Category Archives: T.V.

Vera: British Mystery Draws Us to Northumberland

Every corner of England looks enticing if you watch PBS and their imported shows from BBC and other British producers–particularly mystery shows. (mouse over map to see what county or area is featured.)

SHERLOCK, the contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, teases us with images of today’s London in the VERY SHORT (3 episode) seasons.

SELFRIDGES, although the longer running series about a popular department store is not a mystery, it takes us through several decades of commercial London and cuts across various social levels.

INSPECTOR LEWIS (and its forerunner Inspector Morse) lures us to the charming university town of Oxford, west of London.

Cambridge England
Peterhouse, Cambridge England. Photographer A.D. Teasdale

GRANTCHESTER, with its hard-drinking, mystery solving, sexy young priest, does its best to lure us to rival university town Cambridge, north of London.

Yorkshire, England
A village in Yorkshire, England

DOWNTON ABBEY, another non-mystery show that has been seen by just about everyone, has just about everyone yearning to rent a manse in the green, green moors of Yorkshire in northern England.

LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX , a love story rather than a mystery, shows us a contemporary Yorkshire right in the middle of inland Yorkshire.

South Coast of England
The territory of Foyle’s War, along the English Chanel in the South of England.

FOYLE’S WAR takes us back in time to World War II and to the  south coast of England for more charming villages and bucolic scenes. Several counties were used as settings, including Sussex, Surrey, Dorset,, Hampshire and Kent.

DOC MARTIN ignites a passion for the rocky cliffs, green fields and flower-filled quaint villages of Cornwall in the southwest.


Northumberland Border

And now along comes the mystery series VERA, intent on dragging us all the way up northeast–almost to Scotland– to her stomping grounds in NorthumberlandAccording to the tourism folks, the show has done a terrific job of increasing the number of visitors to this chilly if scenic part of Britain.

I may be influenced by her wonderful first name :-), but Vera Stanhope, Detective Commissioner Investigator (or DCI as we fans call them) strikes me as one of the most interesting of all the English mystery solvers.

She is never outdoors without an overcoat and long wool scarf, and usually a waterproof hat. Indoors, she is rarely without a flagon of ale–unless more staid setting demands a cup of tea–either of which one would think would be needed to warm up after those windy forays outside.  Her somewhat frumpy middle age is rescued from plainess by big, soft, brown eyes.

Her demeanor is winning, going from sympathetically calling a suspect “luv” to barking insults at her crew if they don’t respond quickly enough to her commands. When she gets down to seriously questioning a bad guy, you know this is someone you would not want to mess with!

But about that constant coat and wool scarf–Northumberland is definitely not going to be a fun and sun vacation. So what is the draw? Dramatic landscape, crashing waves, endless vistas, castles and Hadrian’s Wall.

The series is based on books by Ann Cleeves, and Northumberland’s tourism blog explains how you can follow in Vera’s footsteps in an article on literary travel.

What have I missed? Have you seen other English TV that makes you want to travel?

Darn that PBS/British television partnership for making us want to travel all over England!

 Disclaimer: I have included some links to Amazon here, in case you’d like to buy CDs or download some of the programs. Although it costs you no more, when you shop through my links, you are helping A Traveler’s Library, because I am an Amazon affiliate.

TV and Books for Anglophiles and Australiaphiles

Australiaphiles?  Okay, so we just invented it.  But we needed a way to include a delightful TV show into our listing here.

I’m interrupting my review of the Tucson Book Festival to tell you about my latest travel-inspiring TV addiction (and the books that go with the shows). I seem to be glued to Public Broadcasting most of the time.

DVD cover Doc Martin
Although Doc Martin is on a break and I don’t have to suffer the temptation of gorgeous Cornwall seaside every week, I find that I am watching more and more of the English countryside on other PBS shows.

DVD cover Call the Midwife

London’s East End is not exactly a tourist magnet, but I nevertheless feel drawn to London after watching the gritty reality of life there in the late 1950s as shown in Call the Midwife.  I missed season one, but after watching last year’s season two last year, I’m enjoying season three.  A group of midwives, young women who are learning about the world and themselves work with a a collection of nuns –variously efficient, whacked out and grumpy. You can catch up with entire missed episodes at PBS, or if you want to own it, check Amazon. Call the Midwife: Season 1

The series is based on actual journals of a midwife, and you can read the original in this packaged set of three books, The Complete Call the Midwife Stories: True Stories of the East End in the 1950s.  by Jennifer Worth.

