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I'd like Tom Hardy on the slab says Midsomer Murders pathologist Annette Badland

Annette Badland is back in the role of feisty pathologist Fleur Perkins as Midsomer Murders returns to ITV for its 21st series. We quizzed the former EastEnders actress about the show

Annette Badland – sitting on a powerful motorbike might be a bit of thrill for Fleur

A DANCE extravaganza, a thriving bee empire, a mud run and a foray into the world of miniature dolls houses... Midsomer Murders is certainly back to its bizarre best for its latest run.

The popular detective drama – headed up by DCI John Barnaby and DS Jamie Winters (played by Neil Dudgeon and Nick Hendrix, respectively) – returns to the English countryside with a whole host of new cases to solve.

Helping them is the indomitable pathologist Fleur Perkins, played by former EastEnders star Annette Badland (69).

TELL US ABOUT THE NEW SERIES

This series, each of the four returning characters have more of a footprint in an episode – with Miniature Murders focusing a little more on Fleur. Karl Collins guest stars, which was wonderful for me, as we hadn't seen each other since we did Shane Meadows's TwentyFourSeven in 1997. We decided it would be great if he could become one of Fleur's boyfriends. One of many, of course.

CAN WE EXPECT MORE CHEEKINESS FROM FLEUR, THEN?

There are a few more moments of Fleur's naughtiness that occur, including the moment we see her on a Harley Davidson. The way that episode ends is so fabulous. I think sitting on a powerful motorbike might be a bit of a personal, sexual thrill for Fleur. When I was much younger, I was a motorbike passenger regularly when I was at drama school because there was a boy with a bike. Now I have my own... Well, I have two, one for myself and one to share.

SHE'S A VIBRANT MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN, NOT A ROLE OFTEN SHOWN ON MAINSTREAM TV. WOULD YOU AGREE?

It is wonderful to play a woman who is not young, who has a mind, who has lovers and a sex life and who has interesting hobbies and can give the boys as good as they get. When I first joined, people referred to Fleur as a 'battle-axe' but Neil (Dudgeon) said, "If she were a man, people would just say she is good at her job." So in an elegant and non-aggressive way, we are reminding people that, believe it or not, there are quite a few of us women around. People have responded well to Fleur – they like that she can put the men in their place and they relish her dry wit. I love that the creators have made me a bit feisty.

ANY STANDOUT EPISODES?

There's one that centres on a Strictly Come Dancing-style ballroom competition. While I don't dance in the episode, it reminded me of how astounded I was when I first saw my parents do the foxtrot, as I had no idea they could even do it. Prancing around the floor they went, and it was such a beautiful dance. I loved Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers so that is a dance I love watching. I was born in the 1950s, so I am a bit more hippie and free-form, a little bit John Travolta.

WHO WOULD BE YOUR DREAM GUEST STAR?

Tom Hardy. Why not? I haven't worked with him, but I would like to, and I would certainly like him on the slab. He is top of my list. Most people are dead by the time I meet them, so we don't get to play that much. This year, in a few episodes, you see Fleur in action doing her autopsy work and I enjoy doing that despite the very long medical terminology.

WHY DO PEOPLE LOVE THE SHOW SO MUCH?

I think they like the quirky humour, the scenery, and someone said to me, "It's like stepping into a bubble bath – in the best way." Kind of, "Ahh, yes".

:: Midsomer Murders returns to ITV on Tuesday, January 21.

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