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.