British Television Race Reality: All-White Village Dramas Are Common

Brian True-May was suspended for saying multi-cultural characters would look "out of place" in ITV’s "Midsomer Murders,” but his words point to a normally unspoken rule in similar programs.

LONDON - Midsomer Murders creator Brian True-May has been suspended after claiming that the show's success was down to its all-white cast. But the cosy whodunnit series - now in season 14 - is just one in a long line of ITV1 dramas that hark to a bygone era of all-white Englishness despite their contemporary setting.

Long-running series like Doc Martin, which stars comedian Martin Clunes as a doctor in Cornish fishing village, and Kingdom, where Stephen Fry plays a small-town solicitor in rural Norfolk, are based in the current time yet don't feature any non-whites among the regular cast and characters and rarely feature minorities in the storylines at all.
The shows, like Midsomer Murders, have been popular TV comfort food for Sunday night audiences - seemingly hitting a sweet spot for viewers with their village settings, quirky locals and batty residents. And it's no surprise that as well as delivering long-term ratings for ITV1, they have been top sellers to broadcasters around the world - with Murders being among the top three British TV exports for a number of years.
Such dramas seem to encapsulate an idea of Englishness that - while not necessarily culturally reflective - has proved palatable to audiences at home and abroad, according to executives.. 
"These sort of dramas are almost period pieces in their own right," said one programming executive who asked not to be named. "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," the executive added.
True-May, one of the creators of the 14-year old Murders, was suspended Monday after telling the Radio Times magazine that multi-cultural characters would look "out of place" in the village-based whodunit. 
"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." ITV did not comment at presstime.
But network sources stressed that when it comes to the likes of soaps and more contemporary drama - like Law & Order U.K. and medical dramas like ITV's most recent launch Monroe - the network has a strong track record of melding cultures - with a wealth of actors and characters from all ethnic backgrounds.