Detectorists is a gem of a series, a buddy tale of two men who are as far from being ‘lads’ as it is possible to imagine, all set in beautiful English countryside where the sun always seems to shine – or at least peak through the clouds.
Their constant search for treasure below ground has always carried symbolic weight: searching for a purpose in life and, perhaps above all, for love.
So what happens now, when Mackenzie Crook’s metal detecting enthusiast Andy has left with his young family to follow his dreams in Botswana, and Toby Jones’s character Lance has unearthed actual treasure?
Andy returned in the Detectorists Christmas special to find his best friend dealing with the fallout of finding buried gold; that was in 2015, and while the BBC has always left the door open for another series, creator Crook was initially unsure about whether he had another series in him.
“People point out to me – this wasn’t conscious – that the first series was about relationships,” says Crook. “And the second series was about parenthood, with Andy and Becky [played by Rachel Stirling] having a child. If that’s the case, then this third series is perhaps about where you belong, putting down roots and settling somewhere. If anything, by the end of this series, hopefully they will have have found a place, and we as an audience are happy to let them get on with it.”
Inspired by haunting song Magpie by The Unthanks, Crook has brought Andy and family back home to the UK, where he finds himself living with his dreaded mother in law (played by Diana Rigg, Stirling’s real life Mum).
Lance meanwhile is living with his teenage daughter, and his ghastly ex Maggie (Lucy Benjamin) is back on the scene, poor chap.
Crook, the former Office star who writes and directs, is certain that this will be the last series. He has always enjoyed creative freedom on this show, and has turned down lucrative work on Hollywood blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean for his passion project. So why end it now?
“I took a year off to figure out whether I wanted to do any more, whether there was any more in there; yes, it took a while to realise that I did want to do six more episodes to finish. I don’t want to make any sort of big, dramatic announcement that ‘never again’, but I can’t see myself going back to it.
“I’ve always sort of never quite bought it when actors and directors say that they are leaving behind some friends and that these characters have become friends, but honestly I think I’ll miss Lance. I’ll miss Toby obviously, but Lance won’t be around any more. We had a laugh, me and Lance.”
So, it seems, did actor Toby Jones. The two of them are seated in the The Crown pub, a lovely country house hostelry in the Suffolk town of Framlingham where Detectorists is set; they look like they have just taken a break from a holiday rather than an arduous day of filming.
“I’m having the time of my life, it is really like a country holiday,” smiles a sunburned Crook beneath a baseball cap. He has developed a love of the hobby in his spare time, which he indulges in where he can and in the wood he has bought for his family near Essex.
It’s harder to describe Jones as chilled out. There’s a more frantic energy to him, and he very definitely has not caught the sun. His character is pricklier too – in fact Lance was originally imagined as a more “mercenary” character he says, a flicker of which survived in episode one when he seemed to be encouraging Andy to sell his finds online. But while the 51-year old star doesn’t feel he is very like Lance, he does believe that his work as an actor is “similar to metal detecting”.
“If it wasn’t a project that I wanted to do, I wouldn’t do it, you know?” he says. “I’m not doing stuff that I have to do, you know?
“I really like my job, I really like doing Detectorists, and the jobs I am lucky enough to get offered, I stand by them – it’s not for a need to work. The show is one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.”
Jones says that Crook has more of a “hinterland” – hobbies and interests outside his work – than anyone he knows. That includes metal detecting, something Jones has not got the hang of because he can’t get to grips with the technology, but which Crook is devoted to.
“What I like about Mackenzie in general is I think he is unique in the industry. There’s no one else working like Mackenzie works, and he’s not following any template.”
Crook chips in: “Sometimes I’ve been asked about how ambitious I am, and I don’t think I’m ambitious. This is almost like another one of my hobbies, I enjoy it that much. But yes, it’s as important as my woodland or my garden or my coin collection.”
The locals, incidentally, are very proud of Detectorists, but remain at a respectful distance as the crew pootle around town. You can even walk round key locations – the municipal hut where the fictional Danebury Metal Detecting Society meet was unlocked when the day I visited and I popped in. It had just the smell of mildew and tea that I was hoping for.
“There something about a small project like this that everybody is involved in for the right reasons, and those reasons aren’t money,” says Crook, who is talking to the BBC about making a film next year, an “evolution” of Detectorists with “a rural setting”.
As he prepares to say goodbye, it’s clear Crook has found something beautiful in the show, and a hobby he loves. And then he tells me something rather lovely.
“I’ve got better, yes. I’ve found more stuff; I found my first gold at the beginning of this year,” he says, head bent shyly down. “I don’t know quite what it is – it’s in the British Museum being researched at the moment.”
This may be the last Detectorists, but one thing’s for sure: Crook and Jones will keep on coming up with precious things.