Midsomer’s Greenification, or “behind the green scenes” of a British TV police series

Poster for the French version of the series, Inspecteur Barnaby

Illustration 1 – Poster for the French version of the series, Inspecteur Barnaby

On July 27th 2012 at 9 p.m., the 30th Olympic Games opened in London. The opening ceremony, “Isles of Wonder”, was masterminded by the celebrated British film director Danny Boyle, who had won an Oscar in 2009 for Slumdog Millionaire. The ceremony began with a short film of a journey down the Thames from its source. The camera flew over the English countryside from the Thames Head monument near Kemble in Gloucestershire up to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford in the London Borough of Newham, a district undergoing urban renovation. Thus the paths of the past and the present were woven together.

Illustration 2 – London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

The camera swooped down into the Olympic Stadium and a children’s choir began to sing “Jerusalem”. This poem was written by William Blake in 1804 and set to music by Hubert Parry in 1916, with the aim of galvanizing British troops fighting in the First World War. The first lines refer to the “mountain green” and “pleasant pastures” of England, which is seen as a possible “earthly Jerusalem” or new Arcadia, a counterpoint to industrial London and its “dark satanic mills” mentioned in the last verse:

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountain green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among those dark satanic mills?1

In the centre of the stadium, on the sports pitch, the decor reflected Blake’s first verse: a green hill with peaceful meadows at its foot. A few half-timbered cottages2 were shown as an emblem of Past and Present. This scenography was intended to highlight the ongoing “love story” between British people and their countryside, stretching back to at least the eighteenth century3. My aim in this article is to analyse the nature of this attachment and to study a spatial ideology which seems to be a specific British cultural trait.

This attachment to a certain image of the English countryside is arguably the underlying theme of a police series broadcast on ITV since March 23rd, 1997 and on the channel France 3 since 2001: Midsomer Murders (French title: Inspecteur Barnaby). In this article I shall analyse the pilot episode of the series, “The Killings at Badger’s Drift”, considering the context in which the series was created, the adaptation of successful police novels, the socio-spatial issues observed in this first episode, and the spatial ideology present throughout the whole series.

Midsomer Murders and the spirit of the age

Midsomer Murders is a television series whose first five episodes, each lasting between 89 and 102 minutes, were adapted from the first five volumes of the Chief Inspector Barnaby series of police novels by Caroline Graham. These first five episodes sketch the outlines and landscapes of the fictional county of Midsomer and the equally fictional county town of Causton. The hero of the series is DCI4 Thomas Barnaby, who lives in a detached house in the suburbs of Causton.

Title Publication Filming dates Broadcast date Location
The Killings at Badger’s Drift 1987 September–October 1996 March 23rd, 1997 Badger’s Drift
Death of a Hollow Man 1989 August–September 1997 March 29th, 1998 Ferne Basset
Death in Disguise 1992 November–December 1997 May 6th, 1998 Compton Dando
Written in Blood 1994 July–August 1997 March 22nd, 1998 Midsomer Worthy
Faithful unto Death 1996 October 1997 April 22nd, 1998 Morton Fendle

Caroline Graham was born in 1931. She has an MA degree in Writing for the Theatre from Birmingham University and has written several scripts for radio, theatre and television. She also wrote two novels for young people in 1985: BMX Star Rider and BMX’ers Battle it Out, which were both published by Hutchinson. The last novel from the Chief Inspector Barnaby series was published in 2004 and entitled A Ghost in the MachineThe Killings at Badger’s Drift was published by Century in 1987 and listed by the Crime Writers’ Association as one of the top hundred crime novels of all time. It was translated into French and published by Albin Michel in 1990.

Illustration 3: Cover of the French translation of The Killings at Badger’s Drift

Illustration 3: Cover of the French translation of The Killings at Badger’s Drift

In 1996, Betty Willingale, a BBC producer since the 1960s and consultant for ITV, decided to adapt the series of novels for television. The first five episodes were directed by Jeremy Silberston and adapted by Anthony Horowitz5, a novelist for young adult readers who won the Poitier’s European Prize for Children’s Novels in 1993 for Skeleton Key.

The series was first broadcast in France on January 14th, 2001 (on the channel France 3). It has been sold and continues to be broadcast in over a hundred countries across the world, including the United States and China.

