Filming locations in the Cotswolds every TV crime show fan should visit

Randolph Hotel, Oxford, a favourite ‘Morse’ haunt. Photo by ‘Ozeye’

Randolph Hotel, Oxford, a favourite ‘Morse’ haunt. Photo by ‘Ozeye’ - Credit: ‘Ozeye’

Our peaceful patch has been a hotbed of fictional criminality, playing host to dozens of small-screen murders. Here are just some of the places where the lead pipe abounds

Wallingford (Oxon), one of the ‘doubles’ for ‘Causton’. Photo by 'Sciencebloke'

Wallingford (Oxon), one of the ‘doubles’ for ‘Causton’. Photo by 'Sciencebloke' - Credit: Sciencebloke

It was the tell-tale ‘scrunch’ of shoe on gravel as someone approached our house, then nothing. I waited for the next ‘scrunch’, or maybe the sound of the doorbell; nothing. It was around 11pm and I’d not long since switched off the TV, so any sounds seemed to be amplified several-fold. There was no further noise though, just silence. Someone was waiting out there, but for what?

As autumn gives way to winter and the log fire burns, it’s an atmospheric time to sink into a comfy chair with a good yarn, tales of crime and misdemeanour, fictional accounts of greed, envy, violence and revenge. It’s a funny thing the human condition. Even though you tell yourself it’s, ‘only a story’, you still suffer from an infuriating bout of OCD, as you check doors and windows five times before you feel you can retire safely to bed, with or without said book.

There was a palpable sense of relief on my part, therefore, when I heard the familiar thwack of the letterbox followed by another ‘scrunch’ or three as the aforementioned shoes made their way off my property. Ok, so it was a bit late, but it was probably just another flyer from the local pizzeria; no crime there unless you have grave suspicions about their deep-pan ‘Margherita’.

Living in the Cotswolds is fraught with danger in the fictional crime world, if not in real life (of which more later). Let’s take Oxfordshire, for example. If you believe everything in ‘Midsomer Murders’, then there can be barely a person left standing, with the few survivors left increasingly blasé about the chances of being done in, as the corpse-count steadily rises. Statistically, the likelihood of another murder in the next hour is roughly on a par with someone stepping off the bus, or staggering from the pub.

Sudeley Castle, as featured in ‘Father Brown’. Photo by ‘Wdejager’

Sudeley Castle, as featured in ‘Father Brown’. Photo by ‘Wdejager’ - Credit: ‘Wdejager’

Of course, ‘Causton’, the county town of Midsomer is made up (some relief there then), although it’s based on (and filmed in) several Oxfordshire towns, such as Wallingford, Thame and Henley-on-Thames, so beware. The ‘Six Bells’ in Wanborough (Oxfordshire again) doubles up as the ‘Black Swan’ in Midsomer. If that wasn’t enough to get Oxfordshire’s residents heading to their local hardware store for more bolts and chains, there’s also ‘Morse’ to be considered, plus its spin-offs ‘Lewis’ and ‘Endeavour’.

Meanwhile, back at the house, my curiosity defeated me, so I couldn’t defer looking at the ‘post’ any longer, and certainly not until the morning. Bending down to pick it up, I saw immediately that it was an invitation to something, hopefully a lavish affair if the heavily embossed card was any indication. It was addressed to ‘The Homeowner’ and it seemed I was heading for the launch night of a new restaurant in town. ‘Well, I don’t mind if I do,’ was my last thought as I headed for bed, safe in the knowledge that the only crime to be committed was over-indulgence on my part.

On TV the plots (and cadavers) were now firmly in the cathedral city itself. Curiously fiction and fact happily coalesce after a fashion. Morse’s favourite watering-hole was the splendid ‘Randolph Hotel’, where the tipplers of today will find a ‘Morse Bar’. One is tempted to ask which came first, the man or his bar. That might have been a clue in Morse’s Times crossword, which he liked to complete in the Randolph. With ‘Endeavour’ being a so-called ‘prequel’ I think we’re entitled to ask questions about chickens and eggs.

If you want to partake in a Morse pub-crawl, you could do worse than make ‘The White Horse’ your next stop, another favourite Morse retreat, which featured in many episodes. In fact, the great and good of Oxford’s buildings served time in the triple-series, the Sheldonian Theatre, Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Square, ‘Bridge of Sighs’, Ashmolean Museum and Christ Church College; they were all implicated. ‘The Oxford Murders’, a 2008 film, showed you could never have enough of a sure thing, as a professor and graduate-student investigated a series of murders seemingly linked by mathematical symbols. If there’s one thing worse than a murderer, it’s an intellectual one.

