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Does Midsomer Murders portray English country life realistically?
September 14, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

I know that the real English countryside is not as violent as Midsomer County -- no place is -- but how realistic are the other aspects of country life portrayed in the show? (specific questions inside)

I live in the US and was born and raised here and have never lived in another country. My husband and I love watching Midsomer Murders, and are very curious about the non-murdery aspects of the show. Specifically:
Can a DCI (I'm thinking of the original Barnaby -- I haven't seen any episodes with the new guy yet) support a family on one income and live in a big (upper) middle class house on that income?
Do small towns really have that many festivals, fetes, celebrations, anniversaries, commemorations, jumble sales, carnivals, etc?
Do bands of gypsies really roam the countryside?
Do towns and villages have signature "things" that many or most people are really into, so much so that that becomes a characteristic of the town? Like orchids or biking or change ringing or painting or music or history or books or whatever.
Do ordinary, middle-class people have time to participate in so many hobbies and activities? I am often jealous of how Joyce spends her time.
Do ordinary, middle-class people live in really, really old cottages and houses that are nicely maintained with beautiful gardens? (I always assumed these belonged to rich people when I've seen them on trips)

We are more curious about how realistically the small towns and villages are portrayed than we are about Causton. A lot of these questions might seem tongue-in-cheek, but they are intended seriously. With the US workweek being so much longer and our communities so much more fragmented than those in other countries, I would not really be surprised to learn that much of the above is accurate.

tl;dr: If I moved to a small English village expecting my life to be like the middle class people in Midsomer Murders (the ones who don't get killed, that is), would I be disappointed?
posted by OrangeDisk to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
A partial answer to your question: I too love Midsomer Murders. I have never taken it to be particularly representative of reality though.

I am in the UK and a lot of the coverage of it here tends to see the show as hilariously unrealistic. On a more serious note, the show's producer was criticised in 2011 for apparently claiming that the lack of racial diversity was key to Midsomer's success.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:24 PM on September 14, 2012


The answer to all your questions about country life, fetes, jumble sales, gypsies, etc., are "no". It's not a realistic portrayal of life now.

The financial thing is a bit complicated. The people in Midsomer Murders are not "middle class" in the American sense, which seems to mean the middle 90% of incomes. If they're well off, like top 40% of income well off, they could perhaps afford to own the kind of homes they are shown owning. But a DCI could not afford to own a large home and suport a large family on his sole income in a village in the the south of England.
posted by caek at 3:27 PM on September 14, 2012


A DCI is on minimum £50k salary, they would be on a 20+ year career and if they bought in say 1990 could easily have bought cheap and built up equity to live somewhere pretty decent.

Upper middle-class people might well live in large places with big gardens, depending on whether their family has had the property a while. Villages might also have a substantial amount of poverty.

Each village could have a summer fete, towns one per district. I live in rural far SW UK and could easily find a different fete or fayre to visit each week in the Summer.
posted by biffa at 3:51 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, the starting salary for a CI is £50K or so, which is roughly equivalent to the median earnings of a solicitor -- and double the national median salary. So a DCI would likely be comfortable, just maybe not that comfortable.

The thing you want to keep in mind with this show is that it's an entertaining amalgam of the police procedural (e.g. Prime Suspect) with the cozy (English village) mystery genre. It's one thing if you're Agatha Christie and you write one or, perhaps, two of these a year -- it's another if you've got a TV schedule which requires 6, 12, or more per series/season. As such, the show itself is a deliberate fantasy and realism isn't really the metric to judge it by.

There certainly are gypsies/Romany/Irish Travellers (depending on context) in the UK (e.g.), and the police might come into contact with them a bit more often than the average person, out of suspicion if nothing else, as prejudice remains high. There are more of them in permanent housing than there used to be, though.

Do ordinary, middle-class people live in really, really old cottages and houses that are nicely maintained with beautiful gardens?

I think there is a vast supply of such housing still in the outlying UK, some of the buildings being centuries old, but just like the US most people live in a fairly modern house in a new development, or if they're lower income, in a council flat. Note that the show has been produced during the same housing boom in the UK that affected the US, so there's an oversupply of such new construction. The show just isn't interested in portraying them, though.
posted by dhartung at 4:01 PM on September 14, 2012


