I'm not much concerned about the uproar over the statement about this television setting being "all white" which helps in leading to some of its success. I doubt anyone planned to create it 'white only' as an avenue to make it popular. What intrigues me is the fact that Midsomer Murders has created such a real world (albeit, rather deadly). Much as All Creatures Great And Small did for the Dales, the setting takes on Hardyesque proportion.
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Midsomer Murders: On the trail of the real MidsomerAs uproar threatens the sleepy world of Midsomer Murders, Iain Hollingshead visits Haddenham - which has featured regularly in the long-running murder mystery series - to discover the truth behind the camera
If Greg Dyke, the former Director-General of the BBC, thought the organisation he once led “hideously white”, I wonder what he’d make of ITV’s Midsomer Murders.
Yesterday, there was uproar when Brian True-May, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, told Radio Times that the drama, which regularly attracts six million viewers and is just starting its 14th series, has thrived because its all-white cast shows the true English village – a genteel, if somewhat homicide-prone, contrast to the multiculturalism that prevails in Britain’s cities.
It is, he said, the “last bastion of Englishness”. An ITV spokesman declared himself “shocked and appalled” by the comments made by Mr True-May, who was promptly suspended by the production company, All3Media.
Perhaps the spokesman would have been a little less appalled if he’d actually visited some of the places where one of his channel’s most successful series is shot. The fictional villages, with such marvellous names as Midsomer Magna, Ferne Basset and Luxton Deeping, are brought to life in a smattering of picturesque locations in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
One such backdrop is Haddenham, a large village five miles south-west of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. It has been used in nine episodes of Midsomer Murders, including “Judgement Day” and “Things That Go Bump in the Night”.
There wasn’t much going bump at all on the day the Telegraph visited. A taciturn white-haired lady sits waiting for the 280 bus to Oxford, on a bench donated by the Rotary Club of Thame Witchet. A rather funky touch-screen timetable, powered by a solar panel, asks its users to be patient as it “has been in deep sleep mode”.
So, it would seem, is much of the rest of the village. The High Street – no chains here, only thatched houses selling at well over £600,000 – which leads to a beautiful church and duck pond, has a village museum that is open for two hours a week. A sign in the window announces that the Haddenham Museum Trust is hosting an evening on Friday looking at the village’s past. The event promises, with a thrilling use of quotation marks, to use “modern technology”. The other end of the village, however, clustered around a pretty green, reveals more signs of life – and no shortage of opinions on Midsomer Murders.
“I love the mystery element of who’s done what,” says Pamela Rutland, wiping down the shelves in The Cottage Bakery, "although it does go on a bit and I’m not sure about the new guy” [John Nettles, who played the central character, DCI Tom Barnaby, recently stood down from the show after 13 years].
And is the show reflective of modern village life? “Well, there are fewer murders here,” she laughs. “And it does seem a little bit nostalgic, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.” She lowers her voice, carefully, not that there is anyone around who might mind. “Anyway, you don’t get many foreigners in the countryside, do you?”
Saying “foreigners” in such a way – although the line is delivered kindly – would no doubt cause a coronary in most ITV spokesmen. But it is clear what she means. Haddenham is overwhelmingly white. “It’s mainly down to price,” says Jay Harwood, who works at the Christopher Pallet estate agency opposite. “You can get a lot more for your money in somewhere like Aylesbury.”
Up the road at The Rising Sun pub, Roland Brason, 63, a retired film editor, displays the robust approach to multiculturalism typical of his generation. “I don’t care if God is pink or blue,” he declares. “I have black friends and call them things like 'you black bugger’. They don’t mind. And there is a Sri Lanka newsagent in my village who is absolutely lovely.”
Mr Brason’s house, in nearby Long Crendon, was used as a backdrop for one of the episodes. “I sympathise with the bloke who got the boot,” he says. “It’s a polished show and fairly reflective of a typical English village.”