London’s West End might be all-a-twitter awaiting Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Hamlet, but another familiar face to British mystery fans has also been impressing British theatre goers of late. Jason Hughes, who starred as DC Ben Jones in over 50 episodes of Midsomer Murders, recently performed to packed houses in a play called Violence and Son at the Royal Court Theatre, in which he played an explosive father of a verbally precocious teenager. Immediately prior to the production, Hughes, appeared in the Alan Ayckbourn black comedy Way Upstream at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Both roles were vastly different, and Hughes received accolades for his work in both shows.
Had the Welsh born Hughes not decided to become an actor–he was a member of the National Youth Theatre before training at Cumberbatch’s school the London Academy of Dramatic Art–he might well have made a name for himself as a professional cricket or rugby player. He actually played rugby for Wales, but chose instead to go to theatre school.
After completing his drama training, one of Hughes’ first jobs seemed to foreshadow the role for which he would become best known, as he was hired by London’s Metropolitan Police Force to help train the Met’s examiners by using his acting skills to pretend to be a candidate for a job at the Met. Although only acting, Hughes was told that if he had been a real candidate he’d probably have been hired! Not surprising really, as policing runs in Hughes’ family. His sister is a policewoman based in South Wales and their grandfather was also in the police force, as a sergeant before he became a crime prevention officer.
After six years of playing DS Jones, Hughes departure from the series came as a huge surprise to viewers. It was a career move that he had been considering since his good friend John Nettles, who played DCI Tom Barnaby, left a couple of years earlier. After he filmed his last episode, Hughes took a month off, most of which was spent catching up sleep he’d missed out on during his time working on the series. For ten months a year Hughes’ daily commute had begun at 4:30am when he took the train from his home in Brighton to London, and then caught another train to the Buckinghamshire location where the series is filmed. He then had to reverse the trip and wouldn’t get home until after 9pm.
Booking a room to stay in nearer the filming location was out of the question for the struggling young actor, who for most of the time he was working on Midsomer was unable to afford the £80 a night to stay in a hotel. Nor would the producers pay for a room - in fact, until his last year in the show, they wouldn’t even pay for a car to pick him up from the railway station. By the time a new producer was brought in who agreed to pay for a car, Hughes was in a better position financially and didn’t need the assistance, but he was also in a bad way health wise. Not only was he exhausted, whenever he did get time off he would develop a cold that “went on for weeks”.
After Hughes left Midsomer and finally caught up on years of lost sleep, he travelled to Los Angeles, where he found himself an agent and caught up with two of his old friends and housemates from his theatre school days, Michael Sheen and Matthew Rhys. Unlike his friends though, Hughes has no plans to relocate to California and he seems perfectly content living in Brighton with his wife, who he has been with for almost 20 years, and their three children.
“Being with them is what I like doing most of all,” says Hughes. “I’m a dad first and foremost”.
Midsomer Murders airs on MPT Saturdays at 8:30pm.
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