“Oh it’s you! What are you doing here?”
These have been the last words of more than one resident of the idyllic, rural county of Midsomer, seconds before they’re mercilessly bumped off. Taking in the seemingly sleepy villages of Badger’s Drift, Midsomer Mallow and Midsomer Worthy, all gathered around the central town of Causton, this countryside paradise has been the home to 91 investigations, and featured many more untimely demises. Yes, Midsomer is a hot bed of sex, lies, corruption and death. In short, it’s a dangerous place to live. One can only imagine the life insurance premiums!
Fortunately for those residents who have been brave enough not to flee the county for safer climes, these cases have all been put to bed by the calculating mind and skill of Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and his current sidetrack (Troy, Scott or Jones). Having overseen 81 of these, Tom Barnaby – the trustworthy and oak solid John Nettles – retired and handed the reigns over to his cousin John Barnaby – the slightly less personable Neil Dudgeon, who currently keeps the Midsomer streets a safe place to sleep at night.
New episodes of Midsomer Murders usually premiere sporadically on Wednesday evenings, while repeats endlessly nestle in mid afternoon slots and on ITV3. It’s perhaps because of its scheduling that a stigma seems attached to the show that it is only watched by women of a certain age, who viewed John Nettles as a nice piece of crumpet from his Bergerac days.
While I don’t doubt that a fair portion of Midsomer Murders viewers may fall into this bracket, there is quite a bit more to the programme. Its plots are often outlandish with the viewer having little chance of keeping up with Barnaby’s keen eye, but that only seems to add to the fun of it when the impossibly wild twists come along. Its characters are also good fun and free from the more serious trappings that their post-watershed policeman counterparts all seem to have. There’s usually a light hearted sub plot running throughout each show involving Barnaby’s new patio or his long suffering wife, Joyce.
But perhaps one of Midsomer’s greatest strengths, and one of the reasons this writer has become hopelessly addicted to the show, is the increasingly inventive ways its killers find to dispose of their victims.
Because there is no bad language and the gore is kept to a bare minimum, Midsomer Murders manages to make daytime viewing out of stuff which would not seem out of place in any horror/slasher movie. Over the years there have been some truly horrible ways to meet your maker on the show. Here are ten of the most memorable ways in which those in Midsomer have shuffled off this mortal coil:
10. Losing your head on the ghost trainAnother thing Midsomer Murders has always been very good at is attracting name guest stars to its episodes. Hollywood alumni Orlando Bloom and Emily Mortimer both starred in early episodes but each edition usually brings at least one recognisable face along with it. The episode entitled The Sword of Guillaume had a host of them including Blackadder’s former Captain Darling, Tim McInnerny.
This edition saw Tom Barnaby actually leave Midsomer to travel to Brighton where he believes the mayor of Midsomer (the always evil Bryan Capron) is up to no good with a property deal. McInnerny stars as the unpleasant property developer Hugh Dalgleish. A nasty piece of work, Dalgleigh is described as “the devils work”, abuses home help and spikes a paraplegic’s drink with alcohol before he takes a ride on a seaside fair ghost train.
It was to be his last ride however, as when his carriage emerges into the sunlight his disembodied head is sitting beside him, having been brutally chopped off. A gorier than usual scene for Midsomer Murders which makes it stick in the mind, this episode also introduced viewers to Neil Dudgeon’s replacement, Barnaby.
9. Barn of deathAlthough we don’t actually see Adam Keyne’s death in Tainted Fruit, we are shown the killer planning it in meticulous detail as the familiar black gloved hands are seen sorting through an assortment of hacksaws and tools. All the perps in Midsomer wear black gloves, it must be some sort of murderer’s dress code.
Following the initial murder by lethal injection of his co-conspirator in a spot of blackmail, you’d think Keyne would be on alert but he’s still duped into meeting his lover at an old barn for a roll in the hay. We see him ascend to the upper level of the barn. Next thing a passer by is investigating why Keyne’s flash motor is abandoned there. It’s soon revealed as Barnaby’s long serving pathologist buddy, Dr Bullard, explains that the ceiling joists had been sawn through meaning that Adam Keyne plummeted through the floor and on to a conveniently placed field plough. Death, Bullard tells us, would have been instant.
It’s the creative planning of this killing which earns it a spot on the list. The killer didn’t shoot, stab or bash the victim’s head in, just let gravity do the job for them.
