Inspector George Gently: the mystery of the missing detective

Jacqueline Wheeler is glad to see the return of the crime drama - but where is George?

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Morse, Frost, Poirot, Scott and Bailey, Cagney and Lacey, Kojak: fictional detectives tend to get their name in the title. It puts them in the frame as the driving force of the drama. They can be suave (Inspector Lynley) or salt-of-the-earth (Taggart), but what they all definitely have in common are memorable personalities and a knack for getting their man.

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So what to expect of Inspector George Gently? Well, having beaten a retreat from the horrors of last night’s Fred West drama, Appropriate Adult, I was up for a bit of comfy armchair sleuthing.

I recalled not-so-gentle George from series one – a charismatic old-school copper trying to fight crime the just way back in the corrupt years of 1960s policing.

And here we were again, this time searching for the killer of a teenage schoolgirl on the terraced streets of Durham, where children still played out and women knew their place.

It was 1966 and London was swinging to sexual revolution but up north a wife could still expect a smack round the face for speaking out of turn and it was always the girl’s fault if she got into “trouble”.

Was it really this bad? Here were men so uniformly dreadful, leering over impressionable teenage girls, it was no wonder they all ended up as suspects.

The impressionable teenage girls weren’t much better. Naive, powerless, not without brains but utterly directionless, career aspirations were so easily cast aside once a bloke came sniffing around.

It was utterly grim and absorbing in a dour, vintage Ken Loach kind of way, and just as I was wondering which sexist creep had bumped off the girl, I realised something was missing.

Where was George Gently?

DS Bacchus was having all the ideas. As the volatile sidekick, he was itching to fit the suspects up. He was borderline nasty but at least he wasn’t in peripheral vision.

George sort of drifted along on the margins, frowning disapprovingly at his colleague and occasionally resting a sympathetic hand on a victim’s shoulder. He did a lot of thoughtful smoking but I was solving the crime, and if he hadn’t appeared at all, no one would have noticed.

This is solid, well-crafted, Sunday-night crime drama but the all-important eponymous hero barely got a look-in. George is played by top TV law enforcer Martin Shaw, aka Judge John Deed, Adam Dalgliesh and, of course, Ray Doyle of The Professionals. You’d expect a heavyweight performance but he hardly said a word.

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I’m not saying don’t watch. This is a moody, atmospheric period piece and I didn’t guess who did it until close to the end. But now the series has returned, let’s bring back the detective.