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The Midsomer Murders Low Down On The New Series

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A stolen crime novel, celebrity magic, a folk festival and the launch of a new English sparkling wine become the backdrops for murder and mayhem when Neil Dudgeon and Gwilym Lee return to the beautiful but deadly countryside of Midsomer in a new series of Midsomer Murders soon on ITV.

Neil and Gwilym star as DCI John Barnaby and DS Charlie Nelson in four new two-hour episodes made by Bentley Productions for ITV. They are assisted by pathologist Dr Kate Wilding, played by Tamzin Malleson.

Barnaby must also juggle life as a new dad to baby Betty, with the support of his wife Sarah (series regular Fiona Dolman).

As ever, the episodes feature a stellar array of guest stars including Joe Absolom, Dean Andrews, Claire Bloom, Mark Bonnar, Daniel Brocklebank, Amanda Burton, Rosie Cavaliero, Ruth Gemmell, Lucie Jones, Adam Kotz, Naoko Mori, Lloyd Owen, Clarke Peters, Andrew-Lee Potts, Jack Shepherd, Una Stubbs, Georgia Taylor and Lia Williams.

There’s also the return of the Barnabys’ much loved pet, Sykes the dog.

What’s in store in the episodes

In the first episode, “The Dagger Club”, a newly-discovered novel by deceased Midsomer crime-writer George Summersbee at the Luxton Deeping Crime Festival is stolen. A woman is fatally electrocuted by a booby-trapped roulette wheel. Can Barnaby and Nelson untangle a web of jealousy and obsession to find the killer?

The second episode “Murder by Magic” opens when a pub landlady is crushed to death during a magic show in Midsomer Oaks. Barnaby and Nelson uncover conflict between the village church and ancient pagan traditions. Is famous magician and new Midsomer resident Gideon Latimer to blame or is he the target?

In “The Ballad of Midsomer County”, a ballad made famous by late, lamented folk singer Johnny Carver might be an inspiration for murder. Did someone want to kill Toby Winning for threatening to take the Little Crosby Folk Festival away from Midsomer – or is the true motive something hidden for 20 years?

In the final episode, “A Vintage Murder”, the fizz goes out of a sparkling wine launch when the glasses are laced with poison. Who is targeting the Midsomer Vinae Winery and what does the attack have to do with the death of a child in a hit-and-run accident?

Executive Producer Jo Wright says: “Midsomer Murders may have a touch of old- fashioned charm about it, but actually the themes we cover are modern issues affecting and reflecting today’s society. Wine production and commercial festivals are part of today’s countryside as is the influx of more traditionally urban families, like our celebrity magician buying up the local country house. The mixture of town and country and the clashes that brings works really well for us.”

Strange deaths indeed

Despite its picture postcard setting, more than 300 people have died before their time in Midsomer. Bizarre and gruesome murder implements since the series began include electrocution from a faulty microphone, death by poisonous frog, a French guillotine, a hatpin in the ear, bottles of relish, a tower of newspapers, a gargoyle from a roof and shelves of Midsomer Blue cheese.

Midsomer Murders attracts top viewing figures on ITV and is one of the UK’s best programming exports. In 2014, Midsomer Murders became the first television programme to be inducted into the prestigious Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame.

The accolade – previously awarded to top crime authors such as PD James, Lee Child, Colin Dexter and Agatha Christie – is made in recognition of the long-running series’ contribution to the crime genre.

The new episodes of Midsomer Murders are written by Chris Murray, Rachel Cuperman & Sally Griffiths, Paul Logue and Lisa Holdsworth and directed by Alex Pillai, Charles Palmer, Renny Rye and Nick Laughland. The producer is Phil Hunter and the executive producer is Jo Wright.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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