Revisiting the moralistic quandaries of Bernard’s Watch

Stopping time is a gift and curse. Let’s look back at the tough choices that befell the eponymous protagonist in Bernard’s Watch...

Bernard’s Watch – the ultimate dream, am I right? In this ITV children’s show, the protagonist Bernard is always late for stuff, so a magic postman gives him a watch that can stop time. Rather than having to learn about time keeping or prioritising or not letting people down, Bernard is gifted with an easy way to solve all of his problems. What fun!

But with great timepiece comes great responsibility. Bernard – who was played by David Peachey for the first five seasons, and then Ryan Watson for the show’s final two runs – was thrust into some moralistic quandaries by his handy stopwatch. Let’s look back at some of the most morally questionable moments from the show…

Petty theft!

With a watch that can stop time, you could wander into any shop and just walk out with whatever you want without having to pay. As geek, my mind jumps straight to the wall of massive and beautiful TVs in my local John Lewis and the outrageously priced new games and Blu-ray box sets in the HMV nearby. More interesting people might have slightly more exciting ambitions as a master criminal.

But one of Bernard’s fundamental rules is that he cannot use his gift for crime. On occasions when he does take something from a shop while time is frozen, he either brings it back later or leaves the correct amount of change on the counter. Just as Batman refuses to kill criminals, Bernard takes a strong moral stance against pinching sweets.

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In the clip above, you can see that Bernard’s friend Karen, an occasional user of the watch played by Phoebe Allen, has a somewhat different relationship with her local retailers. Although she doesn’t steal the magazine and the confectionary that she wanted, she does lift all of the notes in the till in order to teach her friend Fergus – who took money from her purse without asking – a moral lesson.

Karen teaches Fergus that taking money without asking is stealing, even if you do pay it back – despite the fact she has just done that exact same thing. When you’ve got a magic watch, you’ve got to obey the rules of society, unless you’re teaching someone a lesson.

Queue jumping!

Here in Britain, queuing is a sacred art. It tests your patience and encourages respect among consumers, upholding all things right and proper. But despite having all the time in the world hidden in the pocket of his rather fetching hoody, Bernard ain’t got time for that.

The video above is probably one of the most controversial things you’ll see today, as Bernard uses the watch to enable a scandalous approach to supermarket shopping.

He freezes time, removes a crucial piece from a delicate display of stacked golden syrup cans, and then spends ages looking at Polo mints. When he’s finally decides on which sweet treats to purchase, he pushes in front of a woman at the tills, showing a brazen disregard for the vital pillars of our society.

Bernard unfreezes time, and the stack of tins tumbles to the ground with a crash. Someone probably spent ages on that display, and their hard work is undone in an instant to provide Bernard with a distraction. Due to the noise, no one notices that he has suddenly appeared at unfairly advanced position in the checkout queue. Not cool, Bernard. Not cool at all.

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Much-less-petty theft!

Here’s some evidence of the blatant disregard for moralistic standards that could occur if Bernard decided to use his watch for evil purposes. Cutting the line at Safeways is one thing, but stealing £37,000 from two garages, four newsagents and a supermarket is very much another. In the clip above, that’s exactly what Bernard is accused of.

“That’s not what it’s for, Bernard. That’s not what it’s for at all,” the magic watch supplier/fancily dressed postman played by Jack McKenzie explains in the clip, clearly mildly disappointed that a small boy has stolen nigh-on forty grand. At least when Karen robbed the newsagents, it was just to teach a dodgy lesson before putting the cash back.

Of course, it wasn’t actually Bernard that took all that money. While he was sleeping, someone stole his watch and used it to commit these nefarious crimes. Maybe Bernard should keep the watch somewhere slightly more secure than his bedside table when he isn’t using it.

Swapping lunches!

We’ve all been there: you’ve ordered some food and been served it, only to see someone across the room with a much more appetising meal. Food envy can be highly distressing, and it is one of many relatable topics tackled by Bernard’s Watch. In the clip above, you’ll see Bernard’s approach to this frustrating situation.

Bernard’s cousin Lucy (played by Elizabeth Mellor) is dissatisfied with her plate of uninspiring salad, and she spies a girl across the dining hall with a lovely-looking portion of sausage, chips and beans. Yum. Lucy tells Bernard that she doesn’t want the salad. She wants the sausages, and who could blame her?

Bernard, without even giving it much thought, pauses time and swaps the girls’ lunches. Lucy gets to live the absolute dream of converting food envy into food theft. But you’ve got to feel bad for the other girl, who saw her delicious plate of chips instantaneously swap for a salad.

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Not only does she now have an unwanted salad, but this girl is probably quite confused as well. Imagine looking down and your meal has completely changed! She probably thinks she is starting to lose her mind. And the chip on her fork makes it even more baffling for the poor girl. Bernard could well have done some lasting psychological damage here.

