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text 2020-04-16 15:03
"Midsomer County": A bit of English "Litscape" (Part 1)

... for Jennifer('s Books), Moonlight Reader, Portable Magic, and every other fan of the Midsomer Murders series ... or of the English "litscape" at large.


In their comments on Mike Finn's review of Ngaio Marsh's Scales of Justice, MR and PM said that England, to them, is more litscape than landscape, and Mike responded that to a certain extent, all Englands are fictional.  It's perhaps not surprising, then, that so many producers of screen adaptations of English literature fashion the "look" of the books they are adapting from what Britain really does have to offer in terms of period visuals and other locations associated with the book(s) being adapted.  In exactly this way, too, the creators of the Midsomer Murders TV series have fashioned an idealized version of Caroline Graham's fictional Midsomer County out ot the very real villages and towns of the so-called "Home Counties" to the south and west of London, particularly in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire.


I've been trying to make bits and pieces of the English (or rather, British) "litscape" part of my visits to the UK for a number of years now.  At the beginning of my 2017 trip, armed with several excellent guidebooks and garnished with the full range of the typical English summer weather (from blazing heat to torrential showers and everything in between), I took a couple of days to tour the area.  I initially thought of sharing some of the photos from that visit chiefly with Jennifer, to say thank you for her many beautiful arts posts (particularly in recent weeks) and because we're both fans of the series and have been chatting about it lately, but MR's and PM's comments -- and MR's suggestion of an "English litscape" reading project -- made me think that maybe others would enjoy them as well.


So here are a few impressions from the real-life "Midsomer" villages when they're not busy pretending to be Midsomer villages.   (Or, indeed, any other -- ostensibly -- quintessentially "English" bit of "screen litscape": Several of these locations will also look familiar to fans of Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Morse, Foyle's War, Doctor Who -- various incarnations of the Doctor --, The Vicar of Dibley, and a number of other British TV series or, indeed, big-screen movies.)


(Note: Due to the number of locations and photos, I've decided to split this up into three posts to make it load (a bit) faster.)


Little Missenden (Bucks.)

This is thought to be the spiritual home of  Caroline Graham's Midsomer Murders, and it was also one of the filming locations for TV series's first episode (an adaptation of the first book), The Killings at Badger's Drift.

The Red Lion pub, which appears under its own name in the episode Destroying Angel and under two different aliases in Who Killed Cock Robin? and Talking to the Dead.


Wallingford (Oxfordshire)

To Midsomer Murders fans, also known as Causton -- particularly so, the area around the market square, the Thames bridge, and of course the Corn Exchange, which features as the Causton Playhouse in Death of a Hollow Man, Strangler's Wood, Death's Shadow, and Death of a Stranger.


The Lee (Bucks.)

One of several villages that appeared in numerous episodes, including (in this case) The Killings at Badger's Drift, Death of a Hollow Man, Death's Shadow, Death ofa Stranger, Painted in Blood, and Death in a Chocolate Box.

The Cock and Rabbit pub, a frequent hangout of Barnaby and Troy in the early episodes (e.g., in Painted in Blood).


Beaconsfield (Bucks.)

Littered with historic buildings, several of which have been turned into all manner of businesses in the series.

Barnaby meets Miss Richards in this tea house in the episode Blue Herrings.  (In season 11, it became the Midsomer Constabulary.)

The old rectory became the office of Max Jennings's secretary Barbara in Written in Blood.

The church featured in the episodes Four Funerals and a Wedding, and Ghosts of Christmas Past.


Little Marlow (Bucks.)

Little Marlow became the village of Morton Fendle in Faithful Unto Death; among the buildings featured in addition to several cottages are the village church and the Queen's Head pub.  Some of the cottages also reappear in Ring Out Your Dead, Tainted Fruit, and Sauce for the Goose.



Nether Winchendon (Bucks.)

Nether Winchendon House -- and grounds -- became the Lodge of the Golden Windhorse in Death in Disguise, as well as Lynton Pargeter's Home ("The Priory") in Talking to the Dead, and the grounds also featured in Garden of Death.

The parish church made an appearance in Things That Go Bump in the Night.


Cuddington (Bucks.)

A village that has won several "best kept village" awards and thus, practically a born setting for the fictional Midsomer County.

Barnaby and Troy set up their incident room in the village hall in Death of a Stranger.  In Death and Dreams, it becomes the band's headquarters; in Bad Tidings it is the location of the "Spanish evening" at the beginning of the episode.

The traditional shop-plus-post office is featured in Death of a Stranger, as well as in Talking to the Dead, where it becomes a spiritualist's shop named Paradorma.

Barnaby picks up Cully (arriving by coach) outside the Crown pub in Death in Disguise.

In Shot at Dawn, Barnaby visits the graves of Douglas Hammond and Thomas Hicks in the Cuddington church graveyard.


