There Are Detective Dramas And Then There is Midsomer Murders

Abhishek Srivastava - 62 weeks ago

The popularity of Britain’s most popular detective drama, Midsomer Murders can be gauged from the fact that it has been sold to 230 countries around the world thus making it one of the most successful British TV exports ever. Since the time this detective drama began airing on ITV in 1997, it has, on an average, attracted 10 million viewers which in rating terms is nothing short of humongous. It has completely changed the tourism industry of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire, known for their churches and box villages. Businessmen based out of the locations, where the series is filmed, have made the most of Midsomer Murder’s popularity. At £6.50, The George Hotel at Dorchester on Thames, offers Midsomer Murders Tour coupled with lunch. In other words, there are detective dramas and then there is Midsomer Murders.

(Neil Dudgeon posing in front of The George Hotel)

Based on Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby books, also once referred by a producer on the series as ‘Agatha Christie on acid’, the popularity of Midsomer Murders is nothing short of astonishing. The series debut episode which aired on 23rd March 1997 was watched by a whooping 13.5 million people. Apart from ticking all the boxes that a murder mystery drama demands, Midsomer Murders differentiates itself from other detective dramas and goes a step further by incorporating dark humour as well as a playful tone in its episodes. Even after 23 years,  popularity of Midsomer Murders remains intact and people are still hungry for more.

The writing style of Caroline Graham has often been compared to Agatha Christie and Colin Dexter and most of her Chief Inspector Barnaby stories are centered around village churches, county manors and cottages. Chief Inspector Barnaby was first introduced in The Killings at Badger’s Drift. A major chunk of Graham’s stories strive to disturb the quietude of the setting in which they are based thus giving a shock to the readers. Her stories have dealt with class struggles and are also a psychological study in how humans react when money, societal acceptance and affection go missing from their lives.

(Barry Jackson, John Nettles, and Lucy Punch in a still from Midsomer Murders)

The roughly two-hour length of each episode takes around five weeks of filming and on an average include three deaths. The murders in the series are as unique as they can get and the methodology includes murders and deaths through slide projector, poisonous frog, pitchfork, guillotine, brewing tool and even alien abduction. But truth be told, its John Nettles in the role of DCI Tom Barnaby which remains the biggest highlight of the detective drama. It was after season 11 that John Nettles dissociated himself from the series and Neil Dudgeon stepped in as his replacement. Despite the change of cast, the ratings remained as steadfast as ever and there was no dent on the sheen of Midsomer Murders' appeal. The success of any film or TV content, to a large extent, depends upon its supporting actors and everyone from John Hopkins, Nick Hendrix, Daniel Casey in the roles of Detective Sergeants who assist Barnaby in his murder investigations, have aced it in the most fabulous way. John Nettles has been a familiar face on British television since the 70s and despite his popularity never succumbed to the lure of cinema and remained glued to the small screen throughout his career. His performance in the latest breakout British series Poldark is a testimony to his evergreen appeal.

(Olivia Colman appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murders in 2009)

But the appeal of Midsomer Murders transcends riveting performances by John Nettles and Neil Dudgeon. The extreme popularity of the show has also forced well-known British actors to say yes to even small appearances. Current Oscar winner Olivia Colman featured in an episode from season 12 that aired in 2009. Hugh Bonneville aka Earl of Grantham appeared in an episode of season 5. He said yes to the role of a down and out stock trader who has eyes on his uncle’s fortune. Sanjeev Bhaskar, the star detective from Unforgettable appeared in the 100th episode of the murder drama series and Peter Capaldi, too, featured in an episode. Last but not the least, Orlando Bloom appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murder in 2000, much before he became a star with Pirates of the Caribbean.

Extreme popularity also brings controversy and this detective drama is no exception. A controversy did happen in 2011 when it successfully disturbed the idyllic peace of the fictitious town of Midsomer. In 2011 the murder drama was engulfed in a race row with its creator Brian True-May at the helm of things. About the show, Brian claimed that it was ‘the last bastion of Englishness’ as it had no Asian or Black faces. ITV mandarins were appalled by the comments made by the show's creator and took no time in showing True-May the doors. But amends were soon made. An Asian family featured in an episode of the series. Ace Bhatti and Soraya Radford were roped in to play Asian charatcers in the series and this was part of the commitment by the production team to incorporate more ethic charatcers in the show.

The 16th season of the murder drama proved pretty unique for viewers of the series. For the first time the characters moved beyond the shores of Midsomer and reached Copenhagen to solve a murder case. This decision was taken in the light of Midsomer Murder’s unprecedented popularity in the Nordic country. The episode also featured leads from The Killing and Borgen – two best known mystery dramas to have come out of the Scandinavian country.

The victims and suspects in Midsomer Murders are properly fleshed characters and are not just mere cameos. Apart from the show challenging our instinct and faculty to figure out the climax, Chief Inspector Barnaby is devoid of any gimmick and actually participates in what’s going on in the county of Midsomer. Therein lies the appeal of Midsomer Murder and the reason why it has survived for over two decades on television.

(Midsomer Murders is currently playing on myNK)


John Nettles / Neil Dudgeon / Jane Wymark / Barry Jackson / Jason Hughes / Olivia Colman / Orlando Bloom / Midsomer Murder / ITV

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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