Disobeying Gran!

Now here’s some Bernard’s Watch-ing I can get behind. In the clip above, Karen is sent to bed by her gran despite the fact there is clearly broad daylight shining through the curtains from outside. As soon as Gran has closed the door and wished her granddaughter a good night’s sleep, Karen whips out Bernard’s Watch and pauses time.

With gran out of the way, Karen proceeds to finish the book she’s been reading and polish off some unfinished homework. She even writes a letter to her penfriend in Budapest! We’ve all got a stack of things to read/do that we struggle to find time for, and pausing time would provide the perfect opportunity to focus on them. Grans be damned. It’s a shame that electrical devices don’t work properly when time is frozen, or we could do a lot of Netflix binging…

However, what Karen does next is a lot less praise-worthy. With time still paused, she sneaks out. Once she’s found her friends in the park, she un-pauses time and mucks around with them for a bit. Gran is completely oblivious, of course, but that’s beside the point. What if something had happened to Karen while her gran thought she was sleeping? Sneaking out is a big-time betrayal of Gran’s trust. Poor show, Karen.

Cheating at football!

Bernard only has a moral code when it suits him. He’s decided that robbing shops is definitely wrong, but cheating in sporting fixtures and earning the adoration of your peers… ah, that’s probably fine.

In the clip above, you’ll see Bernard deploying a very unsportsmanlike approach to goalkeeping. When a shot comes in, he pauses time and walks over to where the ball is headed. Once he’s in position, he un-pauses time and catches the ball with ease. Cue celebrations and pats on the back.

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It must look, to everyone else on the pitch, like Bernard is so agile as a goalie that his saves seem to incorporate teleportation. The teacher is impressed rather than confused, telling Bernard that he will end up playing for England some day. Naturally, this eggs Bernard on, with the promise of international renown motivating him to continue using this very unfair advantage.

See also: cheating at cricket!

In this clip, Bernard uses the watch in much the same way, during a game of cricket. When he sees the ball flying towards the boundary, well out of his reach, Bernard decides to pause time and get himself into the perfect position to catch it. Again, nobody seems to notice that he’s just moved instantaneously from one position on the pitch to another.

Once more, Bernard merrily soaks up the glory. By making that catch he won the game. And rather than hanging around to feel guilty about it, he quickly excuses himself after some brief congratulations. What a cad.

Also see also: Cheating at golf!

Now I’m not saying that they recycled plot points on this show, but Bernard is also open to cheating at golf, if the occasion calls for it. In the clip above, Bernard decides to use his watch to help his dad defeat his golf rival. When he sees that his dad’s shot is falling short, Bernard pauses time and helps it along, allowing his old man to keep up with the game.

There’s a hilarious bit of narration here, too. As Bernard walks the ball several yards up the freeway, the narrator says this: “He didn’t feel too bad about this. After all, the wind could have blown it there. And besides, he knew what his father was like when he’d lost at golf.”

There’s some insight for you into the morally skewed mind of this young chap. Moving golf balls with your hands may be against the rules of golf, but to stop his dad from getting grumpy Bernard will happily buy into a half-arsed explanation about the weather. Sure, of course the wind could have blown a ball all the way up there. Whatever you need to tell yourself, Bernard. Whatever helps you sleep at night.

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Pushing a policeman down a waterslide!

Sometimes in life, the only solution to a problem is to push a policeman down a waterslide. Most of us wouldn’t have the guts to do it, but thanks to that trusty watch, Karen is able to send a bobby flying into a watery tube without anyone knowing it was her that did it.

Some context: in this episode, Karen is being framed as a thief at her local swimming pool. The evil pool attendant that actually robbed all the lockers is on the verge of getting away with it, when Karen decides to take action. She pauses time and goes up to the top of the slide, where a policeman had been questioning the pool attendant. She makes the policeman unsteady, before leaving the area and un-pausing time. The policeman falls down the slide, and it looks like the pool attendant pushed him – surely the behaviour of a guilty man!

Thanks to Karen’s weird intervention, justice is eventually served. The policeman ends up pursuing the pool attendant, finding the stolen goods and getting a confession out of him. In a way, then, pushing a policeman down a slide was actually the morally correct thing to do in this situation. By the warped time-altering logic of Bernard’s Watch, Karen saved the day.

The power and responsibility of wielding a magic watch presents all sorts of moralistic quandaries, and Bernard and Karen don’t always end up making the right call. Swapping lunches, stealing, disobeying grans, queue jumping and cheating at sport are obviously wrong… but pushing a policeman down a slide? That, somehow, is the right thing to do. Maybe having a Bernard’s Watch isn’t such a dream, after all…