Under the menu item „Midsomer Connections“ you may have already seen the sankey chart in the lower half. It connects episodes with historical events from the respective era. In contrast to the charts above, this one not only includes references to British history, but also to Midsomer’s own history: Sir Hugo Melmoth, Ellis Bell, St Cicely, and so on.
The chart shows it clearly: the 20th century is very strongly represented in Midsomer Murders, especially the period after the Second World War. Tudor, Stuart, Georgian are equally represented, as are Victorian and Modern 1.
It is much more often mentioned that a tradition or estate has existed since Henry VIII than since the Domesday Book. And the period before the Tudors, especially before the Battle of Hastings, is very under-represented. (Under “Medieval” I include everything between William I and the Wars of the Roses, i.e. Normans and Plantagenets).
That’s not so surprising, because Midsomer is actually typically Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, where most of the film locations are. It’s precisely here and in rural surroundings because small hamlets are usually synonymous with idyll, peace, order, even sleepiness, and in such an atmosphere very bizarre murders have a very strong effect. Midsomer Murders is almost a parody of cosy crimes (sometimes pokes fun at its own type) and the really extreme, exaggerated types of murder make us laugh rather than feel horror.
An archetypal English tale with a certain creepy edge
Essentially, Midsomer Murders is an archetypal English tale with a certain creepy edge, but it remains cosy because we know that DCI Barnaby will solve the series of murders with the help of his sergeant and his family. He will put things right – that is his function and he says exactly this in one of the filmed books, Death in Disguise, when he tries to find the murderer of Master Ian Craigie out of the intimidated Tim in his tree house at the Lodge of the Golden Windhorse.
The reference to history – of Midsomer or England, not British – reinforces the stereotypical idyll. But tradition has two directions. It strengthens identity and inhibits progress. Inhibiting process is very rigid form and makes things stay the way they have always been – it becomes preservative and is therefore a particular stylistic device in episodes by Brian True-May, for whom Midsomer County is an area that was a kind of sleeping beauty, but is torn from this fairytale sleep by bizarre murders by people who want to disrupt the established order. (Not always the case, but very often.)
Historical references before and after Season 15
However, tradition can also provide support through identification. In the episodes after True-May, there are some historical references, but more often in a parodic way. Midsomer is no longer so archetypal, and can also be completely atypical of Oxfordshire or Buckinghamshire. But still, history (and the Midsomer-y landscape of the Chiltern Hills for that matter) remains the stabilising element of the show.
This is wonderfully taken to extremes in the very first episode after True-May, The Dark Rider, when Sarah Barnaby attempts to re-enact the Battle of Naseby on the DeQuetteville estate in a historically accurate way but, completely frustrated and annoyed, gives up and hanging the microphone on the holder, causing the feedback to squeak.
Let’s look at the time before and after Brian True-May’s time with Midsomer Murders in the sankey chart.
While the epochal segmentation of the left graph differs imperceptibly from the pattern of all MM episodes, a shift can be seen: exactly half of the historical references are from the 20th century, and there are hardly any references to the time of the Tudors and Stuarts and thus Henry VIII. So there really is a shift.
It is also quite apparent that there are fewer episodes with a historical connection. Now the episodes without Midsomer or English history are not listed in the graphics, so I’ll list them here:
Pilot and 1-14 15-22 Altogether 89 episodes Altogether 43 episodes Thereof 54 episodes with history = 61% Thereof 15 episodes with history = 35% Per each (histo) episode 1.3 historical references Per each (histo) episode 1.2 historical references
From the pilot episode to the end of season 14 there are 89 episodes, and from season 15 to the end of season 22 there are 43 episodes. Of these, references to history are made in 54 and 15 episodes, totalling 70 and 18 times respectively.
So there are also fewer “histo episodes” in percentage since season 15, but if it is one, there’s not too much difference given the historical references.
Cosy crimes needs nostalgia
I mentioned tradition and its different directions at the beginning. At its best, tradition is something that gives you identity and forms a base for you. But it’s not something you have to carry around with you; ideally, you can continue to build on it and take responsibility for ensuring that the tradition remains sustainable and keeps up with the times. Tradition is a conscious transfer of history that you want to preserve for the future – like a special family heirloom that you have slightly adjusted so that you can wear it every day and it doesn’t end up in the drawer. And the historical references in Midsomer Murders are in this way, too, because it was and will always be cosy crime and therefore nostalgia takes over the role, the position of identity and the base on which a story from our present day is then told.
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