Littlewick Green (Berks.)

The village green and village hall (scoreboard and all) were used for the cricket scenes in Dead Man's Eleven.  The Barnabys also go house hunting here in the same episode, and some of the cottages appeared again in A Talent for Life and The Animal Within.

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text 2020-04-16 15:02
"Midsomer County": A bit of English "Litscape" (Part 2)

Hambleden (Bucks.)

Also featured in several Midsomer Murders episodes, most notably Blod Will Out (the church, post office and stores, and Stag and Huntsman pub); the pub also in Who Killed Cock Robin?, Down Among the Dean Men, and The Glitch.


Hurley (Berks.)

The cloisters and refectory next to the church were used as Dr. Clive Warnford's house in Blue Herrings.

Joyce buys charcoal at the village shop in Midsomer Life.

Ye Olde Bell Hotel became the Magna Hotel in They Seek Him Here.


Bledlow (Bucks.)

The Lions at Bledlow pub appears in multiple episodes under a variety of names, including in Dead Men's Eleven, King's Crystal, Blue Herrings, Dark Autumn, and The House in the Woods.

The Bledlow village church appears in Death's Shadow and Worm in the Bud.


Chenies Manor (Bucks.)

Edward Allardice's home in Judgement Day, Aspern Hall Museum in Beyond the Grave, and Malham Manor in Orchis Fatalis.


Watlington (Oxfordshire)

The town hall and several shops in the High Street can be seen in Judgement Day.

The Watlington Branch Library (near the war memorial), redesignated as Causton library, appears in the background of a meeting between Scott and Cully at "Midsomer Travel" in Orchis Fatalis.

Watlington church was used in Ring Out Your Dead.

According to one of my guides, "a lane leading off High Street" became Lower Warden in A Tale of Two Hamlets.  Despite the scruffing up in the episode, I'm reasonably sure that this is it (albeit from slightly different perspectives), but in case it isn't, let's go with this one as a stand-in, shall we?


Long Crendon (Bucks.)

Another perpetual favorite of the Midsomer Murders production crew with multiple appearances throughout the series (and more being planned for the future), including:

The High Street, all the way downwards from the church and courthouse at the upper end (see first 3 photos). was used for part of the "Oak Apple Day" celebrations in Dead Letters, and also as a street setting in Death and Dreams; in addition, a number of individual cottages have been used as character residences in other episodes.

Never mind the use of a building in Watlington as Causton Library in Orchis Fatalis (see above), in Dead Letters the honors go to the Long Crendon library!  (The interior -- unfortunately closed when I was visiting -- can be seen in Blood Wedding.)

The Eight Bells pub makes an appearance in A Tale of Two Hamlets.


Westington (Bucks.)

A well was brought to the Westington village green as a prop for a body to be found in it in the episode Who Killed Cock Robin?, and to the extent that the "Oak Apple Day" celebrations in Dead Letters didn't take place in Long Crendon (see above), they were filmed here, too.


Dinton (Bucks.)

Dinton church was used for the wedding at the end of Who Killed Cock Robin?


Chinnor (Oxfordshire)

The Chinnor terminus of the historic Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway became Holm Lane Junction in Death in a Chocolate Box.

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text 2020-04-16 15:01
"Midsomer County": A bit of English "Litscape" (Part 3)

The Haseleys (Little & Great) (Oxfordshire)

The owner of this large private residence in Little Haseley, which became Melvyn Stockard's house in Who Killed Cock Robin? and Noah Farrow's home in Midsomer Rhapsody, sometimes makes their grounds accessible to the public.  I was in luck -- the gate was wide open when I visited; so I walked right in and took a look around ...

The wedding scenes in Midsomer Rhapsody were filmed in Great Haseley church, as was the postman's funeral in Dark Autumn.

Great Haseley village hall first morphed into an antique shop in Dark Autumn; then it was, in turn, the venue of the book signing event in The Fisher King and the photo exhibition in Picture of Innocence, and finally it was used as Midsomer Parva village hall in Blood Wedding.

Various cottages in both Great and Little Haseley were used as the homes of the inhabitants of Goodmans Land in Dark Autumn, as well as for character residences in Picture of Innocence, Midsomer Rhapsody, Hidden Depths, and Days of Misrule.


Turville (Oxfordshire)

Turville became Midsomer Parva in the episode The Straw Woman, with many exterior shots -- notably those of the church -- filmed here, the village green being the place where the titular straw effigy was burned, one of the cottages serving as Liz Francis's home, and Turville school posing as the village hall.

The cottage used as Liz Francis's home (I think).

The Turville village scenery was also used for Murder on St. Malley's Day, with the local pub masquerading as the Chalk and Gown public house.

