In Search of Bergerac: a trip to Jersey

‘Is it possible,’ Lola asked Jim, ‘to get a drink at this time of day in Bonne Nuit Bay?’ This question, perfectly delivered by Ann Mitchell in a 1988 episode of Bergerac was the focus of an obsession. We had been in Jersey for an hour and I absolutely had to know the contemporary answer to this question. It wasn’t as though I even wanted a drink. I simply wanted to be fully immersed in the world that Jim, Charlie, Crozier and the gang knew, and which we knew through them. Our quest in search of Bergerac would take us to the four corners of the island, and have us find a number of paradoxes and puns some of which you may find below.

Me reading the Jersey Evening Post

Jersey is a small island, and the Bergerac producers covered it all: from the imposing Fort Regent to the little inlets that were beautifully empty in early October. It’s quite easy to find locations from this episode or that, even without the guidance of superfans like Tony Shaw, whose guides available on the Facebook fan group were invaluable. We spent hours in Elizabeth Castle, the amazing and slightly tragic Royal Fort and the Jersey War Tunnels. But you will recognise that these are attractions in their own right. It would take a real obsessive to visit the war tunnels and think that the main point of them is as a venue for the filming of series 1 episode 5 See You in Moscow. And yet John Nettles maintains a presence in the war tunnels, or at least in the shop, where his commentary on matters wartime is available on a reasonably-priced DVD. Nettles’ books on the occupation were also widely available throughout the island.

Jersey lends itself to serendipity, to finding attractions when you weren’t expecting them. We spent a very interesting hour or so in the Battery Moltke, part of the Atlantic Wall, stumbling over it on what would be its last day of opening in 2021. Most people these days, we assume, go to Jersey for reasons other than a detective show that last filmed thirty years ago. Radio Jersey’s one mention of the show that we heard was to place it very firmly in the past in a ‘golden hour’-type feature. In experiencing a largely Bergerac-free island, we were indeed immersed in the modern equivalent of Jim and Charlie’s stamping ground. We found Susan’s flat (it’s being done up), we think we found Marianne’s flat in the time-warp village of Gorey, we had a meal at Lil’s old Royal Barge and a drink outside, as Jim and Barney used to do. But we also managed to learn a bit more about Jersey’s relationship with England, and with France, and with cows.

Jersey is of course supposed to be a bit like Britain: familiar but exotic. As you would expect there is huge evidence of private wealth and spectacular residences with stark modern styling. But we were surprised that the public realm was comparatively tatty. Not just in the dated-looking hotels that seemed unsure whether they had a future, but in the centre of St Helier itself, where Royal Square has the vibes of the turn of the century American mid-west, one side of it given over to what looks like a saloon bar awaiting a shoot-out.

In that public-private tension, public spaces seem to be coming off worse. The Waterfront development is dismal: what could be a spectacular area is dominated by an anonymous and generic chain hotel. For fans of Bergerac and also of modern architecture, the fate of Fort Regent is in the balance. The fort’s modern dome dominates the horizon and it is a genuine architectural icon: a fact not unnoticed in the presentations prepared by the developers proposing to pull it down. The fort suffers from its isolation from the rest of St Helier, elevated high above the town (which of course was originally the point). In the 1980s it hosted the Coca-Cola Hit Man Roadshow, featuring Stock Aitken Waterman roster members Big Fun and Sonia. Now it’s a huge vaccination venue, amazingly appointed gym and slightly sad cafe. It does need a new role, but Jersey without its dome, its symbol that a new future can be created, would be a lessened island. For now, though, you can climb the staircases and run along the landing as Crozier does in series 2, episode 2 Always Leave Them Laughing.

We were in search of Bergerac, and also merchandise. Mercherac, if you’ll allow. You can get plenty of good stuff online. We’ve seen stickers, mugs, coasters and we know that at least one fan has produced a Crozier-based calendar. On the island itself things are a bit more limited. As well as the Nettles DVDs, we found many shops selling copies of Sean Arnold’s book Anton Myst. In the main Jersey museum, which once hosted the famous Triumph roadster, we found a tea towel and a mug. That said, the following week, Jersey Post would release a set of stamps to mark the fortieth anniversary of the show’s first screening. But Bergerac Museum is there none. Charlie Hungerford would probably rue the missed business opportunity, but it’s probably what Jim would have wanted.

And Lola? She would be disappointed. You can’t get a drink this time of day at Bonne Nuit Bay. But there is a rather fine beach cafe serving Thai food. A sign of the Thaimes. As for us: we loved it. If we can do it before the Fort Regent is pulled down, we’ll be Bergerback. Flipping Ada.

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