Will George go gently?
As he tackles his final case, Martin Shaw and his co-stars reveal the conclusion was nailbiting but emotional
Talk about a drawnout ending. The first episode of the twopart finale of Inspector George Gently was shown in May this year, and it’s taken the best part of six months for BBC1 to show the last episode. Rumour has it that it was a political decision – the fact that the finale features a possibly dodgy Labour MP might have given rise to accusations of bias so close to last June’s election.
Luckily the two were standalone episodes, so we weren’t stuck with a cliffhanger, but it means the action – and Gently’s vintage Rover P5 – will have to be revved up anew this week for our final trip to the fractious Durham precinct where Martin Shaw’s sleuth Gently tackles his last-ever case. For those needing a refresher, it’s 1970 and Gently is still at odds with his sidekick DCI John Bacchus – played by Lee Ingleby since the show began in 2007 – after their previous investigation uncovered shoddy policing by Bacchus years ago that had resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
This time, as Bacchus and DS Rachel Coles ( Lisa McGrillis) investigate the murder of a factory worker who crossed a picket line, Gently’s plans for retirement are briefly put on hold when he’s handed a cold murder case that brings him into contact with former Labour Cabinet minister Michael Clements ( Richard Harrington, best known for his role in Welsh crime drama Hinterland). It’s clear that as much as sleuthing fuels Gently’s fire, he knows he’s increasingly out of step in a world in which police centralisation and paperwork are taking the place of old-fashioned, handson detective work.
Feeling left behind in a rapidly changing world is something actor Martin Shaw says he knows only too well. When we meet on the set of Gently, mocked up at a training college in Durham, the 72-yearold actor and national treasure, star of The Professionals and Judge John Deed, is in a jovial mood and poking fun at his own seeming inability to master modern technology.
As a self- confessed technophobe, Martin explains that he abstains from Facebook and Twitter, and often has to enlist the help of his three adult children, Luke, Sophie and Joe, with gadgets. ‘With my phone I’m always going, “S***!”’ says Martin, Inspector Gently and DCI Rachel Coles investigate a murder miming pressing buttons and nothing happening. ‘And my kids say, “Dad, give it to me” and they’ll do it in a second. ‘I say to them, “Ah, I did do that, but I’m putting out an energy field that doesn’t work with modern equipment,”’ continues Martin, with just a hint of a smile. ‘And they say, “Energy field?! You’re such a hippie, Dad.” And they’re right. I want to go outside to a phone box and put money in it, and I don’t want a computer.’
And unlike Gently, Martin is not resigned to retirement – he’s currently touring in the Gore Vidal play The Best Man and still longs for a role in his favourite TV show. ‘Game Of Thrones is my guilty pleasure. I don’t just want to watch it, I want to be in it, but in one of the warmer filming locations.’
Also on set today is Lee Ingleby, whose career has flourished of late, with roles in The A Word, Our Zoo and this year’s Line of Duty. His character, Bacchus, has been like a son to widowed, childless Gently, but his occasionally lax morals have disappointed the uptight old boy. Offscreen, the actors get on famously. ‘Martin and I really enjoy playing those scenes at the heart of it – two people in a fatherson, love- hate relationship,’ explains Lee, 41, who speaks of his instant chemistry with his costar. ‘We have a lot of fun on set, he’s open to suggestions in the scene – it’s like a tennis match.’
When the final scenes were shot, everyone was emotional. ‘After Lee and I wrapped our last scene, we stayed behind and watched one of Martin’s final shots,’ says Lisa McGrillis. ‘They called, “Cut!” and we all had a little tear in our eye and a glass of bubbles in our hand. Martin made a lovely, really moving speech. He said he’d been working in film and TV for 50 years, and George Gently stands out as one of his favourite jobs. It was very touching.’
But the question remains as to whether Gently will head off to tend to his dahlias or, like Morse and Poirot before him, meet an untimely end onscreen. With a wry smile, Martin says only that it ‘ends appropriately’ and that he would not be returning to the role. After a decade, 25 episodes and half a year’s wait, George Gently, one way or another, will hand in his warrant card for good.
Inspector George Gently, Monday, 8.30pm, BBC1.
George Gently has been on our screens since 2007