We have a long running detective drama show in the UK called Midsomer Murders. It’s been running for donkey’s years and the format never changes. And neither does the plot. Basically each episode runs like this: a quaint, idiosyncratic, stereotypical English personage of a certain age who on the surface has their roiling emotions constrained by their stiff upper lip suddenly goes on the rampage and murders another quaint, idiosyncratic, stereotypical English personage of a certain age with something profoundly incongruous like a Black & Decker hedge trimmer or a Moulinex hand blender. Cue police investigation led by grumpy, cranky genius detective who solves the crime just in time to enjoy a cream tea at the local cricket club with his bridge playing wife and university graduate daughter. Cue titles.
Do feel free to take me to task (those of you who are fans of the show) if I have missed out any important plot points; I don’t think that I have.
The show’s creator, Brian True-May has, this week, got himself suspended by ITV chiefs for comments he made along the lines of “Midsomer Murders is the last bastion of Englishness” and he’d like to keep the cast all white as he feels to bring ethnicity issues into the show would change what the show is about. Basically he sees the show as being a fictional representation of an England that, if we’re honest, has never really existed. It is a stereotypical view of what we (the English) and more likely what others (the Americans) would imagine is a traditional English village. Cricketing whites, tea and scones, old boys clubs, war veterans with walking sticks, toffs with chips on their shoulders and Mellors the gardener nobbing one of the posh ladies of the amateur dramatics society behind the back of her boorish husband.
It ain’t real, folks, and it’s never been real. But this is the show’s very successful shtick. It has after all been running for over 14 years and been sold to 231 territories around the world (I wonder if any of those are Indian or African?).
The question is: is Mr True-May being racist in his adherence to a formula that has earned those very same ITV chiefs an awful lot of revenue over the last decade and a half. Is Midsomer Murders as a concept, racist?
‘Cos the backstabbers are coming out of the ITV executive director’s office with their knives of righteousness gleaming and freshly polished. They are “appalled” by his comments. An “investigation” has been launched. The story has even made the papers and the internet – no mean thing when it’s hardly been what you’d call a slow news week.
I’m going to stick my head out here and say that, in my opinion, neither the show nor Mr True-May are racist. Not on your nelly. What he and the show are being, however, in non-representational. But that is very different from being racist. But – and here’s the rub – the show isn’t meant to be representational. It’s a work of fiction. It taps into a stereotype of middle class Englishness and runs with it. Metaphorically the show is like drinking a cup of tea with your pinky sticking out. Chin-chin. Fancy a game of croquet?
I feel quite annoyed at the unspoken suggestion that the show should suddenly acquire itself an ethnic family just to tick that particular demographic box. I can’t think of a more cheap, shallow and cynical reason to get a black actor onto the cast. And I’m at pains to point out here that I’m not a fan of the show. What I am a fan of though, is the freedom of writer’s to be able to write what they like without having to jump through hoops just to appease the politically correct brigade who are so scared of offending anyone that they feel the imperative to impose the same restraints on every single show until all shows tick the same tick boxes and everyone is happy but no-one is watching the bloody show in the first place because it lacks character or individual personality.
Maybe I’m wrong. Christ, maybe I’m being racist. Am I? If the show was about an Asian village and about Asian life and values would someone be demanding a white family move in? Would that argument even get aired? Maybe that’s over simplifying it – which is a bad idea as this topic is a bloody minefield as it is.
As far as I can see, the show is a cultural backwater. Literally. What sells the show is this fake, incestuous, closed-off Englishness that inevitably leaves little room for an ethnic dialogue. The show is not real and makes no attempt to engage with real life and the real culture of England which – thankfully – is wonderfully diverse and culturally rich. But that is this particular show’s selling point. I think True-May is right. To meddle with that formula – for all it does little to appeal to me – would kill it off and ruin it for those fans who wish to suspend their disbelief and wallow for a couple of hours in a dream of England that didn’t even exist in E. M Forster’s time.
Ethnic issues are well represented on other shows and in other dramas. Nobody is being hard done by. What is happening is that the fear of racism and the fear of being perceived as being racist is resulting in a good many Union Jack bloomers getting themselves tied up into a right royal twist.
Chill out, people! It’s a minority interest show! Doesn’t that tick a tick box too?
For those of you that are interested here is the opinion of a Midsomer Murders viewer from India: Ramana's Musings...
P.S. Thank you for all reading my 700th post.