Midsomer Murders films in numerous real locations throughout South Oxfordshire and some have the honour of being used multiple times. One of these is the Spreadeagle Hotel in Thame.

Exterior of the Spreadeagle hotel

The Spreadeagle hotel

What you may not know its that this modern recognition sits alongside fame and notoriety gained in the 1920’s and 30’s, when the hotel was owned by an eccentric, blunt-speaking character named John Fothergill. Describing himself in Who’s Who as ‘Pioneer Amateur Innkeeper’, Fothergill made ‘inn-keeping’ a profession, and was the man who championed high standards of food and service in English country hotels. Thanks to its reputation as one of the best in the land, the Spreadeagle attracted writers, artists, actors and even heads of state.

In 1931, Fothergill published An Innkeeper’s Diary which is both amusing and opinionated in equal measure. Though inclined towards snobby attitudes, his reputation as a chef, innkeeper and connoisseur of fine produce was second to none. If he liked you he would go to great lengths to make you welcome; for example author Evelyn Waugh sent him a copy of ‘Decline and Fall’, inscribed to ‘Oxford’s only civilising influence’. And thespian Sir John Gielgud’s compliments led Fothergill to write “John Gielgud cheered me today by saying he knew no hotel in England that approached this within measurable distance. It’s true, of course, but you don’t expect people to feel and know that as keenly as I do myself. Bless him!”

Some customers might have disagreed; Fothergill wasted no time on those deemed unworthy of his hospitality including (but not limited to) shop girls, salesmen, haughty females, bounders, people who only wanted to use the loo, people who only wanted to look at the garden, people who only sheltered from the rain and anyone who requested mint sauce with their lamb! A customer asking if the biscuits were ‘a home made effort’ was quickly informed “they’re not an effort, they’re an achievement”.

Such was his influence that in 1981, a drama called Fothergill’s aired on TV as part of BBC 2’s Playhouse series, with Robert Hardy in the title role.

The Spread, as it is known locally in Thame, is still going strong although without Fothergill’s choice opinions. A classic English inn, all creaking floorboards and quirky nooks, the hotel featured in Vixen’s Run and Midsomer Life. Drop-by when exploring the Northern Midsomer Trail. You’ll see why the producers keep coming back here to film, though perhaps luckily there is no John Fothergill to deal with these days. Who knows what he would have made of film crews!