Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Is Our Land, This Is Your Land

And so, Midsomer Burning-gate rolls ever on dear blog reader. With, on Wednesday morning, the Daily Torygraph going out of its way to try and find a piece of stereotypical Little England that is resolutely white so that it can 'prove a point.' They found one. 'You don't get many foreigners in the countryside, do you?' one interviewee tells Iain Hollingshead. Maybe if you had a few more you wouldn't be perceived as such an ignorant bigot, dear. Interesting side point, however: This subject seems to bring out the very worst in all sorts of people - many, exactly the sort whom you'd never suspect of harbouring a discriminatory bone in their bodies. Yer Keith Telly Topping had a very strange conversation with a friend of his on Tuesday as the story was breaking where his friend - despite acknowledging that Brian True-May's comments were ludicrously crass, ham-fisted and insensitive - nevertheless, then went down the 'mind you, he's got a point' route, using the Durham pit village that he was born in as an example of a part of England which is still untouched by muticulturalism. No, no, no, no, no - he does not 'have a point' or anything even remotely like it. Leaving aside for a second the fact that there is hardly a population centre in the UK over a couple of thousand people where there isn't, at the very least least, a Chinese or Indian takeaway or an Asian-run corner shop, leaving aside the number of Black and Asian millionaires currently playing in the football league at one level or another, most of whom would appear to live in exactly the sort of quaint, upper middle class areas of rustic charm that Midsomer Murders deals in, there's a far wider issue at stake here. Brian True-May's defence for this 'white's only' policy is, he suggests, one of 'realism.' The Independent does a good job in questioning whether his perception of realism is actually, in and of itself, even remotely realistic asking, not unreasonably, why a supposedly 'realistic' portrayal of 'the last bastion of Englishness' doesn't even have a curry house or a kebab shop in it? But this is TV drama we're talking about. TV drama, especially something like Midsomer Murders, in a which a series of small English villages surrounding a sleepy little market town have a murder rate higher than Chicago, is anything but realistic. My friend spoke of his dislike of perceived 'tokenism' and the way in which some TV dramas appear - to him, at least - to shoehorn in black characters for no obvious reason other than box-ticking. I told him that I thought he was talking utter tripe. Notably as one of the examples he used was Wil Johnson in Waking the Dead, an assessment which total misreads, firstly how good an actor the chap is, but also the nature of that particular drama and its history and character interactions. I went on to observe that television has a great opportunity to be an instrument of social change. Yer Keith Telly Topping comes from Newcastle, dear blog reader, you might have noticed. It's a city which has, over the last forty years, become one of the most diverse and vibrantly multiculutral in the country, but until he was in his mid-teens yer Keith Telly Topping had hardly ever seen a black man. Except, of course, on television, via trailblazers like Rudolph Walker and Don Warrington. I like to think that one of the reasons yer Keith Telly Topping has grown up to be - he hopes - a reasonably tolerant geezer who accepts those from different cultures without too much fuss and bother is because of watching Love Thy Neighbour and Rising Damp in the 1970s and seeing the characters of Bill and Philip dealing with the crass racism of the likes of Eddie Booth and Rigsby respectively with an unflappable dignity. Whilst the Daily Scum Mail, inevitably, rants about political correctness gone mad I frankly applaud ITV's decision to make it clear that we are living in the Twenty First Century not the Nineteenth and that any form of apartheid - unintentional or fictional as the case may be - is not acceptable. Racism can come in many forms - much of it possibly unintentional or due to cultural conditioning rather than any deliberate malice, I fully accept that. But it is what it is and it has to be challenged when it occurs. In his piece on the subject mentioned above the Independent's Tom Peck quotes the articulate Asian-English owner of a shop in Wallingford, the town where Midsomer Murders is filmed. He states that Mr True-May was in his shop only the other day and is, therefore, clearly not a racist. I agree. But the fact that True-May apparently cannot conceive of any place for the shop owner, or any of his race, in the world he's created on Midsomer Murders is, sadly, indicative of an all-too-common attitude of erecting racial barriers where none need to exist. We all inhabit the same planet, we all breathe the same air. And, we are all mortal.

Wednesday morning brought the news that Midsomer Murders co-creator Anthony Horowitz has insisted True-May is not a racist. Which, I think most of us with half-a-brain in our head had already worked out. Horowitz, who wrote the first episodes of the show and came up with its title, told the Daily Torygraph that people are being 'over-sensitive.' He added: 'Brian True-May's comments were inappropriate and should not have been made, but in our over-sensitive society there is this silly reaction to anything we say that involves ethnicity or religion. There is no racist attitude at work here. Nobody involved in the making of this programme has a Little England mentality.' So hang on, Anthony, let me see if I have this straight? You're saying that what True-May said was wrong but, according to you, when people have pointed that out they're being 'over-sensitive'? So you can criticise him for his 'inappropirateness' but nobody else can? Doesn't that strike you as being more than a touch contradictory? He added: 'Brian True-May's comments were clearly inappropriate because race is an irrelevance here. The point about Midsomer Murders is that, in a village in Midsomer, all outsiders are equally unwelcome whatever their colour. It was a foolish observation to make because colour is not an issue.' Horowitz also defended the fact that the show is not popular with ethnic minority viewers, saying: 'It is not written for that audience. The audience is probably quite elderly and quite conservative. I wouldn't expect young rappers to be tuning in every week for Midsomer Murders.' Oh for God's sake. When you're in a hole, pal, stop digging. I think that last comment might just be the most offensive of all here. Whilst being an apologist for clearly insensitive and crass comments, even if they aren't racist per se Horowitz has, effectively, suggested that Midsomer Murders' entire audience - collectively - would be unable to accept the occasional view of a Chinese takeaway, a black family or an Asian shop for fear of their heads exploding. I don't believe that for a second, I think Midsomer Murders viewers would, if such characters happened to be there, accept them. And, if it is true that they wouldn't, as Horowitz seems to be suggesting, unless he too has been 'misunderstood', then it implies that Midsomer Murders is a programme which should have been consigned to the dustbin of history a long time ago. Meanwhile, True-May himself has come out fighting; 'According to the press reports, I am going to be investigated like a criminal,' he told his new best friends at the Daily Scum Mail. 'There's not a lot to investigate.' When the newspaper claimed that some of their readers thought the response to his comments had been 'hysterical,' he replied: 'You said it, not me. But I agree.' True-May also confirmed that he has no plans to resign and suggested that his remarks had been 'misinterpreted.'

Anyway, yer Keith Telly Topping is still feeling rotten with the cold, dear blog reader. But he'd like to thank all of his mates of Facebook who organised their Keith Relief telethon on Tuesday evening. In the words of young Mr Grace, 'you've all done very well.' Meanwhile, for the latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, Dreadzone remind us of a few important realities about yer actual 'Little Britain.'