Martin Shaw as Inspector George Gently

One of England’s most popular actors for more than two decades, Martin 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.

The Professionals was an international hit and, more recently, Martin has 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, with his wife, Vicky. He is a pilot, and owns and flies two vintage bi-planes.

“Bacchus and Gently’s relationship works, I guess, because we like each other as people, Lee and me – but I don’t know so much about Bacchus and Gently though! It comes out of who we are as people and a natural chemistry. So they then start writing the scripts with that in mind. Even though Gently comes from London, criminals are criminals wherever they are – just in a smaller place, with a slower pace of life.

“Setting the films in 1964, it’s nice to be driving the old cars again. You forget how much cars have changed and every place and set we’re in takes me back. I was 18 and at drama school in swinging London in ’64. My grant was £6 a week and there’s not a lot you can do to ‘swing around London’ with that! It paid rent for my bedsit, and at the end of the week I had to decide ‘do I have a pint or a pork pie?’ Entertainment or nourishment!

“Growing up in the Sixties, I think my main memory was obviously the Kennedy assassination. I heard it on the next-door neighbour’s radio, through the wall of my bedsit. I remember very distinctly, ‘First Abraham Lincoln, then President McKinley and now John F Kennedy’. Outside, the streets felt very different, and a lot of American students at my drama school were shell-shocked and wearing suits and black tie. It was a very shocking day.

“I was definitely a Beatles fan. In the Sixties you were either the Rolling Stones or The Beatles. In retrospect the Rolling Stones were the harder of the two but I liked the originality and narrative of The Beatles. For me the greatest year for music around then was about ’69 or ’70 when music was coming away from pure rock ‘n’ roll and blues and was becoming more experimental for singer-songwriters.

“My style back then was definitely the hip student style. A t-shirt, either plain white or black (no patterns), Levi jeans and desert boots – all very James Dean! It was before mods and rockers which hadn’t been thought of in ’64. I remember I did actually have a suit made for me by Burtons: it was an Edwardian gentleman’s suit, but not the teddy boy suit, and I wore it with Chelsea boots. It was this wonderful new material, which cost a bit more than the classic Royal Worsted – it was called Terolene! Costume-wise in Gently I want that green suit of Lee’s (Ingleby) that he wears as Bacchus! He looks great in it but I don’t think I’ll be wearing any of Gently’s again!

“Film-wise it was Lawrence Of Arabia (released in 1963) that made a big impression on me because it was a move away from the old-fashioned movies. I remember being absolutely enthralled when Omar Sharif came along on his camel and shoots Peter O’Toole’s guide through the head. It all happened in one shot: they talked while the dead man in the corner had blood seeping through his turban and down into the sand. I had a sense that that was what I’d been waiting to see: realism.

“Something that was ahead of its time in ’64 was the full-faced motorcycle helmet. Because I was riding a motorbike then, the coolest thing that you could aspire to was a motor-bike helmet that came down over your ears and had a visor! The guys on the track were starting to wear full-face masks and you just wished for one of them on the streets!

“And if I were to take something back to ’64 it would have to be one of my aeroplanes! I own two – so which one would I take? It would have to be my Boeing Stearman. Mainly because I’d be able to sell it and buy half of Chelsea!

“Policing doesn’t change that much. If there was such a thing as a police force in ancient Rome you’d find the same issues as 45 years ago and today. But social conventions have definitely changed. It was certainly more acceptable for a policeman to give someone a clip over the ear in ’64. The biggest difference is DNA profiling – now you can nab someone and there’s a billion-to-one chance of being wrong through DNA: but that depends on the crime scene not being contaminated.

“1964 saw the abolition of the death penalty and I don’t believe it should ever be re-introduced – for me it would be wrong. The problem and the judicial argument with the death penalty is that it gives us the same energy and identifies us as the same as the person who committed the crime in the first place. Every voter and every individual played a part in the killing. Secondly, I believe it was just not safe, with the number of mistakes that were made.

“The set and costume designs are so accurate it’s like being in a time machine whilst making the series. We filmed a scene in a road side cafe and the art department had put sweets in jars and unwrapped cakes on stands and things under Perspex covers on the counter, which I’d completely forgotten about. Stuff like that takes you right back. Memories come flooding back mostly when seeing products like cigarette cartons, bottles, adverts – things gone from your consciousness, it’s quite nostalgic. Everything now is pre-packed. These days you need to carry a knife around with you to open a pack of cheese!

“In the film Gently In The Night we have a boxing match that was a lot of fun to do. I’d done kick boxing before so was not a total stranger to dancing around but not for a few years – anno domini and the passage of time! After filming I was aching for the rest of the week! The boxing itself wasn’t too hard but to be hammering away at a punch bag on the same day – even the professionals only hammer for 30 minutes, and I was doing it for four to five hours, and trying to time it with script both intellectually and mentally as well – and the shoulder joints were painful! Plus the stress that Gently had been a boxer in the Army. My sense of inadequacy when the pro boxer (the guy who runs the boxing club where we filmed) showed me how hit the punch bag and he made it sound like a shot gun firing – I felt such a ‘wuss’!… and now I’m in the hands of the editor!”

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1