The executive producer of Midsomer Murders was in crisis talks about his future on the show today after revealing he deliberately excludes ethnic characters.
Brian True-May was taken to a meeting in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes and a further statement is expected to be released later.
Mr True-May, who has already been suspended, refused to comment as he left his house in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.
He created a storm by saying he did not use black or Asian people in the ITV drama because ‘it wouldn’t be an English village with them’.
He described it as the ‘last bastion of Englishness’ which relied on an ‘English genteel eccentricity’, claiming it ‘wouldn’t work’ if it suggested there was racial diversity in village life.
Mr True-May told the Radio Times if he had more minority cast members ‘we might be in Slough’.
His comments sparked fury among charities and campaigners and he was suspended by the production company behind the show All3Media. ITV also said it was ‘shocked and appalled’.
But scores of viewers made clear they felt the suspension was a total overreaction and his own co-stars came out in support.
Neil Dudgeon, who has taken over the lead role from John Nettles, said he more than trusted his producer’s judgment.
He said: ‘If people have been quite happy for it not to really change in 14 years, there’s no reason to suppose they’re going to want it to change now.’
Jason Hughes, who plays DS Ben Jones added that he had always wondered whether any Asian or black characters would be brought into the show.
He said: ‘I don’t think we would all suddenly go, “A black gardener in Midsomer? You can’t have that!” ‘I think we’d all go, ‘Great, fantastic”.’
Viewers writing online agreed the producer’s comments were clumsy but pointed out that Midsomer could hardly be seen as a typical English village given that it had such an unrealistically high murder rate.
On the website digitalspy’s chat room, one user called cloudfactory said it was ‘ridiculous’ he was suspended for ‘saying something perfectly reasonable’.
Another writing as Hot Gossip said: ‘There are villages all over the country with a mainly white population. That’s just how it is.
‘Our village is very large and has a population of over 2000 and I have to say there are no black people living here.
‘There are a couple of mixed race children at the local school and we once had an Asian GP. We have some white East Europeans but that’s about it.
‘It’s just normal here and I never actually think about there being no black people until I visit other parts of the country.’
Mickmars said: ‘The “hysterical take everything in the wrong context” brigade strike again. The guy has obviously been doing something right for all these years, the ratings prove that!’
One poster, writing as WhiteFang, said: ‘I live in a small Norfolk village and you can see the way the programme makers are forcing PC mutliculturalism on the viewing public through TV.’
Another writing as hallam said: ‘So the argument is Midsomer Murders is “an accurate representation of village life”. Right. So how many villages are there in England with a stupidly high murder rate?’
Poster Sloopy called ITV ‘melodramatic’ and insisted it was pointless to parachute in ‘token characters to make up the numbers’.
Other long running serials, including BBC Radio 4’s The Archers, have also been criticised over ‘tokenism’ when they have included ethnic characters.
Midsomer Murders, based on the books by Caroline Graham, was launched in 1997 and has featured 251 deaths, 222 of which were murders.
The series returns this week with a new star replacing actor John Nettles who played the central character, DCI Tom Barnaby.
Mr True-May said: ‘When I talk to people and other nations they love John Nettles, but they also love the premise of the show.
‘They love the perceived English genteel eccentricity. It’s not British, it’s very English.
‘We are a cosmopolitan society in this country, but if you watch Midsomer you wouldn’t think so. I’ve never been picked up on that, but quite honestly I wouldn’t want to change it.’
When asked to clarify what he meant, he added. ‘Well, we just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them. It just wouldn’t work. Suddenly we might be in Slough.
‘Ironically, Causton [the fictional local town in Midsomer Murders] is supposed to be Slough. And if you went in to Slough you wouldn’t see a white face there.
‘We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.’
He admitted that Englishness should include other races, but added: ‘Maybe I’m not politically correct’.
Mr True-May, who lives near where parts of the show are filmed, added: ‘I’m trying to make something that appeals to a certain audience, which seems to succeed and I don’t want to change it.’
Campaigners accused the executive of trying to ‘wipe’ ethnic minorities ‘off the screen’ and of ‘distorting’ the presence of black and Asian people in rural areas.
Rob Berkeley, of race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust said: ‘Clearly, as a fictional work, the producers of Midsomer Murders are entitled to their flights of fancy, but to claim the English village is purely white is no longer true and not a fair reflection of our society.’
Mohammed Shafiq, of the Ramadhan Foundation, which aims to create a better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, said: ‘There is a wider agenda in what he is saying which is worrying for me.
