We talk to Martin Shaw about the new four-part series of Inspector George Gently (premieres on BBC1, Wednesday, April 29), working with Lee Ingleby and Lisa McGrillis, and turning 70 earlier this year…
George Gently isn’t as fighting fit as he first appears at the start of the new series. What can you reveal?
“The writers thought George needed another challenge, so we’re exploring Multiple Sclerosis. It’s a disease that comes and goes, but is present in the whole of the new four-part series.”
Did you research the condition before bringing it to screen?
“I did a lot of research. Not only for the drama, but also out of respect for people who actually have it. Of course, some people nowadays are using cannabis as an effective treatment for MS, but that isn’t an option for George in 1969!”
Given the show is now in 1969, is Inspector George Gently in very different place to the 1964-set pilot, which was made in 2004?
“Yes it is. It’s a very important part of the series. People who were there will remember the extraordinary shift in consciousness. And those who weren’t can be reminded of it. Things were changing enormously. It wasn’t really until the 60s that Britain started recovering from the war.
“When I started working in Birmingham, before I went to drama school, we did a lot of work on bombsites – of which there were very, very many at that time. It was very frustrating when I did Who Do You Think You Are? [in 2014], as a lot of the Birmingham I know wasn’t there any more!”
Did you enjoy doing Who Do You Think You Are??
“It was great to do. Odd! There were things about my family I didn’t know about. I’m still getting letters from people who knew odds and sods about the family. Little skeletons in the family cupboard!”
Do people write to you about George Gently, too?
“Yes, if they can find me! I tend to insulate myself as much as possible. I’d much rather have people’s appreciation just by switching on. If people tend to stop me in the shops or streets, that’s more useful, because they love George Gently!”
What do you think the appeal of the show is?
“I suspect one of the reasons for its success is it’s not a whodunit. That aspect is really secondary to the relationships between the characters and what was happening at that time in history. I think that’s what’s different about us and what we all love about it.”
How would you describe the dynamic between you, Lee Ingleby (DS John Bacchus) and Lisa McGrillis (WPC Rachel Cole)?
“There’s a perfect balance between the three of us. I think it’s just good luck. In my experience it doesn’t happen very often! Lee, Lisa and I are all so fond of each other. It’s means you go to work with your mates everyday.”
And your characters on screen?
“It could almost be a family drama, not a cop show! Bacchus and Rachel are like Gently’s petulant, surrogate children, as well as his colleagues! All three characters are perfectly written as a unit.”
You had a significant birthday earlier this year. Has turning 70 made you take stock?
“People are right when they say age is just a number. I still run, box, climb mountains and fly. I honestly feel fitter now than when I was at 50. But 70’s a significant number, and leaves you thinking ‘Bleeding hell, how did that happen?'”