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How Martin Shaw Owned Inspector George Gently, The No-Nonsense British Detective Character

Abhishek Srivastava - 64 weeks ago

It’s difficult to fathom Inspector George Gently without Martin Shaw – the man who virtually owns the character and the crime drama. Considered to be extremely picky about his roles, Martin Shaw played the title role of George Gently amidst a setting of 60s Northumberland before abortion, homosexuality and death penalty was still legal in the UK.

Martin Shaw is a no-nonsense actor. Once, while playing Henry Hobson in Hobson’s Choice on stage when a cell phone beeped, he straight away pointed at the owner and bluntly told him ‘turn that off or get out’, while remaining in the character. Needless to say the sudden unexpected outburst was greeted with a round of applause. This small incident more or less defines the persona of Martin Shaw – one of the best actors to have come out of Britain. 74-year-old Shaw has been a constant presence on the British stage for the past five decades. It could be customary for the world to call such people grumpy but Shaw has no intention of hanging up his acting boots yet. A career which began in 1967 is still going strong and as far as his past is concerned, he can boast of having acted alongside Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Anthony Hopkins. 

(A still from Inspector George Gently featuring Martin Shaw andLee Ingleby) 

Shaw is a revered figure in the world of British stage and TV and has appeared in numerous successful shows. His role of Chief Constable Alan Cade in BBC’s The Chief from 1993 to 1995 was much lauded and later it was the turn of Judge John Deed from a BBC series of the same name (aired from 2001 to 2007) that made him extremely popular. While The Professional (aired on BBC in 1977) made him a sex symbol and a household name in Britain, it was his role in crime drama Inspector George Gently which made him reach the summit of his popularity. Based on Inspector Gently novels penned by Alan Hunter, the crime drama is set in 60s Britain and deals with an upright detective who tries to straighten things up when his surrounding becomes corrupt. The crime drama called curtains after eight seasons and a rating of 7.9 on IMDB is self-explanatory when it comes to its appeal and popularity. In hindsight, now it’s difficult to fathom Inspector George Gently without Martin Shaw – the man who virtually owns the character and the crime drama. Considered to be extremely picky about his roles, Martin Shaw played the title role of George Gently amidst a setting of 60s Northumberland before abortion, homosexuality and death penalty was still legal in the UK. In an earlier interview with The Daily Mail, UK after the series ended, the actor had remarked, “I adored Gently. Such a wonderful experience. Lee Ingleby (his co-star) was one of the best and easiest people to work with. I had the happiest time. Mind you, it was hard work.” Hard work it surely was as the series ran for almost a decade spread over eight seasons and filming of a full 90-minute episode took 19 days. 

The 60s setting of the series is also in tune with the individual persona of Shaw. Shaw has been a proponent of everything that’s simple. To him an ideal world means a world free of computers, mobile phones and cellophanes. And it is this simplicity that made him say yes to the crime drama that showed an era which was devoid of all three. Martin considers 60s as his favourite era. “It was a wonderful wave to ride on. We were embracing American values. It was very exciting. I had skintight, crushed velvet bell-bottoms, a kaftan and a moustache,” Shaw had revealed in an interview to Daily Mirror, UK. Since the setting of the series is of the 60s, Shaw apart from being an actor on the series also doubled up as the unofficial historical advisor on the show. He also rues the fact that now no great protest plays or songs are being written as everyone is scared of ‘causing offence’ which was not the case during the 60s. For the precise reason, the soundtrack which Inspector George Gently incorporates is from the Sixties classics. “There is no Bob Dylan, there’s no Judy Collins, there are no protest songs, no protest plays today,” the actor had remarked in an interview with Daily Record. 

(A still from Inspector George Gently featuring Martin Shaw) 

Despite the stardom, Shaw remains an unconventional actor and follows an unorthodox approach towards life. His extreme sensitivity to electromagnetic waves and mental noise made him decide early in life that city life is just not for him. This also forced him to move to a 17th century Quaker house in rural Norfolk to escape the city conundrum. Flying remains his passion and thus soon after earning his pilot license in 1993 purchased a vintage Piper L4 Cub. His retreat in Scottish Highlands is something which is unachievable even through a four wheeler. Quite a U turn for an actor who once was considered a heartthrob and a sex symbol in the 70s. 

(Martin Shaw (extreme left in curly hair) in a still from The Professional)

It’s common knowledge that Gently is quite the smoker and Martin, in real life, had given up smoking long back. He has admitted on few occasions that smoking while shooting is difficult but at the same time is also integral to the series considering the fact that it was also an era when everyone was smoking. The cigarettes that Shaw could be seen smoking in the series are basically herbal smokes.

The series completed its dream run in 2017. “The end was mutual. I think we all agreed it would have been inappropriate for me to carry on as an active policeman at my age. Just implausible. So I left behind with a full heart,” Shaw remarked in the same interview. Shaw sobbed when the series came to an end after eight seasons. He had maintained throughout the shooting of the final season that he won’t get emotional after he heard the last cut. It wasn't until people started to gather around him, after the last 'cut', that he made a farewell speach and choked in the end. Inspector George Gently might have a 60s setting but it successfully established a benchmark in crime dramas and struck a chord with viewers. An entire millennial generation was brought up watching the antics of George Gently and his sidekick John Bacchus. One can only wish the series is commissioned again.

(Inspector George Gently is currently playing on myNK)

Tags

Inspector George Gently / Martin Shaw / Lee Ingleby / Simon Hubbard / Alan Hunter / Sarah Lancashire / Richard Armitage / Shaun Evans / James Norton / Mark Gatiss / BBC / Peter Flannery

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