Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Midsomer Murders - Controversy? Really?

Midsomer Murders is a British television drama that has aired on ITV since 1997. A detective drama, it focuses on the main character of Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby played by John Nettles. The stories revolve around Barnaby's efforts to solve the numerous crimes that take place in the fictional English county of Midsomer, assisted by successive Detective Sergeants - DS Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey), DS Dan Scott (John Hopkins), and DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes). It is based on a series of crime novels by the author Caroline Graham and was previously adapted by Anthony Horowitz.

We're talking sleepy Cotswold-type fare. Cricket on the village green, fayres, a local public house where the publican knows everyone in the village. So far, so M C Beaton, right?

Well, this beloved series - certainly beloved with the older generations it has been written to appeal to (as comfortable Sunday evening viewing) - has stirred up a little shitstorm of controversy.

You see *gasp* the show has never featured any black people.

How dare they?! How dare they represent a sleepy English village without adding a token black person?

I'm not racist at all. I found it fairly amiss when Friends didn't include many black people, considering the sitcom took place in the cosmopolitan city of New York. But this? I almost find it more offensive that people now want to shoehorn in a black character to an English village which is unlikely, in real life, to have many, if any, black people.

One argument that has been made is that since Midsomer is a fictional place - and it truly is, considering the sheer amount of murders committed in such a small location! - then those involved can include whoever they please, which means black people could be added easily.

Apparently ethnic minorities make up 1.4% of the rural community, and white people represent 98% of Oxfordshire, which is where Midsomer Murders is filmed and loosely based on. Surely this means putting in a token black person to appease politically correct minded people would stand out as a deliberate effort, rather than feeling natural?

If we were talking a series set in London, or Manchester (such as Eastenders or Coronation Street, which both have prominent ethnic characters) then it is very reasonable to assume black people should be included.

Ack, my view is that this is mostly stirring up trouble for the sake of it. Maybe Midsomer Murder ratings are dipping somewhat and they need the additional publicity? This all feels very much like the Huck Finn issue I previously highlighted on my blog - people meddling in forms of entertainment and art when it should be left well alone to develop as seems fitting depending on what is being represented.

Do you have any views on the subject?


  1. I agree with what you said. Shows should generally be cast according the the logical demographic. If it's someplace where black people are rare, then it's hardly racist if the characters in the show happen to be white. I haven't seen the show though, maybe there is a point to the complaints if it has had hundreds of characters. Then that missing 1.4% would be odd, but I would still assume it to be more of an oversight than real racism.

    We've come a long way in reducing racism by trying to avoid excluding different racial groups, but this hypersensitivity to perceived racism, where there is none, is more likely to cause divisiveness and resentment than it is to prevent racism. We should not be complacent about racism, but going on a misplaced racism witch hunt is not helpful.

  2. You say Neil Dudgeon, but you're showing John Nettles (yum), the actor who played the Inspector until recently.

    And I agree with your view. The demographic of the area in question IS overwhelmingly white. I'm not aggrieved because there are no Asians in the series. Actually, considering the body count, I colour myself relieved. (Geddit?)

  3. While your comments are certainly reasonable, I think you're sort of glossing over *how* Brian True-May said what he said, which was "We just don't have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn't be the English village with them. It just wouldn't work" and "We're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way."

    That's not quite the same as "playing to location"--to me, it sounds a bit like BNP. Really, the "last bastion of Englishness"? Good lord.

  4. Midsummer Murders is filmed in Oxfordshire, but the books are set in the surrounds of Bath in the South West with a lot of the earlier place names being taken from real places in the area. It's not as fictional as you might think. ;-)

    Mind you, Cawston itself is way too small to have a police station, let alone a CID unit, presumably the name was used instead of Bath.

    It's also worth pointing out that, like Lovejoy before it, the TV version is VASTLY toned down from the early books, the sidekick was a city cop stick out in the sticks, 'reminiscent of a shark but without the shark's redeeming niceness' or something like that.

  5. I agree with anonymous. The main issue is that Brian True-May's language is abhorrent and reveals his intent not to reflect the reality of a rural community but to create his own idealized vision of pasty-white Englishness.

    The result can be rationalized with demographics, but that wasn't the creator's point.

  6. Why does the black person have to be a token one? Can't they be a engaging character who contributes to the plot and just happens to be black? And why not throw some light on the possible friction of being a minority in a rural town?

    Better yet: make Barnaby's new sidekick a minority.

  7. I agree with Jared, Den P and Anonymous.

    The tone of the comments, particularly the line "last bastion of Englishness" speak for themselves. So what, a person of colour isn't capable of Englishness? It's the *comments* people are complaining about - Midsomer Murders has been around for a long time, yet this issue has only arisen because of his comments.

    Having said that, there *are* people of colour in rural communitites, just not many of them. One has to wonder why the makers of the show would want to paint such a narrow picture. Don't any people of colour ever drive through Midsomer? Don't the residents have any friends or relatives of colour from big cities or other counties?

    Part of the reason immigrants stick to cities is because they feel less welcome in smaller communities where they might stand out. All shows like this do is perpetuate that image.

    The Huck Finn issue is very different - those stories come from a time when racism was socially acceptable - thankfully that's no longer the case.

  8. First thing I said when this hit the news was that it's all publicity (you know that old chestnut - no such thing as bad publicity?) for the new series with the new Inspector Barnaby. Don't know if it is or not but it was just strange that it started just as the adverts for the new one started as well.

  9. If "Last of the Summer Wine" could feature a black police officer as a regular over a decade ago, then something more contemporary can do so.

    What is happening here is the same thing that Hal Duncan said recently: it's a refusal to let the black person sit at the front of the bus.

    The producer is being racist when he says that he won't include white people in his version of England.

    The producer explicitly said Englishness equals whiteness.

    This is an indefensible, inexcusable position.

    (Oh and my mother was an Indian living in a rural, twee English village. There was also an African woman and a Japanese woman also living in this village. Just sayin'. )

  10. They ruined 'Last of the Summerwine' by introducing tokens of the ethnic minority and they will do the same with this series. Can we not accept that it is from a time when there were less non-English people in our community.

  11. I'm sooo tied of this political correctness we have to abide by these days. White people can't say a thing without an uproar from minorities, although the reverse is definitely not true. Get over it!