The excruciatingly lengthy wait since we last saw Inspector George Gently in the Durham Cathedral shootings is over. Inspector George Gently returns tomorrow (Thursday, 6 February) on BBC One. For those viewers is the U.S., you can see the return of Inspector George Gently and Detective Sergeant John Bacchus beginning in April on public television stations.
It’s now 1969 and Gently, played brilliantly by Martin Shaw, and Bacchus, played equally as brilliantly by Lee Ingleby, are both suffering from their own physical and mental scars several months after the horrific shootings that nearly claimed their lives in Durham Cathedral. In this new series both Gently and Bacchus discover that they have quite different approaches to a world that is changing very fast as they investigate a death in police custody.
We caught up with Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby on the set while they were filming series 6 earlier this summer.
Tellyspotting: The relationship between George and John Bacchus has evolved since the very beginning. Is there a point in the series where Gently sees a bit as to where John is coming from and he becomes more of a teacher at that point?
Martin Shaw: I think his impulse is to be a teacher right from the beginning. Having lost his wife early on and never having had children, I think he has sort of twin impulses with John Bacchus of wanting to train another policeman but also to have a son. I think Bacchus fulfills both roles. With the end of series 6 where we’re both shot. At the end of it, it’s not sure we’re going to survive. When we pick up with the next series, it’s about rehabilitation, especially for George given that he’s been through the war. Being shot and at shooting people is fairly commonplace. For Bacchus, it’s something deeply unusual and traumatic which begins Gently ‘teaching’ John, in a very subtle way, to carry on with life. There’s also the warmth of the father/son relationship but wouldn’t dare articulate it in case John said “…what are you talking about, I don’t need another father”.
TS: The series is set in the 60’s. Having lived through that time personally, do you see a bit of a parallel between the issues that people were dealing with at that time with the challenges being faced in the 21st century?
Martin: I think the parallels are always there. I don’t think human nature changes very much over time. I think there is always a parallel, just a different context.
Tellyspotting: Lee, how is it on your end going back to the 60’s to an era that you did not grow up in? Seems like you’re having a lot of fun with the 60’s.
Lee Ingleby: Absolutely, it was such a great time. It was a time of change whether it be musically, fashion or attitude. Everything was coming in to its own. For me, it was great. It’s almost like a look at where we’ve come from.
Martin: From an observation standpoint, on a visual level, the 60’s seem to suit me very well with the hair, etc. Lee looks like a refuge from a 60’s album cover. Having lived through the 60’s, walking on the set, I see an incarnation of a 60’s rock star. It suits Lee very well, I think.
TS: I was originally wondering if there was a bit of a young George Gently in John Bacchus, but now, Lee, I’m wondering if there a bit of a young Martin Shaw in you?
Lee: You know, I don’t know, maybe. When I first took the role, and we were trying to decide who our characters were, I always thought that John Bacchus was the kind of guy that went to see Dr. No at the cinema and thought ‘I want to be Sean Connery’. You know, wearing those suits and having the women go ‘Hello, Mr. Bacchus’. That was his romantic idea of what the job is.
TS: The subject matter in George Gently is incredibly dark and you’re dealing with all the issue of the times. One scene in particular in the midst of all that you deal with in the most recent season, you were learning to dance and going to Northwood Soul. There are periodic light moments which allow the audience to breathe a bit that are drop-dead funny.
Martin: I think that’s a quality that Lee’s got. A quality that he brings to the show in that he’s sort of naturally funny.
TS: For the both of you, is it important for you, when getting the roles in George Gently, to understand the back story of your character that’s not in the script. Is it important as you prepare for the role to understand how each character would react in a certain situation?
Lee: I think we both found it very important, really.
Martin: Absolutely. It’s really vital. I think that it’s possibly one of the successes to the relationship is that we can both be bothered. A lot of actors today wouldn’t be bothered to know. But we pretty much always know what the back story is. It helps you to be instinctive in your responses because you know who the character is and where he’s been.
TS: Over the course of the entire series, do you interact with the writers and directors of the series to shape the direction of the character?
Martin: We certainly do so now, but it’s been a slow process over the life of the series. By nature, I think actors, as a genre, have a reputation for being difficult, but I think it’s taken awhile for people to understand that we’re not being difficult but that we just want to get it right and get it better.
Lee: I think it’s important that we put in our own input as well. Not that we have a say as to how it should be written, but more of offering input because we’ve played the characters for so long. We kind of feel that we know how they would think, what they would do. Especially, over time, if there are new writers that come in who haven’t been there from the beginning like we have. There’s the crime story, obviously, that’s written but without these two characters and the detail, it’s just a crime story. We think the stuff that is golden is these two and how they deal with it. What they do and don’t do. It’s not just about the solving of the crime that makes this series but the situation that they both find themselves in at the time. The conversations that they have that’s more often not related to the crime but what they are thinking.
TS: The ‘crime’ almost takes a back seat to the personal lives of the two characters and the interaction that follows.
Martin: That’s good to hear you say that because that is exactly what both Lee and I aim for. There’s any number of whodunit’s on TV, but we just wanted to be a slightly different one and I think it must be character led and not plot led.
Lee: We weren’t afraid for these characters to not agree with each other. The more we’re not ‘happy clappy’ the better and the more we want to push the characters. They are there for each other.
TS: Without giving too much away, what can George Gently fans look forward to in the series being filmed now?
Martin: Well, it starts with our having to recover, the trauma that ensues from the events that took place in the final episode of the last series. Through that, we are investigating another police force because there has been a death in custody. Along with that, Gently is trying to bring John Bacchus back into the police force really. John has been so traumatized by what’s happened that he doesn’t know if he wants to carry on or not.
TS: Lee, the relationship between the two characters of Bacchus and Gently. Early on, you were excited to work with ‘the legend’ that is George Gently and but seem to have some difficulty dealing with the old-school copper. Is there a point in time you begin to understand where George Gently is coming from and that he’s there to help you?
Lee: Yeah, I think so, definitely. Bacchus has always been aware of Gently’s standing and his reputation as a copper. As things move on, they have the utmost respect for one another. It is that sort of relationship where Bacchus isn’t a ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’ character. He can say ‘I think you’re wrong’ and Gently will go ‘Well, I think you’re wrong’ but both can admit when the other is right. I think the relationship between the two keeps evolving. Over time, their loyalties and their trust is tested but that’s what makes it interesting.
TS: Finally, Lee, I have to say I re-watched Spaced the other night and that was a brilliant fight scene.
Lee: It was a great fight scene with a much, much younger Lee Ingleby.
Inspector George Gently “Gently Between the Lines” premieres tonight on BBC One. The incredibly tense opening sequence and the 90-minutes of back and forth testing of the relationship between Gently and Bacchus makes the wait well worth it.