Le Butin de Colombert

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started4th May 1971
ended15th Jun 1971
last rpt1st Mar 1974
4 school years
duration15 mins
age rangeAge 13-16
languagefrIn French
ITV French DramaHierarchyPrevious.gifPrevious series: Le Mystere de Valbec Next series: Le Nouvel Arrive HierarchyNext.gif

Le Butin de Colombert is a French-language ITV schools TV series from the 1970s, covering French Language for secondary school pupils.

A French-language crime serial designed for children who had already spent two or three years learning French, giving them an opportunity to hear and - crucially - understand real French in an enjoyable context.

The title Le Butin de Colombert literally means The Colombert Booty, referring to the loot from a bank robbery which has been hidden by one of the robbers in the woods at Colombert, near Calais. The story concerns Monsieur Bertrand, who runs into an old friend of his - who happens to be the aforementioned robber. Bertrand ends up going in search of the loot, and then keeping it secret from his family, the police, and another member of the bank robbing gang who is hot on his trail.

The series was a follow-up to the 1967 serial Le Mystère de Valbec, and it's storyline shares quite a lot in common with the later BBC serial La Marée et ses Secrets.

The language in the programmes is controlled but quite natural, everyday French, including some vocabulary which second or third year learners of the language could not be expected to know - not least butin (booty) - but which they could understand with the help of the TV pictures. There is repetition wherever it could be naturally included, such as when the characters place their orders in various cafés, and long periods with no speech just action and music. The scripts were "written and re-written in the conflicting interests of story line and vocabulary,"[1] but it was claimed that no particular phrases or sentence structures were included "for their own sake"[2].

The series was filmed partly on location in France, but as close to England as possible[3], with interiors recorded in the studio. The actors were all French, but instructed to speak a little slower than normal so that pupils could follow the plot - quite a challenge when trying to portray the agony of discovering your friend has been killed, or the ecstasy of discovering a life-changing amount of money, all in slow motion!



Quick episode list.

# Title Broadcast
1. La rencontre 4 May 1971
2. Un homme traqué 11 May 1971
3. La chasse au butin 18 May 1971
4. Le faux ami 25 May 1971
5. Eclaircissement 8 Jun 1971
6. Pris sur le fait 15 Jun 1971

The following detailed descriptions give away the entire plot to every episode! The photographs, reproduced from the pupil's pamphlet, are in black and white, but the programmes were made in colour.

Num Title Broadcast
1. La rencontre 4 May 1971
  Pierre arrives home to share his successful exam results with his parents. They all set out for a restraurant meal to celebrate.

Meanwhile M. Legal returns to his rooms, where he finds Lartiche waiting for him. M. Legal wants no more to do with the gang to which they both belong, and assures Lartiche that he will say nothing to the police. Lartiche warns Legal that he is being watched day and night, and threatens both him and his daughter.

Back home Pierre and his father discuss Pierre's future, and M. Bertrand's time in the Resistance. Bertrand says he used to decide the fate of collaborators, and recalls the important position he used to hold.

Next morning Bertrand spots Legal, who he hasn't seen since the War, walking through the docks and chases after him.

2. Un homme traqué 11 May 1971
Bertrand talks to Legal.

After some prompting the nervous Legal recognises Bertrand, and the two share a drink in the cafe. Legal swears Bertrand to secrecy and tells his old comrade about his life since the War and his involvement with criminals. He says that he hid the explosives used in the heist in the same secret hiding place in a barn that the pair used during the War, which was never found by the Germans.

While they are talking Lartiche enters the cafe and observes the discussion. When he makes his presence known, an even more nervous Legal ushers Bertrand outside. They walk through a park where Pierre is playing, and Bertrand introduces his son to M. Legal. As Pierre runs off he is accosted by Lartiche, and reveals that his father works in the docks.

