A welcome return to BBC1 for the second series of this period police drama. Based on the Inspector Gently novels by Alan Hunter, it is set in 1964 and provides a vivid recreation of that era’s cars, fashions and constant smoking (they even light up when someone is eating – shocking!).
The books were set in East Anglia, but producer Peter Flannery (who created Our Friends in the North) has moved the setting to Northumberland, a beautiful and remote area of northern coastal England where the land is harsh and windswept, the sea wild and grey. The scenery has a major part to play in this melancholy and, sometimes dark, drama.
George Gently is played by Martin Shaw (The Professionals, Judge John Deed) who puts in an understated performance as the elderly policeman who has moved from London following the murder of his wife by a gangster bent on revenge. The sad reason for his move permeates the show and adds to the undercurrent of sorrow.
The Inspector, a fish out of water, is introduced to this tightknit, northern community and his new sidekick, a young DS called John Bacchus wonderfully portrayed by Lee Ingleby (who played Sam Tyler’s father in one episode of Life on Mars).
The relationship between the senior policeman and his young sidekick is always crucial - think of Morse and Lewis, Barnaby and Troy. Here we see two men who appear to have little in common. Gently is in his 60s, Bacchus in his late 20s. Gently is experienced, a Londoner, a widower with a world-weary, seen-it-all visage. Young Bacchus is a northerner, volatile and ambitious. He is married to the Chief Constable’s daughter but we get the impression it was a marriage of convenience. Gently takes a little time to work out whether Bacchus can be trusted.
The first episode of this second series is chilling, haunting. Gently and Bacchus (now sporting a Beatle haircut) are brought to a large house with beautiful grounds by the brutal murder of its elderly owner. A young police sergeant is already on the scene and seems very knowledgeable about the victim, the house – which he says used to be a school – and all the local characters.
We soon learn the house was recently sold to a woman bent on pulling it down to build new houses. As Gently and Bacchus dig deeper, they find the house was an orphanage, not a school, and dark secrets of child abuse are uncovered. The new owner, bent on its destruction, was placed there as a child…
In 1964, the idea of sexual abuse of children was so abhorrent that the evidence was swept under the carpet and the community joined ranks to keep the secret. Gently is even asked by a paediatrician if he is familiar with the word ‘paedophile’. However, a new era of honesty and transparency is about to emerge.
The series portrays a Britain not long away from the shock of the second world war. The 1950s was the decade of recovery, food was still rationed, bomb sites had not yet been cleared. By 1964, the effects of the war were still evident but people were starting to think, ‘What next?’ However, in remote parts of the north, change would still be a long time a-coming.