Thursday, 17 March 2011

Talking Point: is racism endemic in cosy British drama?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Writer Brian True-May has been suspended from work for claiming the success of his ITV series Midsomer Murders was partly down to the fact it doesn't reflect the UK's modern, multicultural society. In his own words:

"We just don't have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn't be the English village with them. It wouldn't work. Fans love the perceived English genreel eccentricity. It's not British. It's very English. We're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way."
Midsomer Murders has certainly become a weirdly popular TV series; nominally targeted at the over-40s, it's become very popular with students. It's the definition of a quaint English drama, with its idyllic countryside setting, Agatha Christie-esque whodunnits and comforting mix of characters. And it's plainly evident that it doesn't feature many, if any, characters who aren't white-skinned. The same criticism could be levelled at ITV's Doc Martin and Kingdom, which also rarely feature minority ethnic groups.

So the talking point today takes its cue from this news story. Is British drama (particularly ITV's output, typically airing Sunday) guilty of racism? True-May's remarks are clearly foolish and racist, but might it be true that his audience for Midsomer Murders share his views, deep down?

One anonymous programming executive said of the situation:

"These sort of dramas are almost period pieces in their own right. Although he has blundered into in a very inept way, Brian True May has stated a perfectly reasonable point about middlebrow drama. These are pieces that play well precisely because they are about a sort of mystical England."
Is that why shows like Midsomer Murders don't accurately reflect modern British society? And why hasn't anybody noticed the racial bias before True-May's suspension? Were viewers subconsciously happy to have a show that's stuck in a cultural timewarp? Are audiences perhaps more racist than they'd like to admit? What harm would it do if Midsomer Murders featured more non-white characters?

Over to you.