Legal takes Bertrand to his rooms, where he explains that he was the one who hid the loot from the bank heist. His daughter has sent him a letter saying that she will run away from her aunt's house and join him, and he is worried about her safety. Outside, Lartiche is still keeping watch on the pair.

3. La chasse au butin 18 May 1971
Bertrand discovers the loot.

Some days later Bertrand is still thinking over the things that his old comrade told him. He goes to read his newspaper in the same cafe where they met, and is stunned to read that Legal has been killed in a hit-and-run road accident. He thinks that Legal may have hidden the loot from the robbery in the same old barn that they used during the War and hurries home to investigate. He is in such a rush that he doesn't even pay for his coffee, and also doesn't notice Lartiche - who had been in the same cafe observing him - stepping in to pay the bill.

Bertrand looks over a map and finds the woods at nearby Colombert where he remembers the barn was located. He tells his wife that he is going out fishing and Pierre is eager to go with him, but Bertrand insists that he has to go alone. He treks through the wood and finds the barn, and before long discovers a suitcase in the rafters, packed full of bank notes - he has found the gang's loot. He decides to take some of the money now, and come back every Sunday for a little more so that nobody will get suspicious.

Bertrand returns to his flat and announces to his wife and son that he is going to buy a new house. Pierre asks if he has won the lottery and Bertrand eagerly confirms this explanation for the source of his money.

4. Le faux ami 25 May 1971
  Lartiche is following Bertrand around town, but is intercepted by another member of the gang. The criminals are not happy that Lartiche has killed Legal without discovering where their loot is hidden. Lartiche explains to the gang leader by telephone that he thinks Bertrand can lead them to the money.

The Bertrands are now living in a new house and have a new car, but Pierre is feeling neglected by his father. Monsieur Bertrand tells his wife and son about Legal's death and his orhpaned daughter Jeanne. They agree that Jeanne can come to stay with them for a while.

Bertrand collects Jeanne from her aunt's house and on the way home they stop at a cafe. Lartiche approaches them claiming to be an old friend of Monsieur Legal's. Jeanne is delighted to meet someone else who knew her father, and Lartiche is very interested to discover that Legal's daughter is going to stay with the Bertrands.

Madame Bertrand welcomes Jeanne into her home, but Pierre is very rude to her, causing her to storm out of the house. Latriche meets her out on the beach and claims her father left her a large sum of money, which her "Uncle Robert" must know something about.

Lartiche and Jeanne return to the Bertrand's new house, where they find Monsieur Bertrand and Pierre about to go out fishing. Jeanne tells Lartiche that Bertrand goes fishing every Sunday, but rarely brings back any fish.

5. Eclaircissement 8 Jun 1971
Lartiche approaches Pierre in the café.

Pierre and Bertrand are fishing by the river at Colombert. Pierre is bored and asks why his father would take him to such an out of the way place, and Bertrand explains that this was where his Resistance group operated. Pierre is eager to explore the area, especially the nearby barn, but his father forbids him. Bertrand then finds an excuse to go back to his car, but Pierre follows him (with Lartiche following them both) and watches him taking money from the suitcase in the barn. Pierre accuses his father of being a thief and runs back to the river bank.

Lartiche approaches Pierre claiming to be Commissaire Lartiche of the police, on the trail of the bank robbers. He asks Pierre about Bertrand, but Pierre refuses to answer any questions. He pushes Lartiche into the river and runs back to warn his father that the police are after him. By the time Lartiche gets out of the river and arrives at the barn, both Bertrands have gone.

At home Bertrand still won't tell Pierre where the money came from, but makes him promise not to tell his mother or Jeanne about it. Pierre goes out to the cafe to think about things. Lartiche is there and again asks Pierre where the loot is, but Pierre tells him nothing.

Later Pierre tells Jeanne that her 'friend' Lartiche is a policeman, and Jeanne tells Pierre the story that Legal left her a lot of money. Pierre realises that Legal was the thief not Bertrand, and the youngsters begin to open up to each other.

