It’s a tragic irony that Alan Hunter’s novels about George Gently should only be televised subsequent to his death, at the age of 82, back in 2005. The Gently series began in 1955, and Alan went on to write roughly one a year for over forty years. I never met him, though we were in touch briefly when he contributed a story to Anglian Blood, an anthology I co-edited with Robert Church. It was, in fact, a story he’d originally written before that first novel appeared, at a time when he was working as a book-seller and was known as a poet rather than a crime writer.
I’m not sure what he’d have made of Inspector George Gently, and my own feelings about it are rather mixed. I saw the pilot episode, but missed a couple of episodes shown last year. This story, Gently and the Innocents, featured the murder of an elderly man at his large, dilapidated home, which was just about to be bulldozed to the ground to make way for a building development.
Gently is played by Martin Shaw, in a performance I thought strongly reminiscent of his interpretation of Adam Dalgleish, another widower capable of being both sharp and benign. Shaw has a compelling presence, but the casting decision strikes me as unadventurous. I’m also baffled by the decision to move the setting from East Anglia to the North East – and then to film on location in Ireland!
The script was written by the acclaimed Peter Flannery and it was something of a curate’s egg. The ending was strong and effective – Flannery did a very good job of drawing out the theme and implications of the story. The story was set in 1964, and the period was well conveyed for the most part, although there were a couple of jarring notes. But I did experience despair when the Chief Constable threw Gently off the case for no good reason – only, of course, for Gently to carry on investigating and solve the mystery. One can only conclude that Flannery believes this cliché is a compulsory plot element in all television police dramas. And the moment it was revealed that the dilapidated house had once been a children’s home, I had a sinking feeling that child abuse would loom large in the unravelling of the mystery. And guess what?
Despite the flaws, Inspector George Gently is a well, and no doubt expensively, made show, and I shall watch it again. But I hope that the detection part of the script has a fresher feel to it next time.