Fiona Dolman (Sarah) and Neil Dudgeon (John) with Sykes

NEIL Dudgeon’s debut tonight as the new leading man in Midsomer Murders has been overshadowed by the race row involving producer Brian True-May.

Today it was announced that Brian will step down from the show at the end of the new – 14th – series.

Four episodes have already been filmed and the remaining four went into production this week.

Production company All3Media said: “Brian apologises if his remarks gave unintended offence to any viewers.”

With ITV adding: “We welcome his apology and understand he will step down from his role on Midsomer Murders at the end of the current production run.”

The online version of my feature on Neil – published in today’s Manchester Evening News – is further down this page, together with extra material from our recent encounters.

But first let’s deal with less happy events.

Goodbye: Jane Wymark (Joyce), John Nettles (Tom) and Laura Howard (Cully)

WE met yet again in a typical Midsomer country pub.

One last annual press gathering before John Nettles said goodbye to Midsomer Murders.

His final episode – Fit For Murder – is on ITV1 at 8pm tonight.

But the series lives on with Neil Dudgeon as a new leading man.

I’ve already interviewed Neil and his incoming screen wife Fiona Dolman and seen their first scenes in the next series.

And while sad to see John go, it looks to me like he’s left Midsomer Murders in safe hands.

MIDSOMER Murders has a celebrity fan in Stephen Fry.
Who has also revealed something you might not expect from a devoted user of Twitter.
At the Kingdom press launch this week we learned about some of Stephen’s TV favourites.
And the more unusual spots where he catches up with them.
“I am very happy to sit and watch two hours of Midsomer Murders, or Doc Martin or Marple, especially as I am such a fan of Agatha Christie.
“I love a good whodunit,” he said.
“I also loved Ken Stott’s Messiah and Cracker and Prime Suspect and Wire In The Blood, Trial and Retribution and things that are dark and pretty heavy.
“When I’m away I fill my laptop with TV so that I can enjoy viewing when I am in the Bush.

THE end of a era in Midsomer was confirmed a few minutes ago.
John Nettles is to leave Midsomer Murders – but not just yet.
The veteran actor, who plays Det Chief Insp Tom Barnaby, will investigate his final case next year.
And be seen on screen well into 2011.
John, 65, has played the role since filming the pilot episode in 1996 and probed some 200 murders.
I spoke to the official Midsomer Murders spokeswoman this morning.
She confirmed that John has told producers he plans to retire from the role after filming scheduled episodes this year and next.

JOHN Nettles was his usual dry-witted self when we spoke to him yesterday.
Including after I asked him about a certain Holly Willoughby.
The venue was a pub in a sleepy Oxfordshire village, which came complete with a stone church.
A group of us were there to talk about all things Midsomer, including Days Of Misrule.
That’s a special festive episode to be screened in the UK this Christmas.
Guest stars include Tim Pigott-Smith, who was also there yesterday.
You may have seen him in his most recent big screen role – as the Foreign Secretary in Quantum of Solace.

MIDSOMER Murders is a class act – in more ways than one.
The wedding of Cully Barnaby and Simon Dixon was filmed last summer, with yours truly in the congregation.
Yesterday – exactly one year and three days later – came the reception.
It began with the screening of Midsomer Murders: Blood Wedding, due on ITV1 next month – the first of four new films.
The episode features both Cully’s marriage and an altogether more bloody wedding day.
A delicious confection, it’s Midsomer at its best, no thanks to Her Majesty’s Press acting as unpaid extras.
“Wonderful people all, incandescent with talent,” leading man John Nettles (DCI Tom Barnaby) told us yesterday, tongue firmly in cheek.

THE start of a New Year and the first murder mystery of 2008.
If you’re feeling a little jaded today, then John Nettles may be just the tonic you need this evening.
Midsomer Murders: Shot At Dawn is another gloriously daft adventure with yet more inventive methods of murder.
Former Coronation Street star Brian Capron – Weatherfield killer Richard Hillman – plays Mayor of Causton Dave Hicks.
Check out his Footballers’ Wives style mansion while you’re trying to guess who the murderer is (ITV1, 9pm).
Brian is joined by fellow guest stars George Cole, Donald Sinden and Samantha Bond, along with Barnaby’s deliciously dry sense of humour.