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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Inspector George Gently: Martin Shaw plays George Gently

One of England's most popular actors for more than three decades, Martin Shaw is noted for his versatility.

He has starred in more than 100 TV roles, his long TV career beginning in 1967 with Love On The Dole. His theatrical career has been very distinguished with a string of West End successes, with the first revival of Look Back In Anger, and on Broadway as Lord Goring in An Ideal Husband, which won him a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk award for Best Actor, and he has recently finished a West End run in Clifford Odets's The Country Girl. The Professionals was an international TV hit and Martin has also starred in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Always And Everyone, Judge John Deed and Apparitions.

He lives in a beautiful Quaker house (once owned by an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln) in Norfolk. A pilot, he owns and flies a vintage Piper L4 Cub.

Tell us about storylines for you this season.

Goodbye China deals with the delicate issue of the conflict between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. Gently has to decide whether to take the emotional route or that it's not for him to judge the rights or wrongs, he has the letter of the law and should he follow it.

Gently Upside Down is about the burgeoning TV rock 'n' roll shows in the Sixties and young girls growing up with the dangers of that. I used to watch those shows. I was actually in the audience for one of them in Birmingham – I saw Chubby Checker sing Let's Twist Again. That was around 1960 and was my first time in a TV studio!

Have you worked with any of the other cast members?

Yes, this will have been the third time I've worked with Neil Pearson – I'm very fond of him, he's a wonderful actor and a really good man. It's very good for the programme to get actors of that quality joining us. I worked with him on Apparitions and I worked with him for several months in South Africa when we did Rhodes together. Neil Morrissey was inspired casting – he's so good at that world weary, with that background of comic irony. He's also very good at being an old lech!

What are Gently's best/worst qualities?

His worst quality is his inflexibility and he is in danger of being self-righteous. But in an odd way that's also his best quality because he's utterly incorruptible – as far as he's concerned the law is an absolute and it's not for him to make the judgement; it's for the court. He's an officer of the law. Another of his great qualities is his courage – he would have fought in the war like most men of that generation, all those soldiers who defended us against the Nazis – they are authentic heroes. Gently is also very forward-thinking and open-minded although he has quite old-fashioned strict views on paternalism – he actually has a very fond paternalistic relationship with Bacchus.

What do you like best about the series?

The companionship/comradeship – we all know each other very well. It's a great artistic team – we have the same aims and the same likes and dislikes. If we have any problems with the script we can resolve it very quickly between production and the two of us [Shaw and Lee Ingleby] because we have an intuitive way of working.

What was the most memorable scene for you during filming?

I don't know if I should say because it's at the end. There's a scene with Alan Shepherd (Neil Pearson), as the devoted father of an autistic child – and he's also one of Gently's old friends. It's an interesting scene because there's an incredibly difficult decision to make. It was just the two of us facing each other talking across a table, and the director gave us a lot of respect, filming it simply and beautifully.

What did you enjoy about the location/filming in the North East?

Durham is one of the most beautiful cities in England, if not the world. It's just the way it's set on that hill and that extraordinary cathedral – Durham seems to have a special atmosphere to it.

As a non smoker, how do you cope with all the smoking that Gently does?

It's very difficult – I see that it's necessary because it sets the period so well when everybody was smoking. Even though they're herbal cigarettes, it's a strain on the throat – I try and choose the scene that I know are going to be short ones.

What do you think of the 1966 period costumes and hair?

I think of myself! In a way I think of my father because he would've been approximately the same age as George Gently. But I see the younger people in the programme and remember the clothes very well – it's a real trip down memory lane for me – remembering how I was dressed back then.

Is there something that reminds you of the Sixties?

All of the cars remind me of that period and it's great when Arthur, who's in charge of the cars, brings them onto the set and that's a real trip down memory lane – just the smell of them. That's just like a time machine – I love that.

There was much less of an obsession with hygiene and health and safety (food was left uncovered in cafes – nothing cellophane wrapped) and yet we weren't all dropping like flies. Ecoli and other diseases like that are much more prevalent now than they were back then. So I miss the innocence and the simplicity. You suddenly realise that these people don't have mobile phones or computers and there's a very large part of me that wishes we could still do that. We only need these things because everyone else has them. There's a character in a book I read a couple of years ago called Other People's Money and there's a line in it that I think actually applies to everything – mobile phones and computers etc. "lawyers are like nuclear weapons" – they've got theirs so you've got to have one, but when you use them they mess everything up. It's the same with phones and computers – you only need them because the other person has them but you use them and everything gets messed up.

Anything that you notice has changed hugely?

Police work was a lot less about administration than it is now. Nowadays policemen claim that they spend more time on admin than actually doing the work – but that's a complaint that goes throughout every industry.

The lack of the vocal protest – there's no Bob Dylan, there's no Judy Collins there are no protest songs, no protest plays – there's no Cathy Come Home. I think one of the functions of the arts is to shake people, rattle their cages and try to wake them up. Nowadays people are so terrified of causing offence. Even when Mary Whitehouse was shouting madly trying to stop programmes, most people making the programmes just said 'get over it'.

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