John's birth mother was an Irish nurse who came to work in England during the Second World War, but John was adopted by Eric and Elsie Nettles as a baby, and grew up as an only child. After having spent his early childhood years in Roe Green, Manchester, he moved to St. Austell, Cornwall with his parents. Here he went to St. Blazey Primary School and then on to St Austell Grammar School. In 1962 he started studying history and philosophy at Southampton University with the aim of becoming a teacher, and it was there that he was persuaded to participate in a play for the first time.
After university he started out as an actor at the Royal Court Theatre where he mainly played spear-holders and other small parts, then went on to play most theatres up and down the country, ending up a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was when he was there that he, after several interviews at the BBC, was phoned up one morning and offered the part of Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac. This was to change John Nettles's life. Bergerac (1981-1991) became a huge success. Before this he had also worked in television, as he got his TV break during the early 1970s in the BBC sitcom The Liver Birds as Paul, and as Dr. Ian McKenzie in the immensely popular series A Family At War, but Bergerac became something completely different for John. John Nettles and Jim Bergerac were two names that for ten years seemed interchangable. In the public perception John Nettles always wore a bomber jacket, and spent his waking hours driving around the roads of Jersey, Channel Islands, in his red Triumph Roadster. This was of course not quite true.
After Bergerac finished, he re-joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he did five seasons. Then in 1995 he was approached by Brian True-May who was thinking of dramatizing the Inspector Barnaby novels, and thought John would be suitable for the role. A year later John had a call from True-May saying it was going to happen, the making of Midsomer Murders started.
John is also a much used narrator, and we can hear his voice in several documentaries, such as Airport, Disaster and Violent Planet, as well as a number of audiobooks. He has himself written three books: Bergerac's Jersey, John Nettles' Jersey and Nudity in a Public Place.
For people who are friends of the theatre, John is a well known and acclaimed interpreter of Shakespeare. Despite being a cal actor, he also used to enjoy very much appearing in pantos. The filming of Midsomer Murders now takes up 10 months of the year (May to March), and consequently does not give room for very much else.
John is currently living in Evesham with his wife Cathryn, whom he married in 1995. He was married to his first wife, Joyce, for 13 years, and together they have a daughter, Emma (born 1970).
John received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in June 2010.