The series ran from 1981 to 1991 and was created by producer Robert Banks Stewart, after another of his popular detective series Shoestring, starring Trevor Eve, came to a sudden end. The BBC wanted a series to replace Shoestring and Bergerac was created. The mix of stunning scenery, the island's tax-exile millionaire image and some unsavoury criminals, proved a massive hit with viewers.
Like Shoestring, the series began with a man returning to work after a particularly bad period in his life: Eddie Shoestring from a nervous breakdown; Jim Bergerac from alcoholism, a broken leg and a broken marriage.
As well as the supernatural elements which were incorporated into the series, a number of episodes ended with unpleasant twists, as in Offshore Trades and A Hole in the Bucket. The show also dealt with sometimes controversial topics - for example, in one episode, an old man is unmasked as a Nazi war criminal, and his age raises various moral dilemmas.
The evocative theme tune, composed by George Fenton, featured an accordion refrain to a reggae beat.
Jim Bergerac was a complex character and presented by the series as a somewhat unorthodox cop. He was recovering from alcoholism, partly resulting from an unpleasant divorce. A Jersey native, he returned to the island at the start of the series after recuperating in England from alcoholism and major surgery on his leg following an accident caused by him drinking heavily prior to an attempted arrest. The accident is shown in episode two as a flashback: Bergerac was swigging brandy during surveillance when he noticed his suspect and gave chase. Under the influence of his drinking, he attempted to prevent the man's escape by leaping onto his boat and got his leg crushed against the harbour wall as he slipped back. He was deemed unfit for the force as a result of this accident, but helped his old colleagues out in the recently formed Bureau des Étrangers and was posted to that unit.
Bergerac's relationships with women were a frequent theme; often as a subplot to the main crime investigation. Bergerac's girlfriends included the beautiful Francine Leland (Cécile Paoli) (who, in a somewhat odd twist, had originally been the fiancée of Jim’s former colleague killed in the opening scenes of the first episode), Marianne Bellshade (Celia Imrie), Susan Young (Louise Jameson) and Danielle Aubry (Thérèse Liotard). He also had several encounters with ex-wife Deborah Bergerac (Deborah Grant) who had custody of their teenage daughter Kim Bergerac (Lindsay Heath).
Jim Bergerac often displayed 'disobedience' when in the Jersey police force. Due to personal differences, and increasing 'independence', he became a private detective by the end of the series, following the murder of ex-girlfriend Susan Young at the start of series 8.
Few of the characters were repeated throughout the entire series, but a number appeared in many episodes.
One of the most notable characters was Charlie Hungerford (played by Terence Alexander, well known as having played Monty in the BBC adaptation of The Forsyte Saga), who also happened to be Jim Bergerac's former father-in-law. Charlie was a 'lovable rogue' and would-be tycoon, who was often involved in shady dealings, but was paradoxically something of an innocent. Bergerac usually had a good relationship with him (although in the first episode Picking It Up they were seen to be not on the best of terms). In one of the more unbelievable aspects of the series, Charlie was somehow involved in all but two of the 87 cases Bergerac was involved in, Charlie being a good source of gossip when Bergerac had to deal with tax-exiles and people in high places.
Diamante Lil (Mela White) was a recurring character in the first five series. Lil ran Jim’s local, 'The Royal Barge', at St Aubin before moving on to owning a nightclub in St Helier called 'Lil’s Place'. She was also a good source of information for Jim on a lot of his cases.
Other regular characters in the series included Deborah Bergerac (Deborah Grant), Bergerac's ex-wife, and his boss, Chief Inspector Barney Crozier (Sean Arnold), previously Inspector, and later Superintendent. Bergerac also had several sidekicks, who were generally detective constables. Detective Constable Barry Goddard (played by Jersey born actor Jolyon Baker) was one of Jim’s early sidekicks, as was DC Terry Wilson (Geoffrey Leesley). Detective Constables Willy Pettit and Ben Lomas (John Telfer and David Kershaw) were regular characters in the latter half of the series. Hardly any crime could have been solved without the help of the Bureau's redoubtable secretaries Charlotte (Annette Badland) and Peggy Masters (Nancy Mansfield). Many of today's best known stars can be seen in various episodes of the series, many appearing in two episodes over the course of the series. Actors such as Bill Nighy, Norman Wisdom, Greta Scacchi, Geoffrey Palmer, Warren Clarke, Julian Glover, Michael Gambon, Connie Booth, Prunella Scales and Patrick Mower were but a handful of the well known actors keen to enjoy Jersey’s sunny climate in the BBC’s highly popular I want to be seen in that series.
One of the popular recurring characters was glamorous jewel thief Philippa Vale (Liza Goddard) who went by the nickname of 'The Ice Maiden'. She and Bergerac had an ongoing flirtatious relationship. Many people agree that the best episodes were the ones featuring the 'Ice Maiden' character, because of the onscreen chemistry between Liza Goddard and John Nettles. Philippa Vale appeared on an almost once-a-series basis and a Christmas special. When Bergerac was not pursuing her, they engaged in friendly bantering.
Series 7 saw the last appearance of Philippa Vale, series 8 the last of Barney Crozier, just as the character Peggy had also vanished around this time (after series 7) and regular off-duty hostess Diamante Lil (Mela White) had made her last appearance in series 5. Following the episode Root and Branch, Jim's ex-wife Deborah moved from Jersey to England and her number of appearances dwindled. Susan Young, who had become a mainstay of the series from series 4 and onwards, had her last appearance in the first episode of series 8. The last series was thus left somewhat empty of familiar characters, often with only Bergerac himself and Charlie Hungerford remaining.
Jim’s 1947 Triumph Roadster
In keeping with his maverick and adventurous style, Bergerac regularly drove a maroon 1947 Triumph Roadster 2000 (a forerunner of the Triumph's TR series of sports cars) which, with its long bonnet, was a vehicle totally unsuited to the narrow and winding Jersey roads with their speed limits of no more than 40 miles per hour.
Three different cars were used throughout the series. The first was notoriously unreliable and John Nettles generally had to endure the fact that it would not always stop when it was supposed to. Often the car would be seen to be just pulling up at a location, usually having just been pushed into the shot by members of the crew. The car's engine was also horribly noisy and a separate soundtrack was dubbed in to enhance the supposed coolness of the vehicle. Fortunately the two replacement vehicles were much more mechanically sound than the first.
The series played heavily on its Jersey location, and its French feel, even in its theme tune featuring an accordion. The early storylines were usually in and around Jersey, with short scenes shot in England, Guernsey and France. One episode, Burnt, was largely filmed on the tiny Channel Island of Sark, and another was filmed in Alderney. In later episodes the action strayed further and further away from Jersey, and was increasingly based in the south of France, Aix en Provence — introduced in part through Jim's French girlfriend Danielle Aubry.
As Jersey is a small island (nine miles long by five miles wide), most of the filming locations on the island can be traced with ease. Jim Bergerac and Susan Young's flat was located just above St Aubin, a few doors along from the Somerville Hotel. Part of the interior was in another flat at Gorey, six miles away. Jim's original farmhouse home in the first few series was submerged when the Jersey New Waterworks Company flooded Queen's Valley to create a reservoir in 1991. Plans for this reservoir were referred to at the start of season four, when Bergerac was forced to seek new accommodation because of them, in the process meeting an estate agent who became his new girlfriend (Susan Young).
The original Bureau des Étrangers in the first two seasons was located within the States Building in St Helier's Royal Square, but due to the popularity of the programme, filming was often difficult after the first season, as the pretence of filming a documentary series (a rather boring subject to watch) was spoilt by public recognition of Jim's Triumph Roadster. The interiors of the Bureau, the Royal Barge and Jim's Queens Valley cottage with Francine's studio above, for the first series, were filmed in a studio in Ealing. For the second series the sets were erected for filming in the former Forum Cinema in Grenville Street.
