“Little Voice” was on last night (if you’re in the UK, you can watch it on iPlayer for about a week). I mention this simply because the wonderful Annette Badland is in it. She’s never really been a star, never a household name, but she is one of those supporting cast players of whom I think “she’s never in a bad movie”. As Mrs Fezziwig, she’s one of the best things about the Patrick Stewart version of “A Christmas Carol” (I know it’s Hallmark, but it’s still my favourite version.)
I mention her specifically because she played Charlotte, a recurring character in the BBC’s detective series “Bergerac“.
Created by Robert Banks Stuart (a former Dr Who scriptwriter) to replace the ending (and very popular) “Shoestring” (I’ll come back to that one at a later date), the series centered on the island of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency* popular island tourist destination and tax haven in the Channel Islands.
When the series starts, Bergerac is returning to work following a broken leg. A recently-divorced alcoholic, Bergerac is close to his former father-in-law, Charline Hungerford. Hungerford (a prominent businessman) features often, and nearly always seems to know the criminal in one way or another. (In reality, of course, he’d be immediately under suspicion for this… if he wasn’t so helpful all the time!)
It’s hard to watch Bergerac now. Not for the series itself, but because the Bureau des Étrangers is actually the notorious children’s home “Haut de la Garenne” (warning: the link talks about some pretty grim things). That said, quaity declined markedly – the shark was clearly well and truly jumped after series 7, but whether Bergerac was already on its way down before then is debatable. The whole thing’s available on DVD if you want it.
So how does it fit with the idea of being the British Columbo? All of this is my personal take – please feel free to (dis)agree with me in the comments if you like.
Investigative style: Bergerac is a somewhat glamorous police procedural. You do sometimes know who did it, but there’s also fantasy elements and occasionally some more uncomfortable subjects. Charlie Hungerford does occasionally grate though, and you wonder whether he’d be able to solve cases without him. Score: 7/10
Ahead of the game: most of the time he isn’t, and that’s kind of the point of Bergerac. He isn’t an ace investigator, he’s a flawed human being (if a slightly wooden one later on when the scripts declined). Score: 4/10
Violence: in Columbo’s case, the essential lack of it. You couldn’t relax in front of Bergerac on a Sunday afternoon, but that said, it’s fine for 9pm Saturday night when the kids have gone to bed. But it’s not an instalment of Saw, that’s for sure. Score: 5/10
Sidekick: there’s no Dog here. The nearest is, well, Charlie Hungerford – unless you count his French girlfriend in the first series or so. And that’s pushing the point a bit. Score: 2/10
Personality: Bergerac’s flawed personality makes him a likeable enough – if occasionally abrasive – character. Ironically, Charlie Hungerford (yes, him again) is more like Columbo than Bergerac. Score: 5/10
Car: a 1947 Triumph Roadster. Perhaps a bit flashier than Columbo’s motor, but suitably offbeat. And completely, joyously unsuited to Jersey’s windy roads (even the millionaires would drive smart fortwo cars here – because they fit the roads so nicely!) Score: 6/10
Catchphrases: no “just one more thing”. Nope. Not that I remember. A big fat zero for this one. Score: 0/10
Total Columbo index: 29/70
So… close, but no cigar? Maybe the next one will be better. Tune in next time, when I won’t have had any dinner – so it better be good…
* I’d explain what that means, but it’s not as interesting as it sounds