Thursday, 11 June 2009

George Gently and a Period Piece

I have been watching the recent dramatisations of the cases of ‘Inspector George Gently’, originally novels written by Alan Hunter but now transferred to the small screen by the BBC. Martin Shaw in the title role has thrown off his youthful ‘Professionals’ image and is consistently engaging as the experienced Inspector Gently in much the same way that John Thaw settled sedately into ‘Morse’ after his swaggering run in ‘The Sweeney’.

But it is not the casting or the stories that have grabbed my attention, entertaining though they are, but the period. The action is set in about 1964, as far as I can tell and as usual with these sorts of period dramas, the attention to detail is excellent. I was a young lad of eight summers in 1964 and have fond memories of that time in my life (rose tinted no doubt), yet when forced to confront the reality of life in the sixties on the screen, it is sobering to realise just what a very different world it was – and worse, one that I don’t really remember at all.

Of course, recreating a period in history for a TV programme is no quite the same as real life yet my suspicions are that at least one aspect is true and it is that the early part of the sixties was steeped in the decade that preceded it and was not the hip young thing that spawned an explosion in British culture. It is all too easy to think of the 1960s as a time of rampant youth culture, media and artistic discovery, economic prosperity and hot summers, yet as this programme demonstrates, for most of the UK outside of Carnaby Street, the austerity of 1950s values pervaded long after the decade that formed them had passed.

There are things that I recognise instantly, mainly the cars (haven’t seen a Ford Anglia for donkey’s years!) and the clothes, but it is the mental attitude and social manners that are the eye-openers for me.

The attitudes of adults towards morality and the generation gap and the legal backdrop which sat uneasily with such issues as suicide, homosexuality and the contraceptive pill are all reminders of how repressive life was and how values have changed remarkably in a very short space of time. It was truly an altered world and as a child I had no real understanding of its intricacies so to see it now, like looking into a time machine is a bit disconcerting.

Just think - my life is now part of history. Oo-er!


Alan said...

I'm not too sure that you should take the TV portrayal as an accurate mirror of the times. After all, I guess most of the people associated with making the programme are younger than you (or me) and have even less points of reference for what the times was realy like. While they can gather period pieces for the set, or even the odd Ford Anglia or two, at best they can only interpet how the times were.

Thinking about this another way: we were watching Robin Hood (starring Richard Greene) in 1964, notable for its stirring theme tune which I still sometimes hum; children today are watching a totally diffeent portrayal of the Robin Hood legend. Which is the more accurate portrayal? I guess nobody can say. The key issue is, is it good television?

musicobsessive said...

Yes, you have a point there. Of course, Robin Hood is a) a legend and b) beyond living memory so no-one will ever know what the circumstances were, but you would've thought someone would be able to get the 1960s vaguely accurate. Ah but this is TV - sorry I forgot...