Whether Brian True-May, the producer of Midsomer Murders is racist because he thinks casting black and brown faces would undermine the drama's "Englishness" is irrelevant. Be more bothered that this ethnically cleansed confection is a huge international hit. Britain as a piddling little theme park. And wonder why our Foreign Secretary blathers on about fighting oppression in the Middle East and nobody listens.
This phoney bucolic fantasy is the modern successor to the worlds of Poirot, Miss Marple, Biggles and the Famous Five, the telly equivalent of Complan – easily digested, a way of passing an hour or so without any nasty surprises. It bears no resemblance to everyday life in a real English village. For a start, Midsomer has a post office, shops, broadband connections, and even a high-profile police presence. A resident of Great Missenden, where scenes are filmed, reveals that residents currently include folk born in Holland, Italy, Russia, France, Australia, Ireland, India and Eastern Europe, and even the pub staff are South African. Most villages now have a dead spot at their centre where the shop used to be. The library bus is probably being axed in the cuts and the butchers can't afford the petrol to run their mobile meat van. Buses appear only on Sundays for walkers, and the doctor and shops are miles away.
Analyse the blood of any of those white Midsomer villagers, and you'd find that today's true Brit is the product of a genetic cocktail made up of slaves, invaders and immigrants. There's no such thing as a pure-bred English person, no matter how we're packaged. That's why television programmes such as the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? attract massive ratings. We're hugely curious about our exotic ancestry: in a crowded island it gives us a point of difference with our neighbours.
I've lived in a remote valley in Yorkshire for more than 25 years. When I was asked to speak at a local event a while back, a farmer started heckling, shouting "She's an incomer, what does she know?" Yes, there will always be a group of miserable old codgers who reckon new arrivals are to be shunned, but they're a small minority. For centuries, our countryside has relied on incomers to refresh the gene pool.
If you want to see another vile portrayal of English rural life, tune in to Love Thy Neighbour on Channel 4, a reality series in which couples compete to win a house in the picture-postcard village of Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Each week two couples attempt to win over the villagers by organising events and currying favour, ending in a knockout vote. Contestants have included same-sex couples, hippies, chavs, and black people. We are promised an Asian couple next week. Talk about reinforcing stereotypes – this is buttock-clenching stuff.
Grassington, which is overrun with tourists for most of the year, is about as "real" as Midsomer. It has a sizeable council estate, but that does not seem to feature in the programme. Most of the villagers filmed do not have Yorkshire accents, which implies many have bought their way in. The programme doesn't acknowledge the problems of rural life such as the non-existent public transport, the isolation, and lack of affordable homes for local farm workers and their families. It reinforces a fake picture of bucolic England: the national park offers a manicured version of what the countryside was like a hundred years ago. My own valley was highly industrial, with dozens of lead and gold mines, as well as flax mills. Thousands of migrant workers brought in to build a series of huge reservoirs and railway lines lived in huts for decades.
The English countryside was dirty, polluted and messy, not full of white men in cricket pads supping pints overlooking the village green. Kids went to work at 14, lived in squalor and many villagers died young. Now, after decades of decline, when people gave up and went to live in towns, young families are moving back, keeping chickens and renovating dilapidated farm buildings themselves. The village school is flourishing and the population is increasing.
The truth is that, in spite of successive governments' best efforts to starve rural communities of life by cutting resources, the English village, against all the odds, is undergoing a renaissance. And the truth is far more interesting than Mr True-May's blinkered vision of Englishness or Channel 4's nasty "reality" show.
A million quid for one dog? I call that barking mad
Is it a teddy bear? A character from the next Avatar movie? Or another contender for the singing lion in the new Wizard of Oz musical?
This exotic beast is, according to his breeder, a "perfect specimen" of a Tibetan mastiff, the ancient breed said to have been owned by Genghis Khan, the Buddha, and Queen Victoria.
A few years ago, these dogs, which are still used to guard monasteries in Tibet, could be bought as puppies for a few hundred pounds. They are huge and can end up weighing 20st (127kg).
Recently, the dogs have become status symbols among China's new rich, and this puppy, named Hong Dong (Big Splash) is even more desirable because it is red – extremely rare and considered lucky in China. Hong Dong's new owner, a coalmining magnate, paid more than £1m for him, but is hoping to recoup his investment by charging £10,000 a time in stud fees.
I've never owned a dog, and if I did it would come from a shelter. This kind of investment in an animal is repulsive. In a week when tens of thousands of people have lost all in Japan, the idea of spending so much on a dog is extremely unsettling.
A living doll has no fun, Sir Cliff
Sir Cliff Richard, now 70, wants to live to be 100. He bases his daily regime on a book by the Californian anti-ageing guru Dr Maoshing Ni. This means drinking two large glasses of celery juice a day, which is said to reduce blood pressure.
The book advocates massaging powdered pearls into the skin to reduce wrinkles, eating lily bulbs to combat sadness, and – perhaps a lot less hassle – sprinkling cayenne pepper and turmeric on your food.
According to Dr Mao, "poorly performed" sex can be harmful. I'm not sure Cliff needs that kind of information, especially as he admits he likes early nights and "is a good boy".
I'd rather eat, drink and misbehave.
Profiteering, a new Games event
I hope you didn't think that a trip to the London Olympics was a chance for a family picnic. It sounds as if entering the site is going to involve so many stringent security checks you might be better off opting for a big screen in your backyard and a barbecue at home.
The list of banned items includes "food, alcoholic drinks and liquids in containers larger than 100ml". Vacuum flasks will not be allowed, and – even though it will be high summer – sunscreen lotion will have to be in small containers.
The organisers say they want spectators, many of whom will already have stumped up hundreds of pounds for their tickets to "have fun". That seems to mean you'll have to pay for expensive food and drink from official sponsors. These ludicrous rules must be abandoned.Reuse content