James Norton talks about his role in Grantchester

James Norton as Sidney Chambers
James Norton as Sidney Chambers
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Meet Sidney Chambers, the amateur sleuth at the heart of his new period detective drama.

He’s a heavy-drinking war hero and jazz fan, who’s always catching the ladies’ eye - oh, and he also happens to be a vicar.

According to James Norton, the actor who plays him, it’s not that unusual a combination. “He’s dealing with the same trials and tribulations that young men and women have to deal with. But ultimately Sidney is trying to do the right thing.

“Everyone thinks he must have got away with not fighting in the war or was a padre. But Sidney has taken human life and probably had more than his fair share of horror. Like many of those brave men he was a hero but that came with an immense cost, reflected in his drinking and troubled romances.”

In theory, the village of Grantchester may sound like the perfect place for him to put those demons behind him. After all how many temptations can there be in the Cambridgeshire countryside in 1953?

Well, while it may not be as dark as Norton’s previous TV role in the acclaimed BBC drama Happy Valley, it turns out Sydney’s parish is anything but cosy.

The actor explains: “Grantchester is so much more than a standard murder mystery because it doesn’t shy away from the issues of the period that are also relevant now. For example, a story about euthanasia.

“It also reminds people how things have changed. This is a time when homosexuality was still illegal. You could be sent to prison and spend long periods of time in solitary confinement. It’s good to remind people how recent that kind of prejudice was, how far we’ve come and how positive that is.”

He adds: “Also, the murders are never meaningless. They’re murders of passion, love, loss or jealousy. You’re always watching a story about real people with real lives at a time when the death penalty and hanging was still in force.”

At least Sidney will have a partner in crime-solving to help him negotiate the village’s seedy underbelly - local bobby DI Geordie Keating (Robson Green).

However, it seems the copper doesn’t initially take too kindly to the vicar meddling in police affairs.

The first case that brings the unlikely pair together is the supposed suicide of a solicitor, whose funeral Sidney presides over.

Following the ceremony, the cleric is approached by the dead man’s mistress, who is convinced her lover was murdered - and as she feels unable to go to the police with her suspicions, she asks Sidney to carry out his own investigation.

But will he still feel like sleuthing after Amanda, the fun-loving friend he’s secretly carrying a torch for, announces her engagement?

After all, as Norton is keen to point out, even the vicar isn’t immune to those pesky passions that are raging in Grantchester: “Sidney is flawed. He steps out of line a lot.

“There’s this idea that people who are very religious think themselves incredibly clean and perfect, and actually that’s not the case at all.”

- Grantchester: Monday, October 6, ITV 9pm.