DVD cover Mr. Selfridge

To see a more attractive part of London, go shopping at Selfridge’s, the grand department store that still lures customers, though perhaps with not quite as much drama as it did at the turn of the century (19th to 20th) when American Harry Gordon Selfridge first started the store.  The show, Mr. Selfridge,  is packed with dramatic stories, bouncing from shop girls to the hoi polloi of London society.  “Guest stars” like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appear from time to time to remind us what Londoners had on their mind at the time. Worth watching for the costumes and settings, but the delicious naughtiness of the characters will draw you back.

The unsung heroes of World War II include many who could not talk about their roles until very late in their lives.  Among those, none have a more interesting story to tell than those who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Hall. Learn more about the work at Bletchley in this book The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There. Working on the earliest version of what would become a computer, mostly women, very bright women, figured out what the Germans were doing and helped the Allies win the war.

How do you follow that act? Most returned to humdrum lives. This fictional small group reunites to solve crimes.  The Bletchley Circle tells their story. The only failing of this show is the very very short “season”.  I couldn’t believe it was over after only three episodes in the first season! Anyhow, it is back and I’m loving it again. Set in post-war London, the attention to detail is as alluring as the intricate mind games involved in solving crimes.

The fourth show that I’m currently addicted to takes me back in time, not to London, but to 1920’s Melbourne Australia for the delightful Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. You may think you’ve seen all the types of female detectives possible, but I’ll bet you haven’t run into one like the sassy, sexy Phyrne (Fry-nee) Fisher.

A model of female independence, Miss Fisher is wealthy, unmarried, sleeps with a different man in just about every episode and carries on a flirtation with the uptight police detective she works with (and against). And she fearlessly pursues criminals with her tiny fashionable gun and her unmatchable wit.

This series is based on a book series, so if you can’t find the Australian-produced series in your area, you can always curl up with a good book–Introducing the Honorable Phryne Fisher: The First Three Phryrne Fisher Mysteries . However, I hope you can see the series, perhaps on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (or the other ABC as we call it in America), so you can drool over the costumes. I know that I harp on costumes a lot—but this show deserves the best costume award over any Oscar or Emmy winners. Even my husband notices the gorgeous rags that Miss Fisher sports.

The Blacklist Takes Viewers from NYC to China

Wednesday Matinee

By Jane Boursaw

Destination: New York City and Across the Globe

The BlacklistThere are just some shows you connect with, and “The Blacklist” is one of those shows for me. I think it’s a combination of the mysterious storyline, the great writing and, of course, James Spader, who keeps you guessing from one minute to the next.

From moment to moment, you never know if he’ll be evil or good, happy or sad, crazy or brilliant. But one thing’s for sure. There’s a lot going on in that mind of his.

Spader plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, the world’s most wanted criminal, who mysteriously turns himself in to the FBI and offers to give up everyone he has ever worked with. Yes, all those bad guys. Not the small-time operators. But the big fish, as Red calls them.

His only condition? He will only work with Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boon), a newly minted FBI agent with whom he seemingly has no connection. Or … does he? At first, I was convinced that he was her father, and I’m still on that train of thought. Maybe that’s a “red” herring they’re throwing at us. Time will tell.

The Blacklist: Wujing

One of the fun things about “The Blacklist” is that while it’s filmed in and around New York City – more specifically, Pleasantville, Pearl River and Long Beach, Long Island – Red has connections all over the world. Which means he flies to exotic locations in nearly every episode — on his own jet, no less.

Last week, the story took place partially in Shanghai (well, in a bunker deep in the earth in Shanghai). This week, Red flew to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti to help free Liz from a ruthless killer who uses chemicals to torture his victims (shades of “Breaking Bad‘s” Walter White).

There’s just no telling where we’ll go in upcoming episodes, but wherever it is, I’m along for the ride. “The Blacklist” is one of the best new shows, not only this fall, but in recent years.

“The Blacklist” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC. Read all my recaps over at Reel Life With Jane.