Lartiche reports to his boss that he searched the barn but couldn't find the money. He promises to find out from Pierre where it is hidden.

6. Pris sur le fait 15 Jun 1971
  Jeanne and Pierre have explained the situation to Madame Bertrand. Jeanne plans to return to live with her aunt because she feels guilty about the harm that her father's crime has caused.

Monsieur Bertrand comes in with more expensive gifts for his wife. There is a confrontation and Bertrand explains his motives for keeping the money. The others try to persuade him to tell everything to the police. Lartiche phones the house, still posing as a policeman, and threatens Bertrand if he doesn't hand over the money. They arrange that Lartiche will come to the Bertrand's house, and he won't arrest Bertrand if he hands over the loot.

Bertrand is suspicious of Lartiche's actions, and Pierre suggests he could be one of the crooks. They call the police and discover that there is no Commissaire Lartiche. Instead Bertrand speaks to a real police inspector. The Inspector hurries to their house, where Bertrand confesses his crimes and explains the situation. Just as Bertrand tells him that the money is hidden in a suitcase in the wardrobe, the doorbell rings...

Bertrand admits Lartiche, who comments on the expensive new house and room fittings. Bertrand tells Lartiche that he is no policeman, and accuses him of killing Legal. Lartiche draws a gun and seizes Madame Bertrand.

Lartiche announces that he did kill Legal, and he will also kill Madame Bertrand unless he gets the money. Bertrand tells him it is in the wardrobe. As Lartiche opens the door the Inspector leaps out of the wardrobe and overpowers him.

Lartiche is taken away by the police. The Inspector explains that Bertrand will also have to be taken in. Bertrand tells Pierre that he is head of the family now. Jeanne says that she is good friends with the Bertrands and will stay with them, and Bertrand too is lead away by the police.


The series was first shown in the summer term of 1971, on Tuesdays at 11:40am and repeated on Thursdays at 2:40pm. It was shown across the entire ITV network, except that Border Television did not broadcasts schools programmes in the morning at this point, so viewers in the Border region did not receive the Tuesday screening.

In the annual programme guide for 1970-71, printed early in 1970, a new French serial story "along the lines of Le Mystère de Valbec" had been promised, although no details of the story were available at that stage and teachers had to wait until they received the teacher's booklet was distributed to find out what the story would be about.

It was repeated in the spring term of 1973, on Mondays at 2pm and repeated on Fridays at 10:32am, by Thames Television and also by Southern Television and Ulster Television, but not the other ITV regional companies.

There was a final repeat run in the spring term 1974, on Tuesdays at 10:30am and repeated on Fridays at 10:33am, but again only on Thames Television, Southern Television and Ulster Television.

In the Archives

All six episodes of the serial are listed in the Fremantle Archive Sales catalogue. Presumably these are the original master video recordings.

All 6 episodes are held on videotape by the British Film Institute according to their online catalogue.

A recording of episode 3 is held by the National Arts Education Archive as part of the Independent Television Commission collection. This is an off-air recording on Phillips tape which has been converted to VHS and is available to view at the archive in West Yorkshire.


Teacher's book, 1971
Pupil's book, 1974

Le Butin de Colombert was accompanied by detailed teacher's booklet and a more accessible pupils' pamphlet.

The teacher's booklet accompanying the first broadcast in Summer 1971 contained a summary of the plot to each episode, entirely in French, followed by lists of the vocabulary likely to occur - only the French vocabulary was given, not any English translations. The introduction made it clear that these notes had been written before the programmes had been made, though after the story had been written[4].

When the series was repeated in 1973 and 1974 an entirely new teacher's booklet was produced, containing the full scripts of each episode, in French but with some English stage directions. The original booklet was roughly A5 in size, 12 pages long, and cost 10p (2 shillings). The revised version was still roughly A5 in size, but 24 pages long.

