TV producer suspended for 'all-white' cast remarks

AP News
Posted: Mar 15, 2011 10:58 AM
TV producer suspended for 'all-white' cast remarks

The English county of Midsomer is rural, picturesque, astonishingly murder-prone and completely white.

It's also fictional, the setting for "Midsomer Murders," a TV series that has run for 14 years, offering a steady diet of violent crimes in leafy lanes and villages, all reassuringly solved by avuncular Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby.

Now Midsomer's cozy world has been rocked, and its producer suspended Tuesday, after he said that the show "wouldn't work" if there were any non-white people in the cast.

"We are a cosmopolitan society in this country, but if you watch 'Midsomer' you wouldn't think so," executive producer Brian True-May told Radio Times magazine, adding that "quite honestly I wouldn't want to change it."

"We just don't have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn't be the English village with them. It just wouldn't work," he was quoted as saying.

"We're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way."

ITV, the network that broadcasts the show, said in a statement that it was "shocked and appalled" by True-May's comments. It said True-May, one of the show's co-founders, has been suspended by producing company All3Media pending an investigation.

True-May's equation of "English" with "white" was strongly condemned by some, but defended by others, who say he is simply telling it like it is: the vast majority of non-white Britons _ who make up about 8 percent of the total population _ live in cities or suburbs.

Daily Telegraph columnist Christina Odone accused a "metropolitan creative elite" of trying to rewrite reality by foisting "multicultural fantasy worlds on viewers and listeners."

Historian and thriller writer Guy Walters _ himself a resident of a "typical, exclusively white" English village _ said that while True-May's description of monocultural villages was not inaccurate, "the problem with his words is it looks like he is saying that is a desirable state of affairs."

Ash Atalla, a television producer who helped create hit comedy "The Office," compared True-May's comments to "when you have a mad old uncle round for Christmas lunch, and they say something rather extreme about homosexuality or about color."

"This is a generational thing," Atalla told BBC radio. "There are people of a certain age that like to view Englishness as all white. I don't think that's the case anymore.

"He is reflecting an old Englishness. Modern Englishness is not about that at all."

And some say the appeal of shows like "Midsomer Murders" is less about reflecting real Englishness _ traditional or modern _ than about a potent mix of coziness and menace, bloody murder in picture-postcard settings.

It's a recipe followed time and again, from Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, solving murders in the fictional village of St. Mary Mead, to Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series, set amid the spires and quadrangles of academic Oxford.

If Midsomer, with its 220 murders and frequent shootings, stabbings and bludgeonings, is the really "last bastion of Englishness," maybe England should be worried.

"There is something in the British psyche that knows that villages are potentially extremely sinister," Walters said.

"Because of the closeness of rural life there is an incipient murder rate that is never realized. Most people in villages want to kill each other. That's what Agatha Christie and 'Midsomer Murders' tap into _ the brooding hatred in rural communities."