8. Relishing murderA world famous preserve factory might not seem like the most dangerous place but it would be for Dexter Lockwood in Sauce for the Goose. Lockwood joins a tour group around the Plummers relish factory and immediately there seems to be something amiss. He’s acting strangely, hanging back from the group, furtively glancing at his watch and trying to disguise himself by wearing the most enormous pair of glasses.
If you’ve ever been on a guided tour you’ll know they always warn you to not wander off, for your own safety. Lockwood should have heeded this advice as soon he’s creeping into the factory warehouse. The scene is like the last shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark… only with stacks of relish. It’s revealed he’s here to meet someone when he greets this unseen person with the line “Oh there you are. Funny place for a meeting?”. All too late, Lockwood realises just why he’s been lured here as a forklift loaded with relish jars heads towards him at speed. He can run but alas, cannot hide, as Dexter is crushed against the wall.
Next morning the employees of Plummers relish come in ready for another day’s work, only for one of them to discover that, just for good measure, someone has thrown Dexter Lockwood into the 200 degree steriliser. It’s a double feature of a death as the victim is both squashed and boiled alive. Useless trivia fans may like to know that Lockwood was played by Rod Hallett, who would go on to appear in “it seemed like such a good idea at the time” sci-fi show Terra Nova.
7. Remote controlThe death of Malcolm Sinclair’s Johnny Hammond has passed into Midsomer legend thanks largely to the total implausibility of it. The episode Shot at Dawn has come under fierce criticism from die hard fans for featuring killings that would not have worked or simply just taken too much time to arrange.
This killer likes their gadgets. The first murder in this episode is a good old fashioned shooting but our murderer goes one step further and rigs the victim’s wheelchair to run into a milk float by remote control. For Hammond’s death, this person has laboriously set up a machine gun in Johnny’s garage so that when he goes to open it, a hail of bullets greets him.
It’s a death by gun fire which isn’t the most unique way to go in Midsomer but what marks this murder out is the killer’s inventive attention to detail and flare for the dramatic, even if it might well have taken a lot of money to arrange these killings. Actor Malcolm Sinclair probably ranks this death somewhere behind being Daniel Craig’s 007 status earning kill in Casino Royale.
6. Getting in a spinThis is another time that we don’t actually see the murder, just the build up and aftermath. In the episode Midsomer Life, Eleanor Crouch is an alcoholic hotel house keeper who voices her concerns about a mysterious guest after the man this patron had an appointment with winds up murdered.
Eleanor is busying herself by gathering some sheets out of the black hole-like tumble dryer that all hotels must use when we glimpse those familiar black gloved hands creeping around the door frame. Next thing, Tom Barnaby and sidekick Ben Jones come hoping to ask Ms Crouch some questions but she is nowhere to be seen. Barnaby has a shrewd eye though and notices one of her shoes lying idly on the floor. He picks it up only to be confronted by a special effect that would have looked bad in an 80s Doctor Who episode as Eleanor Crouch stares blankly out at him from within the tumbler. The poor woman has been dried to death.
While you have to question the killer’s intelligence at leaving the shoe laying about, it’s a great thinking on your feet kind of murder and probably a pretty nasty way to die.
5. Dying to get fitIn A Tale of Two Hamlets, someone is bumping off members of the well to do Smythe-Webster family. The first of them is blown up in a cricket pavilion but an instant fiery doom would have been preferable to what awaits Frank Webster when he decides to do a stint on his exercise bike.
The viewer sees Frank peddling furiously, the speedometer creeping higher and higher until he convulses backwards, eyes wide and face etched with terror. It looks like a heart attack and that is the initial conclusion of Dr Bullard when DCI Barnaby arrives on the scene. It’s Barnaby’s keen eye to the rescue again though as he notices scorch marks on the victim’s hands. Bullard, the guy trained for this sort of thing, seems to have missed that.
A closer inspection of the fuse box reveals that an electric charge had been sent directly from the mains supply into the exercise bike, electrocuting Frank Webster mid work-out.
Once again, the killer shows a tremendous amount of inventiveness with this murder and proves that hitting the gym might not always be that good for you.
4. Nicotine can killAu-pair Anna Santarosa has presumably seen something she shouldn’t have after a naked woman turns up in the wood, strangled with a tie in the episode Strangler’s Wood. You have to assume the victim didn’t willingly go to a place of such a name.
Anna is taking a stroll down a dark road in the middle of the night. She doesn’t notice the black car hidden in the undergrowth as she passes. Nor does she seem to hear it when the engine starts up, the lights go on and its black shape creeps menacingly onto the road behind her. No, Anna only becomes aware of the vehicle when it slams into, ricocheting her body off the windscreen.
