‘Inspector George Gently’ Copes with Society’s Contrasts and Conflicts

When a detective series reaches the fifth season we are prone to thinking that they should end it there on a high note, rather than waiting for the series to burn out into tragedy. There are many reasons for why they should call it quits: the plots may be losing their intricacy, the characters may grow tired (to us) or it might just be a matter that we as the audience are wishing for a brand new detective with fatal flaws to appear on our screens.

Inspector George Gently is an example of a series currently releasing its fifth season on DVD with a sixth season already commissioned. Does this mean we should stop watching Martin Shaw fight crime in the ’60s, as it might become too tiresome? Not at all. There is still a passion enveloped within Inspector George Gently and the storylines of season five prove this. Unlike most crime dramas, Inspector George Gently is blossoming with age and could successfully keep going until the season reaches a double-numbered figure.

There are many reasons why the series still functions. One can be shown through its production methods. The series doesn’t offer a continuous cycle of 20 one-hour long crime episodes; instead, in the case of season five, it possesses four hour-and-a-half long episodes. In total there are currently a mere 15 episodes. This means that a great deal of passion has been installed within each episode, in order to turn Alan Hunter’s 46 books into worthwhile television adaptions. Also, on average there is one new season released per annum; there is no new season every six months. This allows us to look forward to the release of a new episode, rather than being oblivious that the series has been off air for six months.

Of course the series would be nothing without its wonderful storytelling. Creator and writer Peter Flannery has wisely learned from past episodes which themes generate the greatest interest for viewers. In season four Gently was turned ‘Upside Down’ when he was introduced to the raving youth pop culture of music, dance and fashion. Again the youth is targeted in the opening episode of season five, ‘Gently Northern Soul’. It’s always intriguing to see how films and TV shows pursue this movement of music history on the screen. The other Martin (Compston) starred in the fun-loving 2010 film, Soulboy, and photographer Elaine Constantine turned to the moving image to share her passion for Motown in the blatantly titled, Northern Soul.

Inspector George Gently challenges this youth culture scene when a black female is killed. The ’60s was a period of racial unrest in Britain, highlighted by politician Enoch Powell’s 1968 controversial “Rivers of Blood” speech. Motown music was a way for black and whites alike to live in harmony as they danced through the night. Carlton Ballroom in Durham is the perfect example of this, until Dolores Kenny is murdered; awakening the underlining racial tensions present at the time.

Throughout this powerful episode references are made to the assassination of Martin Luther King and the Race Relations Act of 1968. It’s upsetting to watch these times of sheer discrimination, however, the audience are spared further depression with the use of classic tunes playing in the background, including: Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” The Elgins’ “Heaven Must Have Sent You” and Patti and the Emblems’ “I’m Going to Love You A Long Long Time”.

The second episode ‘Gently with Class’ again makes the radical youth of the ’60s a prime focus. This time we are introduced to free-spirit Ellen Mallam. The opening shot shows us a distorted slow-motion version of Mallam singing the haunting melody “Silver Dagger”. Sadly this talented black-haired beauty is discovered dead in the passenger seat of a car submerged in a river.

Music is clearly a fundamental element to the series as we are graced with two folk songs in this episode sung by Mallam. One is a captivating energetic cover of “Matty Groves” and the other is the previously mentioned “Silver Dagger”, which could easily be a number one hit in the charts right now. The flashback of this performance is one of the most memorable moments of the whole season.

Like the title suggests, this episode is not only about youth but aristocracy. The car Mallam is found in is registered to the elite Blackstone family. The two opposing figures of Gently’s right-hand man, Detective Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby), and snob mother, Alethea Blackstone, offer up some precious dialogue in their first encounter. One squeamish conversation has Bacchus asking: “Is your son at home?” to which Alethea replies, “He may be, it is a large house,” and Bacchus humorously counteracts: “Would you like me to organise a search party?”.

The teenage generation are finally left forgotten in the third episode of the season ‘The Lost Child’ when the series brings to attention the missing baby Faith. This episode also acts as the perfect opportunity for us to gain a deeper insight into Bacchus’ personal life as the case awakens emotions within the detective. We are presented to Bacchus’ father and thankfully we gain an answer to one prolonging question: Is John’s arrogance a trait from nature or nurture? It seems to be a little bit of both.

Bacchus admits quite early on in episode four that, “I don’t like churches; they make me think of funerals.” This could be one of the most foreshadowing lines in Inspector George Gently history as the season draws to a close. The Durham Cathedral has long been the central backdrop for the series and finally we gain a glimpse of the buildings majestic interiors. Although, what follows inside is a sinister affair which puts the lives of our two partners in danger.

Unlike any of the previous episodes of the series, ‘Gently in the Cathedral’ isn’t a case of Gently catching a killer, instead he is the one being framed for murder. Gently suffers the worst moment in his career when his credibility is laid on the line. Convict Melvyn Rattigan, was sentenced to 30 years in jail for manslaughter because of Gently, yet he is released from prison by claiming Gently fabricated evidence.

To make matters worse, his friendship with Bacchus is put to the test when Met officers inform Bacchus that Gently killed an undercover cop and they want him to betray his boss. With few people on his side and an attempt to kill him, our dark knight goes on the run. This eventually results in gunfire during choir practice.

Indeed, season five deploys themes that were present in the ’60s, some which are sadly still present in the 21st century, and it challenges them. Between whites and blacks and the rich and the poor, the series is about contrasts in society and the conflicts which fatefully arise. This season, in particular, represents many of the disgusting views of the people of the time and it projects what living in the ’60s was like for many minority citizens. The series becomes less of a whodunit? mystery and more of an insight into people and their opinions on society.

The DVD release of Inspector George Gently offers a ‘Gently in the Cathedral’ behind-the-scenes, an Alan Hunter biography, Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby Cast Filmographies and a Picture Gallery. The three minute behind-the-scenes featurette shows members of the cast animated at being able to literally shoot inside the Durham Cathedral. The three paged Alan Hunter biography gives a simple amount of detail about the author and the Picture Gallery shows a slideshow of images from each episode.

RATING 7 / 10