and they're all lying and they're all very hard to pin down. Whereas, in real life, you find some bloke's been murdered and you go 'Where was his wife?' And she was standing next to him with the big knife in her hand. So, I think we'd be pretty good. I do the thinking and Nick can run around dragging people into lakes and stuff like that.

The new series of Midsomer Murders will air on STV, tomorrow at 8pm.