A hit and run might not seem like a murder worthy of the number four placing on this list but the killer isn’t quite done with Anna Santarosa. Exiting the car, the murderer jabs a syringe into her neck and pumps her full of what pathologist Dan Peterson (a pre-Hollywood gig for the excellent Toby Jones) later tells us is liquid nicotine. Extracting the nicotine from just half of a packet of ordinary cigarettes will give you enough for a lethal dose. I don’t know if that is actually true but the double whammy of getting run over and then filled full of a fatal substance earns Anna’s death a spot on the list.
3. Game for your lifeThis one could almost have been pulled out of a Saw movie. The construction the killer uses here isn’t quite up to the standard of Jigsaw’s inventions but it’s bizarre enough and comes from the episode Hidden Depths.
Former celebrity Mike Spicer comes downstairs one morning to find someone has suspended a hollowed out television set, with the upper part of a wet suit attached to it, from his ceiling. He isn’t given long to ponder this though as he’s swiftly knocked out. Coming to, he finds he’s been tied to a chair with his head placed inside the contraption, a video camera and many bottles of wine facing him.
Barnaby and Scott find Spicer sitting in a puddle of wine, rather dead and the video camera empty. We, the viewers, are treated to watching its contents along with the killer in which the murderer questions Spicer, game show style, and gradually pours bottles of wine into the open television set, slowly drowning him in expensive plonk. This was one of Midsomer’s most outlandish murders and is one of the reasons why Hidden Depths is such a well remembered episode.
2. Spontaneous combustion?Midsomer Murders went a bit gothic horror for its episode The Straw Woman. In an obvious nod to The Wicker Man, this story begins with a man being burned alive inside a straw statue. That’s not the death which makes our list though.
As the dead man is revealed to be a preacher, the police have got the local church on lockdown. Naturally, you can’t trust your average local policeman to keep a proper eye on things and before long the wind is rustling the leaves as a shadowy figure makes its way into the house of worship. At the same time, fellow reverend John Hale has decided he needs to nip into the church for a midnight pray.
In a scene reminiscent of a religious themed horror, Hale is confronted by a severed pig’s head atop the church alter. He reaches out to it just as his robe bursts into flames and a fiery end claims him. At first the villagers blame this spot of human torch flame on a school teacher suspected of being a witch. Later it’s discovered that not witchcraft but a flammable industrial solvent reacting with the air is responsible for taking the reverends life.
The horror movie style leanings of such the killing is what makes this murder stand out amongst others and showcases one of Midsomer’s darkest episodes.
1. Target Practice“Someone’s gone to a great deal of trouble over this,” assesses Tom Barnaby over the murder which tops this list. How right he was!
The episode Hidden Depths was not only home to a man being drowned inside a TV set but also to a killing which embodied everything that makes Midsomer Murders great. It was inventive, bizarre, OTT, macabre and definitely evil enough to have come from a truly unhinged killer.
Otto Benham (played by Oliver Ford Davies, Sio Bibble, governor of Naboo in the Star Wars prequels, fact fans!) is a pretty horrible man. He eats celery loudly and leaves his wheel chair bound wife to load the dishwasher while he sips a brandy.
Unfortunately for Otto someone is stalking around his croquet lawn and painting a series of white lines on the grass. What they’re doing with a wheel barrow full of wine bottles is soon to be revealed. A quick bit of tapping at the window is enough to lure Benham outside where he falls to the ground in the centre of a big marked out target on the lawn.
Just to make sure she isn’t left out, our balaclava clad killer tapes his wife into her wheel chair and positions her at an open bedroom window before returning to the task in hand.
Otto awakes to find himself stapled to the ground with his own croquet hoops. Our murderer then unveils a catapult loaded with several wine bottles. As Otto begs for mercy and shouts at his wife, who is thoroughly enjoying seeing him brutally tortured, the killer sends a series of wine bottles sailing through the air, smashing into Benham, bottling him to a pulpy death.
The grand scale of this murder is what makes it Midsomer’s most endearing end. The brutality combined with the ludicrous invention of it means it’s an unforgettable moment for Midsomer fans and more than deserving of being our number one.
Midsomer Murders will probably never be cool but for those who do like it, it is an irresistible combination of twists, great characters, and memorable deaths. A great show that you don’t have to think too hard about and will reliably provide a couple of hours of entertainment.