- 24 марта 2011, 02:18
After Brian True-May's comments on the all-white casting the programme now feels soiled, says Mark Lawson
Viewers have always watched Midsomer Murders in a suspicious frame of mind, wondering which of the half dozen or so familiar British character actors contracted to look shifty in this episode will prove to be the latest English rural mass murderer sent to the presumably overcrowded Midsomer nick.
But, following the suspension of producer Brian True-May for seemingly suggesting that the show benefits from an all-white casting policy, Wednesday night's opening episode of the 14th series will have been watched with a different kind of suspicion – seeking evidence of acting apartheid.
The background to this story, Death in the Slow Lane, was motor racing, a sport in which Britain has had a recent black world champion and so a promising opportunity to extend the facial palette. Characteristically though, the plot line involved events at a Silverstone Grand Prix in the 1960s and so the chance was missed.
True-May will leave the show in the summer and this episode, completed before the furore, did suggest that the franchise could use a fresh overview. Although a sharp-eyed advance freeze-framer had spotted one black extra at the edge of a crowd scene, the programme's traditional racial monotony soon prevailed and began at times to look wilful.
For example, one suspect was a young urban DJ called Dave "Doggy" Day, speaking street patois ("Oh, my days, you still in school, innit?"), who had been hired to judge a vintage car contest at a local private school. Yet, although the departing producer has cited social realism as a reason for the series' whiteness, even this representative of a notably multiracial profession was cast caucasian.
Admittedly, there is a difficulty here. A black DJ could be viewed as a racial stereotype, an objection that might also have been raised if the "rough boy from the estate", a crucial minor character, had been cast non-white. But, if this was the rationale behind these casting decisions, then Midsomer has moved to racial sensitivity without an intervening period of racial inclusivity. And it was striking that even though this episode required large school groups, another area of British life known for its range of races, these juvenile performers could have been recruited from a 1940s British stage school.
Now that the row has opened eyes to this issue, it's difficult to watch Midsomer innocently. The show feels soiled – a bit too like a South African Broadcasting Corporation programme circa 1980 – and True-May's successor is surely going to have to change the colour scheme .
Although how many future series there will be already depended, even before this fuss, on close inspection of the ratings for this run, as the focus of the episode was supposed to have been on a different casting decision. Following John Nettles' retirement after 14 years, his DCI Tom Barnaby has been replaced by cousin DCI John Barnaby, played by Neil Dudgeon.
The new top cop in Causton CID was introduced through a teasing camera angle, twice showing him in his kitchen speaking intimately to an unseen companion. In a useful rebuke to Midsomer's current detractors, would the hidden listener turn out to be a black woman or a gay man?
It proved to be his pet dog. Dudgeon, though, got through more facial expressions and vocal inflections in this one storyline than Nettles had managed in 81 – a positive note in an episode that will otherwise have done little to smooth the furrowed brows at ITV1 in relation to its crisis-stricken hit.