‘Yesterday is another country, Mr Barnaby. Borders are now closed.’
Where am I going with this? Who knows…but it’s a line I heard on a recent episode of Midsomer Murders…not that it was a recent episode- it was from Season 9- but I watched it recently.
You see, I decided very early on in the writing of Wish You Were Here– back when it was Finding John Smith– that Max, my protagonist, would have a thing for Inspector Barnaby and Midsomer Murders. The thing is, at the time I’d decided this, I hadn’t actually watched that many episodes- just the occasional one on a Saturday or Sunday night when there was nothing else on telly.
However, once I decided that Max was a fan, I figured I’d better give it more of a go. Since then, I’ve watched all the series- right from the start. It started as research, but I’m now such a fan that one of my bucket list items is to be an extra on Midsomer Murders: I think I’d like to be a dog walker. I’d make a good dog walker. Probably past a church or a village shop. Or a random Aussie tourist.
Why do I like it so much? I enjoy trying to pick the murderer- and the motive. It’s always the last person you’d expect. I get huge pleasure from identifying when actors who have died in previous episodes appear a few series down the track. I was particularly excited when I noticed Neil Dudgeon (who plays the new Inspector Barnaby, well, relatively new Barnaby- he’s been around now since season 14) turned up in Season 4 as a rather randy gardener in Garden of Death.
I love the slightly camp, slightly over the top, almost black comedy (for want of a better term) feel of Tom Barnaby years. When Sgt Dan Scott joined the team (incidentally my least favourite of the sergeants), he asked if the body count was, ‘always this high around here, sir?’ ‘It has been remarked upon,’ replied Tom- with a completely straight face. Although the humour is still there, there’s a more complex edge to the John Barnaby years- John Barnaby, you see, is a trained psychologist. It’s just as pleasing- but in a different way.
I high-five myself when in-jokes or references to previous seasons make their way into the episode- like when Troy’s arrival for Cully’s wedding in season 11 almost mirrors the first time we see him as DS Gavin Troy with DCI Tom Barnaby in season 1. Sad, but true.
Trying to pick the villages is more difficult. At last count there were around 72 villages in Midsomer County- all of which have had at least one rather grisly murder- I’ve lost count of how many episodes have been set in Badger’s Drift. In season 3 (Dead Man’s Eleven) when Joyce Barnaby proposed they move out of Causton and suggested various villages, Tom discounted each- on account of a murder that had occurred there.
Binge Watching it the way I have, I’ve seen the changes over the seasons. Tom Barnaby was an old-fashioned country copper. Joyce was a stay at home Mum who kept busy with community events, hobbies and cooking very badly. Todays Barnaby is a family man; his wife Sarah, a school head mistress. They have a young baby (Betty Barnaby) at home and a dog called Sykes who, I have to agree with Max, deserves his own screen credits- and, maybe even a spin-off series? These days too, Midsomer County is multicultural, and the last two forensic examiners have been women.
I know that we write what we know, but often we also begin to know what we write. It’s not so much art imitating life, as life imitating art. You see, Midsomer Murders isn’t the only thing that Max has taught me. Through her- and the “research” I’ve done, I’ve also started to take a little more care with my food photography and…no, that would be a spoiler…
Picking my favourite DS over the years is easy: Max and I agree- it’s Ben Jones. As for which Inspector Barnaby I prefer: Tom or John? Again, like Max, I can’t decide.
Are you a Midsomer Murders fan? Which is your favourite Barnaby? Do you think Sykes should have his own show? Have you found a new hobby or interest through researching a character?
All images credited to ITV…