BBC — BERGERAC — 1981–1990
This series was a long appreciated TV event in its own days. It lasted nine years and had a strong unity in its geographic center: It was Jersey, the most famous of all Channel Islands, best known today for its status as a tax haven in Europe. And in the time of the series, it was already that in many ways, a channel for all kinds of traffic and illegal export and import activities, not to speak of drugs and even human trafficking.
Bergerac starts as a simple little small local Police Constable in the Bureau des Etrangers which is nothing but the local name of the police. He will eventually become a sergeant detective, but he will then leave the service to have some private life, mostly with the daughter of a winemaker in Vaucluse, France, but he will come back to Jersey as a private investigator under the authority of Charles Hungerford, the rich businessman who is the most influential member of the Law and Order Commission.
The first interest in the series is its length and the evolution of the cases dealt with in the various episodes, from petty crimes and petty traffics at first to international political situations and international illegal activities to be taken control of for the benefit of the authorities in what could be called institutionalized corruption. But the one case per episode kind of dilutes the force of the evolution. It is in a way cut up into thin baloney slices. In other words, it lacks unity and perspective.
The second interest is Bergerac himself as a police constable, detective, sergeant or not, and private investigator. He is the type of person who cannot abide by a set of rules that should be very clear for everyone including him of course and are systematically overlooked, by him particularly. That’s often dangerous for him or other people but it has the great charm of being effective because the shortcuts used by Bergerac surprise the criminals or delinquents and they are easier to trap and catch. Bergerac’s interviewing technique is always fast, brutal, pressurizing more than empathetic. The one he considers as the culprit has to go through a rough time but that leads to quick results. This is of course totally unrealistic.
The third interest is to explore the relations between the States of Jersey and two neighboring countries, namely France and England. The relations with France are often courteous, at least with French cops. But with Bergerac having an affair with the daughter of a winemaker in Vaucluse, we are taken down south quite often in the last seasons to harvest grapes and make wine and at the same time to solve some criminal attempts there always connected in a way or another with Jersey. The affair will end up in the last episode of the last season with a “Dear Jim letter” and the immediate consequence of Bergerac who is an alcoholic falling back into the barrel of whiskey.
The fourth interest is the strongly sexist overtone, not undertone at all when we consider the various women with whom Bergerac has affairs after his divorce with his wife, Charles Hungerford’s daughter, that took place before the very beginning of the series. For Bergerac, women are always secondary entertaining characters who are always shown as wanting a normal regular life without any fear and anxiety. To be the wife or girlfriend of a cop is to be the slave of any phone call in the middle of any one hour of the twenty-four hours a day normally counts. So Bergerac cannot have any normal and stable relationship with a woman because of his job.
To bring the series to an end, first he gets the “Dear Jim Letter” I have already mentioned and in the last case of the last episode where he is the private investigator of Charles Hungerford to make some art deals secure, we learn that he is going to be promoted to some kind of administrative job that will both satisfy him, use his competence in police work and take him away from the everyday life of simple cops, constables or policemen who both complain about and are thankful for Bergerac’s meddling in their business. His promotion is a typical Peter Principle recognition of competence and promotion to a position where he will be incompetent but also inoffensive: all his underlings will do the work and he will vaguely overlook the general picture.
Altogether, this series is really entertaining and even maybe rather fascinating, and anyway a real testimony about the 1981–1990 period in Jersey, France, England and even Europe. That time has completely vanished in our modern times of Brexit and vast international migration.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU