It’s forty years ago tonight that Bergerac touched down on the runway at Jersey airport and began a decade-long run on BBC ONE primetime. The show played on the relationship between the familiar and the exotic (it had undubbed dialogue in French!) and drew huge audiences. I was not among them then but, like everyone else, was aware of the show: its reggae-and-accordion theme tune and its lead actors. It is now available to a new generation of viewers through streaming services and it was a big part of our lockdown routine last year. Now, of course, there is an additional layer of ‘other’ as we look back at 1980s life. It’s time to mark this moment by choosing ten favourite episodes:
S1 E5 – See you in Moscow
Sometimes Jersey was just a backdrop: part of a route taken by criminals, or, in this case defectors. When Margaret Semple, a senior British civil servant, fled to Jersey, thinking that she would be reunited with her KGB lover, the Bureau were on high alert – and had arrogant incompetents from MI6 to deal with too. There are twists and turns (including a high-tension bus ride) and no little tragedy, together with a high octane denouement in the Jersey War Tunnels.
S3 E1 – Ninety per cent Proof
Has Jim Bergerac fallen off the wagon? When he collapses at the Royal Yacht, shortly after supporting a woman asking for help and phoning boss Barney Crozier to say there’s been a murder for which there’s no evidence, ex-father-in-law Charlie Hungerford and others certainly think so. But not all is what it seems, and Jim needs to tie together the links between a theatre troupe, a wealthy and connected family and an arson case. John Nettles puts in an outstanding performance as Jim recovers from the alcohol he’s ingested. Series 3 would mark a thaw in the relationship between Jim and ex-wife Debbie, and Deborah Grant gets to play her character in a more sympathetic way than we’ve been used to – and Sean Arnold’s Barney is more supportive of Jim than usual. This episode contains action balanced by a little comedy (a jigsaw for Terry!) and tenderness – and has a big punch up at the end, too.
S5 E3 – Winner take all
Bergerac presents the future, as Charlie organises Jersey’s first Computer Conference, or Computercon. In those days, of course, the future was whirring machines and banks of screens with green text – and speakers at Computercon used actual slide decks to illustrate their presentations. Michael Gambon plays a petulant, whiny computing supremo, but someone’s hacking into his mainframe to threaten him. There are explosions, a sabotaged car, a timed bomb, the phenomenally-named Arthur Putnam of Lutronic Developments, Susan drop-kicking her shopping as Jim rushes off to explore a new lead, and Jim and Barney interrupting Debbie’s love-life in the name of the law. And Charlie shares with us two limericks, inadvertently. Blooming Ada! This episode has everything.
S5 E6 – SPARTA
It was a tossup between this and Treasure Hunt for Philippa Vale episodes. Treasure Hunt is hugely enjoyable, including a Benny Hill-style chase through a big reception and a more serious one through Elizabeth Castle. We get to hear Terry, Peggy and Barney sing, too. But I’m going for SPARTA because this is the closest we get to a James Bond spoof. The villain is a truly disgusting individual whose comeuppance we demand. There’s a buggy chase which is straight out of Diamonds are Forever. There’s a strange moment during the shoot-off at the end at which they seem to run out of footage and revert to stills – which is itself an interesting choice. This is big, confident, escapist popular television. Fabulous.
S6 E4 – Burnt
Every now and again Bergerac explored Jersey’s tax arrangements. Burnt sees a dodgy financier run rings around the British government’s inspectors. But Jim follows a lead to the smaller Channel island of Sark, where law and tax are unknown and phantom company directors are organised by a smallholder with a large pig called Arthur. This is one of the episodes where Bergerac questions Jim’s sense of right and wrong. Its ending questions we the viewer about whether revenge is the best way to settle a score.
S6 E6 – A Man of Sorrows
A real outlier, with no appearance for Charlie Hungerford and most of the action taking place in the City of London. Barney is working on a cross-border drug sting, but inexplicably tries to deflect Jim by sending him to London to liaise with ‘overeducated tosser’ Alan Hallowes, who has been compromised. Jim explores the ethics of his trade, and of wider society during a wild 72 hours in the city. This episode is multi-layered and nuanced, bears repeated viewings to pick out and discuss the details, and features an incredible performance by Jack Galloway as the troubled, addicted, abandoned Hallowes.
S7 E3 – Tango in the Night
The emptiness of society life – especially on an island as small as Jersey – is occasionally explored in Bergerac, perhaps to remind us on the mainland that living in paradise can in fact be excruciatingly dull. In this episode, Jersey has gone tango-crazy, and dance teacher Pepe is much in demand among ladies of a certain age. A group of younger women, the self-styled ‘rat pack’ are out to cause trouble. But Jim realises that the leader of the rat pack and the mysterious Pepe have more in common than they think. This episode is slightly ludicrous but great fun as Jim plays matchmaker while Barney ‘eats the carpet’ and his attempts at ingratiating himself with the island’s powerful come unstuck.
S7 E4 – The Other Woman
The middle in a fantastic set of three episodes sees Susan in the frame when Charlie finds a man dead in a golf course bunker. Murder has arisen, it turns out, from unintended consequences. Maybe Susan did it, maybe she didn’t (spoiler – she didn’t, because she’s in the next episode), but in the meantime there’s some evocative footage of Jersey beaches as Joan Armatrading serenades Susan and Jim, just before Susan royally loses it with Barney when he has her in for questioning. Obviously, Jim figures it all out but not before Susan puts herself in real danger.
S7 E5 – Weekend Off
Another London-based episode, Weekend Off sees Jim on an armed stakeout, for convoluted reasons. David Troughton is excellent as the blustering, bullying man from CID who gets himself shot; Jim ends up picking up the pieces as Susan and Deborah watch on nervously. The scenes between the two women are enjoyable – especially when they have commandeered a patrol car – though for silliness the Pigeon Street cameo takes some beating. A running theme of the whole of Bergerac is the disrespect given to the Jersey team by colleagues from other forces, and the way in which the islanders have to dig those other forces out of a hole; here we are again. The plot is, we shall say, unlikely, but this is an action-packed episode with lots of changes in pace and maybe some character development.
…but the Jersey cow-shaped trophy goes to…
S2 E6 – Fall of a Birdman
‘Right! Action!’ We start on Charlie’s yacht, where an advert for a new drink he’s developing is being unrealistically filmed. A stuntman involved in the advert goes missing: what was thought to be a hang-gliding accident turns out to be a case of strangling. This episode has great guests (Richard Griffiths as a rock-climber (and Charlotte’s ex) and Donald Sumpter having the time of his life as the ad director), the courage to include country music in its soundtrack, decent detective work, full use of the island’s potential for beautiful locations and a final scene in which John Nettles is clearly, genuinely terrified. And it’s about ornithology envy! This episode fully understands what Bergerac was all about and could not have been part of another series.
So: there’s my ten: a mix of types of episode. Generally those where Jersey is central to the episode’s success, and there is good use of all our favourite characters. A concentration on the middle years, perhaps, even though series 2 is the one most regularly watched down our way. Only one Philippa Vale episode. None of the more mystical adventures. None of the episodes where Jim’s family (other than Susan) were under threat. Nothing from series 4, 8 or 9. No real reason for any of that.
What do you think? What’s your favourite? Which episodes have been unjustly ignored?
Be sure to check further #Bergerac40 coverage coming over the next few days.