Bergerac hit British TV screens for the first time on 18 October 1981. Little did anyone know then how popular this series would grow to be, that the series set on the lovely Jersey, Channel Islands, featuring the handsome, slightly troubled and off-beat cop Bergerac, would enthral so many people all over the world for so long. Bergerac has become a classic, and you can still see repeats on various TV channels around the world. The series will also soon be available on DVD.
So what was it about this series which made it so popular? Why did so many people all over the world place themselves in front of their TV sets when Bergerac was on, letting themselves being drawn into the fairly unlikely stories that took place on this small island?
I think we can safely say that Jim Bergerac himself was an important reason for the popularity. He was a decent guy that many people could identify themselves with. He was far from perfect: he was an alcoholic, hopeless in relationships, made plenty of mistakes. He was no super-human, but a vulnerable man, which made him sympathetic. You don’t believe in James Bond, but you might believe in James Bergerac. John Nettles who portrayed this man must, naturally, take a lot of the credit for this. At the beginning there was not much for him to build on as the script didn’t contain much character description. It was then largely left to him to portray the detective being a little laid back and a man of few words. John once said in an interview that he had two regrets about how Jim Bergerac was introduced on the screen. Firstly he felt that he would have liked, in the interest of authenticity, to have worked hard on perfecting a Jersey accent for the part, and secondly he felt that Bergerac’s character could have been explored and explained in more depth if the stories had started two years earlier in his fictional life, when the detective was going through the difficulties of marriage breakdown and a bout of alcoholism. Despite the subject of Jim’s early alcoholism problems remaining largely unexplored in the series, John received a number of letters from members of Alcoholic Anonymous discussing the involvement of that subject in Bergerac.
Part of the charm and the attraction to many viewers, perhaps particularly in the UK, was that the series was set in Jersey, not only because of the island’s beauty, but also because many saw Jersey as a place where the values that they were losing were still very much up front, as the island traditionally prides itself in being a conservative society where people adhere to their values.
Another point in favour of the series is the fact that it didn’t dwell on aspects of sex and violence which other series tend to use in abundance to prevent interest in their storyline from dwindling.
Attempts to continually re-vitalise the storyline were made by introducing different directors and script writers to the series. However, good directors and script writers cost money, and the BBC didn’t seem to be willing to pay very much in the end, thus resulting in weaker storylines in the later seasons. I think most of us must admit that even if it was incredibly sad to say goodbye to Jim Bergerac after 82 episodes, it was probably about time. The series had run out of steam. Jim was no longer the Jersey policeman we had learnt to know and love, but a grape picking private eye in Provence. Nevertheless, Bergerac was built to last. To watch it now is to appreciate what a great and enjoyable series it was.