John Nettles, aka Jim Bergerac, the man who put Jersey on the television map of the world, is looking for a new role. After 11 years in the guise of DCI Tom Barnaby investigating an implausible number of murders in the Midsomer region of Middle England, our Jim – for that is who he will always be – is finally free to reprise his first police role.
However, should his aspiration to rejoin the ranks of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with whom he wants to play King Lear, be thwarted, Jersey needs to get in quick and offer him a chunk of the rainy day fund to come back.
The British are obsessed with murder and crime stories and fictional detectives. From the first cinematic adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes case we were hooked. Detective series continue to dominate our screens: crime writers top the bestsellers list and murder-mystery books fly off library shelves faster than librarians can catalogue them.
What a macabre lot we are, and the more genteel the detective and the setting – Miss Marple and the country houses of the English gentry, the shimmering Oxford spires frequented by Morse, or Hercule Poirot solving crimes aboard the Orient Express – the more we lap it up.
I am not a fan of Midsomer. Sorry, but the acting is a tad wooden and even a conspiracy theorist with an overactive imagination such as yours truly is not taken in by storylines in which one victim drowned in a vat of hot soup and another was electrocuted while working out on an exercise bike. Yet Midsomer fitted the Sunday night television criteria perfectly: as the Norwegian band A-Ha so prophetically sang, the sun always shines on TV, the scenery is chocolate box pretty, no one ever utters a four-letter expletive and viewers’ brains never have to move out of first gear.
Love it they do, in their millions from the Wye Valley to Wagga Wagga, with up to eight million viewers tuning in to every story and the series being shown by 230 channels worldwide, in spite of the ridiculously high murder rate – 200 in 66 episodes over 11 series, plus 11 accidental deaths, ten suicides and six deaths by natural causes.
Judging by the extensive national media coverage of the impending demise of Tom Barnaby (no doubt he will meet a gruesome and highly convoluted death speared by a rack of 1,000 knitting needles in the Badger’s Drift wool shop), imagine the column space and airtime that would be generated by an announcement that Bergerac was coming back.
That is just what this Island needs as the chilling realisation that trusting your national economic future to the world of financial services and banking was probably a mistake. We need to diversify, and now. It is going to take more than TV adverts, adding our historic monuments to some UN list or reminding the British public that we use sterling not euros to reinvigorate tourism.
It may take a year or two to get Bergerac back on the box, but we can survive in the interim as we can rely on the BBC to repeat all six series to get viewers in the mood. Like settlers forming our wagons into a tight circle, we can hang on till the comforting sound of the bugle announces the boys in blue from the Bureau des Etrangers coming over them thar hills, led by good ol’ Jim in his little red Triumph roadster.
The idea of resurrecting Bergerac is not new. All that has prevented its renaissance is the star’s preoccupation with Midsomer. Household names such as David Jason, Robson Green and Kevin Whately leap from role to role and we applaud their versatility as actors. John Nettles may not top that league of beloved character actors, but he is nonetheless firmly among their number.
As far as Bergerac fans are concerned, Jim has spent the past 20 years in Provence, and while he may be past retirement age, why let that trifling consideration stand in the way? Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower in Dallas and back into fans’ lives without so much as his wife, Pammie, blinking a heavily mascared eyelid.
We suspend reality every time the Mace takes pride of place in Charlie Chuckle’s Laughter Factory, so why not welcome back the scriptwriters who entertained the world and made the locals laugh? After all, they never let the facts, Jersey’s geographic features get in the way of a good storyline.
Who can forget scenes such as the one when Jim raced into the tunnel in hot pursuit of some shyster in a blazer, a mate of Charlie Hungerford’s, and came out in the middle of St Aubin? The proliferation of pedestrian crossings may now put a stop to such daredevil chases, but we could always switch them off for filming.
And what fun it was to play ‘spot the local’ as Islanders recognised their mates among the extras.
However bizarre the storylines – smuggling, financial skulduggery by dodgy bankster millionaires and accountants, murders, jewel heists, bed-hopping and assorted intrigue – there is no questioning that Bergerac was quality television. But the real star was the Island’s natural beauty, and it sold Jersey to the world in a way no TV advert or newspaper travel feature ever can.
Jim may now be too old to resume his beat, but he could come back as a Centenier, an inmate of the Laughter Factory dedicated to electoral reform or, perhaps, as the Lieutenant-Governor. With his hard-won Housing qualification, there would be no need for John Nettles to apply for J-category housing consent.
The only drawback is that his former home is now under several fathoms of water in the heart of Queen’s Valley reservoir. Anybody know where to buy a houseboat?