ДепартаментАнглицистика

Hobbies

 

 

Hobbies

 

by Gergana Atanassova

 

MIDSOMER MURDERS: STEREOTYPING THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE

The Midsomer Murders series, originally produced for the ITV television network in Britain, was not intended at first for international viewing. It was not until its 13th film that the series started gaining international popularity and the home-video edition of the first series was released (information provided by the British Television Distributors’ Association website).

 

 

The series is based on the work of a British novelist – Caroline Graham, and staged, directed, produced and acted out by an exclusively British team. The setting is “the idyllic English county of Midsomer” (Buckinghamshire, SE England) and most characters are native Britons. I would go as far as claiming that most characters are middle- and upper-middle class Englishmen; there are no assimilated immigrants, nor minorities among them, except for a handful of foreigners who are clearly marked as foreigners throughout their presence on stage (and, as luck would have it, most of them die a violent death). A logical conclusion from everything said so far seems to be that this is a series made by the British, for the British, and as such, is bound to contain numerous stereotypes that the British hold about themselves.

I have tried to make a list of recurring (stereotypical in my opinion) images from the parts of the series I’ve watched so far, concentrating on two broad areas: hobbies–sports–pastimes, and jobs (I’ve divided those into jobs for men and jobs for women). The following table gives a summary of my findings:

Title of film

Hobbies and Pastimes

Jobs

Men

Women

Blood Will Out

gardening

horse breeding

horse races

hunting

shop-owner

retired officer

landowner

policemen

doctor

housewives

farmer

shop-assistant

Dead Man’s Eleven

cricket

dog breeding

hunting

rowing

doctor

policemen

landowner

 

housewives

servants

 

Death of a Stranger

horse breeding

fox-hunting

dog-breeding

landowner

policemen

doctors

ex-actress

housewives

horse-trainer

Garden of Death

gardening

horse-breeding

hunting

dog-breeding

gardeners

doctors

policemen

vicar

housewives,

who also organize the village meetings

Judgment Day

scrabbles

gardening

doctors

policemen, etc

 

housewives,

who also organize garden summer party for a competition

Market for Murder

cricket

reading club (women)

garden parties

swimming

stockbrokers

policemen

landowners

doctor

housewives,

who secretly make money on the stockmarket,

secretary

Strangler’s Wood

cricket

company owner

hotel manager

sales manager

doctors

policemen

au-pair

housewives, who write a weekly column for the village newspaper,

fashion model

 

Some interesting facts emerge from my observations so far. As far as recreational activities are concerned, there seem to be several activities which can be considered typical pastimes for the inhabitants of the southeastern English countryside: cricket is a favourite sport, together with horse racing. Hunting, horse- and dog-breeding are generally reserved for the aristocrats or simply the rich and wealthy; horse-back riders are obviously perceived as a “brand of the countryside” of a sort because they appear in each and every film I’ve watched so far. Scrabbles seems to be the most frequently played indoors game (it’s worth mentioning than I haven’t seen people playing cards, for example, although another widely held stereotype is that English ladies play bridge all the time).

 

Another fact, which really struck me as it goes against my own stereotypes of Britain as a land of sweeping feminism, has to do with the social roles and spaces assigned to male and female characters in the series. The single most widely spread occupation among the female characters seems to be “being a (house)wife”. Most women who appear in the series are either married or widowed/divorced and almost none of them has a job outside the house. Among those women who did work, none occupied a high-status position. Female jobs included a nurse, an au-pair, a secretary, a farmer and a shop-assistant. The not-so-traditional occupations included an ex-actress, a fashion model, and a horse-trainer, but of these three characters the first one (Sandra, Death of a Stranger) was an outsider and obviously a non-conformist, and the other two (Carla, Strangler’s Wood and Constanza, Death of a Stranger) were foreigners, that is, again out of the ordinary. A curious fact is that, although DCI Barnaby’s wife and daughter appear in every film, there’s no mentioning of Mrs Barnaby’s occupation (she’s obviously a housewife, then) and just a subtle mentioning of the daughter’s job as a (not very ambitious or successful) actress.

In contrast to the women, men occupied more prestigious positions: all policemen, doctors, landowners, managers, stockbrokers, in short, all higher-ranking job-holders, were men. All of the men’s jobs were, obviously, outside the house.

The home was, then, a typically female space. A recurring image in almost all the films I saw, was that of a woman preparing a meal. As a matter of truth, there was indeed one man who did his own cooking: Orvill Tudwell, Blood Will Out, but he

was viewed by the public as a non-conformist and an outsider. Another recurring image was that of a social routine: whenever the detectives questioned witnesses or suspects in their own homes, they invariably were shown sitting around the table with tea served and the tea-pot inevitably next to the woman’s right elbow (there was always a woman present), implying that serving the tea and making the guests feel comfortable was her job.

Another obligation which was invariably reserved for the women, was community service. Women were the ones who organized community meetings, charity parties, clubs, etc. Men seldom (and reluctantly) took part in these activities, marking a clear boundary between the male and the female spaces in this society.

Obviously, my observations can not be taken as a generalization of all the films in the series as they are based on only seven of them. They cannot be viewed as observations on British life, either, because there is no reason why we should equate the images in Midsomer Murders with the reality of the English countryside. Instead, I believe that what I have observed are several stereotypes that the British hold about the inhabitants of their own countryside.

Sources:

  1. British Television Distributors’ Association website

The Midsomer Murders TV series, a Bentley Production for the ITV Network,

  1. Blood Will Out, © Bentley Productions 1998
  2. Dead Man’s Eleven, © Bentley Productions 1998
  3. Death of a Stranger, © Bentley Productions 1999
  4. Garden of Death, © Bentley Productions 2000
  5. Judgment Day, © Bentley Productions 1998
  6. Market for Murder, © Bentley Productions 2001
  7. Strangler’s Wood, © Bentley Productions 1998