There’s a new detective on the PBS scene. Keep your eyes peeled. He could be coming to your town.
He’s Inspector George Gently, and the TV series of the same name has been running in the U.K. since 2007 although only a handful of episodes have been made. (What’s with this idea of a two-episode “season” anyway?)
Now PBS stations in the United States, from WLIW21 in New York to KPBS in San Diego, are picking up Inspector George Gently (sometimes titled George Gently) as a stand-alone series. Fans of Morse, Maigret, and Adam Dalgliesh: Find this one—and if you can’t find it, ask your local PBS station to consider carrying it. You’re going to enjoy it.
Based very loosely on the George Gently books by British author Alan Hunter, the series stars Martin Shaw, who does inscrutable better than almost anyone. In his hands, Gently becomes a type of Zen master, fond of meditative pursuits such as fly-fishing. Patient and, yes, gentle, he takes a measured approach to his cases, calmly facing a recalcitrant suspect with stony silence until the baddie feels compelled to fill the conversational void with a confession. It’s a stark contrast to the “wallop first, ask questions later” style of police interrogation we’re led to believe was rampant in the 1960s when the series is set (à la Gene Hunt in Life on Mars, but more so).
In the TV series, set in North-East England, Gently is partnered with ambitious Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby). It’s a classic “chalk and cheese” pairing but unlike, say, Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis, Gently and Bacchus don’t even have grudging respect for each other. They simply don’t get along.
Bacchus, who’s married to the Chief Constable’s daughter, is anxious to move on to bigger and better things (i.e., a job in London). Gently, who’s just left a job in London and is now healing after his wife’s murder, has dropped the word “ambition” from his vocabulary and seems to wish everyone else would do likewise.
Frustratingly for those of us who like to read along as we watch, the Gently books have been out of print in the United States for years. I managed to find two: Gently in the Highlands (U.K. title: Gently North-West, 1967) and Gently Through the Woods (U.K. title: Gently in Trees, 1974). But that’s just a drop in the bucket. There are some 48 Gently books, starting with Gently Does It in 1955 and ending with Gently Mistaken in 1999. (Hunter died in 2005, aged 82.) They’re scarce, but that shouldn’t stop you from searching for them, particularly if you’re a fan of the laconic, loner detective that the authors of the 1950s and 60s did so well.
That, apparently, is what drew screenwriter and series creator Peter Flannery to Gently. According to a 2007 Radio Times article, Flannery was “rifling through a second-hand bookshop” when he came across a Gently novel and realized the character and the series were ripe for TV adaptation.
U.K. viewers seem to agree: BBC just committed to four more episodes, which are set to begin production soon.
Leslie Gilbert Elman, author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts, believes books make excellent gifts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.