Matthew Norman: Implanting a black face in Midsomer would be tokenism

The fact is that between town and country there is a colossal disconnect - two Englands unbridged by suburbia and divided by a common language

Share
Related Topics

A candidate to become the 252nd fatality in the fictional county of Midsomer's 15-year life span emerged yesterday, although whether by unwitting suicide or capital punishment is debatable. Brian True-May hasn't been hanged yet, but the co-creator and executive producer of ITV's Midsomer Murders has been suspended by his production company, pending one of those top-level internal inquiries beloved of media outlets, over remarks concerning the ethnic make-up of his series.

Mr True-May is on no account to be confused with Brian False-May, the former Queen guitarist, though a glance at a snap of him leaves little room for error. Devoid of a corkscrew perm, and without the shadow of Anita Dobson on his arm, Mr True-May has one of those borderline comb-overs which, in conjunction with a brass-buttoned blazer, bespeaks a buffer who enjoys philosophising from the snug bar stool with a large G&T, or a pewter tankard of foaming ale, in his hand. It may be pushing the Victorian pseudo-science of physiognomy too far, but I can't look at that face without hearing the rustle of a string-backed driving glove and the drawly timbre of the golfing sage Peter Alliss.

This is not to suggest that Mr True-May, any more than the portly Plato of the putting green, is a racist. That accusation depends not on his looks but the words, as confided to the Radio Times, which have "shocked and appalled" ITV management. Referring to the enduring global popularity of Midsomer Murders, Mr True-May sourced it, in part at least, to an "English genteel eccentricity" that would be compromised by the presence in rural villages of dark-skinned people. "We just don't have ethnic minorities involved," he explained. "Because it wouldn't be the English village with them. It just wouldn't work. Suddenly we might be in Slough."

Now there will be those, on reading this, who dip into Betjeman to mutter "Come friendly bombs and drop on True-May/ He isn't fit for telly today." And there is something undeniably smug and tiresome in the tone when he adds: "We're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way." Bubbling tacitly away beneath the words is that perplexing phrase "PC brigade" (why never squadron or battalion?), and a fondness for that imagined Fifties paradise when bucolic life was all Pop Larkin perfick, and urban existence revolved around the Krays helping old ladies cross the road whenever they weren't knifing people for looking at them funny.

Yet also buried beneath the complacent nostalgism lies the inconvenient truth that he is correct. You are more likely to come across a sex club in an English rural village than an Afro-Caribbean or Asian face. I speak on this with unwonted authority. In the tiny Dorset village where we rent a weekend cottage, we have had a swingers' club (the sadly defunct Cleopatra's) but never a non-Caucasian fizzog.

Whenever I make the drive from west London, it strikes me afresh as a journey as much through time as through space. Here in the crack- dealing tourist centre of Shepherds Bush, early 21st-century multiculturalism seems to work beautifully, whatever David Cameron, a huge Midsomer fan, may think to the contrary. If our road tends towards the lively, that is thanks to the generally white occupants of the two bail hostels opposite. Within 20 doors either side of us are Somalis, Poles, Croats, Bengalis, Lebanese, Jamaicans and doubtless another 20 nationalities. You can walk a mile along the Uxbridge road, that corner of a native land that will forever be Damascus, without seeing an indigenous white face (apart from the bail hostel boys and girls, out and about and up to no good), which is one of the area's few charms. In 14 years we've not come across a scintilla of racial tension.

As the M3 gives way to the A303, and you crawl past Stonehenge, the car becomes a Tardis and the decades roll away. In our village, somewhere between Yeovil and Dorchester, in ethnic terms it clearly is the 1950s. In three years, the darkest face I've encountered is my own shtetl-swarthy Ukrainain Jewish one. In the early days I was a little fearful, what with the roof being thatched, and brought perhaps more fire extinguishers than were strictly demanded. There hasn't been a single pogrom yet.

If a black or Asian family moved in, I imagine they would receive nothing but the welcoming warmth shown to us, albeit possibly tinged with rather more curiosity. About ten years ago, in a village shop in west Devon, my wife overheard a chat in the village shop between two elderly ladies who had heard on the grapevine that a black person had been sighted 25 miles away. It wasn't remotely nasty. The old girls were simply fascinated, as they would have been by reports of a cheetah loose in Plymouth, by the exoticism of it all.

The fact is that between town and country, there is a colossal disconnection. As anyone who flits between them cannot fail to appreciate, there are two Englands, unbridged by suburbia and divided by a common language. Painting Mr True-May as a fictional ethnic cleanser because he portrays the villages of Berkshire, or Midsomer, as all white is no more than those who love to hunt out offence where none is meant indulging their hobby.

His choice of words was sloppy, and he might have had the wit to refer to "a version of Englishness" rather than Englishness itself. At worst he seems the Carol Thatcher (dim rather than malevolent) of executive production rather than its pre-repentance Jim Davidson. Yet however absurd the phrase seems in the context of a show about sleepy hamlets with a murder rate 29 times higher than Johannesburg's, gritty realism is what he's on about. Implant an ethnic minority family into one of his villages, and the condescending tokenism would be ridiculous, and far more offensive than his ill-expressed witterings.

The sensitive plants at ITV who are "shocked and appalled" – petrified of a row, in other words, because they don't grasp nuance well enough to distinguish rose tinted naivete from a shire version of apartheid – may not agree. Sentence of death will duly be passed, you suspect, while at this very moment some network genius will be sounding out potential replacements about repairing the imaginary damage to the brand by treating Midsomer to its first madrassa.



React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

£22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A picture posted by Lubitz to Facebook in February 2013  

Andreas Lubitz: Knee-jerk reaction to 9/11 enabled mass murder

Simon Calder
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world