Illustration 4: Meurtres à Badger’s Drift (French version of The Killings at Badger’s Drift, January 14th, 2001)

In Caroline Graham’s novel, Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his deputy, Sergeant Gavin Troy, are on their way to work when they are accosted by Miss Bellringer, who tells them that one of her friends, Emily Simpson, did not die of a heart attack, as the doctor involved had concluded, but had instead been murdered. The autopsy carried out on Barnaby’s orders indeed shows that Miss Simpson had been poisoned.

In the television version, Barnaby and Troy are called to a crime scene but Miss Bellringer no longer plays the role that is almost implicit in her name, i.e. the person who alerts Barnaby to an unsuspected murder. She is just the person who called the police. Emily Simpson was not poisoned but instead received a violent and fatal blow to the back of the neck. These minor changes in the adaptation of the story for the small screen only slightly modify the course of the investigations. Yet, as we shall see, they remain important in the spatial narration and the successive portrayals of the different locations linked to the case.

Midsomer Murders’ cosy genius

In this first episode, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, I would like to discuss the different characters and their relation with their respective home environment. Three types of space can be observed: the suburbs of a provincial town (Causton or Brighton), the London green belt, and, finally, a grand aristocratic estate.

Suburban houses

There are two homes in this first category and they share very similar architectural characteristics: the Barnabys’ house in Causton and Mary Sharp’s home in Brighton.

The Barnabys’ house

Illustration 5: The Barnabys’ house in Causton (Wallingford, Buckinghamshire)

Illustration 5: The Barnabys’ house in Causton (Wallingford, Buckinghamshire)

The Barnaby family apparently lives on the outskirts of Causton, in a small detached house which is the modern version of a British cottage, with its brick walls, adjoining garage, front and back gardens, and upper floor of bedrooms. The entrance has a large window made of glass partitions. A large bow window overlooks the front garden and lets light into the ground-floor dining room. This house is completely characteristic of the “very simple and featureless” homes regulated by the 1965 National Building Regulation and built during the major wave of construction in the 1980s, which harked back to the great housing campaign of the 1960s.

The house is home to Thomas Barnaby, his wife Joyce, a housewife, and their only daughter, Cully, a drama student at Cambridge University. In this first episode, as indeed in all the others, there are frequent scenes set in the Barnaby home. These are most often set in the kitchen, as it is there that Joyce cooks original and – it has to be said – “disastrous” dishes for her detective husband.

The Barnaby home in Causton is the family “nest” and all of its occupants come together at mealtimes. Joyce is the linchpin of the house; it is around her that the family gathers together. As her name suggests, she provides joy and harmony, a counterpoint to whatever is worrying Tom or their daughter Cully. In this first episode, Cully has returned home to learn the script for a play she is to act in at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge: ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.

This is a tragedy by the British playwright John Ford, which was performed by the Queen’s Henrietta Men between 1629 and 1633 and published in 1633. This play appears as a subplot throughout the episode and is in fact constructed around the same main theme as Barnaby’s investigation. In the play, Giovanni, a young student from Bologna, is overcome by an incestuous passion for his sister, Annabella. Michael and Katherine Lacey have had a similar relationship since they were teenagers, a relationship which was first discovered by Mary Sharp, and then by Emily Simpson.

This suburban house sets the Barnabys squarely in their time. The large windows overlooking the front and back gardens illuminate the whole of the house’s interior. It is in this house that Barnaby has the “eureka moments” which help him solve the cases he is working on. He returns to the family home at the end of each day investigating a case. This comes to punctuate the narration, thus portraying a seven-day investigation.

Mary Sharp’s house in Brighton

Illustration 6: Mary Sharp’s house in Brighton

Illustration 6: Mary Sharp’s house in Brighton

Mary Sharp is the Lacey children’s former nanny and her house tells a rather particular story. The ageing Mary leaves Badger’s Drift after seeing something she was not supposed to – the incestuous relationship between Katherine and her brother. She decides to keep quiet and leave Badger’s Drift, moving to a small, very uncottagey detached house on the hills above Brighton. This modest, typically 1960s house has no carefully tended, eye-catching front garden to speak of. The windows of her house have curtains which let in the light but stop anyone seeing in or indeed out.

Houses in London’s green belt

Badger’s Drift is a small village in the county of Midsomer. In the opening few minutes of the episode, a sign is shown announcing that it is “Midsomer’s Best Kept Village”, an award it won six times between 1990 and 1996. Badger’s Drift is therefore one of the loveliest – the best preserved and best kept – villages in the county of Midsomer. This sets the tone for the episode: Badger’s Drift meets certain criteria which make it the ideal village. In this pilot episode, the protagonists all live in cottages that reflect who they are.