The Bureau des Étrangers was then relocated to Haut de la Garenne, a former children's home. The building, on Mont de la Garenne overlooking Mont Orgueil and the Royal Bay of Grouville, ceased being a children's home in 1983 and was reopened many years later as a youth hostel. The BBC used Haut de la Garenne as their unit base for the majority of their time filming the series in Jersey, with production offices located at the rear of the building. In later series, when Jim was set up as a private investigator working out of Charlie Hungerford's offices, the interiors were located inside the front part of Haut de la Garenne, and the exterior was Hemery Row on La Motte Street. Susan Young's office towards the end of her time on the series was also filmed inside Haut de la Garenne. Susan's earlier office, while working for the fictional 'Hobson and Young' was located in the small parade of shops on the corner of Red Houses and La Marquanderie Hill.
'The Royal Barge' was located at the Old Court House, St Aubin a popular inn, hotel and restaurant, at the far end of St Aubin's Harbour with its instantly recognisable window that resembles the stern of an old sailing ship. Lil went on to run a nightclub, 'Lil’s Place', which was the former 'Bonaparte’s' night club at Fort Regent.
Noirmont Manor, overlooking Belcroute Bay, was Charlie Hungerford's home throughout season one. While no explanation is given in the show as to why he moves to Windward House for later episodes, Noirmont Manor is notoriously hard to reach, down a very steep hill, and perhaps not suitable for the big BBC film crew vans. The property also changed ownership between series 1 and 2, which may have also had something to do with the change of location to Windward House.
Windward House, Mont Sohier, St Brelade (demolished in 2012) formerly with lush grounds overlooking Ouaisné and St Brelade's Bay, was a stunning location used internally and externally throughout all the series. This pink and grey building, with white pillared entrance, first appears in season 1, episode 6 Portrait of Yesterday, as the home and wedding venue of the incidental characters. Windward House then reappears from season 2, episode 1 as Charlie Hungerford's main residence where he is hosting a large garden fête, and then appears in almost every episode of the show - either used heavily as part of the central plot, or as a backdrop for family gatherings, drinks parties, business meetings, barbecues, marquee events, etc. The entire house was used over time - particularly the living room with French windows, dining room, conservatory and long gallery hallways. External filming regularly included the gardens, paddock, driveways, fruit gardens, greenhouse, cider press and rockery. The house became Bergerac's 'home' when he was in between properties of his own, and due to its unique design, summed up in many people's minds what a Jersey millionaire's house looked like.
As is standard practice in film and television drama shot on location, the places portrayed are not intended to create an accurate travelogue of the actual island. In the fictional story on screen, locations from different island locations, often miles apart, were frequently edited together into the same sequence. John Nettles, in his book Bergerac's Jersey, states that the locals were always amused by such editing.
As the series ran for a decade, directors found it increasingly difficult to find locations which had not been over-used in past episodes. While promoting his film White Noise in an interview with Xpose magazine, director Geoffrey Sax described how he made an effort to find new locations, only to return for the actual shoot to find camera tripod marks in the ground, another director having shot there in the meantime.
The 4th season episode What Dreams May Come? was the start of an annual tradition of episodes with stories that bordered on the supernatural, with a surreal atmosphere. Later episodes with fantasy elements included the bizarre poisoning of freemasons in Poison, the Christmas episode Fires in the Fall (which features a Bergman-esque representation of Death which appears, to judge from the last line, to have been real in spite of a 'Scooby-Doo' explanation having been offered a scene earlier), A Man of Sorrows which is the only episode of the sixth series set almost entirely outside Jersey, the only episode at all to lack Charlie Hungerford and - partly because of the heroin nature of the storyline, partly because of the lack of familiar characters - a dark, humourless episode unlike any other in the series), the densely plotted The Other Woman, The Dig involving an apparent Viking's curse (apparently inspired by Hammer Horror movies), and Warriors about a group who believed in the existence of Atlantis.
The final episode filmed was the 1991 Christmas Special titled All for Love which was partially set and filmed in Bath. This episode starred Bill Nighy. The final scene provided a strong hint about Bergerac's future, after Charlie Hungerford had recommended Bergerac for the new position of heading up the Bureau des Étrangers as it was rolled out across the Channel Islands following its success in Jersey.
Bergerac is now available on DVD (Region 2, UK) by 2 Entertain/Cinema Club. The first series was released on 8 May 2006, including audio commentary on three of the episodes. The second series was released on 13 July 2006 and the third series was released on 23 October 2006. The other series have been released at regular intervals and the final series was released in 2009.
