In the late 1970’s Trevor Eve was riding high as the most popular actor in Britain thanks to his starring role in the excellent series Shoestring which saw him playing a “private detective” who worked for a radio station tackling cases for listeners, halfway through the second season he made it plain that he wouldn’t be making a third, this left the BBC and Shoestring producer Robert Banks Stewart in something of a quandary, the infrastructure and time slot for a third season was already in place. Luckily Banks Stewart came up with something of a winner, another crime series but this time set on the idyllic island of Jersey.
Snagging the lead role in the new series was John Nettles who had first made a name for himself in the popular ITV series A Family At War but had mostly been a stage actor since then. Jersey itself was also going to be a major part of the series, this tax haven for the wealthy that lies just a couple of miles off the coast of France had been taken over by the invading Germans during World War II but outside of a couple of dramas about the War had never really been made use of as a location.
When the series begins Detective Sergeant Jim Bergerac is no straight forward cop, he’s a recovering alcoholic with quite a few issues, he does drive a rather cool 1959 burgundy Triumph roadster though. In the opening episode Jim is determined to investigate the killing of his former police partner even if it means getting booted off the force in the process, luckily for us though Bergerac ends up being drafted into a new unit, The Bureau Des Estrangers, which has been set up to deal with tourist crime on the island.
Working under taciturn Barney Crozier Jim is initially unhappy about the role but has a kind of grudging realisation that at least there is a steady stream of interesting cases to deal with. The Bureau was a great move actually as it allowed a constant stream of fresh faces to arrive on what is essential a strip of land five miles wide and over the course of the series a whole raft of well known faces popped up in guest roles including the likes of Greta Scacchi, Warren Clarke, a young Joanne Whalley, Geoffrey Palmer, Ray Winstone, the legendary Norman Wisdom and Liza Goddard to name just a few. An intrinsic part of the show too was Jim’s relationship with Charlie Hungerford the father of his ex-wife Deborah. Charlie was absolutely loaded and had his finger in every pie going, one of the key members of Jersey society he makes an appearance in every episode thanks to a bit of canny contract negotations by the fab Terence Alexander who plays him.
Liza Goddard’s role in the series was a semi-recurring one too playing jewel thief Phillipa Vale who enjoyed a flirtatious relationship with Bergerac who never seemed able to bring himself to bring her to justice. Speaking of love interests, in the first series Jim became involved with Frankie the French girlfriend of his old partner but his most consistant relationship was with real estate agent Susan Young (played by former Doctor Who companion Louise Jameson) who provided the catalyst for one of the most intriguing seasons of Bergerac when their relationship began to go awry and she died in mysterious circumstances. For a time you were left thinking that Jim might have actually murdered her! Towards the end of the series Jim fell in love with a French woman whilst on a case in the country and ended up quitting the force to work as a private detective both on Jersey and in France.
One of the major plus points of the series was the way that it didn’t always stick to your standard crime story of the week format, it’s continuing storyline meant that you really got to know the supporting characters and the plots themselves too were never afraid to move into darker territory occasionally moving into outright horror or the unexplained.
It was and remains a superbly entertaining series, when it ended Nettles said that having been in the show for ten years he didn’t want to embark on another long running series, of course a few years later he took the part of Tom Barnaby in the incredibly popular Midsomer Murders and stayed with the series for 14 years!
As much a part of the show as Nettles himself the island of Jersey became a major tourist hot spot thanks in no small part to the series. It’s small but perfectly formed and is just five miles wide and nine miles long, much closer to France than England it is also blessed with sandy beaches and much better weather than the rest of the UK. It has become something of a tax haven and scores high with visitors when shopping because the dreaded English VAT doesn’t apply there.
The capital is called St Helier and has a very French feel, as does much of the island naturally enough. Key areas of interest for visitors are Elizabeth Castle which has become a military museum, Jersey Museum and the Old Court House Hotel in St Aubin. Explorers can find the house Jim lived in on the show in the area of Haut de la Garenne. Famed naturalist Gerald Durrell created Jersey Zoo on the island and the Jersey Wildlife Presevation Trust, which does a fantastic job in trying to preserve rare species threatened with extinction, is run from it. Meanwhile one of the biggest events of the year is The Battle of Flowers which takes place on the second Thursday in August – a carnival like day in which hundreds of floats decked out in flowers travels across the island.
Jim drove a vintage 1959 burgundy triumph roadster.
UK / BBC-1 / 81×50 minute episodes 5×90 minute episodes / Broadcast 18 October 1981- 26 December 1991
Creator: Robert Banks Stewart / Music: George Fenton / Producers: Robert Banks Stewart, Jonathan Alwyn, George Gallaccio, Juliet Grimm
JOHN NETTLES as Jim Bergerac
TERENCE ALEXANDER as Charlie Hungerford
SEAN ARNOLD as Barney Crozier
DEBORAH GRANT as Deborah Bergerac
LOUISE JAMESON as Susan Young
MELA WHITE as Diamante Lil
NANCY MANSFIELD as Peggy Masters
JOHN TELFER as D.C. Willy Petit
DAVID KERSHAW as D.C. Ben Lomas
CECILE PAOLI as Frankie(season 1)