Sunday, 15 July 2012

Bernard's Watch

There is a well-known saying: "Don't fix what isn't broken." And in recent years, where the Television / Film media is so psyched about 'rebooting' classic characters of the past (often with mixed views on their handling) this idiom has become more apparent for me. So here's another example:

Back in the mid-90's, the concept of a magic watch that could stop time had been about knocking about for a while until it was eventually picked up and developed by the very friendly Andrew Norriss (who also wrote "Matt's Million", "Aquilia", "The Brittas Empire" and "Woof!"). What began as a 15-minute one-off soon spanned into a charming TV Series known as Bernard's Watch.

The show was about a boy called Bernard, who is always late for everything until he is given a magic stop-watch that could stop time. With this, he always had time to spare in his day-to-day routines (lucky chap!) and often used it to help others in need.
It featured Liza Goddard as the Storyteller, David Peachey as Bernard Beaseley and Jack McKenzie as the Postman (bearer of the Magic Watch).

The series, as with many programmes throughout the 90's, was perfectly British. Clever stories told at a smooth, calm pace, ideal for afternoon viewing after school. The show proved a great hit, running for five seasons between 1997 and 2001, and Andrew wrote a vast majority of them. Later in its original run, Bernard was joined by Granddad (Barry Jackson), friends Karen Hewitt (Phoebe Allen) and Sam Vernon (Samantha Birch) and cousin Lucy (Elizabeth Mello) for fresh storylines, who all promise to share the magic watch as long as they don't use it for selfish or unlawful deeds.

And that was how it was at the time. Until, four years later, someone in charge of the "revised" CITV format thought it would be a good idea to revive and reinvent Bernard's Watch as well...

The entire show was reworked from the ground up, with new characters, different actors and a new setting; ie, Pentup Primary School. The "new" Bernard (Ryan Watson) was not only younger, but cheekier and naughtier, and spent a majority of the show causing mischief with friend Nathan (Ezrah Roberts-Grey). The storylines you could tell straight off the bat, which consisted of putting up with - and putting down - their bullying schoolteacher Ms Savage (Kay Purcell) and 'popular girl' Nicolette (Rosie Day), whose sole purpose of their lives, it seemed, was to make Bernard's as miserable as possible.

In short, what was once a quiet series now became a flashy, annoying sitcom with lazy humour for the intended target audience (at least those on sugar rushes). No different to what one would predict from "Drake and Josh", really.
The watch concept was slowly pushed further and further into the background until the show's title lost all meaning (which saw it renamed just "Bernard"). And when the watch was used (once per episode), Bernard only used it in the tired "boy-vs-girl" or "child-vs-teacher" battle for some lame scheme or other. Oh yes, the special effects for the "stopping time" scenes were impressive on a bigger budget, but when you actually analyse the show's writing format for Seasons 6 and 7, it's just a whole lot of "shiny-shiny"...

However, Andrew Norriss had nothing to do with the reboot, which was a mercy. He left the show on a high since Season 5, 2001, due to budget costs, which meant the reboot was handled by a whole new team, including various writers. I got in touch with Andrew back in 2006, expressing my praise for his work and the despair of the new Bernard. His response revealed some answers as to why this decision was made:

"Now this is interesting, and I still don't know if I did the right thing. I was asked if I would give permission for a revised B's Watch to be made and said yes. By and large I've never thought it right to be too precious about an idea. They're only stories after all and if someone wants to earn a living using an idea like the watch then good luck to them, I thought. I didn't like the result, and completely agree with your analysis - but then I don't like a lot of stuff on tv. Can't stand the soaps, but for millions they're the best thing going on. I'm very loathe to say one item is better than another. Just that I liked it gentler and kinder."

Thankfully, the new format wasn't as well-received as Granada Kids had hoped. After only two seasons and 26 episodes, between 2004 - 2005, the revival died a slow, painful death. You can't end on a bigger downer than this, can you?

To this day, the series can still be seen in repeats on the CITV Digital Channel - although to my delight, it mainly consists of the original 1997 - 2001 episodes. Because, stories they might well be, it's the development of the characters and the ideas surrounding the watch that made it far more interesting than whatever went on in Pentup Primary. For its time (no pun intended) it was a very different and original concept to enjoy, and it's a shame that it couldn't have been left well enough alone by those who didn't have a clue.

I doubt that anyone would see sense about rebooting a classic series, especially when it removes all the qualities that made the original so memorable in the first place. In truth, I'd sooner have the originals on DVD or kept in regular viewing on the small screen than have a new series / movie made altogether - unless TLC actually plays a part so that new fans and old are both satisfied...

View the original Five Seasons below - including Andrew's favourite episode, "The Right Time"!



  1. What a brilliant piece of writing! I showed it to Andrew & he was delighted & thought you'd expressed the contrast between the different series of Bernard's Watch so clearly & completely accurately too.
    Everyone involved in the original Bernard's Watch - writer, actors, film crew & director, really enjoyed the whole process & I'm sure that comes across too. Andrew' s latest children's books are 'I Don't Believe It, Archie!' & 'Archie's Unbelievably Freaky Week'.

    Jane Norriss

    1. Thank you for the lovely response, the least I could do. I like to ensure that such delights are never truly forgotten.

      Here's wishing Andrew all the best with his latest books and future ones to come :)

  2. I don't get why they can't make a kid's programme these days without it being about boys vs. girls.