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The son of chartered surveyor John Brett and Margaret (née Lee), a teacher, he was educated at Dulwich College and Wadham College, Oxford, where he gained a first-class honours degree in English. He is married with three children and lives in Arundel, West Sussex, England.
After his graduation from Oxford University, Brett joined the BBC as a trainee and worked for BBC Radio and London Weekend Television. While with the BBC, Brett produced the pilot episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, as well as many episodes of the comedy series The Burkiss Way, as well as the comedy panel games I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and Just a Minute. In the mid-1990s, Brett wrote and hosted Foul Play, a radio panel game in which well-known writers of detective fiction were challenged to solve a dramatised mystery. When he moved into television, Brett was responsible for producing End of Part One (1979–80) and the television revival of The Glums (1979), both for LWT.
Brett wrote several sitcoms, including BBC Radio 4's After Henry, No Commitments, Semi Circles and Smelling of Roses. After Henry was later produced on television for ITV. He has written episodes of the BBC radio detective drama Baldi (2000).
In 1987, the Nigel Molesworth character created by Geoffrey Willans was reprised for a four-part BBC Radio 4 series Molesworth. Written by Simon Brett, the series portrayed Molesworth in middle age, still surrounded by many of the characters from his youth. Molesworth was played by Willie Rushton, with Penelope Nice as his wife Louise, and Clive Swift as the now aged ex-headmaster Grimes.
Brett has written four series of detective novels (Charles Paris, Mrs Pargeter, Fethering, and Blotto & Twinks). Most of these novels are in the "Golden Age" tradition of detective fiction, entertaining the reader through humour, eccentric characters and intricate plot twists. He has also written several mystery plays and some non-series novels, of which A Shock to the System (1984) is probably best known due to the filmed version starring Michael Caine as the business executive who takes revenge after being passed over for promotion.
To date Brett has written 20 books about Charles Paris, an unhappily separated (but not divorced, more than 30 years on), moderately successful character actor with a slight drinking problem who gets entangled in various crimes, and finds himself unwillingly in the role of amateur detective.
Bill Nighy played Paris in a series of BBC Radio productions. The first, an adaptation of So Much Blood for The Saturday Play in 1999, was recorded on location at its Edinburgh Fringe setting. A Series of Murders followed as another Saturday Play in 2004, leading into a number of half-hour serials which began with Sicken and So Die (2006) and continued with Murder Unprompted (2007) and The Dead Side of the Mike (2008), with So Much Blood apparently happening between the last two serials. These serials have all been updated from the novels, and adapted to deal with continuity problems caused by the adaptations being made out of order in relation to the books, with later adaptations featuring more far-reaching changes to the central mysteries.
Cast, In Order of Disappearance, again starring Nighy as Paris, began airing on Friday 29 January 2010 on BBC Radio 4. From 26 February, its slot was taken for three weeks by an original series from Brett. A three-hour I Did It My Way programme featuring Brett's work was rebroadcast by BBC Radio 7 on Saturday 20 February 2010, including a repeat of A Series of Murders.
This was followed by Murder in the Title (2010) which aired weekly from 22 November to 13 December 2010. Nighy returned to the role in A Reconstructed Corpse (2012). Other recurring cast members include Jon Glover as Charles's agent Maurice, and Suzanne Burden as his estranged wife Frances. On 5 December 2012 a 4-part adaptation of An Amateur Corpse began on Radio 4; Nighy and Burden again played Charles and Frances. A tenth story starring Bill Nighy as Charles began broadcast on 25 June 2014; this 4-part adaptation of Corporate Bodies also stars Suzanne Burden as Frances.
List of radio adaptations with Bill Nighy as Charles:
Half-hour 4-part serials
Mrs Pargeter is a widow with a shadowy past who, with a little help from her dead husband's friends, is able to solve uncanny mysteries. The Mrs Pargeter novels include:
Fethering is a fictitious village on England's south coast (adjacent to Tarring). It is the place of residence of amateur sleuths Carole Seddon, a retired civil servant, and her neighbour, Jude Nichols, whose origins are obscure. Nineteen Fethering mysteries have been published so far:
Since 2011, Brett's Fethering series has been published by Severn House.
Farcical whodunnits set just after the First World War and featuring the handsome and dim "Blotto" and his beautiful and clever sister "Twinks", both from a ducal family.