Cop series set in the 50s and 60s tend to be rather cosy and nostalgic, such as Heartbeat, but George Gently manages to avoid being both cloying and stereotypical. The opening pilot, George Gently, sets the scene for a 1964 that in policing terms, at least, is straddling two worlds. The old policing methods, community-based and drawing on local knowledge and contacts, are still there, but the technology is gradually changing (as evidenced in the pathology lab scenes) and there’s an uncomfortable tension between morality and corruption, both within and without the force.
Martin Shaw has long moved on from playing pretty boy Doyle in The Professionals and these days brings a certain gravitas to whatever role he takes on. Gently is an intensely moral detective who, despite having his own troubles, is refreshingly not a “lone maverick” but a textbook book example of traditional policing based on teamwork. Lee Ingleby (Place of Execution, Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban) as the cocky but sometimes slightly stupid Sergeant Bacchus makes a terrific foil for Gently. Bacchus strives to be a good cop but while not totally corrupt, is not averse to bending the rules by dating female suspects or taking a backhander. There’s a father-son type relationship between Bacchus and Gently, who frequently gives his sergeant metaphorical clips round the ear.
George Gently excels in several areas. The scripts are strong – the BBC aired these on a Sunday night but the plots are more complex and demanding than traditional Sunday-night viewing yet not as hard work as other recent retro cop shows such as Red Riding Trilogy. The dialogue is terrific – natural, believable and razor sharp. It’s great to hear South Shields accents, too, instead of the usual generic “northern” (a nasty blend of Yorks/Lancs that doesn’t sound like any genuine northern vernacular). The series also stands out for the amazing attention to period detail, from the clothes and haircuts to the cars, furnishings and overall styling.
Gently Go Man
The pilot episode sets the stage for the follow-up episodes (each is a self-contained story but they follow a chronological timeline). Inspector Gently has been based at Scotland Yard, where he was in charge of putting gangsters behind bars. However, he has been widowed, following the murder of Mrs Gently in a hit and run by some of those gangsters. He retires from the Force, but before he quits, he heads up to Northumbria to track down his wife’s killers. His target is gang leader Joe Webster (Phil Davis), who has just been released from jail and gone north to the funeral of a young biker. One by one, more bikers are murdered and Gently and Bacchus find themselves racing against the clock to stop jealousy and drug dealing resulting yet more deaths.
The Burning Man
The burnt body of an unidentified man discovered near an RAF base draws Gently and Bacchus into the murky world of the IRA and gun-running. Robert Glenister (Hustle) excels as Empton, the corrupt special Branch officer involved in the case, who uses Bacchus to find out what’s happening in Gently’s investigation. Pooky Quesnel plays a damaged, brittle and sexually predatory pub landlady who’s been hanging out with the wrong crowd and finds herself caught up in events, with terrible consequences.
German pilot and former POW Gunter Schmeikel, interned in the UK during the war, is found floating in a harbour after a friendly reunion with his former captors. Although Schmeikel has drowned, it’s no accident – his back has been snapped in two. Twenty years after the war, Gently and Bacchus uncover that anti-German sentiment is still festering in the north-east, while Schmeikel’s son Wilhelm has not only lied to the police about where he was when his father was murdered, but has also stolen a huge sum of money from Gunter’s business. There are added complications when it is revealed that Jimmy Hardiment, son of farmer Old Jim (Tim Healy), is enraged to have found out that his mother and Gunter had been lovers.