In this excellent episode from 2011, the death of an unpopular social services official sends Barnaby and Jones into the orbit of the Bingham family. Elderly William and Mary Bingham rattle around in their large mansion ordering too much food and piling up the daily papers for over thirty years into a number of impressive towers as tall as buses. Quite how such an ageing couple achieve this gravity defying feat is not really addressed though you just know that sooner or later one of these is going to topple over on someone.
The joy of this episode is watching veterans Edward Fox and Phyllida Law bring the couple’s confused state to life. He is doddery, she is forgetful and they appear to live in a suspended world of afternoon tea and lost glasses. You could probably watch the two of them for ninety minutes and not bother about anyone else! Both actors are clearly having a ball and neither characters turn out to be quite as doolally as they at first seem. “That’s not them,” says their daughter at one point suggesting they’ve copied the behaviour from watching too much television. Which might explain the unlikely goings on in one of the series’ odder episodes.
This is only the second John Barnaby outing so the working relationship between him and Ben Jones is still a little awkward which brings the best out of both actors; Jason Hughes reacts so well to Jones new boss who irritates him. Barnaby also doesn’t seem to get on with George Bullard too well and Barry Jackson does this telling look when he realises this is not going to be a friendship as it was with Tom Barnaby. We’re also introduced to John’s wife Sarah and there’s a rather splendid visual gag when we see her first arrive and the house is still full of unpacked crates even though her husband moved in weeks ago. The next time we see the house she has un packed everything and even the pictures are on the walls! Being a head teacher Sarah is unlikely to have the multitude of hobbies that kept the previous Mrs Barnaby occupied though that will make it more difficult to keep her in the stories. Realising this the producers have since started using her as a sounding board for John’s latest case even if he shouldn’t really be discussing these things in such detail.
Elsewhere the murders revolve around a car crash which seemingly killed the Bingham’s two older children when they were teenagers thrown out of the house. For what exactly they were kicked out is quite obvious before its revealed but it’s said that it was all this that drove their parents into their secluded life. Scriptwriter Michael Aitkens pens a lively episode that manages to make it’s revelations interesting even if not always surprising and hardly believable but we're so absorbed that we don't mind too much.
The key matters are resolved by Barnaby in Poirot-like fashion with all the participants together in a a large barn. A familiar Midsomer motif of broken families provides the kernel of what’s gone wrong and it feels like we get two climaxes as after this we have a showdown at the house. The unveiling of the murderer pulls at credibility somewhat when you consider the way the murders happened and because of the way that character has behaved till now but it’s a good reveal. There’s also a tense climax involving some dynamite and a fuse giving Jones some heroic action.
Implicit in the narrative is the spoiled dream of the Sixties idyll. An under explored artists colony nearby still seems to hang onto those times of fifty years ago –“revolution” as one character puts it- whereas it was the `anything goes` ethos that destroyed the Bingham’s family. They espoused this philosophy and for their two eldest children it misfired.
As well as the Binghams the episode is home to some excellent characters including the self proclaimed “bitch” Selina Stanton and the officious but dogged social services official Gerry Dawkins whose death is unsurprising and judging from people’s reactions there could be hundreds of suspects. Plus you also have the excellent Haydn Gwynne as the smiley horse whispering Maggie Viviani and a great cameo from Laura Rogers as a plain speaking secretary.