Five Reasons to Watch Inspector George Gently on PBS

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

If you like the '60s, and you like British detective series, then you definitely want to give Inspector George Gently on PBS a try. My local PBS station has recently started airing older episodes of this fine show again, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the latest season that was shown in the UK earlier this year will finally see the light of day here in the States by the time the leaves are falling off the trees. 

Inspector George Gently (or GG as I like to call it) follows the familiar British formula of pairing up a seasoned detective with a younger one, but the show is often grittier than the likes of Midsomer MurdersInspector Lewis, and Grantchester (and it can also be wittier.) The Durham, Northumberland, and Tyne and Ware areas of Northern England serve as the filming locations for the show, lending both their lush, rolling countrysides and hardscrabble working class neighborhoods as settings. And if the presence of cigarettes in Mad Men made you uncomfortable, then you haven't seen anything yet if you haven't watched George Gently! (Not to worry about the actors' lungs; herbal cigarettes are used during filming as confirmed by lead actor Lee Ingleby.) 

I got hooked on this program a few years ago and love it so much, I launched both a Facebook page and Twitter account for fans of the series last year because the BBC had dropped the ball on giving it the proper social media attention it deserves. What's amazing is that GG's fan base runs the gamut from teenage girls who are crushing on Lee Ingleby (he IS cute, after all, and looks like one of the Beatles in this show or at least, like he could be a fifth Beatle with his mop of dark hair and mod looking, sleek suits) to ladies a good 20 years older than myself who have crushed on the other lead, Martin Shaw, ever since he starred in another British police drama in the 1970s, called The Professionals, in which he played a dishy, leather jacket-clad law enforcer worthy of a "hubba hubba" from me. (I haven't see any episodes yet of The Professionals, but it looks like a stellar example of 1970s television machismo...a favorite word lately.) 

And the fans hail from all over the globe...not just the UK and the U.S., but Germany, Australia, Argentina, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, to name the first few countries on the Insights section of the Facebook fan page. Of course, men adore this show, too. 

I'm going to give you five good reasons why these fans and I are Gentlymaniacs (for lack of a better term) and why you may become one, too! 

1. The Lead Actors' Chemistry

So, I've already brought up the leads' names, Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby. Shaw plays George Gently, formerly in the British military and now a detective pushing his retirement years, who loses his beautiful Italian wife in the pilot episode after she is run down by a gangster. His partner, Detective (and later, Detective Inspector) John Bacchus is younger, sometimes immature, and becomes increasingly mouthy as the series progresses. Both men are dealing with personal problems -- Gently soothes the loss of his wife sometimes with drinking, and Bacchus is in a loveless marriage, to a woman he felt forced to marry because he got her pregnant. He later gets a divorce a few seasons into the show. 

I've seen a few viewers on Twitter vent about how much they don't like "that bloody Bacchus." They think he's hot-headed, a homophobe, has questionable interrogation and investigating techniques  and is chauvanistic (in other words, a douchebag) -- and sometimes he is -- but I view him as a sympathetic character not just because of his home life, but also his upbringing, which we gain a little insight into during season six. He can also be very funny with his dialogue. I admit it: I love him. 

Gently and Bacchus don't always agree on everything and sometimes get into heated arguments over how a case should be handled, but Gently becomes a kind of father figure to the younger detective, eventually guiding him morally, and their bond grows visibly stronger over time. 

Needless to say, Shaw and Ingleby get along great offscreen (they are both born under the sign of Aquarius, so maybe that has something to do with it.) As you can see from this clip below, they joke around a lot in between filming...and that chemistry seems to translate nicely when the camera actually is rolling. 

2. The Stellar Writing of This Show

GG doesn't sugarcoat the turbulent times of the '60s decade; the series has dealt with racism, homophobia, and workers' rights as well as the usual uncomfortable topics of murder, rape, incest, kidnapping, business cover-ups, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Some of the episodes are so well written and acted that they stuck with me long after I finished watching them. One of these was "Gently Northern Soul", in which Bacchus went undercover at a dance hall and fell for a young black woman whose brother was murdered. Another was "The Lost Child" where viewers learned how mean Bacchus's father is to him and the twisted sense of humor his mother had while he was growing up. Although the title alludes to a missing baby, I felt that it was also a metaphor for Bacchus's sad childhood. 

3. The Humor 

Yes, despite its heavy topics the show has some humor...with most of the laughs coming at Bacchus' expense. One of the funniest moments was when Bacchus joined the Freemasons (above) to appease his father-in-law, who was also a member. They dressed him in a half shirt and put a noose around his neck, then later blindfolded him and made him take an oath to stay a member or otherwise, face death in a creepy initiation ceremony. 

Then there was the time Bacchus fought Gently in the ring in a boxing match. Gently  obviously still works out and has some seriously impressive guns for a 70-something. Bacchus has...well, you can see the photo below for some comparison. Let's just say it was a really quick match...

4. The Show is Based On A Book Series

Just as Ian Fleming created James Bond, George Gently was created by an author in the 1950s named Alan Hunter. The first Gently novel, Gently Does It, was published in 1955. For the next 40 years Hunter would publish another novel in the series pretty much on an annual basis. Many of the show's episodes are based on the story lines of the books, although I've heard from readers that Bacchus' presence is toned down as is his sometimes antiquated view of the world. 

Sadly, Hunter never got to see his work get adapted onto the small screen. He passed away in 2005, two years before season one of Inspector George Gently premiered. 

5. The Cool '60s Cars, Clothing, and Music

In my opinion, most TV shows that take place in the 1960s put too much of a focus on the clothing and sets and not the substance. Thankfully, GG gives us an intelligent show first accompanied by the right amount of the groovy '60s atmosphere as found in the costume design, automobiles, and sets. Bacchus also never passes up a moment to ogle a girl wearing a miniskirt. 

As far as the music used on the show, none of the tunes in earlier seasons are familiar to me, so I'm guessing they were written especially for the series to avoid copyright issues or they are deep cuts by lesser known artists of the decade. Either way, they aren't bad (certainly not as bad as fabricated songs I've heard in movies and other shows) so A for effort in that area. (Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" IS used during the seventh season, however.)

If I've piqued your interest, check your local PBS listings for information on Inspector George Gently and when you may be able to view it. GG's seventh season which aired in the UK this spring may very well be its last (which is another reason I had to write about this show), but you still have plenty of enticing episodes to catch up on. I think you'll dig it!

Here's the BBC TV promo for the seventh season:


  1. I saw this series on Netflix and I'm glad you're recommending it. It sounds great and now it is on my list. Just finishing Southcliff (spelling?). Thanks, Pam!

  2. I really enjoy this series too, for many of the same reasons as you. I got introduced to it by my friend Chelly. I was excited when I saw that you had done a post about it.

  3. This has been a very enjoyable series, right from the first episode: Lee Ingleby and Martin Shaw clearly work well together.


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