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Midsomer Murders and TV Ethnic Stereotypes

Midsomer Murders has been entertaining the British viewing public since 1997 – and the popular crime drama airs around the world. A picturesque take on small town English life, its twee, genteel view of Englishness as seen in the fictional county of Midsomer is compromised somewhat by the freakishly high death count. This is not the unfortunate outcome of inbreeding, or unchecked lethal epidemics – rather it is due to the criminal behaviour of serial murderers. Or more accurately in this case, Series murderers. Of which there are very many. There have been 65 episodes broadcast so far, with one or more murders in each of them.

If you believe the criminal stereotype abounding in modern press and media –that a disproportionate percentage of crime and murder is committed by ethnic minorities, and more specifically, young black men - Midsomer Murders will disabuse you of this notion. In fact, there are simply NO Anglo-African or Asian men, or women, in Midsomer. So then, it would seem it is safer to live in multi-ethnic Moss Side, Manchester (just two miles down the road from my home town), commonly considered - more due to bigotry than reality - as a highly unsafe place to wander around at night. If you live in Midsomer however, you need to be very careful lest you end up drowned in a village pool, battered to death, or dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

When the show’s producer Brian True-May stated in March 2011, in an interview with TV listings magazine ‘The Radio Times’, that racial diversity was not represented because the programme is a ‘ last bastion of Englishness’, he was vilified by the British media, his production company All3Media called his remarks ‘shocking’, and he was suspended by ITV. Should Englishness not include citizens from an ethnic background? True-May admitted, ‘maybe I’m not politically correct’. Though he later apologized for his remarks through his production company - 'he did not mean to cause offence' - he has since agreed to 'step down' from his position at the end of the present series.

Ethnic minorities make up just over 1% of England's rural areas, and about one tenth of the country as a whole, according to the 2001 national census. On March 27th the 2011 census takes place, which will give more accurate - ie up to date - figures about the British population. As much of Midsomer Murders is filmed in south Oxfordshire, which just a decade ago was 98% white, True-May's suspension and impending departure from ITV has caused some concern with its British following. Conversely, there is a prevalent opinion that as this is fiction, it need not perpetuate an all white vision of British society. To further complicate the debate, the gun crime in England occurs predominantly in rural areas, reflecting the fact that this is where most guns are used, for hunting and on farms for example.

Based on the novels of Caroline Graham, Midsomer Murders cosily occupies the middle class genre of crime dramas as inhabited by Miss Marple and Inspector Poirot. In the true spirit of inbreeding commonly parodied in the fiction of English village life, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, the original star of the show, was succeeded by his cousin, DCI John Barnaby in 2011, when actor John Nettles retired from the original role.

Though in a so called contemporary setting, its creators still seem determined not to drag it kicking and screaming – though very much alive – into the 21st century. The disapproving reaction to True-May’s remarks may not allow them to continue with this outmoded, ‘non PC’ view of England, however. Whether or not most small English towns are as devoid of ethnic residents as Midsomer would suggest, it seems it is no longer acceptable to admit that this is a TV production company’s - and possibly middle England’s - preferred view of the world.






Eileen recommends these DVDs from Amazon US and Amazon UK. She watched Midsomer Murders on British TV.

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