Quentin Letts – Daily Mail March 16, 2011
Television’s Midsomer Murders just claimed another victim. Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby peered at the still-warm remains of television producer Brian True-May’s career.
Barnaby sucked the air through his teeth and turned to his hideously-white sidekick.
‘Axed! Look at that. Nasty. Cut off at the knees. Poor beggar didn’t stand a chance. Better give Dr Bullard a call at the forensics lab, but I’d say this looks like the work of the PC Brigade.’
Sergeant Jones was confused. ‘PC Brigade, sir? Is he new?’
If only the scene were completely imaginary. Sadly, the career of Brian True-May really is facing the chop after an absurd row about the lack of black characters in Midsomer Murders and the equally absurd over-reaction of ITV, which broadcasts the drama.
Mr True-May, who has produced the hit show for the past 14 years, and made millions of pounds for ITV, gave an interview this week to the BBC’s Radio Times.
He was hoping to publicise the next series of Midsomer, but was asked something few people seem to have noticed before: why were there no black or Asian people in the programme?
Mr True-May replied: ‘We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved because it wouldn’t be the English village with them. It just wouldn’t work. We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.’
From what one can gather, Mr True-May made his remarks in a mild tone. There is no evidence to suggest that he was on some neo-Nazi rant or that he concluded his remarks with a click of the heels and a salute to ‘ein Volk!’ He even added a self-tweaking remark that he knew what he had said was not terribly politically correct.
Poor devil, he can say that again. The most almighty hoo-hah ensued. Multi-culturalists were wheeled out to attack him for not ‘reflecting modern Britain’. As for ITV, it shrieked that it was ‘shocked and appalled’ and suspended him.
Mr True-May succeeded in his aim of drawing public attention to his little drama — but not quite in the way he envisaged. His lawyers told him to stop talking to the media and his wife burst into tears.
At a time when Japan has been flattened by natural disasters and when Libya is in flames, it seems more than a little surreal that the news agenda has been gripped by a story about a fictitious village somewhere in the English shires.
However, the frenzied interest shows that Mr True-May touched something which reaches into our core: The stereotype of Englishness and the notion of whether or not it is worth preserving.
Mr True-May was on one level making a purely artistic point. Midsomer Murders does not aim to ‘reflect modern Britain’ and it is bonkers to expect any drama so to do. The programme is a work of stylised imagination, for heaven’s sake.
Drama may contain wider truths, but it is not real life. The rate of attrition on Causton’s honeysuckled lanes, with a minimum of one murder per episode, ‘reflects’ a worse crime rate than you would find in even the grottiest sink estate
The programme’s millions of viewers may also have noticed that it generally seems to be sunny in the Midsomer village of Causton. There is an unrealistic number of properties with rose trellises, thatched roofs and stable-style doors. The police are polite.
In all these respects, the series is simplistic, unrealistic, idealised. So why on earth should it be expected to have a quota of racially defined characters
The answer is that the political-media elite of Britain is obsessed with race (and, to a lesser degree, with sexual orientation and ‘gender balance’, which sounds like a high-wire skill and in some respects is).
Mr True-May clearly did not realise that he was stepping into a minefield in which many people have already had their careers blown to smithereens. He failed to pay heed, in ‘appropriate’ language, to the creed of diversity.
As a result, the well-oiled machinery of the corporate damage-limitation guillotine cranked into operation and down came the blade. How chilling this familiar pattern of gaffe and public evisceration can be. Orwell himself could hardly have done justice to these modern impositions of the thought police.
If, instead, Home Secretary Theresa May had complained that Midsomer Murders depicted a national crime wave, we would all cackle with mocking laughter and tell her not to be so silly.
Yet when a few rent-a-quote Lefties take issue with the lack of brown faces in the programme, ITV goes into a Stalinist convulsion and Mr True-May is suspended from his duties.
This reaction should at once tell us all we need to know about the intolerance of the tolerance-demanding Left. It illustrates that despite multiculturalism having been intellectually discredited and disowned by the Prime Minister, the diversity gang continue to wield vicious power.
In any case, what is ‘Englishness’? As portrayed in Midsomer Murders it is bucolic, villagey, murderous and, yes, white. So what? Commercial television is not an agency of the state. It is not the BBC, to which we all pay a licence fee.
It relies on customer support and the viewing figures for Midsomer Murders show that Mr True-May’s formula works. The British public likes it, even if the political commissars do not.
We will all have our own ideas of what Englishness is. I happen to live in a Herefordshire village in which we have, so far as I know, no black or Asian residents — though a sister of the local squire is soon to marry a black guy and he has come to church a few times, much to everyone’s pleasure.
My idea of Englishness is a little different from that of Causton in Midsomer Murders. Yes, it includes dotty postmistresses, Hymns Ancient & Modern, real ale and the clop of smelly cows walking down the lane to their milking shed. But it also has room for football crowds, suburban piety, the Royal Family, punk rock and political truculence.
Others will throw in their own ideas, from the white cliffs of Dover to the curry houses of London’s Brick Lane, from Cornish holidays to Scargillite coal miners. Chacun a son gout, as the foot doctors say.
One other very English virtue is supposed to be freedom of speech, but after the experiences of Brian True-May we may need to scratch that one. What right have the multi-culturalists to make their imperious demands for a quota system to be imposed on public entertainments?
And where does it stop? Will episodes of The Archers have to include a certain number of Northerners (as it happens, the answer to that is probably ‘yes’, given the way political correctitude has infected Ambridge).
Will future series of Downton Abbey have to include a certain number of British-Chinese? Will Emmerdale be required to invent some West Country folk?
In the late Seventies, there was an attempt to do a multi-ethnic sort of Coronation Street. It was called Empire Road and starred the late, talented Norman Beaton. Was that truly ‘reflective’ of the Britain of that time? I’m not sure it was.
The uproar about the whiteness of Midsomer Murders coincided with carefully-planted rumours that the BBC intends to retain its multi-million-pound Asian network. If you look at the website for the BBC Asian Network, and the photographs of its presenters, you will not see a single white face.
Why should an ethnic minority be allowed to retain its true-life ghetto, yet the white shires not be allowed to retain their fictitious Causton? But that is the way multi-culturalism proceeds. It attacks the host culture while demanding rights for smaller groups.
This approach weakens us as a nation. It reduces our ability to unite.
The BBC originally said it would scrap the Asian Network, but now its Left-leaning managers seem to have caved in to specialist pleading from a section of society far narrower than the whites depicted in Midsomer Murders.
As for ITV, home of Ant and Dec, Footballers’ Wives and Richard Bacon’s Beer And Pizza Club, if its careerist chief executive Adam Crozier is truly ‘shocked and appalled’ by the harmless comments of Brian True-May, we can but marvel at his sensitivity and wonder how on earth his liver copes with some of the more infantile drivel broadcast on his channel.