Emily Simpson’s house: Beehive Cottage (Bledlow, Buckinghamshire)

Illustration 7: Beehive Cottage, Emily Simpson’s house

Illustration 7: Beehive Cottage, Emily Simpson’s house

Emily Simpson, the first victim, is a retired primary schoolteacher. She is a lover of wild orchids and bees, and spends her time looking after her beehives or searching for and photographing rare flowers in Badger’s Drift’s woods in a kind of competition with her neighbour.

Her cottage has a very flowery front garden with a little brick wall around it, while the beehives are kept behind the house. The episode’s first scenes reveal that her house is located slightly away from the centre of Badger’s Drift, because she is seen crossing the whole village to get to the woods.

When Barnaby and the police arrive, viewers are shown the inside of the cottage. Its main room has a low ceiling with wooden beams. The imposing mantelpiece is filled with Emily Simpson’s souvenirs. The living room’s windows look out on to both the house’s main entrance and the back garden. It is quite clearly Emily’s “living” room and she spends much of her days here, sheltered from the gaze of onlookers.

Michael and Katherine Lacey’s house: Holly Cottage (The Lee, Buckinghamshire)

Illustration 8: Holly Cottage

Illustration 8: Holly Cottage

Michael and Katherine Lacey are brother and sister. They live in Holly Cottage, the house left to them by their parents, who died in a road accident. To live out their love affair in complete financial security, they come up with a fiendish plot to kill Bella, the wife of their legal guardian Henry Trace, so that Katherine can take her place and marry Henry, before murdering him by slowly poisoning him.

The evil couple live in a cottage and only the front garden, with its many hedges concealing the entrance, is shown on screen. A parabolic mirror enables the occupants to see outside without being seen. When Barnaby and his assistant Troy break in to the house, it does not seem to be fully “occupied”. Upstairs, only the bedroom of the secret lovers seems to be lived in, while the other rooms are all empty. Downstairs, only Michael’s artist’s studio seems to be occupied. The room is bright and cosy6.

Iris and Dennis Rainbird’s house (Little Messenden, Buckinghamshire)

Illustration 9: Iris and Dennis Rainbird’s house

Illustration 9: Iris and Dennis Rainbird’s house

Iris and Dennis Rainbird live in a cottage in the heart of Badger’s Drift. The plain front garden  consists simply of a little path leading to the door. The formidably shrewish Iris makes delicious, fortifying deserts and canapés in this house, which is flanked by a tower offering an unobstructed view over everything going on in and around the village.

Dennis works for the local undertaker and has a luxurious lifestyle, with a black luxury car and a highly “romantic” style of dress. His mother Iris is an emotionally repressive, overbearing woman with large glasses which make her look like an owl. The Rainbirds spy on the whole neighbourhood from the top of the house’s tower using binoculars, and note all the comings and goings to subsequently try and blackmail some of their neighbours.

The Lessiters’ house (Amersham, Buckinghamshire)

Illustration 10: The Lessiters’ house

Illustration 10: The Lessiters’ house

Barbara and Trevor Lessiter appear to live outside Badger’s Drift in a very large house. Trevor Lessiter is the village doctor and village dignitary. He clearly flaunts his social standing with his vast home. Its bright living room is reminiscent of similar rooms in aristocratic homes or even in Tye House.

The grand aristocratic estate

Bella and Henry Trace’s house, Tye House (Christmas Common, Buckinghamshire)

Illustration 11: Tye House

Illustration 11: Tye House

Henry Trace’s house is located on the top of a small hill overlooking a vast estate made up of meadows, fields and woods. The Traces are keen hunters. This aristocratic home is unlike all the other family homes in the village. It has high ceilings, while the living room is again very bright and overlooks the lawns surrounding the house.

Everything about the house underlines the Trace family’s social status. Tye House is a villa in the purest Georgian tradition, built in the heyday of this style between 1720 and 1840. It is a cubic building with a cornice, central doorway and rigorously symmetrical windows. Access to the house is through wrought-iron gates opening on to a driveway leading to the house.

Henry Trace is not an aristocrat but clearly a very rich businessman who behaves in a lordlike manner. He organizes hunts in his woods, has a steward (David Whitely), protected the Lacey children after the death of their parents, and lodges the sister of his deceased wife, Phyllis Cadell.

