When her husband Rory is killed in a car crash on the way back from a business trip in the south of France, antiques dealer Jean White (Sally Lindsay) discovers he's blown all of their money and left her virtually penniless.
After noticing that the extremely valuable ring he'd just bought was missing from the scene of the crash, Jean reluctantly travels to antiques hotspot Sainte Victoire to find out what's happened to it — but upon her arrival, she discovers that the circumstances of Rory's death are more suspicious than they first appear.
That's the setting for new drama The Madame Blanc Mysteries, created and co-written by star Sally Lindsay, who was inspired by her own love of antiques and mystery stories. We chatted to Sally all about how she came up with the series and reuniting with her pal Steve Edge...
Sally Lindsay on the inspiration for 'The Madame Blanc Mysteries'
"I think it came to fruition when I was filming in the freezing cold, in a little caravan on a car park in Manchester, and I just thought 'there's got to be a better workplace than this'! Even though I loved the project, I thought, 'wouldn't it be wonderful if we did something in the sunshine?'. I've always been fascinated by antiques. I was obsessed with Lovejoy as a kid, I used to watch it with my gran at her house and I thought it was warm, wonderful and an hour of escapism, so that was a big influence — even though when I look at these episodes, it's nothing like Lovejoy at all, except that there are antiques in it!"
What happens to Jean at the start of the series?
"I've always had a fascination with the idea of, what if you're living this wonderful life, thinking that you're making money and you're married to the right person, and then one day everything is taken away from you? That's how the show starts — everything she thought was real is not real. When Rory dies, Jean realises he's been leading a double life and she's lost everything. All she's got is this tiny little cottage in the south of France, and she's travel sick and doesn't speak a word of French, but she has to go there..."
Jean develops a friendship with local cabbie Dom, played by Steve Edge, after she arrives. You've worked with Steve before — what was it like being reunited with him?
"I've known Steve since Phoenix Nights, so we're old, old friends. I've played his wife a couple of times in sketch shows over the years, but I've always wanted to work with him on something at length, because what I think a lot of people don't know about Steve is he's such a versatile actor as well. As the series goes on, you'll see his phenomenal range, and I was so chuffed when he agreed to do it because I thought he'd be absolutely perfect — and he's really easy on the eye, for women of a certain age!"
You created this series, and you co-wrote it with Sue Vincent, who plays Gloria — what was the experience of developing the show like?
"I've written and created lots of things over the years, and some have been made — not many! — but this was a challenge because we got it commissioned by Channel 5 literally straight when we gave it in, which was unheard of. When you think Scott & Bailey and Mount Pleasant took six years to get made, and then five minutes after this went in, they said 'yeah, we'll have it!'.
Ben [Frow, director of programming at Channel 5] and Seb [Cardwell, deputy director of programmes] were unbelievable, because they said 'well, you have a go at the script then', so I rang my writing partner Sue, as I had no idea about it because I'd developed it on my own! I developed it while I was at Pinewood doing Still Open All Hours — I had so much time because I have such a little part in that, so I just used to sit at my desk and write Sainte Victoire, this world and these characters. I was on holiday, so Steve [White, Sally's husband] wasn't very happy at all, but we managed to get the first script out — which was nothing like the final version, but it was good enough to get us over the line and they said 'right, you two can write it!'"
What was the inspiration behind the character of Jean?
"There's aspects of Jean that I wanted to be absolutely Sherlockian — I wanted her observation to be off the scale, and I think she didn't know how amazing it was until she's put in a situation where she has to remember stuff. When you see these amazing antique dealers, they always fascinate me because they can pick up an object and they grow a world around it, and suddenly you're in 18th-century France or 1920s America, and Jean is so brilliant at that. Her observation and her knowledge of antiques is off the scale, that's her superpower really. I thought it would be really interesting to make her as normal and as inconspicuous as Miss Marple, so I've nicked from that as well — but obviously slightly younger. Not much, but slightly younger!"
- The Madame Blanc Mysteries launches on Saturday Oct. 16 at 9pm on Channel 5
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