Robert Banks Stewart, Bergerac writer, dies at 84

TELEVISION writer Robert Banks Stewart, known for creating Bergerac and writing episodes of Doctor Who, has died aged 84.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 16th January 2016, 12:05 pm
Updated Saturday, 16th January 2016, 12:21 pm
Bergerac creator Robert Banks Stewart. Picture: PA
Bergerac creator Robert Banks Stewart. Picture: PA

Born in Edinburgh in 1931, Banks Stewart also worked as a producer on shows including The Darling Buds of May, where he is said to have given the final casting vote for Catherine Zeta-Jones to play Pop Larkin’s daughter.

The TV veteran died at home on Thursday after suffering from cancer, his son, Andy Stewart, said.

The former journalist is believed to have been the youngest-ever news editor of the old Edinburgh Evening Dispatch newspaper after starting out as an office boy aged just 15.

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Banks Stewart also enjoyed a spell at The Scotsman and wrote several plays.

Among Banks Stewart’s creations was the Jersey-based detective Jim Bergerac – a divorced loner and recovering alcoholic who liked to drive his vintage sports car while solving a whole range of crimes.

John Nettles played the lead role and it was an instant success for the BBC, a Sunday night number one running for ten years from 1981 to 1991.

Banks Stewart wrote two stories for Doctor Who in the mid-1970s – The Seeds of Doom and The Terror of the Zygons, in which the Time Lord was pitted against the Loch Ness Monster.

He created the Zygons – a shapeshifting alien race who have more recently featured in episodes starring David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi in the title role.

Starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, both are now regarded by fans as classics.

He was also behind Eddie Shoestring, a shambling but shrewd figure, played by newcomer Trevor Eve in 1979. Shoestring was a huge hit, dominating Sunday night viewing for two years and being nominated for a Bafta.

Perhaps one of the biggest successes of Banks Stewart’s career was the opening series of HE Bates’ The Darling Buds of May, which gained one of the highest ratings for a new series in the history of British television.

At the age of 81, Banks Stewart published his first novel – a thriller entitled The Hurricane’s Tail, featuring a British detective called Detective Sergeant Harper Buchanan who uncovers a political plot against the prime minister of a Caribbean island.

It was originally envisaged as a two-part TV series, but Banks Stewart said he decided to turn it into a novel after “getting nowhere” with TV executives, which he attributed to ageism.

He is survived by his three sons from his second marriage and a daughter from his first.