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March 31, 2011

IconBigotry rife in English country villages, claims study

Researchers say that a large proportion of rural residents want their villages and towns to remain “white, heterosexual, middle-class, conformist, family-orientated, church-going, conservative and ‘safe’”.

The claim comes in the wake of a heated debate over the nature of Englishness in rural communities, sparked by comments from Midsomer Murders producer Brian True-May. True-May was suspended by ITV after he claimed in a Radio Times interview that the drama series “wouldn’t work” with a diverse cast. “We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved,” he said.

The series has, however, included (white) lesbian characters. “If it’s incest, blackmail, lesbianism, homosexuality… terrific, put it in, because people can believe that people can murder for any of those reasons,” True-May told the Radio Times.

Jon Garland and Neil Chakraborti from the Department of Criminology at the University of Lancaster argue that True-May’s comments were in keeping with the views of many white rural residents. “The countryside was, for a number of those we spoke to, the ‘last bastion’ of old-fashioned Englishness which needed to be preserved from the encroachment of the ‘evils’ of late modernity,” they said.

The study examined the attitudes of rural residents in Northamptonshire, Suffolk and Warwickshire. Garland and Chakraborti claim that many were upset by their findings, leading to “a barrage of abuse” and a death threat.

“Perhaps that’s the problem in a nutshell: for many people, notions of Englishness are very much bound up with images of an unspoilt countryside and its gently undulating landscape of farms, cottages and hedgerows, itself a very nostalgic form of national identity redolent of an England left behind many decades ago,” the researchers suggested.

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Ruth Pearce

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