Proceed Gently . . . Inspector George Gently, That Is.

Martin Shaw as Inspector George Gently
Martin Shaw as Inspector George Gently
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.

See all posts by Leslie Gilbert Elman for Criminal Element.


  1. Terrie Farley Moran

    DVR is set!!! Ready to go!!!! Thanks for the heads up. On Friday afternoon I am taping one episode, which I guess I may have missed earlier this week and then another on Tuesday night. (WLIW) Spreading the word about this post on FB.

  2. Cat

    I own the first three years on official DVD, and have the fourth on an unofficial burn that a friend in the UK made for me, and am looking forward to series 5. I’m delighted that this is finally coming to the states.

  3. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @Terrie – I’m a big fan of WLIW and the station is really making an effort to bring in British series because viewers respond to them. (Among them: MI-5 and EastEnders–and I watch both faithfully. ) Inspector George Gently seemed like a natural fit there.

    @Cat – You lucky person! 🙂

  4. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    Viewer update: Inspector George Gently is also airing currently on RSU Public Television in Claremore, Oklahoma (Tulsa metro area).

    According to the info I have, it should be coming to a bunch of other Public Television stations–from Washington state to Maryland–sometime soon. Stay tuned!

  5. Jazzlet

    I love George Gently, though I think characterising him as gentle is inaccurate, he is capable of using force when necessary; violence isn’t his default choice as he prefers to use his brain. I don’t agree with your assesment of the relationship between Gently and Bacchus either, but justifying my disagreement would be difficult with out spoilers.

  6. Leslie Gilbert Elman

    @Jazzlet – Point taken. There is some seething below the surface that Gently seems to be keeping in check. As for his relationship with Bacchus, from what I’ve seen (and I’ll admit I haven’t seen everything), they do not appear to have much respect for each other. Now you’ve made me more curious to see how the series evolves.

  7. Bill Creed

    I enjoy the Gently series (which I watched on some streaming on-line movie site), especially the relationship between Gently and Bacchus. However, I do feel the later stories suffer a little too much from a “look at how racist, misogynistic, violent we were” hindsight. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the new season.

  8. Leigh

    I love this show, it is so real and though set in the mid 60’s the approach to issues is honest and direct–no denial of societal issues popping up as the world is changing among peace rallies and an ongoing war and civil rights laws being legislated. We Americans experienced an incredible change in the 60’s and 70’s and watching the UK experience the riveting changes that the U.S. eventually adopted is terrific-quite grounding. I also love the idea that the story explores the private lives of its characters and draws upon their idiosyncracies. The length of each program provides the necessary time to add depth and character to the episode. Too many of our US programs are told in sound bites–eventually developing an apathetic feel for the actors in the show and just an expectation of being told a quick story and then on to the next one. None of these 48 minute in the can shows stays with you, we just wait for the next one. Whereas, George Gently, Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Midsomer Murders take the time to develop a story line, build the plot and engage the audience.
    PBS—bring on more. When I am in the UK, I love watching so many shows that are frquently broadcast on ITV or BBC and more. We receive a mere fraction of them here.
    Most apprciative of British writing and plot design.

  9. Terrie Farley Moran

    And another big thank you for letting us know about this. I have now seen two episodes and am looking forward to more. I really like the characters, who are coppers of another time–1964 in the episodes currently on tv–and that gives it a special twist all its own.

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