In Dark Autumn, Barnaby talks to Louise August in a field near the windmill above Turville, with the vilage itself appearing in the background.  As the photos suggest, it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs when I visited, so I decided to curb my enthusiasm for replicating that exact view and instead contented myself with a view in the opposite direction, from the village towards the windmill ...


Warborough (Oxfordshire)

The village with the most classic Midsomer Murders "accoutrements" and hence, another "must" location choice for the makers of the series.

Warborough first appeared in Market for Murder, where we see Barnaby and Troy driving around the village green.  The green was also used as the location of the "Midsomer Mallow in Bloom" open garden day in Bad Tidings (and Scott's first abode is in a cottage off the green; another cottage becomes the dolls' shop in that episode).  The cottages along the green also make an appearance in other episodes, such as Left for Dead and Second Sight, and the cricket pavilion becomes the Badgers Drift village hall in The Great and the Good.

The Six Bells on the Green Inn appears under its own name in Bad Tidings and Left for Dead, and under a number of aliases in Second Sight, Sins of Commission, and The Great and the Good.


Brill (Buckinghamshire)

The village's most striking feature, its 17th century post mill, became Sarah Proudie's home in A Tale of Two Hamlets; and Sgt. Troy interviews Phil Harrison outside the mill while he is busily providing one of its sails with a new coat of paint.

The church and village green both feature in Four Funerals and a Wedding, with the green becoming the setting of the traditional "Skimmington Ride".


Henley-on-Thames (Oxfordshire)

The Henley Bridge, regatta course, and generally much waterfront scenery can be seen in Dead in the Water when the Barnabys go to see the regatta (or try to, only to have a murderer spoil their and everybody else's fun).

Henley was a stand-in for Causton in Last Year's Model, with the town hall (left) becoming the courthouse.  In Down Among the Dead Men, Barnaby and Jones visit a solicitor near the market square, and in The Black Book, the town hall became the auction rooms.

In Last Year's Model, Barnaby and Jones meet Pru Plunkett in the Argyll pub (above left), and Gabriel Machin's traditional butcher's shop further down the same street becomes Anton Thorneycrotf's Butchers in The Magician's Nephew.


Englefield (Berks.)

Englefield House -- chiefly the patio and library -- was used as the house of Simon and Aloysius Wilmington in The Magician's Nephew.  Aloysius also attends Englefield church in the same episode.


Dorchester(-on-Thames) (Oxfordshire)

For reasons immediately obvious to any visitor, this is another favorite location of the makers of the Midsomer Murders series.  In addition to the episodes mentioned in connection with specific places below, it also features in Things That Go Bump in the Night, Dead in the Water, and Dance With the Dead.


Dorchester Abbey makes a brief appearance in Four Funerals and a Wedding.

The Abbey Museum becomes the Midsomer Newton Museum in The House in the Woods.

The George Hotel (an authentic coaching inn built in 1495!) appears under the name The Feathers in The House in the Wood, and as The Maid in Splendour in the episode of that same name.

The White Hart Hotel (built in 1691) can be seen in the background in some episodes.


Thame (Oxfordshire)

A charming market town (pronounced "Tame", incidentally) that was used a location in no less than ten episodes: Shot at Dawn, Midsomer Life, Picture of Innocence, The Maid in Splendour, Things That Go Bump in the Night, Dead in the Water, The House in the Woods, Vixen's Run, Blood Wedding, and Days of Misrule.

The area around the Cornmarket and adjacent streets provided many of the visuals of Luxton Deeping in Picture of Innocence, and it was also the location of the jeweller's shop in Dead in the Water, of Harriet Davis Estate Agents in The House in the Woods, of various cafés (both real and fictional) frequented by the detectives in these episodes, and the location of the infamous "kissing photo bomb scene" intended to incriminate / embarrass Barnaby in Picture of Innocence. -- For the same episode, the shop at the corner of Cornmarket Street (now a picture framing business) was mocked up as a photography store called Quikpix, supposedly located in Causton.

Thame town hall became the Causton Arts Centre in The Maid in Splendour and the mayor's office in Shot at Dawn.  Joyce can be seen singing carols outside the building in Days of Misrule.

The (Georgean) Spread Eagle Hotel, a local institution, appeared as the Morecroft Hotel in Midsomer Life.


Waddesdon (Bucks.)

Finally, the wholly underused pièce de résistance among all the Midsomer Murders locations: Waddesdon, an honest-to-God neo-Renaissance Loire-style castle plonked right into the middle of the English countryside in the late 1900s; turrets, external corkscrew staircase, alcoves and all, on the behest of one ... Baron Rothschild.  (Though since 1957, the property has been administered by the National Trust.)  The house and grounds were used in numerous big-screen movies -- you may most recently have seen the grounds stand in for those of what Lord Peter Wimsey calls "Buck House", i.e., Buckingham Palace, in The Queen -- but in Midsomer Murders, we only get an ever so brief glimpse of a single side wing turret and a bit of lawn in the background while the Barnabys are having lunch in the café, all in aid of the suggestion that they are vacationing in France, at the beginning of Death of a Stranger.  I'm sure you'll forgive me if for once I was not interested at all in the actual filming location but, instead, spent all my time exploring the main attraction ...

