You are probably aware that the most important element in a popular TV show is the scenery. Whether it is the Yorkshire dales of Heartbeat and All Creatures Great and Small, the rural Scotland of Hamish Macbeth, or the gleaming spires of Inspector Morse, the one thing a successful program needs is an instantly recognisable location. Thus it is not far-fetched to attribute the success of 1980s British cop show Bergerac to the quaint charms of Jersey.
The central character of the long-running (1981-1991) BBC television show was Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac (played by John Nettles), but the real star was the small British island just off the north coast of France, whose distinctive silhouette featured prominently in the opening credits. Despite its tiny size, only nine miles across and five miles up, the island is home to huge numbers of millionaires and tax exiles - and, it would seem, nearly as many criminals.
Aside from Jersey, the other stars of the show were Bergerac's car, a classic British motor, the burgundy 1959 Triumph Roadster, and George Fenton's guitar and harmonica theme tune. Fenton has scored films including Gandhi, Cry Freedom, Groundhog Day, The Fisher King, Dangerous Liaisons, and snooker musical Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire; for television he provided music for The Blue Planet and Jewel In The Crown. The car was perhaps not so talented but probably better-looking.
Like all the best TV cops, Jim Bergerac was a divorced recovering alcoholic constantly in conflict with his former wife's father, millionaire playboy Charlie Hungerford (Terence Alexander). Bergerac worked for a department of the Jersey police called the Bureau Des Estrangers, which dealt with tourists, tax exiles, etc. He found himself investigating a mix of murders, thefts, blackmail and other crimes among the island's super-rich. Since Bergerac had about one-millionth the disposable income of the typical criminal or victim, there may have been a hint of class warfare in his dogged pursuit of the wealthy wrong-doers. But he was also a classic maverick cop, running up against his boss Crozier.
Bergerac (for pronunciation remember the jokes about the soft G being the only soft thing about him) had a fairly tough, no-nonsense persona, a wow with the ladies (possibly due to the car) and winning a grudging respect from most of those he came up against. His girlfriends included French lady Frankie (Cecile Paoli) and estate agent Susan Young (Louise Jameson - better known as Leela in Doctor Who and Rosa Di Marco in EastEnders), and he also flirted wildly with jewel thief Phillipa Vale "The Ice Maiden" (played by children's TV stalward Liza Goddard - Skippy, Woof!).
As one of the BBC's biggest ratings winners through the 1980s, it had a strong cast and crew. Bergerac's ex-wife was played by Deborah Grant, a long-serving TV actor, and Terence Alexander (who played Charlie) was a vastly experienced figure with numerous roles as military men, tycoons, lawyers and politicians: he had co-starred as Lloyd in the Fred Zinnemann Day of the Jackal (1973), appeared in the TV series The Pallisters (1974), and in the 1950s played a number of roles in Hancock's Half Hour. The cast was rounded out by Mela White as tackily-dressed bar-owner Diamante Lil, Nancy Mansfield as secretary Peggy Masters, and Stephen Yardley-lookalike Sean Arnold as our hero's boss Chief Inspector Barney Crozier.
Other guest stars included Geoffrey "Butterflies" Palmer, Joanne "The Singing Detective" Whalley, Greta "nude scene" Scacchi, Warren "Dalziel and Pascoe" Clarke, Norman "Albania" Wisdom, Ray "Scum" Winstone, Tony "Baldrick" Robinson, and Charles "Well, if we blow up Kansas the world may not hear about it for years" Gray. The show was created by Robert Banks Stewart. Writers included Chris Boucher (known for his work on Blakes 7), Robert Holmes (Doctor Who), Brian Clemens (The Avengers), and Ian Kennedy Martin (numerous cop shows).
Bergerac did wonders for tourism on the island, whose sunny climes and general scenicness earned the show the industry nickname "Jersey 5-0". Nettles himself fell in love with the former French possession, and wrote a book, "Bergerac's Jersey" (1988), and then another, "John Nettles' Jersey" (1992). However, as the show came to the end of its run (as with Morse's Oxford, there could have been few people left unmurdered on the island), producers tried to inject something new by making Bergerac quit the police force and move to France to become a private detective.
Following the show, Nettles (who has a degree in history and philosophy from Southampton University and was a teacher before turning to acting professionally) tried his hand at writing, including his autobiography - Nudity in a Public Place (1991) - and theatre, working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, with fond memories of Bergerac still in the mind of many people, he returned to television in 1997 as Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, the detective hero of Midsomer Murders for ITV.
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"Bergerac". Memorable TV. http://www.memorabletv.com/showsaz/bergerac.htm (August 7, 2003).
Chris Orton. "Bergerac". RobBoard. http://www.circus.edendev.co.uk/reviews/reviewtexts/8text.php (August 7, 2003).
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