‘To try to wipe us or our presence off television screens is wrong and factually incorrect.’
Last month Mark Damazer, Radio 4’s former controller, said radio shows should better reflect modern British society, although he cautioned against deliberately targeting ethnic groups.
Mr True-May last night said he had been instructed by lawyers not to comment. His tearful wife, Maureen, described his suspension as ‘ridiculous’.
Villagers in Great Missenden leapt to the producer’s defence. Roy Stock, 63, said: ‘The whole reason of the show is to depict the tiny little villages of England.
‘There just aren’t any ethnic people around here. In everyday life in Great Missenden you wouldn’t see any at all.’
Meanwhile, Matthew Cockman, the real life landlord of the pub used in the show – the Six Bells in Warborough, Oxfordshire – said countryfolk ‘don’t give a toss’ about skin colour.
‘A typical English village does generally have a majority of while people. That only takes a census to find out,’ he said.
[“Midsommer Murders” are available from Netflix. The listing begins here. A Netflix account is necessary to access this page.]
Brian True-May said that one reason for the show’s popularity was the absence of ethnic minorities.
If black or Asian faces were introduced to the idyllic Midsomer setting “it wouldn’t be the English village” that viewers know and love, he claimed. More than six million viewers regularly tune in to ITV1’s cosy Sunday night drama.
“We are a cosmopolitan society in this country, but if you watch Midsomer you wouldn’t think so. I’ve never been picked up on that, but quite honestly I wouldn’t want to change it,” he said.
Asked what he meant by “cosmopolitan”, Mr True-May, 65, replied: “Well, we just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them. It just wouldn’t work. Suddenly we might be in Slough. Ironically, Causton [the town in Midsomer Murders] is supposed to be Slough. And if you went to Slough you wouldn’t see a white face there.
“We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.”
His comments to the Radio Times so outraged ITV bosses that Mr True-May was promptly suspended by All3Media, the conglomerate that includes Mr True-May’s company, Bentley Productions.
An ITV spokesman said: “We are shocked and appalled at these personal comments by Brian True-May which are absolutely not shared by anyone at ITV. We are in urgent discussions with All3Media, the producer of Midsomer Murders, who have informed us that they have launched an immediate investigation into the matter and have suspended Mr True-May pending the outcome.”
Mr True-May gave the interview to promote the 14th series of the show, which has been sold to 231 territories around the world and continues despite the recent departure of central character DCI Tom Barnaby, played by John Nettles.
Explaining the secret of its popularity, he said: “When I talk to people and other nations they love John Nettles, but they also love the premise of the show. They love the perceived English genteel eccentricity. It’s not British. It’s very English.”
He conceded that many people would consider that “Englishness” in the 21st century should encompass other races. “Well, it should do, and maybe I’m not politically correct,” he said. “I’m trying to make something that appeals to a certain audience, which seems to succeed. And I don’t want to change it.”
Mr True-May added that multi-culturalism “would just look out of place” in Midsomer, with its thatched cottages and village greens. The show is filmed in South Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Mr True-May lives in Great Missenden, Bucks.
He is the co-creator and executive producer of the show, which began in 1997 and returns this week. Nettles has been replaced by Neil Dudgeon, who plays Tom Barnaby’s cousin DCI John Barnaby.
Midsomer Murders is “the biggest drama success of all time” save for Star Trek or The X Files, according to Mr True-May, who previously worked on Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Birds of a Feather and the SAS drama Ultimate Force.
The show’s current stars were asked if they approved of the all-white cast. Dudgeon said: If people have been quite happy for it not to really change in 14 years, there’s no reason to suppose they’re going to want it to change now. I daresay there are some things where I would want a bit more of this and a bit less of that – but that’s a long way in the future.”
Jason Hughes, who plays DS Jones, added: “I’ve wondered myself and I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. This isn’t an urban drama and it isn’t about multiculturalism.
“That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for multiculturalism in the show. But that’s really not up to me to decide. I don’t think that we would all suddenly go, ‘A black gardener in Midsomer? You can’t have that!’ I think we’d all go, ‘Great, fantastic’.”
A 2006 survey found that the show was “strikingly unpopular” with ethnic minorities. Rob Berkeley, director of The Runnymede Trust, the race equality think tank, said: “Clearly, as a fictional work, the producers of Midsomer Murders are entitled to their flights of fancy, but to claim that the English village is purely white is no longer true and not a reflection of our society – particularly to this show’s large international audience.
“It is not a major surprise that ethnic minority people choose not to watch a show that excludes them.”