THE BEACHCOMBERS

Canadian Family Drama Series

The Beachcombers, in production for 19 years, was the longest running series drama in Canadian television history. Developed by Marc Strange, producer Phil Keately, and a string of very good West Coast writers this family/adventure series turned on the adventures of an ensemble of central characters. Nick Adonidas (Bruno Gerussi), was a licensed beachcomber on the North West Coast of British Columbia. He was primarily involved with his young Native partner Jesse (Pat Johns) and his unscrupulous adversary and rival beachcomber Relic (Robert Clothier). Working out of the port of Gibson's Landing, Nick runs the Persephone into the inlets of the Sunshine coast, a setting filled with rugged individuals. The combination of characters, locations, and events strongly appealed to audiences abroad and was a driving force of the show's plot.

The format focused on physical action--boat chases, storms, rising tides, various rites of passage, a long-distance swim, taming a wild dog, a vision quest, but violence was largely confined to experiences with physical objects which break up or blow up or somehow threaten the characters. Comedy was part of almost every episode, and there was often a documentary flavour to the scenes of fishing, logging, beachcombing--work of all kinds. The show also used Canada's multi-cultural diversity. Germans, Italians, Japanese, Dutch, East Indians, Swedes and even a Colonel Blimp from England all provided opportunities for new plot developments.

Well-loved characters from the early seasons included the two children, Margaret and her older brother Hughie, and their "gran" who owned "Molly's Reach." As Jesse matured he was joined by a small sister, Sara, who also grew up on the show. He then married a widow, Laurel, whose son, Tommy became the series' resident child. In Beachcombers children of both sexes were respected as human beings who had much to learn and to share. Other running characters were Gus McLoskey, Captain Joe, and teenaged homeless lad, Pat O'Gorman. Constable John, the well-meaning, slightly klutzy member of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) was one of the most popular of the continuing characters. He very seldom pulled a gun or even made an arrest.

The basic premise of The Beachcombers demanded that Nick remain a volatile Greek, unattached and available for many interesting women. Relic was his clever, unscrupulous, abrupt, antagonist for 19 years. Early on his misanthropy was given a cause and a context in one of the best episodes, "Runt o' the Litter," written by Merv Campone. Born to a loveless Welsh coalmining family, Relic is despised by his father--the father for whom he has nevertheless built fantasies of wealth in letters home. In this episode Relic's "Da," is present, and in some sort of doomed attempt to win back the family's honour, challenges Nick, 30 years younger, to an anchor pull. Others look on in horror as "Da" collapses in the sand, humiliated by yet another "failure." Relic, full of hatred and contempt, yet disappointed--every emotion to be read on the actor's face--grabs the rope, hauls the anchor across the line and says bitterly to his father "go home." The old man weeps. The episode is a miniature tragedy. Such ambiguity and ambivalence appeared regularly in the show's early years and in the same vein, writers and producers occasionally used down-beat endings, cutting against the grain of the genre.

 

The best episodes of the later years used two narrative strategies. The first was to continue the introduction of topical issues--the recurring issue of the confiscation of Japanese fishing boats during World War II, clear-cutting logging practices, or First Nations' land claims. This last topic was treated primarily in stories involving "The Reach," enabling writers to focus the issue in familiar terms using Laurel and Jesse, characters whom viewers knew well. In this way not only Nick's fictional surrogate family, but also the actual families of viewers, were disturbed--and informed. The second narrative strategy of the series' later period continued to revolve around conflicts between Relic and various other characters. As the 1980s brought increasing awareness of cultural appropriation and rising political tensions, however, this distinctive thread almost disappeared.


In a late attempt to boost ratings, a displaced urban mom, Dana, and her son, Sam, took over "The Reach." But conflicts constructed around urban/small-town, or capable Westerner/effete Easterner seemed not to interest the audience. The writing became tired, the plots full of pumped up action sequences. The series ended with an elegiac but rather lifeless one hour-special. To this day, however, the reruns and world-wide syndication of Beachcombers represent Canada and Canadians to millions of viewers around the world.

-Mary Jane Miller

CAST

Nick Adonis........................................ Bruno Gerussi Molly .......................................................Rae Brown Hughie .......................................................Bob Park Margaret............................................ Nancy Chapple Jesse....................................................... Pat Johns Relic .................................................Robert Clothier Constable John..................................Jackson Davies

PRODUCERS

Philip Keatley, Elie Savoie, Hugh Beard, Bob Fredericks, Don S. Williams, Brian McKeown, Gordon Mark, Derek Gardner

PROGRAMMING HISTORY
324 Episodes

CBC
November 1972-October 1983 Sunday 7:00-7:30 November 1983-October 1989 Sunday 7:30-8:00 November 1989-April 1990 Wednesdays 7:00-7:30

FURTHER READING

Miller, Mary Jane. Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Drama Since 1952. Vancouver, Canada: University of British Columbia Press, 1987.

_______________. Rewind and Search (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English; Gerussi, Bruno