It is a truth universally acknowledged that the moment anyone hears the Midsomer Murders theme tune, there is only one thought they can have: something seriously f'd up is about to go down.
The show returns tonight for the second half of its 20th season, and with its endless array of bloodthirsty locals – there have been no fewer than 122 episodes of the show – it’s fair to say the charming Cotswolds-esque setting has seen more than its share of bonkers storylines. With that in mind, here are some of the very wildest. (And if you fancy a rewatch, it’s all on Amazon, FYI).
Tom Barnaby, this one’s for you.
Death by: Crop circle
Remember? Naturally, this being Midsomer, they were crop circles with bodies laid out within them – specifically, those of former criminals. Murderous aliens? Even more blood-crazed locals? The description on IMDB rather brilliantly summarises it thus: “the locals blame extraterrestrial activity for the death. But Barnaby is not convinced”.
Good old Tom Barnaby – the OG Barnaby (he’s later replaced by his cousin and fellow detective, John Barnaby), the one who you just know will get things sorted out, mainly because he doesn’t believe in aliens and crop circles.
Kill count: Two (Steve Ramsay is electrocuted whilst Lloyd Kirby is pushed down stairs).
Schooled In Murder
Death by: Cheese
If this were an episode of Friends, it would be titled The One Where Martine McCutcheon Gets Killed by a Wheel of Cheese. Naturally, Midsomer is home to a world-famous dairy and Debbie Moffett (played by Martine McCutcheon) seems to know one too many secrets about the locals for her own good.
First of all, a shelving display – of cheese – is pushed on top of her, rendering her stunned. Then, a mysterious assassin is shown lifting a huge wheel of cheese, before bringing it crashing down on to a screaming Martine’s head.
Want some extra emotion added to the scene? Watch the YouTube vid where the whole thing plays out against a soundtrack of MM’s hit single, Perfect Moment.
Kill count: Five (others include Oliver Ordish, who is strangled with cheese wire, Gregory Brantner, who is stabbed with a cheese needle (through the heart! And yes, a cheese needle is very much a thing) and Helen and Jim Caxton, who are trampled by their herd of cows.
The Ghost of Causton Abbey
Death by: Ale
It’s not just dairy products that intrigue the locals: they dabble in alcohol, too. A former monastery has been converted into a brewery and the body of Adam Osaba is found boiled to death inside one of the kegs of a newly-launched beer.
Whilst the residents of Midsomer believe it could be the work of the ghostly Joseph – a Tudor-based monk who cursed the Abbey before being boiled to death, sure – John Barnaby does not believe this to be the case and quickly discovers various things are Not What They Seem.
Kill count: Two. Adam aside, Emani Taylor is stabbed with brewing prongs.
A Tale of Two Hamlets
Death by: Gazpacho and exercise bike
This episode begins with dashing young actor Larry Smith – who’s also heir to a local pile – being blown up on the set of his Cromwell-set movie, The House of Satan. The motive? A centuries-old feud between the residents of Upper and Lower Warden, with some possessing strong feelings about the once-prestigious property being turned into a film set.
So much so, in fact, that poor Danny Pinchall ends up being drowned in a vat of cold tomato soup.
Kill count: Three (in addition to the above, Frank Webster is electrocuted by an exercise bike).
Death by: Newspaper
You know those moments in crime shows when the kind-of guilty culprit is about to tell all only to be stopped in their tracks by the real baddie? Yeah, that. In this episode, creepy couple Mary and William – played by Phyllida Law and Edward Fox – are doing all sorts of Awful Things.
Just as Mary is about to confess, William pushes a stack of old newspapers on top of her (copies of the Daily Telegraph, for the detail pedants out there). Have you felt the weight of those broadsheets, especially when they’re bulked up with the weekend supplements? RIP, Mary.
Kill count: Two (Gerry Dawkins is knocked out by a rifle butt and then drowned in a canoe; Mary Bingham dies of a heart attack).
Death by: Pure nicotine
Midsomer is the kind of traditional English enclave that is filled with creepily named nooks and crannies. However, in the case of Midsomer, areas such as Strangler’s Wood earn their names because of what has literally happened within them – in this case, it’s a wood where almost a decade ago, a serial killer keen on strangling his victims operated.
Tom Barnaby is left – ahem – stumped when a seemingly copycat killer emerges: though when one of the victims is injected with pure nicotine it seems the modus operandi is actually rather different. See. Further proof smoking is bad for your health.
Kill count: Four (Carla Constanza is strangled; Anna is run-over and injected with pure nicotine; a doctor is burnt to death in his surgery; Leonard Pike is stabbed to death in the shower). Plus, three historic stranglings.
Death by: Croquet, vintage wine and cricket bat
Starting with an apparent suicide, this episode very quickly spirals into utter insanity. A local lawyer is pinned down with croquet hoops and bottled to death with vintage wine while his wife looks on. A failed TV host is forced to answer quiz questions and slowly drowned in wine. So much wine.
Kill count: Three (as well as the above, Jack Wilmot is knocked out with a cricket bat and thrown off a roof).
Murder on St Malley’s Day
Death by: Meat pudding and spoon
An episode so curious that it’s the one we’ll remember, from time to time, and say to whoever’s nearest by: “Do you remember that Midsomer Murders’ episode where the guy had the huge spoon that he used to crack people around the head with?”
And invariably no one will know what we're talking about and it’ll be awkward but sometimes, just sometimes, a person will know and say, “Yes, wasn’t that the episode that began with the teenage boy getting killed during a school cross-country event?”
And we’ll reply “yes” and we’ll then spend the next three hours trying to piece together the series of events that led from that beginning to that ending. And breathe.
Kill count: Three (Daniel Talbot is stabbed; Archie Bellingham is knocked out and drowned; Dudley Carew is knocked out and steamrollered).
Shot at Dawn
Death by: Milk float
To Midsomer Parva, where a World War One-born feud has bubbled between the Hicks and Hammond families for ninety years after a firing squad incident (the incident being a member of one family was directly involved in the execution of a member of the other family).
But 90 years is a long time to hold a grudge, isn’t it? Naturally, Tom Barnaby is on hand to sort things out when things get a bit fatal: the key moment is when retired Colonel Hammond is shot with his own pistol before his wheelchair is pushed into the path of a milk float. Would you make this up? Could you make this up?
Kill count: Three (one Hicks and two Hammonds).
The Killings at Badger’s Drift
Death by: Incestuous sibling
With 100+ episodes, it was always going to be inevitable that a spot of incest would pop up somewhere between all the jam-making and Morris dancing. In this episode, Emily Mortimer plays Katherine Lacey, a woman determined to go to any lengths to keep her passionate relationship with her brother a secret… Yes, you successfully read between the lines: ‘any lengths’ means she killed in order to keep the tryst under wraps.
Kill count: Four (Emily Simpson's neck was broken; Bella Trace was shot; Mr & Mrs Rainbird were both stabbed to death) plus three suicides (Phyllis Cadell hung herself whilst in custody, whilst the lovestruck siblings shot themselves).
Death and the Divas
Death by: Classic movie monster
Warring sisters – one a glamorous film star, the other, er, a slightly less glamorous film star – sit centre stage of this episode with their acting roles inspiring the activities of the murderer. For example: biographer Eve is found with vampire-esque puncture marks on her neck. Another victim is left to suffocate inside Egyptian Mummy-style bandages. All just very standard Midsomer stuff, no?
Kill count: Three (Eve Lomax is stabbed in the neck with a fork; Cy Davenport is stabbed and pushed off a staircase; Colin Yule is suffocated).
Midsomer Murders is on ITV on Sunday nights at 9pm
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