Midsomer Murders- The Killings at Badger's Drift


The very first episode from twenty five years ago has some differences and a lot of similarities with the series that runs to this day!

This was the first episode of the series shot as a pilot in 1996 and it’s not hard to see why it was subsequently commissioned for a full season and beyond till today! A little quirky, slightly eye opening in its themes and very atmospheric it became the UK television drama hit of 1997 with ratings north of thirteen million,  the highest rated drama of the year. The episode is a little different to the house style to which viewers became accustomed- notably in the tame opening sequence made up of quaint country drawings-  though its more surprising just how many of the programme’s signatures were set from the start. Because it’s based on a novel it is extremely tightly plotted and has a succession of twists each of which cause our assumptions of the villagers to sink a little lower! They’re quite a bunch in Badger’s Drift!


"What a lovely day, nothing nasty going on here!"

The screenplay was written by Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War, Alex Rider) as an adaptation from the novel by Caroline Graham, a Warwickshire author born in 1931. Her first novel was published in 1982 and she wrote seven Inspector Barnaby books, six of which have been  adapted into episodes for the series. These novels hide all sorts of goings on behind the apparent tranquility of villages in the fictional county of Midsomer. So there are neat rosebeds, well mown lawns and there are affairs, murders and other criminal behaviour. As would ultimately lead to a public debate there are also only white, middle class, rich people.  Then again is this simply reflecting the countryside (not the murders obviously!). The author has said her novels are darker than the series and they also only include the initial pairing of Tom Barnaby and his Sergeant Gavin Troy even though the most recent novel was published in 2004. The series has had several Sergeants and even a change of Barnaby over the half century.

 `The Killings at Badger’s Drift` includes a number of elements that would be re-used frequently in the series including incest, jealousy, snooping, secrets from the past and most of all quite bizarre people. Yet conversely it also tries to deal with these matters in a somewhat recognisably plausible way. The later move into deaths involving all manner of objects and contraptions is absent. Far from being the increasingly ambitious and unusual set pieces they later became the deaths here are your basic stabbings or shootings  There are though some very unlikely names of which my favourite is Lucy Bellringer who oddly looks exactly how you would expect someone of that name to look, ie more like a character from Gormenghast.

There’s no series introduction to either Barnaby or Troy until they turn up at the scene of the first murder after a lengthy opening sequence of events shot by director Jeremy Silberston to accentuate the lush surroundings and seemingly pastoral exterior that hides all sorts of goings on. The busy cameras take us around almost every guest character, all people with something to hide, all of whom end up lying to Barnaby one way or another. Silberston is one of a number of directors who always seemed to extract the very best visual feast from an episode bringing you into another environment altogether. Twenty five years on in terms of filming it looks as fresh as if it was shot last week.

"I was just saying, nothing nasty going on round here." "No, I'm sure you'll be perfectly safe."

 The initial murder is of elderly Emily Simpson just after she’s spotted something shocking in the woods where she’s been looking for a rare orchid. As Barnaby and Troy question the villagers they are met with obfuscation, lies and misleading accounts. Its not too long before the strange mother and son undertakers Iris and Dennis Rainbird are found bludgeoned to death. Iris’ copious notebooks gleaned from years of spying on everyone from her house’s tower provide more clues and soon it seems the case ties in with an accidental death at a quail shoot two years earlier.

People may have issues with Troy these days (though he’s hardly The Sweeney) but part of the fun of these early seasons is watching his reaction either to characters he doesn’t like or women he fancies. Daniel Casey has that actor’s gift of showing you what the character is thinking without necessarily saying anything. It became refined as the series went on- here he is less likeable and very prejudiced. Its an interesting angle to make the older, seasoned detective more enlightened than the youngster when you might expect the opposite. John Nettles  seems believably established in this role from the start, sturdy, reliable and generously allowing the guest actors to indulge in more over the top roles. However the Barnaby of this episode differs slightly from the character he became. While we glimpse his home life (including his wife’s dodgy cooking- that meat does look tough!) we are also given a couple of glimpses into his thought processes too- in one odd sequence we even see his dream about the case.

The normally implacable Barnaby even loses his cool and has self doubts at one difficult stage - this looks forced as if to emulate other detective shows which generally featured troubled `tecs.  As the series developed this wasn’t something that was often repeated at least not till Tom’s final episode in 2013 when he has flashbacks of his father. The other main difference is that the language is at times earthier than the show settled into even including some self conscious touches like an undertaker’s number plate reading RIP 1 and Dennis Rainbird’s interesting pronunciation of the word `constable`. Meanwhile Troy’s description of Dennis is a phrase we did not see repeated on the show!

 The performances are pitched so well though you suspect Elizabeth Spriggs and Richard Cant had the most fun with their interpretation of the slimy Rainbirds. Julian Glover doesn’t get much to do but there’s a great comedic yet tragic performance from Selina Cadell as the haunted Phyllis. All her nervous tics are meant to make her seem like the comic relief but her story turns out to be far more serious.

There’s also a fun parallel between the play Barnaby’s daughter Cully is rehearsing for - Tis A Pity She’s A Whore`- and aspects of the case itself. I love the way the episode finishes with a big grin on Barnaby’s face when he realises the Annabella clue that’s been puzzling him. Or was it because he knew the television audience would be back for much, much more?!


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