‘Midsomer Murders’ Celebrates 20 Years of Quirky Crimes and Global Appeal

Midsomer Murders turns 20
ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Whodunnit series “Midsomer Murders,” Britain’s biggest drama export, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. How has it maintained its passionate global fan base?

On the first day of filming of the 20th season, lead actor Neil Dudgeon, who plays police detective John Barnaby, sits on the banks of the Thames River pondering the enduring appeal of Bentley Productions’ murder mystery, whose latest season has been sold by All3Media Intl. to more than 170 territories.

One aspect of the show — set in a bucolic English county comprised of picturesque villages — that sets it apart from the crime genre crowd is that it is “quirky and off-center,” he says, and laced with hefty doses of “eccentricity and humor.”

Dudgeon, who is in his seventh season after taking over from original star John Nettles, adds that the view of the English as “genteel, reserved and well-mannered” within the context of the idyllic countryside works as a counterpoint to the deceit and wrongdoing uncovered by the detectives.

“It’s like you are in the woods and you find some beautiful log and turn it over and all the woodlice, spiders and beetles come running out from underneath,” he says.
One distinctive feature of the show is the exotic nature of the murders. Dudgeon’s favorite is where a man is found dead in the woods: He has been tied to a tree, his naked body smeared with truffle oil … and eaten alive by wild boar.

Jonathan Fisher, who recently took over as the show’s exec producer, has more bizarre deaths lined up, including one where a man’s head is encased in chocolate to become a grotesque Easter Egg.

Like Dudgeon, Fisher likes the juxtaposition of the “chocolate-box view of rural English life” and its “dark, often gothic, blood-splattered” underbelly. He adds: “It’s pure escapism, and given everything that is happening in the world that is a real source of joy for our fans.”

Occasionally, there is also a “hint of the supernatural,” although come the denouement the killer’s motives must be shown to be “as emotionally truthful as possible,” Fisher says. “Everything, ultimately, has to be explained in the real world, but we can get quite spooky.”

The show is based on a series of novels by Caroline Graham, and it was former producer Betty Willingale, a consultant on the show now, who first spotted their TV adaptation potential. When the project was pitched to British broadcaster ITV, it was she who pushed for Nettles to be cast as detective Tom Barnaby, who was replaced in season 13 by his cousin. The series has found U.S. fans through PBS, Acorn TV and Netflix.

“As a central character he’s rather ‘still,’” Willingale says. “It isn’t a role that goes deep into investigative techniques or forensic analysis … but he does present this very British approach to the role. And that approach is to look largely unperturbed and just carry on.”

Another of the show’s strengths is the plethora of well-known guest actors, such as Simon Callow and Susan Hampshire. Fisher says: “We are allowed to have quite flamboyant theatrical figures and in doing so we are able to attract a stellar cast pretty much every week.”

In his notes to the writers he often eggs them on to “push the idiosyncrasies of the guests as far as possible,” he says.

Casting director Louise Cross, who has been with the show from the start, says: “We tend to have strong characters on the page, unlike a lot of modern television, so we pluck from the world of theater actors quite often in order to get a varied performance and a strong sense of character.

“Often these days TV requires a low-key naturalistic performance, but in the world of ‘Midsomer’ actors have a bit more of an opportunity to play and have fun with their roles, and I think that’s what attracts them to the show. They get to act, to give a performance.”

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  1. ysrihari says:

    I hope this show goes on for such a long time. Maybe the Brits wont agree with me, but for fans of British shows, this is almost as English as any show can get!

  2. Tammy Rivera says:

    I have watched every episode and this is by far my favorite English detective show! I loved John Nettles as the first Barnaby and miss him and his family and Jones. It’s nice to see Jones once in awhile. Would be nice to see Barnaby cousins have a family reunion once. Can’t wait for season 20 and more! When will season 20 be on Netflix? I love everything English and love the English countryside and all the shops, festivals, pubs, and English Manors in all the episodes!