Thus, the morphology of the houses inhabited by the different characters says a great deal about their psychology and their past. These houses embed them in social relationships which are very much based on a sense of social hierarchy. There is also a subtle, ongoing theme throughout the episode of people seeing without being seen and of appearances and pretence, all of which Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby has to unravel, rather like Saint Thomas.

Illustration 12: Topological map of Badger’s Drift

Illustration 12: Topological map of Badger’s Drift (in french)

Barnaby and his assistant’s journeys between these different homes can be represented in two maps, both of which say a great deal about Barnaby’s relationship with this space. The first (illustration 12) is topological and maps the different houses according to how often they are visited. It is immediately evident that the story revolves around the Barnaby home in Causton. As I have already mentioned, this house is regularly shown throughout the story as if to punctuate each day of the investigation, which actually takes seven days (apparently the perfect number, as it corresponds to the number of days God took to create the world, according to Genesis).

Illustration 13

Illustration 13

The second map (illustration 13) is topographical and sites the houses according to their probable geographical location. It reveals how Barnaby and his assistant investigate the case. The first three days are concentrated on the three zones of Badger’s Drift: the western part of the village around the Simpson and Bellringer houses (zone A), the centre and east of the village around the woods, the church and the Rainbird house (zone B) and the south-east of the village around Tye House and Holly Cottage (zone C). On the fourth day, Miss Simpson’s funeral is held and the second, double murder of the Rainbirds takes place. Barnaby now finds that he effectively has to circumscribe zones A and B. From the fifth day onwards, he mainly concentrates on zone C, essentially going back and forth between Causton police station and this area as the proverbial noose tightens and he gets closer to solving the case. Finally, Barnaby and Troy spend the seventh day in Brighton; the full conspiracy is revealed when they return to Badger’s Drift. Travelling away from the crime scenes clearly helped the detective to see things more clearly, or more likely confirmed his existing suspicions.

The way people live in Badger’s Drift is like a perverse game of seeing and being seen in different frames of vision. The houses, cottages and mansions are firstly places that the owners “show off”. Secondly, each home is a domestic space which protects its inhabitants from the gaze of others while allowing them a view on to the outside world. Finally, the cinematographic narration plays on differently framed shots, which enable viewers to come in or go out and cross different screens.

“Being seen”

All of these homes are about being seen. Their occupants take a lot of care in decorating their entrances, facades and front gardens. They “show off” and make sure they project a certain image of themselves, one which is not always true.

The first image which seems very important is social hierarchy. A retired primary schoolteacher (Emily Simpson) and a country doctor (Dr Lessiter and his family) are members of a middle class, which the two Lacey heirs later join.

The front garden of Beehive Cottage is very simple. The outside of the house reflects the simplicity of the interior; the house is a perfect reflection of its owner. She is both an indoors and an outdoors person, a discreet, “ordinary” citizen who is charming and well integrated into the local Badger’s Drift community. The episode actually starts on this note, as we see her cycling to the woods with a smile on her face. We see her greeting Lessiter and the people from the Post Office.

At the Lessiters’ house, the discourse is quite different. The apparent harmony of the gardens and luxurious interior is in total opposition with the disharmony that reigns among the stepfamily inside. Trevor and his second wife Barbara seem to have nothing in common anymore. Barbara is having an affair with Tye House‘s steward David Whiteley and does not get on with her stepdaughter Judith, who has secret trysts with Michael Lacey.

In the case of the Laceys and Holly House, everything is based on appearances. From the outside the house appears large and well endowed, with a great many windows. The front garden gives the impression that the house is full of life and very open to the outside world. Obviously, this is not the case as only one room is inhabited by Michael – his painting studio. An upstairs bedroom seems occupied but only on an occasional basis and in reality the house is an empty shell.

Everything about Tye House gives an appearance of grandeur: the wrought-iron entrance gates, the statues of lions on the columns either side of the gates, the manor itself and its glorious architecture. Henry Trace is the rich head of an enlarged “family” whose members live off his fortune: a foreman (David Whiteley), two wards (the Laceys) and the sister of his first wife (Phylis Cadell). In this case again, appearances actually concur with reality.

