Copyright Bentley Productions
The classic English village murder mystery has long been a favourite of aficionados of detective stories. The most famous exponent of the craft was probably Agatha Christie's spinster sleuth Miss Marple, who from her home in the fictitious village of St. Mary Mead unravelled complex plots and announced 'whodunit' long before the plodding police inspector in charge of the case had found his first suspect. Set in the 30's and 40's Miss Marple solved murders that on the whole,were rather on the genteel side.
Following in this great tradition we now have the Midsomer Murders featuring Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, the creation of writer Caroline Graham on whose books the early teleplays were based. Midsomer Murders however, is set firmly in the present and the murders Barnaby and Troy are faced with include decapitations, burning alive and gruesome stabbings with farm implements and kitchen knives. Likewise, they are often forced to confront drug taking, incest, gay sex and sado-masochism, items strictly taboo in Miss Marple's day!
The settings, however, remain the same. The English country village conjures up a unique vision of fetes, cricket on the green and tea at the vicarage. The collection of villages known as Midsomer has all these attributes but behind the lace curtains and carefully manicured gardens there also lies evil, blackmail, greed, revenge and, of course, murder. In fact the area seems to house a higher proportion of homicidal psychopaths than the worst inner city ghetto.
The lead character, Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (excellently played by John Nettles, no stranger to T.V. detective work after his long stint as Bergerac in the equally picturesque Jersey) is a career policeman in early middle age. His background is a little sketchy though it would appear he once served with the Met, reference his remark in one episode of how he caught the colourfully named 'Pimlico Poisoner'. He would appear to have been in Midsomer only a few years, as in another segment he refers to a series of stranglings in the woods 9 years earlier as being 'before my time'.
Unusually for a T.V. detective these days, Barnaby has no problems with his superiors nor a chip on his shoulder. He goes by the book though not adverse to breaking the occasional rule to help things along. He will tread on toes if necessary but uses logical reasoning and experienced deduction to solve his cases. This often involves rattling skeletons in long forgotten closets as many of the crimes in Midsomer are the result of dark secrets from the past.
Barnaby is happily married to Joyce, though her standard of cooking sometimes makes him inclined to want to eat out rather than in the family home! They have a grown up daughter, Cully (Laura Howard), an aspiring actress, and both Cully and Joyce are often woven into the plots.
The other main character in the series up until episode 29 is Detective Sergeant Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey). Although a Northern lad, Troy appears to have been in Midsomer some time as one episode refers to his attending a local school. Troy is ambitious, enthusiastic and with great respect for Barnaby. He always calls him 'Sir' even on off-duty moments, although Barnaby always addresses him as Troy. Barnaby is often exasperated by Troy, particularly his driving, and his often blunt analysis of situations contrasts with Barnaby's more sensitive probing. He usually sends Troy in first to view the most recent corpse particularly if it is messy.
For a while there was clearly a mutual attraction between Troy and Cully which looked like developing further in the episode 'Death & Dreams'. However, before it came to fruition the sudden appearance of another corpse somewhat spoilt the moment.
At the end of the episode 'The Green Man' Troy was finally promoted to Inspector and transferred to Middlesborough. His replacement was Detective Sergeant Dan Scott (John Hopkins). Scott is a streetwise, confident and rather cocky Londoner who is not exactly thrilled to be transferred to Midsomer which he regards as the 'Sticks'. However, he realises he can learn much from Barnaby. Rather more of a 'ladies' man than Troy he has a natural charm and appears to have won over Joyce and Cully rather quickly. Sadly, his romance with school teacher Liz Francis ends in tragedy when she becomes another victim in 'The Straw Woman'.
The series is not without humour despite the sinister goings on. Barnaby is involved in much light hearted banter with his family and in one episode suffered the indignity of going on a forced diet by his wife and daughter much to his displeasure.
Other pluses which help make the series a success are the calibre of guest actors and actresses such as Richard Briers, Hannah Gordon, Timothy West, Prunella Scales and James Bolam much of the cream of British acting talent. Of course the other factor is the beautiful scenes of the English countryside, villages and manor houses which are an inspiration in themselves.
Updated June 2004
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