Unfortunately, mistakes occurred in the supply of the source material for the DVD releases which mean the episodes of Series 1 and 6 are highly edited versions, originally broadcast on UK daytime television. This error has since been amended on the Complete DVD Box Set release, which includes all episodes in their full length.
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Filming on the beach in St Ouen's Bay in 1983
Bergerac's 40th Anniversary in 2021
In October 2021 the BBC released previously unpublished photographs of Bergerac actors and filming in Jersey to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the start of the programme
This was the online article accompanying the pictures:
- "He was a troubled soul, a maverick detective and recovering alcoholic adept at solving complex crimes. Bergerac, the iconic detective series set on the island of Jersey, made a household name of actor John Nettles.
- "On the 40th anniversary of the show's first episode, a collection of previously unseen photographs has been released by the BBC Archive.
- "Bergerac ran for nine series between 1981 and 1991 and regularly attracted audiences of about 15 million people.
- "Nettles, who later went on to star as Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murders, became a sex symbol for many and Bergerac's popularity prompted a tourism boom for Jersey.
- "The show was created by writer Robert Banks Stewart, who spotted Nettles - originally from St Austell in Cornwall and now living in Devon - performing in a theatre production. Banks Stewart convinced BBC bosses that Nettles was perfect to play the title role, despite their reservations at the time of casting someone who was not an already established household name. In an interview in 2008 Banks Stewart said he saw the ability of Nettles to play the character with "a straight honesty and integrity".
- "Andy Banks Stewart, the son of producer Robert Banks Stewart, said: 'I think Bergerac is particularly memorable to people because of a quality dad sought, which was to bring an authenticity as he wrote from his own personal experiences.'
- "The series was unlike many other studio-based productions, as it was shot entirely on film on location, which was a key production element Banks Stewart remembers his father insisting on. "Dad knew the importance of every aspect of production and was really committed to using film, despite the pressure to use the cheaper alternative of video. Bergerac represented in many ways dad's greatest success, he was incredibly proud of it… it lasted almost 10 series and still has legs."
- "Episodes in each series featured different directors, including several who went on to direct Hollywood films, such as Geoffrey Sax, who directed White Noise (2005) and Martin Campbell, who directed the James Bond films Goldeneye (1995) and Casino Royale (2006).
- "And it's an episode directed by Campbell - Relative Values - that Nettles says is his all-time favourite.
- "To mark the anniversary the BBC has had the master film reels held in the BBC Archive digitised and restored and a special screening is planned in the island later in the year. The restored episode, featuring the late Warren Clarke and Lynda La Plante - before she became a bestselling writer - is ten minutes longer than copies edited to contain commercial breaks.
- "The show's huge audiences made stars of the regular cast, including Terence Alexander, who played Bergerac's father-in-law Charlie Hungerford, Deborah Grant, who played his ex-wife, and Sean Arnold, who played chief inspector Barney Crozier.
- "There were also frequent appearances by actresses Louise Jameson and Liza Goddard, and a large selection of guest stars.
- "The massive audiences for the series also led to a surge in tourism for Jersey.
- "Some residents at the time of filming the series believed tourism had doubled and the island still attracts fans of the show.
- "'At the end of the day Bergerac was all about pictures, it was about beautiful islands and unlikely villains beating each other up on cliff tops in bright sunshine,' said Nettles. 'If you got bored with the storyline... you could look over the shoulder of whoever was in front of the camera and see this marvellous scenery.
- "'You'd see Corbiere Lighthouse, or you could look over at Terence doing his stuff and you'd see the great length of five-mile beach... or the extraordinary cliffs up at L'Etacq in the north of the island. That's the great thing about Jersey, it's only nine miles by six with the tide out, nevertheless it contains within itself the greatest variety of locations you could wish for.'
Possible New Series
- "There are currently plans for a new series, based again in Jersey. The possibility for a revival was first revealed in 2019 by Westward Studios which is based in the island. Executive producer Brian Constantine said: 'We are working with a fantastic team and there is so much work going on behind the scenes, some of the ideas and writing is fantastic, watch this space.'
- "Asked about a revival, Nettles said: 'Any hint of an audience and I'll be there'.