Finally, the Rainbirds’ house has no name and an extremely sober exterior. The interior of the house is where the grandeur lies. Here Iris Rainbird receives all the people she intends to blackmail. With her extravagant hats, billowing flowery dresses, equally flowery wallpaper and numerous knickknacks, the overall impression is of a house which is just too welcoming. Iris Rainbird is excessive in every way: her stature, the cakes she offers to visitors and her gushing praise of her beloved son Dennis. Similarly, Dennis is also very partial to exhibiting signs of his wealth.

Thus, the characters use the exterior and interior appearances of their homes to display or conceal their private lives. In the midst of all this, Barnaby and Troy have to work out the truth. When Troy arrives at the scene of the first crime and wants to start searching the room, his superior reprimands him: “Use your eyes, Troy!” This makes it clear to viewers that everything will be based on appearances and details to be observed, on who saw what and whom. A little later in the episode, at the scene of the double murder of Iris and Dennis Rainbird, at the point when we are about to discover what lies beyond the living room’s flowery wallpaper, Gavin Troy cries out:

– “Boss! Come and have a look. You’re not going to believe this!”

– “On the contrary, I will certainly believe it!” replies the aptly named Tom Barnaby.

Everything is thus based on a careful framing of reality, on showing what one wishes to show. This applies to the window frames with or without curtains through which people can see into the houses, or which conversely enable the inhabitants to see outside without being seen. It also includes the frame of Michael Lacey’s painting, which is covered with a sheet throughout the episode because it contains a clue to solving the case7.

Midsomer Murders: Behind the “green scenes”

The Midsomer Murders series was filmed in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, which are between 40 and 60 miles from London. Caroline Graham imagined the county of Midsomer as being located in the vicinity of Warwickshire, but the producers decided this was too far from London for three-month film shoots employing actors who often also worked in London theatres. Nonetheless, the success of the series made the filming locations tourist attractions, and several websites were set up to help fans work out their itinerary. The county of Buckinghamshire even created its own website providing suggested itineraries for tourists.

Fan websites www.midsomermurder.com

www.visitmidsomer.com

Local websites www.experienceoxfordshire.org

www.visithenley.com

www.owfordshirevillages.co.uk

www.visitchesterns.co.uk

www.rumseys.co.uk

National websites www.visitbritain.com

www.visitengland.com

http://britmovietours.com

As we mentioned in the introduction, the series surfs on the green, rural wave of an idealized “Olde England”. We would now like to analyse this image of a rurban, gentrified England.

The county of Midsomer: A condensed version of the English countryside

The webmasters of the websites I have consulted have attempted the difficult task of mapping the fictional county of Midsomer, whose capital, Causton, is situated near the centre according to Caroline Graham. Assigning a visual landscape to this county was one of the first tasks for the TV series’ producers. They went on many location scouting trips, and indeed certain locations were re-used in various episodes.

The site visitmidsomer.com tells us that Causton is a combination of Wallingford, Thame and Henley-on-Thames, which are medium-sized towns in south Oxfordshire. Badger’s Drift is said to be a mixture of different places in Buckinghamshire, such as Amersham, Bledlow (the church and Beehive Cottage), The Lee (the village of Badger’s Drift) and Little Missenden (the Rainbirds’ house and the post office), along with Christmas Common in Oxfordshire (Tye House). The detectives also go to Brighton in East Sussex to visit Mary Sharp.

Based on the locations used in all 116 episodes of the series, it is easy to plot another map of Midsomer’s landscapes. It is in fact a combination of villages in London’s western green belt, created in the 1930s as part of an urban planning policy aimed at controlling urban sprawl. The idea was to preserve a ring of “countryside” where urbanization and densification would be limited and even impossible, by maintaining an area where agriculture, forests and open-air recreation activities would be the priority. The Metropolitan Green Belt of London was first proposed by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee in 1935. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act then authorized different urban communities to include a proposal for a green belt area in their development plan. In 1955, the Housing Minister Duncan Sandys encouraged local periurban authorities to protect their territories by clearly defining green belt perimeters around their urban zones.

This means we are dealing with a reconstituted space formed from the combination of different locations in London’s green belt. The soundtrack underlines the pastoral dimension of the series. In the first minute and 42 seconds of the pilot episode, it is possible to identify the different elements used to construct the series and which certainly contributed to its success.

