"Murder Most English," a classic British mystery series that dates from 1977, was produced by the British Broadcasting Company Birmingham, rather an unusual genealogy. The television series, which aired in the United States on Public Broadcasting System stations, is, not too surprisingly, set in the Midlands, Birmingham area. Thankfully for us, Acorn Media has provided subtitles, as Birmingham accent and usage are surely unfamiliar to us on this side of the pond: not sure how familiar they'd be on the other side of the pond, either, where, I believe, Birmingham's native speakers refer to their patois as "brum."The boxed set release consists of three DVD's and four mysteries in seven episodes, approximately 344 minutes.
The series stars Anton Rodgers (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Lillie) as Detective Inspector Purbright: outfitted in tweed and puffing a pipe, he does his best to stamp out serious crime in the fictional, sleepy country town of Flaxborough. (This town was apparently modeled after Lincoln, a Midlands town where Colin Watson, the author upon whose series of detective novels this TV series was based, worked as a journalist.) Purbright is assisted in his crime-solving efforts by Detective Sergeant Love, (Christopher Timothy,All Creatures Great and Small: The Complete Collection); and, occasionally, by his boss, Chief Constable Chubb (Moray Watson (The Darling Buds of May Collection). The mysteries are ingenious and offbeat, with surprising twists and a light comic touch, and are well-acted by a distinguished company of supporting players that would have been more familiar faces in the 1970's. The current release itself warns us that, due to the age of the underlying programs, there will be occasional flaws in picture and sound. The series also shows its age in some other ways: I was stunned to see a Detective Inspector puffing away at crime scenes, but then, this D.I., and seemingly other cops, puff away in people's homes and offices, too, without seeking permission. And none of these actors, who presumably smoked in real life as well, could be described as having white teeth.
The mysteries are:
Hopjoy Was Here, (Parts 1 and 2). Hopjoy had an eye for the ladies, and hated paying his bills: he was apparently a spy, and has disappeared.
Lonelyheart 4122, (Parts 1 and 2). Local women of means sign up with a matchmaking agency and disappear. There may be a dangerous predator at work. Enter the fearless Miss Teatime....
The Flaxborough Crab, (Parts 1 and 2). The old men of the community are suddenly acting out, and the women of the town aren't safe anywhere, in church, on the street, in their own homes. Does Ms. Teatime, who makes an herbal tonic, have anything to do with it?
Coffin, Scarcely Used (Parts 1 and 2). The funeral of Councilor Carobleat is attended by his wife, to be sure, and four local notables, newspaper owner, doctor, undertaker and lawyer. Two of the gang of four are soon killed.
More than anything else, this series struck me as belonging to a mystery category I didn't know existed: a men's cozy. Most of us are familiar with women's cozies of course: think Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, in St. Mary Mead. They're meant to be not too threatening: a crime must be committed, of course; that upsets the community. But as the crime is solved, things are put back to rights. Well, "Murder Most English" seems to follow these rules, and to have been made largely by men, for men: women don't have much part in these stories. However, we can enjoy them, for their humor and lightness of touch.