Timothy Spall is a TV sleuth solving crime in BBC comedy Death Valley

ExclusiveSunday 19th May 2024, 6:00pm by Jay Richardson

Timothy Spall. Credit: Seb JJ Peters
  • Death Valley stars Timothy Spall as a retired actor, beloved for playing the television detective Caesar, who has begun investigating crimes for real
  • Co-starring Gwyneth Keyworth as the detective sergeant he forms an unlikely partnership with, the BBC comedy drama has been penned by Mammoth co-writer Paul Doolan
  • "I'm relishing the prospect of getting stuck in as we embark on creating this truly oddball detective duo who develop their unusual combined eccentric skills to hilarious and surprisingly successful effect in beautiful rural Wales" said Spall

Timothy Spall has been lured back to episodic television comedy for the first time in a decade, playing a beloved TV detective-turned-real sleuth in a new murder mystery series for the BBC, British Comedy Guide can exclusively reveal.

In the comedy, which has the working title Death Valley, the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet star is eccentric national treasure John Chapel, a retired actor and star of fictional crime series Caesar who forms an unlikely investigative partnership with disarming detective sergeant Janie Mallowan, played by Gwyneth Keyworth (Defending The Guilty, Misfits).

Set in Wales, and shooting in the Welsh countryside next month, Death Valley is written by Mammoth and Trollied scribe Paul Doolan, with six 45-minute episodes set to air on BBC Two, BBC One Wales and iPlayer. The director is Simon Hynd, whose credits include Ghosts and Motherland.

"I'm really looking forward to teaming up with the brilliant Gwyneth Keyworth and the fantastically talented team of creatives and technicians on this new and unique comedy drama" said Spall, who scooped his first BAFTA a week ago for his role in the BBC's true crime drama The Sixth Commandment.
 
He added: "I'm relishing the prospect of getting stuck in as we embark on creating this truly oddball detective duo who develop their unusual combined eccentric skills to hilarious and surprisingly successful effect in beautiful rural Wales and its gorgeous towns and villages."

Gwyneth Keyworth. Credit: YellowBelly

Thrown together by the murder of John's neighbour, John and Janie are described as "an odd, yet hilarious duo with opposing instincts". The BBC says: "Every week, they get to the bottom of gripping murders, with various stunning Welsh locations providing a backdrop to their investigations.
 
"When John and Janie are not arguing about a case, they're inevitably up in each other's personal business. Despite their differences, they soon realise they are the closest thing each other has to a best friend, and unwittingly help one another move on from the past."

Spall has consistently juggled comedy films with more dramatic fare over the last decade, most recently in Wicked Little Letters earlier this year and Sky's festive movie The Heist Before Christmas in December.

His last comedy series was the BBC One sitcom Blandings in 2014, in which he starred as Clarence, Lord Emsworth in the adaptation of PG Wodehouse's Blandings stories, alongside Jennifer Saunders, Mark Williams, Robert Bathurst and Tim Vine among others.

Blandings. Clarence (Timothy Spall)
Blandings. Clarence (Timothy Spall)

On the night before his BAFTA win, Spall appeared at a 40-year appreciation of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet via video link, celebrating the ITV comedy drama that handed him his breakthrough role, with fellow surviving cast members Jimmy Nail, Kevin Whately, Tim Healy and Christopher Fairbank, who took the stage at the O2 City Hall in Newcastle and paid tribute to their late colleagues Gary Holton and Pat Roach.

Death Valley is produced by Nikki Wilson (The Road Trip) for BBC Studios Comedy Productions (Horrible Histories, W1A), with Doolan, Josh Cole and Madeline Addy serving as executive producers.

The series was ordered by Jon Petrie, BBC director of comedy and Nick Andrews, head of commissioning for BBC Wales, with Petrie saying: "This series has all the hallmarks of a BBC Comedy classic; it's the perfect comedy drama caper which never forgets the funny. We feel thoroughly spoiled to have such a wonderful cast on board."

Death Valley's commissioning editors are Seb Barwell for BBC Comedy and Paul Forde for BBC Wales. BBC Studios will distribute the series internationally and additional funding support has been provided by Creative Wales, the Welsh Government agency that supports the growth of the creative sectors.

"Comedy in Wales is in terrific shape!" said Andrews. "The very best comedians, the very best writers are playing their part in establishing Wales as a very funny place. We always knew this to be true and now the rest of the UK do too. I know audiences will fall in love with these two brilliant characters as they strike up an unlikely but incredibly endearing friendship."

Cole added: "With a wonderful cast and Paul's extraordinary scripts, Death Valley is a brilliantly witty and idiosyncratic take on the murder mystery."

The premise is reminiscent of comedy feature Mindhorn. Starring Julian Barratt, the 2017 film followed a washed-up actor, once famed for playing TV detective Mindhorn, called back to the show's setting - the Isle of Man - to assist police in capturing a criminal.

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