The first scenes show Badger’s Drift’s first victim on her bicycle. She arrives in the centre of the village, meets Dr Lessiter in his four-wheel drive and rides past the grocery store, which seems to be at the heart of the village. She finally meets her neighbour, who is also on a bike, before riding into Badger’s Drift woods and then past the Rainbird house, where she is to make her unexpected discovery. The first minute and 42 seconds of this introductory sequence set the scene of this small English village, where it is pleasant to live and where everyone seemingly knows each other. The sequence is accompanied by a piece of music composed by Jim Parker for the series, The Village Band. It is a march interpreted by a small brass section with a few woodwind instruments (clarinet and oboe). The tune is both jolly and … pastoral. The piece’s title and tone add to the representations of British rural life, associated with small brass bands since the late nineteenth century.

Along with the soundtrack, we can hear birdsong, the sound of the bikes, the wind blowing through the trees and bike bells. In this sonic landscape, Dr Lessiter’s four-wheel drive is almost inaudible. London’s periurban countryside is thus shown in an idyllic light.

Illustration 16: Jim Parker, The Village Band [1:58 mins]

The opening credits of this pilot episode are made up of four fixed watercolour images of four locations from the episode. The use of this pictorial technique and the tones chosen by the illustrator, whose name is not given, hark back to Beatrix Potter’s pastoral watercolours from the late nineteenth century. The subjects portrayed also contribute to this stereotypical representation of the English countryside:

Wide view of Badger’s Drift

We see brick houses with thatched roofs framed by a wooden road sign on the right and a Celtic cross on the left. This image depicts a certain number of cultural hallmarks of the English countryside.

 
View of a cottage window

This shows a casement window which is ajar and surrounded by foliage and flowers. The black cat (a bad omen for some) seen in the middle of the previous image is about to enter the house through the open window.

View of the Post Store

The Post Store seems the most typical kind of small neighbourhood shop in the contemporary British “green belt”. It is the last remaining village store and provides state (Royal Mail) and everyday services (newsagents, grocery). It is also a place to exchange information and gossip about the village. The black cat stops in front of it.

View of a pub

Finally, the pub is another place for exchanges of information and gossip.

The black cat has gone inside and seems to have made itself at home.

Greenification

Another look at the sociology of the inhabitants of Badger’s Drift shows that it essentially portrays the middle classes and even the very well-off. Some of the characters work in the city (Causton or even London) or used to live in towns. Less well-off people never make an appearance in the series, which in fact portrays a gentrified, rurbanized countryside.

The pretty homes in the episode are all occupied by middle-class and even well-off families: a retired primary schoolteacher, a brother and sister with inherited wealth, an undertaker and a doctor. They mainly seem to be originally from the village, with the exception of Henry Trace, who made his fortune in London and then bought Tye House.

In 1964, the sociologist Ruth Glass, co-author of a report on socio-spatial transformations in London, had observed the “unprecedented and hitherto highly localized transformations of the social and physical fabric of certain London neighbourhoods8”. She used the neologism “gentrification”, which she defined as follows:

One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle classes – upper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottages – two rooms up and two down – have been taken over, when their leases have expired, and have become elegant, expensive residences. Larger Victorian houses, downgraded in an earlier or recent period – which were used as lodging houses or were otherwise in multiple occupation – have been upgraded once again. Nowadays, many of these houses are being sub-divided into costly flats or “houselets” (in terms of the new real estate snob jargon). The current social status and value of such dwellings are frequently in inverse relation to their size, and in any case enormously inflated by comparison with previous levels in their neighbourhoods. Once this process of “gentrification” starts in a district, it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working class occupiers are displaced, and the whole social character of the district is changed9.

In the 1980s, British geographers observed the continuous settling of residents with higher incomes than the local populations in London’s green belt. Some of these rural scholars10 “came up with the idea that the term rural gentrification could relevantly apply to their observations11”. In 2001, Tony Champion12, a geographer from the University of Newcastle, analysed the historicity of this phenomenon. In his view, this movement out of urban areas had started in large cities such as London and spread to small and medium-sized towns, and then to the so-called market towns. Again according to Champion, several related factors can explain this gentrification phenomenon: the development of transport networks and communication networks more generally, the deconcentration of employment, the improvement of services and facilities in rural areas, the public policy support for local development, and the “crisis” of urban societies. In the same year, the enthusiasm of these gentrified middles classes for environmental quality led the geographers Darren P. Smith and Debbie A. Phillips, from the universities of Loughborough and Leeds respectively, to coin the term “greenification”.

