Join me in my kingdom, says Fry

It is more than a decade since Stephen Fry last graced our screens in a drama, as one half of Jeeves and Wooster. Since then he has been a regular guest in our living rooms, but never has he worked on a series so close to home as his latest venture.

It is more than a decade since Stephen Fry last graced our screens in a drama, as one half of Jeeves and Wooster. Since then he has been a regular guest in our living rooms, but never has he worked on a series so close to home as his latest venture.

In the six-part series Kingdom, starting on ITV1 on Sunday, he stars as an upstanding country solicitor in the fictional town of Market Shipborough, which bares some remarkable similarities to Swaffham, where it was shot.

Fry regards the town as a surreal juxtaposition of Britain's old and new - a place where you are as likely to see face-painted molly dancers as you are National Lottery winner Michael Carroll in his chav-mobile.

The choice of location was no coincidence, as he reveals in an interview with the Radio Times.

“Swaffham is very interesting. It's got a Catholic church as well as an Anglican church, a Baptist church, a convent, a Methodist church... There's a Women's Institute, of course,” he said.

“There's also a Rotary club, a services club and a horticultural society. All the things

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that are symptomatic of modern British life are far clearer in a town than they are in a city. Cities, paradoxically, are much more old-fashioned. And, lazily, I loved the idea of living only five miles away from the set. But the part was a neat fit, too. It's like when you see clothes in a shop window and think: 'These are really going to suit me.'”

Fry was brought up in Norfolk from the age of six and still lives in the house he bought himself 20 years ago from the proceeds of Me and My Girl, the hit musical for which

he rewrote the script straight after university.

He said: “Living very close to this one, as I do, you notice things. A policeman told me that it's easier to buy cocaine in a small town than it is in London's Soho Square.

“If you look in shops, employment agencies and lawyers' offices, you'll see signs with things like 'Estonian spoken' in the window. Market towns are far more revealing of what Britain is like than a city is.”

He also speaks of his pride that Kingdom will introduce the beauty of an area he knows so well to a new audience.

“When was the last time you looked at television and seven-eighths of the screen was taken up by the sky? Which it is when you stand in Norfolk,” he said.

“This is just a very different look. The light is different. Everything about Norfolk is unusual for people who don't know it, and it will look different in drama.

“You either get Norfolk, with its wild roughness and its uncultivated oddities, or you don't. This bizarre mixture of high-intensity agricultural fields and then completely wild copses and woodlands and then the mad coast. It's not all soft and lovely. It doesn't ask to be loved. But there's something so fantastically beautiful about it; the skies are so big that they have an effect on the mind.

“You belong to a part of the world and you think it's gorgeous. Sean Connery and Robbie Coltrane do it for Scotland, Martin Clunes does it for his part of Cornwall in Doc Martin... You feel a loyalty to the place you call home, especially when it has qualities that you think are different.

“We all know Herriot country or Last of the Summer Wine country. If the show touches people in that particular way certain shows can - where there's such a flavour and atmosphere that such a phrase as 'Kingdom country' could come about - that would be quite wonderful.”

Fry's wish could just come true. In a rare move, ITV has already commissioned a second series before a single episode has been aired, signalling just how highly the programme is rated.

In Kingdom, Fry's character Peter tends to the needs of the locals, his family and his practice while seeking clues to the mystery surrounding the death of his brother Simon.

“He's very moral and very kind and empathetic. We discover that he's a very successful lawyer and could have gone to Cambridge and been a high-flier, but he wanted to come back to the world he knew,” he said.

“He understands that, for almost everybody he meets, it's the worst day of their life because they're seeing a lawyer. So, if it's divorce, separation, a death, a will, a son on drugs, something awful has happened and Peter is the one who can make it OK for them. He's able to relate law to people - I know that sounds like an awful cliché, but he's on the side of ordinary people.

“One of the things I like about Peter is he has an authority that comes from the fact that he actually knows about the area and cares about it.”