Upper Slaughter, another ‘Father Brown’ Cotswolds backdrop. Photo by ‘Charlesdrakew’

Upper Slaughter, another ‘Father Brown’ Cotswolds backdrop. Photo by ‘Charlesdrakew’ - Credit: ‘Charlesdrakew’

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So, there we have it, an open and shut case. Oxfordshire is the county to avoid (fictionally) if you wish to circumvent the TV script-writer’s narrative and not be yet another implausible crime statistic. But no, Oxfordshire has an alibi for there is another Cotswold county that is far more dangerous (well, in the fabricated, concocted world of televisual detection).

When the night of the launch came around (remember that?) I was there promptly, not wishing to miss out on any freebies they might be scattering like confetti. You can’t beat a bit of largesse. There was a good turnout and the staff were buzzing around doling out complimentary drinks and canapés. I took a glass of rosé from a tray and looked around. I didn’t recognise a single soul; not one.

I’m relieved to say it’s not my home county of Worcestershire, which is that crime hot-spot. It does have ‘form’ as ‘Father Brown’ has ‘excursioned’ into the county (Kemerton no less), whilst Sherlock Holmes found a visit to Broadway Tower aiding his plot-line and detection rate. This is not much, however, so sleep soundly Worcestershire and just be glad, very glad, that you do not reside across the border in Gloucestershire.

My own research tells me Gloucestershire accounts for more than 50% of fictional crime in the various counties we consider make up that undulating, idyllic vista that is the Cotswolds. Chavenage House, near Tetbury, appears quite frequently, for example, in ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ (1990), when it doubled as ‘Styles Court’ for Hercule Poirot, that Belgian creation of Agatha Christie. And then, of course, there is ‘Father Brown’. He may have strayed into Worcestershire, but Gloucestershire is his home-patch, with Blockley masquerading as ‘Kembleford’, and Sudeley Castle, Moreton-in-Marsh, the railway station at Winchcombe, and picture postcard Upper Slaughter, all adding background lustre.

That man Holmes has been in Gloucestershire too, in both Gloucester and Cheltenham (including the Daffodil Restaurant) and the futuristic ‘Swinhay House’, in North Nibley, near Wotton-under-Edge, has also helped to dangle a plot-line. Crime can take many forms, of course, and it’s not always as simple as sleuth cracks case and brings miscreant to justice. In ‘If’, a 1968 film, Cheltenham College became an effective substitute for a private school, at which an armed insurrection takes place. It doesn’t sound like any school I ever went to. Thinking back, I reckon the worst I got up to was refusing to tackle at rugby and landing myself with a detention.

Back at the venue, I was enthusiastically partaking of everything that was offered (who wouldn’t?) whilst still puzzling over the guest list. I wondered how come I’d been invited. I didn’t seem to know anyone, but then maybe all the others were in the same boat. I half-smiled, musing that the event bore the hallmarks of a ‘Murder Mystery’. Maybe one of the ‘guests’ would suddenly keel over as a faux crime victim, with someone among our number being the ‘phoney felon’. I just fancied being Colonel Mustard banging the lead-piping down on the back of someone’s head in the study.

A more traditional crime film featuring Gloucestershire was ‘Outlaw’ (2007), starring Sean Bean, which pitched up at both the Thistle Hotel, Cheltenham and the Royal Oak Inn at Prestbury, with Gloucester, Lydney and Coleford also having walk-on parts. Well, I say ‘traditional’ but the basic premise was that our green and pleasant land has suddenly become crime-ridden. Bean, a soldier returned from a war-zone, finds his homeland no different, and sets about sorting it out with other like-minded vigilantes. The Cotswolds awash with crime; surely not?

We should add, of course, that thankfully there is very little real crime in the Cotswolds, so whilst the script-writers and movie-makers might find it the perfect scenery around which to weave their tales, we have the luxury of being able to sleep peacefully at night. Serious crime rarely visits the region, although there has been the odd ‘Pitchfork Murder’ (1945), armed robbery and cocaine ring. Going back further there was the miscarriage of justice that was the ‘Campden Wonder’, when three innocent people were hanged for a 17th century murder; the ‘victim’ later turning up alive and well.

Whole books have been written about Cotswold Crime, although much of what they expose occurred long ago, when punishments included hard labour, transportation and the gallows.I was thinking the evening had run its course and that I should be the first to slip away to home comforts when there was a loud slamming of doors from several directions, rapidly followed by a tannoy announcement. All guests were being detained in connection with crimes committed in the Cotswolds over the last twelve months. We had all fallen for the fake invite, hook, line and sinker. And my crime? It was a bit of a ‘Hob-Heist’ if I’m honest (¹). I misappropriated gnomes galore from a Cotswold Garden Centre last year.

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