Guitar, accordian and the island of Jersey…what else could it be but Bergerac, the early-eighties police show starring a young John Nettles as an unorthodox cop living amongst the millionaires on the island…
Between the end of the Second World War, during which it was occupied by the Nazis, and more recent years when it has been enjoying something of a boom time thanks to the Internet, Jersey was probably best known for Bergerac, the early-eighties BBC cop show that starred a young John Nettles as the titular detective. And therein lies the first of the problems with this set…the trying hard not to confuse the John Nettles of Bergerac with the John Nettles of Midsomer Murders. Time has a funny way of making one out to be as cosy – if not quite as deadly – as the other.
It doesn’t take long to find oneself back in the early-eighties on first hearing that odd mess of English guitar and French accordion that served as the theme tune to Bergerac, nor indeed with the island of Jersey morphing into the title of the show. Making full use of this location – and this was when millionaires were still quite rare…you’re stepping over them on a weekday evening in the City – Bergerac presented police investigations against the backdrop of the tax haven, mixing everyday murders and drug running with burglaries that target the millionaires who have retired to live there. These worlds of the ordinary and of the very rich are bridged by Jim Bergerac, a recovering alcoholic who’s returning to the island as this series opens.
Having injured his leg in an incident with a drug dealer, Jim Bergerac had taken some uneventful time off to recover but even before his plane lands, he’s involved in a crime scene, leaning out of his window to get a better view of a policeman chasing a fleeing gun runner down the runway before fatally crashing his car. Before the episode is over, Bergerac has met with his ex-wife, his daughter and Charlie Hungerford (Terence Alexander), his ex-father-in-law who is something of a well-known figure on the island both for his wealth and for his public profile. Then there’s also a meeting with Barney Crozier (Sean Arnold), his prospective new boss but one with whom hell enjoy a strained relationship over the next nine episodes.
All of these events set Jim Bergerac up to be an unorthodox character, something of a cliche now – and, most likely, even then – but which works in the context of the show. So easygoing is this show, that regardless of how obvious much of it is, it’s a hugely enjoyable one. Even when the first episode ends with rogue cop Bergerac bringing in an illegal arms trader via a visit to his home, a fistfight by a pool and a wave of popular support through the press, which has made him untouchable in the eyes of his superiors, one’s brain has already regressed into such a state of neutrality that the episode could end with the raising of Atlantis off the Jersey coast without ever feeling surprised at events. Little wonder, then, that the BBC made Bergerac a staple of its afternoon schedules at the beginning of this decade, being just the sort of thing to accompany a cup of tea and slice of Victoria sponge.
Which brings us to the main problem with this set. As much as this is listed as the complete first series, it’s not. Given the only versions of the episodes that existed on videotape, 2 Entertain were actually handed the daytime edits, all of which run to forty-eight minutes or thereabouts rather than the hour-long original broadcast versions that only now exist on film. Rather than re-telecine these versions, 2 Entertain have released the daytime edits on this three disc set and although purists may complain about this – there is more than one Internet forum saying that it would be preferable for Bergerac not to be released at all than only to have these edited versions – I suspect that most casual buyers will be glad to see it on disc at all. Certainly, the episodes flow quite well but it’s noticeable in a number of them that the action leaps forward when it ought to move more smoothly. But as one who is pushed to remember these shows when they were first broadcast – I was 10 and may have had more of an interest in Battle of the Planets than Bergerac at the time – these were certainly enjoyable but I can well understand how there are those who will have cancelled their orders on hearing of this turn of events.
For everyone else, Bergerac isn’t a bad show but it’s also one that is likely to appeal to quite a broad range of people, not only those who remember it from the first time but also those in a mind for a relaxed and very occasional fifty minutes of viewing. That’s it’s not an hour of viewing may be disappointing but, never seeming like a show that will attract the most dedicated of viewers, I would be surprised if many of those buying it actually notice.
Picking it Up (48m44s): Returning from Jersey from a short time in recuperation, the plane on which Jim Bergerac is travelling is forced to pull up before landing. As Bergerac looks out the window, he sees a small Cessna light aircraft being chased by a police car but when the chase goes wrong, the car is forced off the road and is overturned, killing the man inside. As Bergerac attends the funeral of his colleague, Tom Draycott, he ignores the official investigation and begins one of his own, one that takes him into the world of gun running to South Africa.
Nice People Die in Bed (48m59s): Despite the official story being that he died of a heart attack, Jim Bergerac is called in when Sir Edward Lister, the well-known chairman of the Overseas Famine Foundation, is found dead at a fund-raising event. Displaying his usual lack of tact, Bergerac doesn’t accept the official version – neither does the police coroner – and upsets Lister’s friends and family, including his widow, Diana (Rosemary Martin). But a new friend in AA has the making of a case when he remembers the night of the death.
Unlucky Dip (47m29s): Tailing Raymond Dumoitier (John Rowe) from France who’s suspected of drug running, Bergerac turns up nothing when he’s forced to arrest him on Jersey. Released without charge, Dumoitier is beaten up by his dealers but, looking for a way to get Bergerac off the case, blames the cop for his injuries. Not only fighting the brutality charge that’s against him, Bergerac must also find the cocaine and the pickpocket who’s now thought to be selling it to the wealthy kids on the island who have no idea of its strength.
