30 September 2006

A fete worse than death

Midsomer Murders (Sundays, ITV, 9pm) is curious, even by the standards of Sunday night TV. It suffers the usual imponderables that hobble all murder mysteries when the framework of everyday reality is placed upon them - that given the murder rate in the Midsomer villages, against the national average, you wonder how come the region has not been made the subject of a government Murder Task Force by now. It also allows us to eagerly anticipate which highly-paid A-list TV star will be given a 15 minute cameo to overact the part of a postman.

Of course these things are subject to the Willing Suspension of Disbelief, often the last fig leaf of the desperate, especially when confronted with Nick Moran pretending to be a gypsy. And, in mitigation, what proportion of Oxford has been bumped off by Colin Dexter over the years? Nevertheless there are two trends unique to Midsomer Murders that give the show unintended points of difference from its more celebrated rivals, and probably explain its position in the schedules, where it can sit unchallenged by the brains of viewers already numbed by the prospect of a full working week ahead.

The first is "murder as usual". In the average village, where a murder might happen once every one hundred years, such an event is seismic. It rents great holes in the lives of people, some of whom never really recover. In Midsomer Murders, after the initial shock, everyone more or less carries on, seeming to accept the event as one might a lightning strike on the church steeple.
It is the sort of world where, in the minds of ordinary people, murder is accepted as one of a number of rational choices people can make about more or less any situation. Disappointed in your job? You could discuss it with your boss, call a recruitment agency or kill somebody. It is the mirror of our world except where tutting and the sucking of teeth is inexplicably replaced by bludgeoning to death with a thresher's flail.

The second departure from other cop shows is the vision of pagan England. In the real world, ritual expression of communal belief takes place in the moiety of Eastenders' viewers or playing cricket. In Midsomer Murders we're supposed to believe that it is an everyday fact of life that people dress up and parade heathen totems through the streets, in a mysterious, ancient tradition unique to their village. That England in 2006 is a place where every village has the equivalent of Gloucester cheese rolling, except with elaborate customery and the excuse to carry an offensive weapon.

I lived in a village in the south of England for the first 20 years of my life, and still go back to visit. In the last 35 years, the only person murdered was killed on holiday inThailand, though there was a shotgun suicide about 15 years ago. And the only ritual burnings that take place are when pissed teenagers fall asleep in the streets on New Years Eve with lit cigarettes in their hands.

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