The protagonists in Badger’s Drift all share this enthusiasm for “nature” and the protection of their environment. They all belong to what Ruth Glass calls the “middle classes – upper and lower”. Miss Simpson and Miss Bellringer do not pick the orchids; they just take photos of them. They also speak to bees. The Lessiters and Traces never miss an opportunity to take a walk around their land. The village of Badger’s Drift has won the prize for the best-kept village in Midsomer six times. This series certainly portrays nothing other than greenification.

Thus, Midsomer Murders is more than a police series in the vein of Agatha Christie’s novels; it is an image of today’s England fighting urban sprawl and what Tony Champion calls “the love story” between the British people and their countryside. These are clearly two factors that won the books and TV series so many fans, and made the TV series such a success.

In France, the series was just as successful as it also tapped into the French people’s love for the countryside and provincial areas. While the major American TV series are set in big cities like New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami or Chicago, Inspecteur Barnaby is similar to other French suspense series which take place in the countryside, such as Louis la Brocante13, Doc Martin14, Père et Maire15 and Famille d’Accueil16. All of these series would lend themselves to the study of representations of rurality.


Featured image: A quintessentially British country cottage by Andi North, licence CC-BY-NC-SA.

This is a translation from French by Richard Dickinson, INIST-CNRS translator, revised by Helen Tomlinson.

Cite this article: "Midsomer’s Greenification, or “behind the green scenes” of a British TV police series", by Christophe Meunier in Anthology. https://anthology.hypotheses.org/396

 

  1. French translation: “Ces pieds ont-ils jadis / Marché sur les vertes montagnes d’Angleterre ? / A-t-on vu le saint agneau de Dieu dans les doux pâturages d’Angleterre ? / Et le divin visage / A-t-il brillé sur nos brumeuses collines ? / A-t-on edifié ici Jerusalem / Au milieu de ces maudites filatures”. []
  2. What should be understood here by the word cottage? This word appeared in England in the thirteenth century, according to the Douglas Harper Etymology Dictionary. It is made up of two words from Old French: cote (hut) and the suffix –age (which refers to all property attached to such a hut). A cottage could be compared to the French manse féodal (feudal mansus), which consisted of the house and its surrounding plot of land, which the family lived off. From 1765 onwards, a cottage referred to a small country residence whatever the form of ownership or the social origins of the occupants. []
  3. Frédéric Richard, “La gentrification des ‘espaces naturels’ en Angleterre : après le front écologique, l’occupation?”, L’Espace Politique, 9, 2009-3. Available at: https://spacepolitique.revues.org/1478 []
  4. Detective Chief Inspector. []
  5. Anthony Horowitz and Caroline Graham make an appearance in the wedding ceremony which Barnaby dreams of in the first episode. This to some extent symbolizes the perfectly harmonious relationship between the authors. []
  6. Etymologically speaking, the adjective cosy is a contraction of tea cosy. []
  7. The painting is a nude portrait of his sister reclining on a red sheet and is thus proof of their forbidden love. []
  8. Frédéric Richard, op. cit. []
  9. Ruth Glass, London, Aspects of Change. London, Macgibon & Kee, 1964, p. xviii. []
  10. J. Little, “Rural gentrification and the influence of local-level planning”, in Paul Cloke (ed.), Rural planning: policy into action? London, Harper and Lowe, 1987, p. 95–115. []
  11. Frédéric Richard, op. cit. []
  12. Tony Champion, “The continuing urban-rural population movement in Britain: trends, patterns, significance”, Espace, populations, sociétés, 2001-1-2, p. 37–51. []
  13. Louis la Brocante is a French series by Jacques Rouzet and Pierre Sisser, broadcast between 2011 and 2015 and set in the Monts d’Or area north of Lyon. []
  14. Doc Martin is a French series by Eric Kristy. It is an adaptation of the British version of the same name, was broadcast between 1998 and 2014 and is set in the Finistère region of Brittany, in the town of Douëlan. []
  15. Père et Maire is a French series by Christian Rauth and Daniel Rialet, broadcast between 2002 and 2009 and set in the town of Vendôme (Loir-et-Cher region) and then in Angoulême (Charente region). []
  16. Famille d’Accueil is a French series by Stéphane Kaminka, broadcast between 2001 and 2016 and set in the Gironde region between the towns of Carbon-Blanc and Floirac. []

Christophe Meunier

Docteur en géographie / ENS-LSH de Lyon / EA 6301 - Laoratoire InTRu / ESPé Centre Val de Loire - Université d'Orléans

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