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Cover Story: Back to the Beach
For many Canadians, when they conjure up the image of an RCMP constable, they get Tsawwassen's Jackson Davies.
Those who watched the CBC television show The Beachcombers (1972-1991) still think of Davies as the consummate RCMP constable, complete with the trim little mustache.
"It was only because of the uniform," laughs Davies, referring to it as Wyatt Earp syndrome.
It wasn't so much that he portrayed a police officer so well, as the uniform gradually transformed him.
"As soon as someone puts on a uniform and a gun they get into that mindset," he explains.
In the first couple of episodes Davies says his character was a little clichéd, but then the show's producers gave him more free reign. The result is one of the more memorable personalities from Canadian television.
"I made him into a person living in a community, not just an RCMP officer."
In fact, Davies' portrayal of Constable John Constable on the show is so well-liked and admired that he was given the rank of Honorary Sergeant by the RCMP. His character even spawned a short-lived spinoff television show called Constable Constable in 1985.
Davies worked on The Beachcombers from the age of 24 until he turned 40, both as an actor and later a producer. After the show was cancelled in 1990, he continued efforts to keep the memory of the show alive.
Now, as the show turns 40 years old, the result of those efforts is a new book called Bruno and the Beach, written by Davies and series co-creator Marc Strange, who died of cancer during the book's writing.
"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think there wasn't some interest still there," says Davies, adding that as a CBC production, there's nobody at headquarters who still has a connection to the show.
So, he felt it was important to document one of the most popular TV shows in Canadian history.
The show practically ran for a generation, says Davies. There were kids who watched the show who then had kids who grew up watching the show.
"I don't think there's anywhere else in B.C. where you have a 19-year snapshot of a small town."
The book chronicles the TV show, the actors, and the legacy of the book's namesake, Bruno Gerussi, in both The Beachcombers and Canadiana.
Nick (Bruno) during one of the many humourous moments with Constable Constable. Roy Luckow photo
Gerussi played the lead role of Nick Adonidas, a scavenger of driftwood in a small coastal town in B.C.
Gerussi grew up in new Westminster, before joining the Stratford festival in 1954. He was the host of the nationally broadcast CBC radio show Gerussi, Words and Music in 1967 and 1968, prior to the launch of The Beachcombers in 1972. He died of a heart attack in Vancouver in 1995.
"Bruno was the kind of person that was your best friend or he could be very standoffish," reminisces Davies, adding he enjoyed a great relationship.
"I had a lot of fun at his expense, but he was fine with it. One thing he appreciated was a sense of humour."
Davies says Gerussi let the other actors develop the personalities of their own characters and wouldn't interfere with that artistic process.
He was also supportive of their importance on the show, no matter how minor their role. When Pat John, who played Jesse Jim, was going through a difficult time, the CBC was talking about letting the actor go. Gerussi wouldn't hear of it.
"He said no. 'If he goes, I go.' So, he would stand up for his fellow actors."
He also passionately—Davies says stubbornly—defended the show during the many times the CBC mulled over its cancellation.
"His contemporaries, you have to remember, were the William Shatners, the Lorne Greens, the Christopher Plummers. They were all guys who went to theatre school around the same time and they all went to the United States. And Bruno stayed here with the radio station and the show."
Davies says Gerussi was probably one of the first Canadian TV stars to actually stay in the Great White North his entire career. The result was that Gerussi became a Canadian icon of sorts.
"I was looking at some newspaper clippings while writing the book, and they would often just say 'Bruno.' There's not too many people where you can just use the first name and everybody knows who you're talking about."
Beachcombers was 'unique'
On the set of The Beachcombers in Gibsons, B.C. Vene Parnell photo
Davies says when he was working on The Beachcombers, he didn't realize how unique an experience it was. The Alberta-born actor says most people had to go to Toronto or Los Angeles, so Davies feels lucky to get in nearly two decades of work in beautiful B.C.
As a kid he used to watch CBC's La famille Plouffe, a 1950s french-language TV show rebroadcast in English about a working-class family living in Montreal in the years following the Second World War.
It was this show that developed a lifelong affinity for Canadian-created and produced television for Davies. He points to other successful Canadian shows, like Corner Gas and Republic of Doyle. One of the things he likes most about those shows is that the actors weren't brought in from other parts of the country.
Davies still believes strongly in the idea Canadians should be able to watch stories made about other Canadians, which was the heart of The Beachcombers.
"It was locals playing locals for locals."
One of the charming things about Molly's Reach on the Sunshine Coast is that it hasn't changed much since The Beachcombers, he explains. People from all over the world like to visit the little town of Gibsons for just that reason. Some people have Molly's Reach on their "bucket list."
Although he calls Tsawwassen home, the 40-minute ferry ride to Gibsons is still as comfortable for Davies as putting on slippers. Tourists who see him visiting often come up and assume he's always lived there, as though he remains as much a fixture as the landscape itself.
Davies says one of the best things about filming in B.C. is the gorgeous vistas of sea, sky, and mountains. A friend from Los Angeles once asked him how they made their set backgrounds so beautiful. He didn't realize that's just the way it looks.
"Maybe it's because I'm Pisces I've always been attracted to the water," he jokes.
That's part of the reason he calls Tsawwassen home.
"I like it because it's very close to the water, very comfortable, and it's quiet."
Davies is 62 now, and has acted in hundreds of stage shows, television episodes and dozens of TV movies and feature films. But he insists he isn't retired just yet.
"Canadian actors don't retire, they just wait for the next gig," he says, grinning.