Anyone old enough to remember Bergerac in its day (and it ran for eleven years) would be forgiven for remembering it as little more than a mainstream relic of its era. But viewed in hindsight it reveals itself as a cop show of unique calibre, a channel island based study in one man’s psychological decline. Hawaii 5-0 for Thatcher’s Britain, the not quite French Connection.
It works like this. No sooner has the bizarre accordion-led theme tune lulled you into a false sense of nostalgic security than we are confronted with the unsmiling figure of Jim Bergerac himself, arguably one of the most un-likeable and oddly compelling characters ever to merit nine series of primetime TV. A recovering alcoholic divorcee with a problem with authority, the root cause of Bergerac’s bad ass attitude remains tantalizingly obscure. Perhaps it's the fact that he’s named after a wine region but can’t drink anymore. Perhaps it's because he knew all the cool kids were watching Miami Vice instead (a fact he tacitly acknowledges by rolling up his sleeves). Either way, he’s always in a mood about something, and it’s a mood that John Nettles communicates as though he were plumbed into sewer of barely contained bile. It makes his performance in Midsomer Murders look slapstick by comparison.
Around the walking cloud of this central character blossoms the BBC’s version of 80’s Jersey, a sartorial and factual free for all where drug dealers, money launderers, war criminals, bent cops and bad apples wash up with weekly regularity. If any island really were that bedevilled by crime the simple solution would be to quarantine it. Instead it falls to Bergerac to tear about the place in his vintage Triumph (burgundy coloured-just to wind him up even more) solving crimes and shacking up with women who get bumped off before they can even try to fail to understand him.
Another great thing about this show is the supporting cast. Like The Bill, Bergerac employed every living British actor during its duration. This inevitably included some very good ones (Michael Gambon, Warren Clarke and Ian Hendry) some stupid ones (Norman Wisdom) and some unfeasibly attractive young actresses killing time on their way to Hollywood (Joanne Whalley and Greta Scachhi). Special praise must also go to Terrance Alexander who plays Charlie, Bergerac’s former father in law who’s always two heartbeats away from a cardiac arrest and inexplicably involved in every single crime.
Like all long running series Bergerac eventually ran out of steam. Jim moved to France to work as a private detective, which left the viewers almost as unhappy as he was. The good news here is that it is the original 1980 series which is being repeated, and all appeals to nostalgic irony aside, there is some genuinely great drama to be found here lurking amongst the retro action. So no matter how grim the mood that drive you to daytime TV, however bad you’re feeling, you’ll never be as miserable as Jim.