Martin Shaw talks about reliving his wild youth as he returns to 1966 for new episodes of Inspector George Gently.

What about George Gently? This series you go back to 1966…
“I’m one of the few people on the set who can actually remember it. I was there. I’m like an unofficial consultant on the series – whenever they are wondering whether people actually used a certain phrase, or acted in a certain way back then, they ask me.”

What were you like in 1966?
“Oh, I was an instant convert to hippiedom. And Bob Dylan, of course. I bought a guitar and learnt all the songs – I even had a wire frame with a mouth organ on it to do the whole Dylan shtick. All the protests, all that stuff. I didn’t go on the marches myself, though. I was probably too stoned to make my way there.”

And the World Cup?
“We couldn’t believe how fabulous the 1966 World Cup was. Bobby Charlton with his long, elegant runs – he would shoot from everywhere. It was tremendous, that gradual dawning of the idea that we might have a chance of winning. It’s not in the centre of our story, but it helps place the films in time. The first series was set in 1963, so time has passed. It enables us to change the style so my hair is a bit longer. We are on the cusp of things changing, and it means we don’t have to execute someone at the end of every episode, because hanging has finally been abolished.”

And you form a friendship with Bacchus’ estranged wife?
“It’s just a friendship, I was adamant about that. But it adds an extra layer to Bacchus, because he is a north country lad. Men and women can’t be friends, that’s his mindset. And you didn’t really have friendships between men and women, not really. They were either shagging each other or don’t like each other.”

What is it like filming in Northumberland where the show is actually set rather than Dublin?
“We always had the sounds of the area, because we imported all the actors from Northumberland, but what we were lacking is the landscape. It adds an extra layer. You always want to be in the right place – if you are in the real place, rather than on a set, it releases other areas of your imagination. And best of all, there is the centrepiece, Durham Cathedral and its 900 years of worship. I went in there every moment I had spare, to go and drink it in…”

You’re also returning to the West End in The Country Girl, are you looking forward to it?
“Yes, I’m playing an old actor who was once brilliant, but has now become a self-pitying, alcoholic, lying scumbag.”

Will you be nervous?
“The day before an opening night I’m almost physically sick and wish I was on another planet. I have fantasies about cancelling it – the theatre could burn down, they could change their minds and I’d be free. Just before the curtain goes up I always wonder why I do this to myself.”

Inspector George Gently can be seen on Sunday September 26 at 8.30pm on BBC1.