Joe Absolom was in the midst of his own wedding arrangements when he read the scripts for the new series of the hugely popular Doc Martin, which returns to ITV CHOICE this month, and discovered his character proposes to long-term girlfriend Morwenna Newcross.
“Al takes the plunge and proposes to Morwenna in this series, which is brilliant,” he says, “however it is a weak proposal. Chippy Miller, a returning character, overhears Al talking to Morwenna and says ‘what a lovely proposal’. Morwenna thinks it is a proposal, and says yes. It wasn’t something he was thinking about, but he makes up for it by throwing a surprise party at the pub, and proposing to her again.
“It’s sort of a weak moment for Al, and then he goes with it, as he often does, then suddenly he’s engaged to be married. But he never wants to talk about the wedding plans. He is always trying to steer away the conversation. Much like people who are getting married.
“I felt very similar when arranging our wedding. I was not as responsive to some of the questions as I should have been. My fiancé Liz and I decided to get married in Cornwall in real life. I didn’t know when we planned the wedding that Al was going to get married in the script. We got married on June 8 this year, and just like Al I too have avoided many questions about the wedding.”
In real life too Joe found it tricky to find the right moment to propose to girlfriend Liz.
“I had the engagement ring for ages. At one point all her family came to stay with us in Cornwall, and I had a discussion with her dad about asking Liz to marry me and he said ‘yes I think Liz would like that’.
“So I had his blessing. It was New Year’s Eve and I had the ring on me all night and I was waiting for the moment to propose. Then I heard all these cheers. I looked round and saw Liz’s dad on one knee asking his girlfriend to marry him. I thought ‘I can’t steal their moment’ so I kept the ring, and I had it for another year because I couldn’t think of how to propose.
“You hear of people putting so much effort into proposing and I am not particularly good at planning. It was Christmas Day and my girlfriend had got this red hand that you put on the wall for the kids. You put your hand on the red hand, you say your worry, and when the hand goes green you take your hand away, and it takes the worry away. So I thought ‘this is a good moment’.
“I put my hand on the red hand and said ‘I’m worried Liz would say no if I asked her to marry me’. The red hand turned green, I took my hand away, turned to Liz and said ‘will you marry me’. She said yes. It was impromptu. I knew something would come up but it just took a year for that to come up.”
Joe and Liz have been together for 17 years, since meeting at a bar in London, and have three children, Lyla, Caspar and Daisy. When he started filming Doc Martin in 2004 Liz went to Port Isaac to visit him, and loved the place.
“Cornwall is now our home because of this programme. We have lived here for five years. Our youngest child, Daisy is proper Cornish, she was born here. But the older two, Lyla and Caspar have more memories of Cornwall than anywhere else. Lyla, our first child, has had half of her life here. They all go to the surf clubs and have surfing lessons. We think it was a good move here.
“The wedding was at Pencarrow House in Bodmin, a place we filmed at in an earlier series. It is a beautiful location with rhododendrons and wisteria in full bloom.
“We got married under this archway, with the guests on the lawn, and thankfully it didn’t rain. I have never thought about the weather so much in my life. It was a lot to arrange. We had 150 guests.
“It feels like the most grown up thing we have ever done. We have had children, we have moved town, houses, mortgages, all this stuff you do, and you don’t know how you’re doing it, and then you’re getting married and it feels like a big responsibility.”
The actor says that Ian McNeice who plays his father Bert in the series did a reading at the wedding, and Martin Clunes and his wife Philippa were among the guests.
At the start of this ninth series Al is running the Crab and Lobster, with Bert, for Ken, the owner who has gone away to recuperate after being unwell. Ken returns to tell them he’s selling up. Al and Bert persuade Ken to let them continue to run the pub on a lease, but Ken dies before he signs the deal.
“Al and Bert are in limbo. They have put all this effort into the business and suddenly it is going to be sold.
“What they don’t realise is that Caitlin, the woman who has been working in the pub – and also runs the grocery store – who Bert has been very short with because she has a bit of a fancy thing for him – she then becomes the surprise person who buys it. She is the boss. It is quite scary for Al and Bert because they don’t know what she is going to do.
“The first thing she does is to send Al out of the pub to work at her grocery shop, which Al likes. He is quite restless in any one place. Al starts working in the shop and makes his own street food pop up shop out of the left-over food that would usually be thrown away. So he is already thinking of another business and another opportunity to make money.
“I’m not sure it’s a business I could get into because it’s a lifestyle. My view of pubs has always been as a punter. But when we film a lot of stuff behind the counter it is a completely different perspective. I’ve spent years drinking there, and now I’m suddenly behind the bar and there’s bits I’ve never seen. It’s a bit like a newsreader standing up with no trousers on!”
Joe’s eight-year-old son Caspar and elder daughter Lyla both appear in the new series of Doc Martin.
Doc Martin is broadcast on ITV CHOICE (DStv 123) on Mondays, starting September 30, at 20:00