Hitching a ride with Martin Clunes
The award-winning actor is probably best known for his years as the wayward Gary Strang in Men Behaving Badly and more recently as the irascible doctor in the ITV series, Doc Martin. He became President of the British Horse Society in 2011.
What car do you drive?
A 2005 BMW 650. I really love it. It’s so smart. It still turns my head. Sometimes I walk away from it and turn back to look at it.
Do you change your car often?
No. For a long time I had a string of Volkswagen camper vans. They were always in bits or having something done to them. When the second series of Doc Martin was commissioned – or maybe I did a commercial – there was money to buy a car and I liked a particular old BMW. I don’t know what they were called. It was a coupé with two doors. It was beautiful and continental looking. I thought about getting one but my wife Philippa said, ‘Oh don’t get another old car. Get a new one’. The model I have now hadn’t come out then. I saw pictures online and it looked very smart and swanky. So I put my money down in
a local dealership in Dorchester and said, ‘I’d like one of those’ and months later it came in.
It’s a very steep hill to your farm. I thought you would have a 4 x4.
We do also have a 4×4 and a horse trailer. Oh, and we also have Doc Martin’s Lexus outside as well.
Who taught you to drive?
Nobody. I never had any driving lessons and I passed my test first time. I bought a Hillman Minx for £20 at the pub and drove it home. I guess I was about 17 or 18. It had a crack in the radiator and it would get me from Wimbledon to Putney and then I would have to let it cool down and top it up with water again. And it once got nicked, in Wimbledon. I found it parked at the same pub so I nicked it back.
And your first legal car?
It was a red Audi 100 – it was cool and big. Large cars didn’t hold their price so you could get one quite reasonably.
How long did that last?
A couple of years, then I bought my first BMW – a big 3-litre that was the predecessor of the current 7 series now. It was a giant. I had never had anything so stylish.
Do you enjoy driving?
Yes. However, I suffer from a degenerative back condition which makes it quite uncomfortable to drive for any length of time. But it’s alright if I get the correct balance of painkillers… or a lifting belt! The time I’m most enthusiastic about driving is when we are doing Doc Martin in Cornwall. I’m like a weekly boarder. I come home to Dorset on a Friday night and go back to Cornwall on a Sunday night.
Gaze into your crystal ball. Will we all be in driverless cars in 10 years’ time?
I don’t know, because of the infrastructure needed to support them. Surely they can’t just be let loose on any road. Wouldn’t they need special roads? And what’s a smart motorway? That’s what happening to the M3 and that’s why it is so annoying to use. A 50mph limit for miles, with road signs saying ‘Hi I work here’.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how good a driver are you?
I don’t know. What criteria would there be for judging yourself? You have to do quite a lot of precise driving when you’re filming. And I am quite boy scouty about my professional disciplines. I pride myself on being able to hit a mark with the car repeatedly and put it where it’s wanted. I had to drive a really old car in Arthur and George which I did last year when I was playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was a really awkward set of procedures, like driving a steam engine. But I prided myself on learning to do it at a gallop, managing to hit the white line and deliver my words at the same time.
Are you a considerate driver or do you get impatient?
I’m pretty considerate, and I’ve stopped driving in London now.
Now how clean is your licence?
Grubby! Besmirched! I once had a year’s ban for drink-driving a long, long time ago. 20-odd years ago. And then a few years ago I had a six-month ban for totting up speeding points. That lost me the Churchill commercials which I had been doing for a year.
Did you not think that as you were doing those commercials for Churchill you ought to be a bit careful?
I wasn’t aware I had such an ambassadorial role. The last time I got points I was doing about 38 in a 30 limit, coming back from the school run.
What annoys you about other drivers?
Lack of generosity – more than anything. Especially, strangely enough, in the square at Beaminster, when you try to enter or exit. People who would pull over into a passing place in a lane, will not let you in or out. And I can’t stand head shaking. People shake their heads in cars who wouldn’t dream of shaking
their heads in the open air. It’s a sort of mute communication. Nothing more infuriating.
Do you have a favourite journey in Britain that you love?
Perhaps the drive from here to Port Isaac. I’m always happy to do that journey and also all the roads that approach here where I live, from all directions. Oh, and there is a route in Scotland that I’ve done a few times, along the side of Loch Lomond.
What’s your favourite listening when you drive?
I have a device to record things off the radio, usually Radio 4 or 4 Extra, and then I put that on my IPod and I listen to those in the car. Mainly spoken words, anything with David Mitchell is good.
Has any road collision caused a change in your attitude to driving?
Yes very much so. This last summer we very sadly lost our 25-year-old groom. She had been with us for five years and was killed in a head-on collision, where a van was on the wrong side of the road, overtaking in the fog. Nobody stood a chance. It has destroyed so many lives. And it is such a tiny community. I find now, especially coming back from Cornwall when I get off the bigger roads and on to the lanes, that I do think ‘what if something comes round the
corner ’and I don’t overtake now any more.
Your dream companion on a journey?
Mary, my golden cocker spaniel number one. My first van had a bench seat and Mary would always come with me and we would go everywhere together. I love making things out of wood, going to the timber merchants and filling my van with wood and Mary would come with me and we would share my pasty.
And if you were roads minister for the day, what would you do?
I would authorise a lot of resurfacing work in West Dorset. And I wouldn’t let people on bicycles until they had had some instruction
on how to use the roads. I would also limit the speed of cars for the under 25s to 50mph, in an attempt to save on roadside flowers.
Martin Clunes is a patron of the Born Free Foundation (born-free.org.uk). We have made a £100 donation as a gesture of our appreciation for Martin’s
willing co-operation with this interview.
Interview: Valerie Singleton
Pictures: John Eccles