Tuesday, 14 October 2014


"It was drowsily warm,
with dozens of bees
lazily buzzing
through flowers and trees..."
(Lynley Dodd, Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack)
Cambridge's answer to Endeavour Morse is apparently a ginger-haired vicar called Sidney, although he has ended up being an amateur sleuth by accident. Grantchester is adapted from a set of novels by James Runcie. James is the son of Robert, who was of course Archbishop of Canterbury and who - more importantly - used to have a parish in Cambridge. While Robert (if I may refer to the Archbishop in such familiar terms) never ended up fighting crime on the banks of the Cam, James nonetheless drew some of Sidney's character traits and background story from his father's life.

So it's a shame the telly programme's a bit rubbish really. The sets and costumes may be an accurate representation of the 1950s, but the language is straight out of the noughties, and it's all a bit racy for post-wartime Britain. "Are you a virgin?" Sidney is asked over dinner by an overly confident female psychologist, who seems rather ahead of her time. "Is that why you drink?" she continues. It's true that Sidney does knock back quite a lot. It's something to do with the war, and doomed, frustrated love, but a virgin, he says, he most definitely is not.

Then (because you can't have an Oxbridge murder mystery without a Geordie copper) Robson Green turned up, and I actually groaned out loud. In last night's episode, his extreme fishing involved retrieving a corpse resembling Millais' Ophelia from a canal. Since Sidney knew the family involved (he'd had dinner with them the night before), DI or whatever he is Robson then let him do the rest of the work, the lazy bastard. Sidney ended up scrabbling under sofas and breaking and entering into rooms at King's College, which is hardly fitting for a man of the cloth. King's Parade seems to be our one token shot of Cambridge, since most of the series is filmed in Hertfordshire. Though the church in Grantchester is the real one.

Sidney, lacking a wife, is looked after by Raquel from Only Fools And Horses, She makes a fruitcake bribe for the archdeacon so that he will let them employ a very camp curate. I had a sudden flashback to Mrs Doyle offering cupcakes with "cocaine in them" to Father Ted. Mrs Maguire pines horribly for her "Ronnie", killed in the war. She has a keen eye for a "criminal brow" and makes the camp curate shave off his pencil moustache.

Anyway, it's all resolved quick as you like. It wasn't - as everyone believed - Johnny Johnson, the "jazz fellow" with a past, but rather the overconfident female psychologist, who had been having an affair with Ophelia's husband. There was blood on the stairs. It all ended in a dance, and Sidney quoting Corinthians.

Grantchester's most famous modern resident (when he's not in prison) is Jeffrey Archer, but don't let that put you off. The village is a pleasant stroll or ambitious punt along the river from the centre of Cambridge, and is worth visiting for its wonderful tea garden, the Orchard. The house that owns the garden once belonged to Rupert Brooke, a much better writer than Jeffrey Archer could ever be. I've only been the once to the Orchard, but have nearly made it twice more, thwarted on each occasion by the weather suddenly turning nasty and the garden closing early. There could be nothing nicer on a sunny day than slumbering in a deckchair under its blossom trees, reading a book, sipping tea or fruit cordial and sampling heavenly traditional sponge cakes. Sydney would prefer a sherry though. Just watch out for the wasps.

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