When we pick our favourite fictional sleuths turned television stars we probably choose Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. However, there is one unsung hero who deserves some praise in this crime fighting industry, Inspector George Gently. Based on the books by the late Alan Hunter (of which there are a staggering 46), the series follows silver haired Gently (Martin Shaw) alongside his younger partner, Detective Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby), as they solve crimes around the Dunham region in England during the
60s. Season four of the TV show tremendously illustrates this exciting era of the past whilst providing two mysterious storylines.
The Inspector deals with troublesome youth in two hour long episodes, although it turns out that the older generation can be even more corrupt than those half their age. The first episode brings music and fashion into the spotlight in “Gently Upside Down”. Similar to the characters in Hairspray (2007), two bright young girls are preparing to enter the world of fame in a live broadcasted dance show ‘Upside Down’. One of the teenagers, Hazel, possesses the star qualities that the swinging ‘60s craved: a stylish pixie hairdo, a tall skinny frame and a love of fashion from Manchester to across the pond in New York.
The plumper, less glamorous female of the two, Shelley, is used in the episode for her comical honesty in answering the detectives’ questions. While both girls are having fun performing on ‘Upside Down’ this can’t be said for their friend Mary Claverton who is lying still in a shallow grave in Pinnock Woods.
Gently may not be used to treading on pop culture territory, but it does provide some artistic dreams for us as viewers. Despite this episode dealing with teenage issues and consisting of a large youthful cast, it can be enjoyed by everyone. It works as a nostalgic viewing for those who were alive at the time and it gives an insight for the younger generation into the realities of the fascinating ‘60s era.
Scenes in “Gently Upside Down” combine stirring music and beautiful locations to visually grip and portray out human emotions. When Mary’s father awaits the news of his daughter’s death we see him running towards their house through a multi-shaded brown estate. In this tracking shot the fathers wheezing breath juxtaposes a haunting melody. This shooting style works for two complementing purposes; it helps us connect with the father’s critical despair, and it illustrates the family’s working-class lifestyle.
This same location is utilised in a very beautiful moving scene where Mary’s coffin is carried down the streets as meaningful angelic music plays in the background. The music from the scene with Mary’s running father is repeated in a flashback, where Mary speaks in cryptic poetry of the man she has fallen in love with.
The next episode “Goodbye China” deals with a similar age group, however, it contrasts with the bright light and dancing fever element of the former episode. Gently grieves the loss of his old informant China Mates when he dies due to a fall in the town of Wellaby. The Inspector believes something is fishy about his death though when a hospital nurse contradicts the coroner’s report.
The opening sequence of “Goodbye China” again plays with our emotions, but it’s very difficult to watch. The troublesome Blackburn brothers, John and David, break into a care home for children with learning difficulties and begin to make fun of the pictures drawn by the residents. What makes this scene dramatically worse is that they bully an autistic boy named Danny, by strapping him to a round-a-bout playground ride.
This sinister episode provokes our interests right from the start. It’s the very hunt for what caused China’s death, which primarily motivates Gently rather than the Blackwell brothers and Danny’s storyline. It’s only when John disappears and his brother David transforms into a jabbering mess that Gently is prompted to start taking these incidents seriously.
The Inspector is faced with a decision which will alter the lives of many when he unveils the truths cloaked behind layers of police corruption. This choice is also challenging for us as viewers, as we consider how we might react in such a situation. Since two points of view have been conveyed convincingly, our heartstrings are torn, our decision is split.
The main theme represented in both episodes of season four is the relationship between the young and the old. In the first episode we have a romance between two characters separated by age, and the second illustrates how those in power want to bring back punishment on young rascals. They are both fascinated with how teenagers have transformed from being disciplined in the past to challenging order in the present. Hazel and the other girls are condemned for wearing short skirts and dresses, and the older generation believes that the Blackwell brothers can feel remorse through beatings. Both storylines emphasise how times have changed.
Inspector Gently and his sidekick, Bacchus, ave an excellent relationship. Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby have shown how characters with contrasting ages and personalities can form an entertaining duo. While Gently is the serious man of the two, it is Bacchus who sets a light-hearted tone and humanises his older boss.Gently treats Bacchus as if he were his own troublesome teenager.
The ‘60s era is expressed through many authentic props, such as the vintage baby blue Ford Corsair car that Sergeant Bacchus drives. It’s also interesting to see Gently and Bacchus face the technologies of the time, such as a tea making machine which, Gently humorously observes, provides “Warm water, cold milk, no tea,”. The series films on location in the historic city of Dunham, so this allows the camera to capture beautiful buildings in the background, like the majestic Dunham Cathedral.
The DVD release of Inspector George Gently offers an Alan Hunter biography, Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby Cast Filmographies and a Picture Gallery. The five paged biography gives a good amount of detail into the writer behind it all and the picture gallery shows a slideshow of images from both “Gently Upside Down” and “Goodbye China”.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article