I do like Inspector George Gently. I know others who think it’s as dull as dishwater, but I’ve always enjoyed the way it has tackled social issues and documented life in the northeast of England in the 1960s; a region that was both geographically and culturally a long way from Swinging London. Instead, Inspector George Gently has always set its detective stories around working people and their communities. Over the past decade, we’ve seen stories set in factories, working men’s club, rubble-strewn cityscapes, nicotine-stained hostess clubs, northern soul clubs and even holiday camps. But always at its heart of George Gently is the relationship between Gently himself (Martin Shaw) and his partner, John Bacchus (the always-watchable and versatile Lee Ingleby), one of the more successful copper partnerships on British television during the past decade. It was great to see them back for two final stories.
If you’re a long-time watcher of George Gently you’ll know it follows a similar pattern. Alan Hunter’s books and Peter Flannery’s adaptations do everything in their power to add new layers of conflict between the father figure, Gently, and his long-suffering protegé, John Bacchus. Over the years we’ve seen the pair almost come to blows – George’s saintly ways often stifling, and his crusade for justice setting unrealistic, whiter-than-white goals for the young copper to follow. It’s father and son; master and apprentice. Gently Liberated followed suit.
We were at the beginning of a new decade, the year 1970. We first saw Gently and Bacchus at a boxing match – Bacchus at the bar (as per) and Gently smoothly sauntering around the ring, eventually settling down with a whisky. His ACC (Lorcan Cranitch) wanted a quiet word and asked him – pressed him – for a retirement date. He was putting the squeeze on him.
Before Gently could answer properly, he was called out to a processing plant, where a body had been found in a previously sealed vault. The victim was revealed to be Alisdair Liddle, an employee of the plant. The vault had been sealed since 1962 – eight years earlier – and it was one of the first cases Bacchus had worked on. Liddle’s wife, Eve, had been convicted of the murder. And this is where the new conflict between Gently and Bacchus started – Gently smelled a rat because the conviction went through without a body (unusual), and the question of how Eve Liddle moved the body and sealed it in a vault on her own lingered.
Naturally, Bacchus was defensive. She was the one, he maintained, and all the evidence pointed to her guilt. ACC Nicholls concurredcured. Gently, Saint George, did not.
As the episode wore on and Gently, Bacchus and Rachel did the rounds and reinvestigated the case, talking to old witnesses and visiting old locations specific to the crime, it seemed more and more likely that Eve Liddle had spent eight years in jail for no reason. Because of this obvious eventuality, Gently and Bacchus’s relationship became more and more strained, to the point where Bacchus actually removed a key piece of evidence from the old case files and, in a quiet, off-the-record chat with Nicholls, recommended that this new inquiry be shut down. This did not go down well with Gently, and he suspended his DI.
In a big powwow, Bacchus told Gently: “I’m not you.” With both men’s personal lives in tatters, the job was the only thing these two had. Gently used the job to exorcise his demons, Bacchus used to run away from his. In his exhange with his boss he made some valid points: Gently, bereft and guilt-ridden after the murder of his wife, took on Bacchus as a project, something to mould into his own image. He foisted impossible expectations on him. No one could be as saintly as George, and it was unfair of him to think anyone else could be.
All that being said, Bacchus had done wrong in this case: he and his colleagues in the original investigation had twisted evidence and pushed Eve Liddle into admitting something she didn’t do.
And so the investigation with George and Rachel at the helm continued. They uncovered that Alisdair Liddle was a nasty piece of work; a man who often meted out physical abuse to his wife. They also uncovered that Eve, in the face of such abuse, who did everything to protect her daughter (who had moved away and become an art teacher since her mother’s incarceration). She was also a wife who, shortly before the murder of her husband, found out that she was pregnant and on the night of his death went to get a back-street abortion.
This dimension of the story gave it some emotional oomph and a tragic element – a woman who had been wrongly convicted for the murder of her husband had, all the while, been trying to protect the things that mattered to her most. She couldn’t face bringing another child into her world of violence.
In the end, Alisdair Liddle’s murderer was found within the plant itself; bitter work rivalries spilling over into violence. Inspector George Gently doesn’t deal in big shocks or twists. Like Hinterland, it relies on sturdy procedural to slowly reveal characters and details, and in the end it was the wife of
Inspector George Gently doesn’t deal in big shocks or twists. Like Hinterland, it relies on sturdy procedural to slowly reveal characters and details, and in the end it was the wife of a wronged factory worker who did the deed… although only after she had been attacked and assaulted by Liddle.
The social element to this episode was the rise of women’s lib, feminism and the struggle to end violence against women. And two characters – Eve Liddle and the eventual murderer, Betty Platt – had suffered at the hands of an abuser. This episode asked whether this suffering was reason enough to kill.
As for Gently and Bacchus, it looked as though the writing was on the wall for these two. “The time has come for you to go your way and me to go my way,” huffed Gently. I don’t believe that it’s the end of these two’s relationship, but with Gently announcing his retirement date as 1st January he’s on his way out. It’s just a case of how he’ll go – will he ride off into the sunset or will he be killed off? (Although, the way Bacchus was caning the booze and looking like death warmed up for most of the episode, I do wonder whether if it’ll be him that doesn’t make to the end.)
So Gently Liberated was typical George Gently – solid and very watchable. Another good episode. One thing that didn’t sit right with me was the music. It was almost constant in the early ages, and it sounded cheap and nasty. Still, onwards to the finale, whenever that will be.