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review 2020-04-13 15:15
Et in Arcadia ego.
Scales of Justice - Ngaio Marsh
Scales of Justice - Ngaio Marsh,Philip Franks

Scales of Justice is a book from the middle segment of Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn series and a superb example of the "serpent [even] in Paradise" type of Golden Age mysteries.  Marsh goes to great lengths to establish the book's seemingly idyllic rural setting, beginning with its name, Swevenings (which we learn translates as "dream(s)"), and introducing us to it through the eyes of the village nurse, who looks down on the village from a nearby hill and imagines it as a picture map, which she eventually really does persuade someone to draw for her, and which the book's print editions duly supply in turn.


Yet, we very soon learn that all is not well in the Garden of Eden, and what superficially only seems like a petty squabble among neighbors, such as they may occur in any village, soon turns out to be a harbinger of much greater evil.  It doesn't take long to emerge that when the local squire -- a retired, formerly high-ranking diplomat -- dies (of natural causes), with what seems like a version of Pascal's wager and the word "Vic" on his lips, he is not, after all, belatedly asking for the local vicar to be called to administer the Last Rites.  And by the time a murder does occur not too much later, the village air is brimming with suspects and motives aplenty.


But to me, the book's real significance doesn't lie in its reprisal of one of the Golden Age mystery formulas successfully established in the interwar years as such ("et in Arcadia ego"), complete with rural charms and plenty of quirky characters (and cats!), but, rather, in what it has to say about that Britain in the years immediately prior to WWII -- and when it says so.  Scales of Justice was first published in 1955, just about a decade after the end of WWII; at a time when most of the world, and certainly Britain (and of course Germany) was still reeling from the effects of the war, and people were anything but willing to confront the causes of that war and take a close look at their own societies in the years leading up to it.  (In fact, in Germany the 1950s are now infamous for having produced a whole barrage of overly idyllic, kitsch as kitsch can movies dripping with the cloying, simplistic sweetness of clichéd romance and perfect Alpine scenery straight from the front cover of a high gloss travel brochure -- all in response to the viewing public's desire to blunt out the memory of the war years and evade any reflection on how the Nazi regime and the catastrophe it wrought could ever have happened in the first place.)  And while today we take it as a given that the Blackshirts and their ilk are a proper topic for discussion, in books and otherwise, I don't get the sense that this was a given in 1950s' fiction, particularly not in (ostensibly light) genre fiction such as this.  Yet, here the topic is front and center: kudos to Ms. Marsh for having the guts to give it this sort of exposure at the time when she chose to do so, and also for not falling into the trap of an overly convenient solution to the mystery into the bargain.


Linguistically and as far as the characters are concerned, too, this is Marsh at the top of her game: Her (professionally trained) painter's eye makes it easy for her to create the Swevenings setting in the eyes of her readers' minds in turn, and her ear for dialogue and experience as a director on the classical (Shakespearean) stage allows her to establish character with just a few well-crafted strokes of her writer's pen.  The book's imagery, from the setting, names ("Edie Puss" indeed ...), and the titular double-entendre (which is expressly referenced in the book) to the cunning old trout that seems to be at the heart of so much of the village squabble is always spot-on and frequently tongue in cheek.  Alleyn -- for once only accompanied by Inspector ("Br'er") Fox, not also by his wife, painter Agatha Troy -- is in fine form and, thanks to his customary focus on the physical evidence and the timeline of events, quickly able to distinguish the material and the immaterial.  My favorite characters are, of course, the representatives of the local feline element; in particular one Ms. Thomasina Twitchett.  The book is not burdened by any of Marsh's shortcomings (such as anti-gay prejudice and a sorrowful lack of knowledge of organized crime, which didn't stop her from writing about it on occasion).  Instead, it is a superb example of Marsh's writing at its best -- human society and behavior acutely observed and both incisively and empathetically rendered, balancing just the right amounts of humor, scorn and dispassionate analysis, and a crackingly fiendish mystery to go with it all.


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text 2020-04-11 23:02
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Scales of Justice - Ngaio Marsh,Philip Franks
Scales of Justice - Ngaio Marsh

I love this book.  It's Marsh at her best; linguistically, in terms of setting and characters ...and it has a lot of things to say about people, society, and social conventions; not to mention that given the time of its publication, it's a remarkably frank look at some ugly truths which at that particular time most people would rather not have faced up to.


Oh, and it features cats, of course -- and they (well, one of them) even plays a pivotal part.

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