I live in a small English town, so I'll answer from my perspective. The only I'll say is that my area is more down-at-heel than Midsomer, please take that into account.
Can a DCI (I'm thinking of the original Barnaby -- I haven't seen any episodes with the new guy yet) support a family on one income and live in a big (upper) middle class house on that income?
You could support a family decently, though likely not in such a big house. Certainly even with a single wage they would be acceptably in the middle class. The further south in English you go, however, the less your pay will get you, and the less this will be true.
Do small towns really have that many festivals, fetes, celebrations, anniversaries, commemorations, jumble sales, carnivals, etc?
Including villages, yes. We have a Passion Play, a Midsummer Fair, a food festival, a music festival, a Christmas Fair, a horse fair, Remembrance Sunday, regatta, boat races, beer festival and more in the town alone. Most bigger villages will have a village show or fair once a year, open gardens day, horticultural shows, and assortments of other little things now and again. Some times as less busy than others, but within a ten mile radius you could likely find something going on once every week. There are also regular markets, famers markets, car boot sales, and small animal markets.
Do bands of gypsies really roam the countryside?
Eh, "roam" is a strong word. A lot of travellers (or gypsies, but that's a difficult word now) live for long spells in one place. My town has three (yes, three) separate sites for travellers, at least 30 families in all, so well over a hundred people, but likely many more. Further visitors come and go, setting up on wasteland or elsewhere, but moving on within a few weeks.
Do towns and villages have signature "things" that many or most people are really into, so much so that that becomes a characteristic of the town? Like orchids or biking or change ringing or painting or music or history or books or whatever.
No.
Do ordinary, middle-class people have time to participate in so many hobbies and activities? I am often jealous of how Joyce spends her time.
Some wives and some retired people do seem to have a lot of time and money to more or less do as they please. This isn't the mass of folk though, but they are a very visible minority. However, I'm not middle-class so I can't really speak to how they spend their time.
Do ordinary, middle-class people live in really, really old cottages and houses that are nicely maintained with beautiful gardens? (I always assumed these belonged to rich people when I've seen them on trips)
Not, it's not ordinary. However, there are always at least some old cottages in villages like the ones you describe. A few villages are dominated by old buildings, but not many, there's only one village near me which is all like that. At most a village will have an old core, but with lots of houses, or even entire estates, built after 1945 (but the TV won't show you them!).
tl;dr: If I moved to a small English village expecting my life to be like the middle class people in Midsomer Murders (the ones who don't get killed, that is), would I be disappointed?
If you had good money, I'm sure you could find somewhere to live with a chocolate-box look and thriving community. But much of rural English isn't like that, at all. Where I live has the community, but neither the look nor the money.
posted by Jehan at 4:18 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Oh, and for the record, we average less than one murder every ten years. Barnaby would be bored stiff here.)
posted by Jehan at 4:35 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I should add that a show which provides an interesting urban contrast, and arguably more realistic storylines, is Blue Murder, set in Manchester. It's also a post-feminist contrast with Prime Suspect. The only parts of it I don't like are the easy-peasy mysteries.

There's a whole semi-current genre tilt in British TV toward the "cozy place" drama, exemplified by Ballykissangel, Monarch of the Glen, and even the Stephen Fry legal dramedy Kingdom, not to mention shows like Father Ted and Vicar of Dibley. I think you need to take all of these with a grain of salt. The sleepy village full of charming folk is to the British what the stalwart Western town is to Americans -- a reflection of what we believe to be our better selves (or, in the Midsomer case, an ironic yet reinforcing inversion of the same).

If learning more about the lives of ordinary Britons is your thing, there are plenty of British film directors in the Social Realism mode (see also: kitchen sink film), such as Ken Loach or Mike Leigh (whose Secrets & Lies is a searing opera of ordinary lives); but that's set in Camden. I can't think of a good contemporary example set in the country, though. Akenfield, maybe, but I haven't seen that, and it's long in the tooth anyway.
posted by dhartung at 4:41 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree that the numerous fairs and festivals are the most realistic especially given that it's a different village in most episodes.

In some areas 'normal' people do live in very old houses. Usually there's a premium for anything more than 150 years old, but it's not necessarily that high, particularly if you are further from London. As others have said, most villages have newer properties which might be either inter-war or post-war. Property prices in England have increased hugely in the last 30 years, so if DCI Barnaby had bought in the early 80s, then he could easily own a property that a DCI would not be able to afford to buy now. And many people are keen gardeners, I've seen some amazingly beautiful large gardens owned by the same type of people that Barnaby encounters.

I have met quite a few people who have the same sort of background as Joyce - middle-middle class housewifes and stay at home mothers who never went back to work. They all pursue extensive hobbies, primarily for something to do. Although, in practice this is one major hobby, plus a couple of less serious additional activities. They don't seem to flit from activity to activity in the way that Joyce does.

And the only 'signature town' I have heard of is Hay-on-Wye for books. Excepting possibly where there's rowing or sailing, that might be more of a thing.
posted by plonkee at 5:12 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Signature towns:

St Ives for art. Bray, Padstow and some other places for food. Newquay for surfing and getting lashed when you're 16.
posted by biffa at 9:22 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


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