So, what connects Liberty - the famous store in Regent Street, London, and the hugely popular and succesful Midsomer Murders TV show?
There is a tiny, picturesque village, about seven miles from where I live, curiously called The Lee. I don't suppose there are many English villages with the word 'The' in front - I know that Westward Ho! is the only one with an exclamation mark - but The Lee is one of them. It's a cluster of pretty cottages around a lovely village green and pond, and has a beautiful manor house once owned by the Liberty family, the people who founded and built the iconic London store. They also pretty much built The Lee.
You may know that the Liberty store was built using timbers from two ships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan (the length of the store front was set by the length of the Hindustan). Well, there's another reminder of this fact as you drive into the village and are treated to the sight of the figurehead of HMS Impregnable, a sculpture of Lord Howe, looming out at you as you pass a house called 'Pipers', where the Liberty family still live. The Liberty influence is everywhere; store founder Arthur Liberty built new cottages, created the village green, sank a new well and maintained the village as part of his estate when he owned the manor.
He also built a new pub for the locals, The Cock and Rabbit Inn (The Carry On films couldn't have chosen a much better name), which, quite apart from being a pretty little village pub, is a very good Italian restaurant with portion sizes that are huge for the price. But the very best thing about the pub is that it is almost unchanged since the 1970s. While other pubs have installed giant plasma screens, loud music, stainless steel beer engines and video games, this place has patterned carpets, dark oak panelling and brass fixtures, insanely decorous tablecloths, and a log fire. It's amazing.
The photos don't do it it justice I'm afraid. They were taken on my phone in low light on a dark and stormy evening last autumn but you get the gist I hope. Anyhow, fantastic food and wonderfully friendly hosts - you coudn't ask for a nicer evening out.
But there is a little extra treat in store for you, especially if you like a certain TV detective show ...
The Lee, like many villages on the border of South Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, has appeared in more than a few episodes of Midsomer Murders. As the owners of the pub, Franco and Victoria joked to me, 'It's a miracle we have any customers left'. The pub itself has also featured in several episodes and has a Midsomer memorabilia wall.
There are signed photos of the stars, props and posters and leaflets and even some pages of script. For a murder mystery fan like me, it's a delicious visual digestif to an excelllent meal.
A Murder To Die For has a pub called The Happy Onion in which quite a lot of the action happens. I had the The Cock and Rabbit Inn very much in my head as I ws writing those scenes.