Campaign For Silence (48m42s): When a writer visiting the island is murdered, Bergerac is assigned to investigate. Finding that he was assisting in the writing of the memoirs of a retired Army officer and former POW, Bergerac visits the home of Major Furneaux (Ian Hendry) but learns that he has also been threatened. Someone doesn’t want his book to come out and the truth of it, as Bergerac finds out, lies in events during the Korean War.
See You in Moscow (47m57s): The Cold War comes to Jersey when Margaret Semple (Sarah Kestleman), a civil servant who has been exposed as a Russian spy, attempts to escape to Moscow through Jersey. As the Bureau des Etrangers rouse themselves to find her, her Russian handlers are also keen on discovering her whereabouts but only one of them want her alive.
Portrait of Yesterday (48m37s): During a break-in at a church, a young vicar, Andrew Reardon (Graham Seed), is thrown down a staircase and is admitted to hospital, badly hurt. As Bergerac investigates, he finds that the young students who were initially suspected of the crime may have been drunk but were not dangerous. The same can not be said of the driver of a mysterious white car who appears wherever and whenever Sarah Mitchell (Sarah Lawson) does. As the wedding of Mitchell’s daughter approaches, something from her past comes back to haunt her.
Last Chance For a Loser (48m52s): Ex-golf pro Eddie St. Pierre (Patrick Mower) comes back to Jersey but his arrival coincides with the beginning of series of burglaries of the island’s wealthiest residents. But things take a personal turn for Bergerac when the home of Charlie Hungerford is burgled and he’s injured by the burglars, as it does for St. Pierre when the home of an ex-lover Anne Beresford (Sarah Douglas) is next on the list. St. Pierre tries calling it off but it’s too late, both for his partners, who are getting rich, and for Bergerac.
Late For a Funeral (48m40s): The passengers on a glass-bottomed pleasure boat are shocked when they see the body of a man in the water. With Bergerac called in to investigate – Francine was the hostess on the boat – he finds that the past has come back to haunt Jersey when one body is revealed as two…one a diver and the other the body of a Nazi pilot whose plane was shot down during the Second World War.
Relative Values (48m54s): Future thriller writer and star Lynda La Plante and Warren Clarke guest star as Lisa Reynolds and Philip Bernard, one the housekeeper of an eccentric millionaire and the other his son. When Bernard’s father collapses at home with a case of food poisoning, he calls in the Bureau des Etrangers when he suspects she may be attempting to poison his father for his inheritance.
The Hood and the Harlequin (48m52s): The relationship between Jim and Francine is going well…perhaps too well. As they begin to argue about her friendship with a fashion photographer, he’s pulled away on a case to follow the girlfriend, Annie (Greta Scacchi), of a French gangster who’s on the run, hoping that he’ll be led to his whereabouts.
Like the recent release of Howards’ Way on DVD, this looks fine but not particularly special, showing a lot of noise on the first disc but less on the other two. There is never the feeling, though, that watching these episodes on DVD offers any improvement of the sound and picture quality than had they been viewed on Sky, either on UK Gold or on afternoon repeats on the BBC. As such, there isn’t very much detail in the picture and it’s soft but viewed on an ordinary television, it should just do but Bergerac shouldn’t really be let near a large screen. Similarly, the audio track is a very reasonable one but very little about it stands out, doing the job but not a great deal more.
Commentaries: Like the recent Howards’ Way set, 2 Entertain have brought cast and crew together to record three commentaries for this set on episodes 1, 5 and 10 – Picking it Up, See You in Moscow and The Hood and the Harlequin. Joining star John Nettles is series creator Robert Banks Stewart and though the two of them had a working relationship on Bergerac they sound, more than anything, like two old friends. When Stewart asks of Nettles why, in one of his two books, he was described as having an impenetrable Scottish accent – he doesn’t – he also sets the scene for what follows, talking long into the credits as they reveal what happened behind the scenes, laugh at Nettles forgetting which leg is supposed to have been injured and at the numerous continuity errors. There’s a good deal to enjoy in these commentaries, much as you might expect there to be given how well Stewart and Nettle get on, but in amongst the teasing they make sure to keep the making of the show at the forefront of their memories and only very occasionally do they drift towards silence.
With a little action, a decent amount of investigative work, the attractive locales of Jersey, humour – Simon Cadell’s, “Bureau des Etrangers. Office of Strangers…how very Kafka!” in Campaign For Silence is a particular highlight – and an endearing lead performance by John Nettles, it’s little wonder than Bergerac became the success that it was. And, then, little wonder that 2 Entertain have sought to release it on DVD. Of course, that these are the edited versions of the episodes is a disappointment but the commentaries should go some way to making up for this. How much is up to you but boycott Bergerac or not, the full versions of these episodes will not, I suspect, be making an appearance on DVD anytime soon.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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