'Whites only' in deadly village of Midsomer
A long-running TV drama features only white faces. Anything else just wouldn’t be a true English village, says the producer. Harmless escapism or dangerous fantasy?
The show has run for 14 series, is watched in 204 countries around the world and is the latest in a long line of popular murder mysteries set in an English village. But it ‘wouldn’t work’ if there was racial diversity, claims the producer.
Midsomer Murders, a detective series, has a pretty high death rate, featuring 222 murders in 81 episodes since it began in 1997. Yet it isn’t the deaths in the fictional county of Midsomer that worry people – but the white faces.
‘We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved,’ says Brian True-May, who has been with the programme from the start. ‘It wouldn’t be the English village with them. It just wouldn’t work.’
Asked why ‘Englishness’ could not include other races, he added: ‘Well, it should do and maybe I’m not politically correct. I’m trying to make something that appeals to a certain audience, which seems to succeed.’
Midsomer’s average viewing figures are 8 million. Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are among its fans.
ITV, which screens the show, has responded quickly. ‘We are shocked and appalled at these personal comments,’ said a spokesman. ‘We are in urgent discussions with the producer.’ Mr True-May has been suspended.
Meanwhile the Asian landlord of a pub featured in the series has challenged the show's boss to drop in for a pint – and see for himself that villages are not a whites-only preserve.
British-Indian publican Bal Gill said True-May's views were outdated and insisted: ‘Non-white people do live in the countryside. Villages are far more diverse now.’
Along with ethnic diversity, Mr True-May has also banned swearing, violence and sex scenes from Midsomer Murders. But his fictionalised England does not dodge challenging storylines or other elements of diversity – as long as they don’t involve ethnicity.
‘If it's incest, blackmail, lesbianism, homosexuality... terrific, put it in, because people can believe that people can murder for any of those reasons,’ he told Radio Times.
Beyond the beachheads
Midsomer Murders will always be fantasy. But has England’s ethnic reality finally caught up with it? Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, a prominent black Conservative, also a farmer in rural Cornwall, thinks times are changing too fast to ignore.
‘Our parents established beachheads in the cities,’ he says. ‘It is now up to our generation to move out of those beachheads and claim the rest of Britain as our own.’
- What is 'Englishness'? Does it have anything to do with ethnicity?
- ‘Midsomer Murders is just an escapist fairy story where the guilty always get punished for their misdeeds just before the final credits.’ Should we ask it to be more than that?
- Write a scene for an episode of Midsomer in which an ethnic minority character appears for the first time. How would you handle their arrival in the series?
- Research the history of immigration and diversity in Britain. Write a report for your class on how the idea of 'Britishness' has changed.Heremight be a good place to start.
Some People Say...
“Fiction shouldn't have to imitate real life.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Is it true there’s less ethnic variation in the countryside?
- It is, yes. In England's rural communities the ethnic presence is estimated at around 1.4% compared to 8% or so nationally; but the English countryside is certainly not exclusively white.
- But presumably there are fewer race problems.
- Just the opposite. In 2003, after examining police records, the Observer newspaper discovered that race attacks were almost 10 times more likely to happen in rural areas with the worst areas named as Northumbria, Cornwall, Devon and South Wales.
- So all ethnic minorities are angry about Midsomer?
- Not all, no. As one Indian said, ‘Bollywood films tend to be exclusively Asian and very enjoyable they are too. However please note: Bollywood isn't the real India and Midsomer is not the real UK.’