  3. K Peterson says:

    and 20 more please

    • Argyro Tripodis says:

      I love this show. Having lived in England for five years it brings back memories of the bueatiful villages and country sides. It is wonderfully written, which keeps the viewer trying to figure out who the murderer is till the end. I also admire how the characters lives in the show interact with the theme of the murder. I would also love to see the character of John Netteles and family interact every so often. Just like how they bring back Jones for a visit.
      Well done, and I hope there are many many more years of exciting mysterys in the future.
      This show has made me home sick for the English country side.

  4. KonniSmith says:

    American enthusiast. Love the way you transitioned from Tom to John ,,,from a family to a dog and then a family. Well done! My favorite show and the only TV show I have ever watched twice. Love everything about the show. Please give me many more years. Also love the countryside. I have photographed a few scenes and then painted from them.

  5. Jenny Batteu says:

    Just love those shows !!!!!! I Always say that I won’t watch a re-broadcast , but you know what I loose. When Nettles stopped I was afraid that Neil Dudgeon would imitate Nettles’s Barnaby, fortunately he didn’t. Gave John Barnaby a different character I am looking forward to some new shows and hope that there are still a lot of mysteries, secrets and gruesome murders hidden behind the well kept hedges of Midsomer County

  6. Kathleen Booth says:

    I am so mesmerized by this show. It is so addicting! I loved John Nettles and was so sad when he left but Neil Dudgeon has been an excellent replacement. With no warning though the demise of Sykes was a shock and heartbreaking. So glad a new canine is again in the Barnaby family. I am elated there will be a series 20 as I am currently in 19 and was worried there might not be any more. Thankyou again for this wonderful show.!!

  7. John says:

    What a great series. Love the BBC shows…miles (or kilometers) ahead of American programing. Just finished series 19 and hope to be able to see 20 soon.

  8. Katherine says:

    Would like to see Ben Jones back more often😁

  9. Christine A Pizzi says:

    Never mentions that Neil played a flirty gardener in season 4 episode 1. Nice to see him a good decade younger and the appeal he has even now as the lead. Love Mr. Nettles, but Neil is great in his own way. Nice wife and a Betty Barnaby to boot!!

  10. They need to bring more of the U.K shows like Midsummer Murders and Coronation Street and many more to the U.S. instead of the Garbage the put on the Air now…. That is why I have been cut from cable and satellite for over 5 years and only use the internet to watch on Netflix or Hulu or Acorn… even Youtube… That way I am in control and not some big conglomerate or the Gov….

  11. but when (exactly)are we to be able to see new episodes?

  12. Phyllis says:

    I simply love Midsomer Murders! I watch the episodes over and over instead of the garbage of regular TV fare. I hope it stays on for years t come.

  13. Dianne Donohue says:

    Love Midsomer Murders, must have watched all episodes at least 3 times or more, Miss John Nettles bit Neil fits the bill. Watch on Acorn and supposed to be Series 19 with only 4 eposides, from what I gather there are more episodes out there. I find Acorn best place to watch, rather than Netflix. Again love show, it’s my go to when feeling low or need my “friends. Couldn’t John Baraby, Cull and Joyce show up in a show as “help” for Neil in a case?

  14. Joan Perko says:

    I’ve been a fan of Midsomer Murders since it came to the USA! Don’t go too far off the deep end for stories and characters or it won’t be the same show! As they say, “Don’t fix what ain’t broke”! ❤

  15. Sandra says:

    Bring back John Nettles

    • Christine A Pizzi says:

      Mr. Nettles is in his 70s and finding juicy roles an actor needs (Poldark for example). He did the right thing at the right time and very logical for a great detective that knows his cousin can very well handle things and he can enjoy his wife and life for hopefully 20 or more years.

  16. Susan Hart says:

    When will it be shown in the USA on a cable network, usually a pbs local affiliate

  17. Donna Kulig says:

    Love the show. I really like enjoy seeing the villages and the country in the UK.

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