The separate pupils' pamphlet was designed to take the form of a photo-roman. It was roughly A5 in size, printed in landscape format and 16 pages long. Each double-page spread represented one episode, with four short summaries of the events of the episode and several large pictures. The original 1971 pamphlet had illustrations by 'Guy Weir, which bore little ressemblance to the actors who appeared on TV and were presumably drawn before the drama was filmed. The 1973 and 1974 versions had the same format but slightly revised text, and used black & white photographs from the production instead of illustrations.

The front covers of both publications used illustrations in 1971, but from 1973 onwards they showed a photograph of M. Bertrand, Pierre, Jeanne and a bizarrely smiling Lartiche at the Calais docks.


Starring Max Amyl as M. Bertrand

Paulette Preney as Mme. Bertrand
Frédéric Norbert as Pierre Bertrand
Gaston Richer as M. Legal
Sylvie Dattas as Jeanne Legal
Gérard Maro as Lartiche
Constantin de Goguel as Inspecteur Guillot
Jean Driant, Joe Blatchley as garçons

Written by / Language adviser Michel De Lantivy
Script Editor Lester Clark
Education Officer Edwin Whiteley
Design Frank Gillman
Director Tony Davenall
Producer Charles Warren

The name of the police inspector was evidently changed during filming. In the original 1971 publications, and cast lists published in TV Times magazine that year, the character was called Inspecteur Godillot. But in the later reprints this was changed to Inspecteur Guillot.


Sources & References

  • Davenall, A.M. (1980) 'Making Programmes' in British Journal of Language Teaching volume 9 number 2 & 3, autumn 1980, pp.115-119.
  • Grampian (1970) Independent Television for Schools 1970/71 Annual Programme. Aberdeen: Grampian Television
  • Groombridge, Brian (1973) 'Educational Broadcasting: IBA' in Visual Education March 1973 p.22.
  • Hill, Brian (1974) 'UK trends in language-teaching broadcasts' in Educational Broadcasting International March 1974, pp.3-7.
  • IBA (1974) Independent Broadcasting Authority Annual Report & Accounts 1973-74. London: IBA
  • Lewis, Peter (1971) 'Educational Broadcasting: IBA' in Visual Education April 1971, p.19.
  • Thames (1971a) Le Butin de Colombert teacher's book summer 1971. London: Thames Television.
  • Thames (1971b) Le Butin de Colombert pupils' book summer 1971. London: Thames Television.
  • Thames (1973a) Le Butin de Colombert teacher's book spring 1973. London: Thames Television.
  • Thames (1973b) Le Butin de Colombert pupils' book spring 1973. London: Thames Television.
  • Thames (1974a) Le Butin de Colombert teacher's book spring 1974. London: Thames Television.
  • Thames (1974b) Le Butin de Colombert pupils' book spring 1974. London: Thames Television.
  1. The story's director Tony Davenall (1980 p.116) explained: "This was the first time I had been responsible for such a series so it is not surprising that the problems were not altogether foreseen. My brief was vague and was not supported by any proper audience research. The scripts were written and re-written in the conflicting interests of story line and vocabulary, with the suitability of language really a matter of the opinions of the two or three people who were most closely connected with the production."
  2. Thames (1971a) p.2: "It should be noted that, in accordance with the aim of the series, the structures and vocabulary used are those which come naturally into the story. No attempt has been made to include specific structures or vocabulary for their own sake. Phrases are repeated where such repetition is natural, but they are not directly taught."
  3. On the subject of the filming location Davenall (1980) p.115 said "Film was shot on 35 mm stock which makes for cumbersome equipment and great expense and there was a feeling that trips abroad were a kind of holiday. I can remember being restricted to filming in Calais because that was the nearest point to England."
  4. Thames (1971a) p.3 explains that "this teachers' booklet (...) contains a summary in French of the story of each episode. It is stressed that this is the basic story and will remain essentially unaltered. It may be that, in the course of production, there will be some shifts of emphasis but these will not change the theme."


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