Deadly locations lure the tourists

THERE are more dark deeds afoot this weekend in Britain’s deadliest county when Midsomer DCI John Barnaby is back on the murder trail.

The Stitcher Society is the second of six feature-length episodes making up Season 22 of the popular crime drama, with Neil Dudgeon enjoying his tenth year in the starring role.

CRIME SCENE: Neil Dudgeon and Nick Hendrix investigate PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Tension mounts after a local outcast controversially acquitted of a brutal murder years previously returns to the area – and a death on the village green means Barnaby and sidekick DS Jamie Winter (Nick Hendrix) are called in to investigate before the body count starts to rise.

Locals may not be expecting an early solution to the mystery – since the show launched 24 years ago the area has witnessed more than 400 deaths.

Renowned for its dark humour, stunning scenery and high-profile guest stars, the show is not only the country’s longest-running crime drama but also its most popular drama export.

ON THE CASE: DCI Barnaby and DS Jamie Winter PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Chilterns residents get an additional delight from spotting local venues used as a backdrop for the series, as Joan Street can testify – over the past 20 years she has chronicled more than 120 locations on her Midsomer Murders website.

Says Joan, who lives in London: “I was inspired to start the site having recognised some of the locations in a very early episode called Written in Blood.  Initially it was only going to be a website for the locations but somehow or other it grew and grew! 

“I launched the first pages way back in 1999, never envisaging the series would still be going on in 2021.  It was a bit of fun but gradually almost became like a second job.  Midsomer’s popularity increased every year with more and more locations being used; something that fascinated many viewers.”

LOCAL LANDMARKS: historic pubs across the Chilterns have featured in the series

It wasn’t long before the site had more than a million hits, with more than 2,300 members joining a forum linked to it.

“A friend and I used to go out on weekends trying to track down some of the locations used,” Joan recalls. “We were very naive at first but soon learnt that a lot of detective work needed to be done in advance to find them.  The quirkiness of Midsomer was also a huge appeal.  We became totally addicted.”

The series became such a worldwide success that a series of guided and self-guided tours have been launched across the region showing tourists favourite locations, from Henley and Marlow to Thame and the Hambleden Valley.

WINNING FORMULA: Season 22 launched on April 4 PICTURE: ITV/Mark Bourdillon

Joan admits: “Prior to Midsomer I’d never visited any of the places used in the Chilterns.  It was a voyage of discovery.  I now know almost every town and village and we both ended up loving the area.”

The latest episode sees the detectives return to The Lee near Wendover, scene of numerous earlier investigations over the show’s 24-year history.

The picturesque village was Badger’s Drift in the very first pilot episode back in 1997, when the Cock & Rabbit village pub was rebranded the Rose and Chalice.

This week the famous village green was the location for more murder and mayhem, this time as Tamworth Springs, home to an ill-fated social and health club for recovering heart bypass patients.

The Stitcher Society is broadcast on Sunday at 8pm on ITV. Midsomer Murders is made by Bentley Productions, part of ALL3Media.

Back on the murder trail in Thame

GUIDED walking tours of Midsomer Murders locations in Thame have restarted for the first time since last year.

Tour organiser Tony Long said: “We are delighted that the ever-popular Midsomer Tours can start again. We will be ensuring that the now smaller tour groups comply with social distancing guidelines.”

The move came after the tourism and hospitality industry was given the government green light to reopen this month.

ON LOCATION: Neil Dudgeon plays DCI John Barnaby

The tour runs on Wednesdays until October 28 and has proved a big success since its launch in 2017.

Guides take small groups on an hour-long tour around Midsomer filming locations in the town used in episodes of the popular ITV series.

Thame is one of the most frequently used places for filming, appearing in more than a dozen episodes and with 22 locations in the town centre. Among landmarks featured are Thame Museum, Thame Town Hall, Market House, Rumsey’s Chocolaterie, the Spread Eagle and Swan Hotels, the Coffee House, and the Black Horse Pub & Brasserie.

Midsomer Murders is still going strong after more than 20 years. Mr Long said: “Over six million people watch Midsomer Murders in the UK and millions more worldwide. It’s one of our biggest TV exports, and when people see it on TV, they want to come and visit the beautiful towns and villages of Midsomer, such as Thame.

“When they are here, they spend money in our restaurants, pubs, hotels, and shops – which has got to be good for the town and its economy, especially following the lockdown.”

The series is based on the novels of Caroline Graham and the original pilot programme, The Killings at Badgers Drift, was aired in 1997. John Nettles played DCI Barnaby for the first 81 episodes, stepping down in 2011 at the end of series 13. Neil Dudgeon has played DCI Barnaby ever since.

The tour costs £7.50, with funds going to charities. Tour start at 11am on Wednesdays from outside Thame Museum (79 High Street, Thame, OX9 3AE), one of the filming locations but must be booked online at www.ticketsource.co.uk/thamemidsomer.

Fans of the detective series can pick up a free Midsomer Murders leaflet about the deadly town locations from the Town Hall Information Centre or Thame Museum (from September 1).