I find myself profoundly sad at the news that actor Lewis Collins has passed away following a five-year battle with cancer. Strange that the death of someone I have never met and knew only from his television and movie career would have such an impact.

For a certain generation of Englishmen, Collins was Bodie, part of a double act with Martin Shaw’s Doyle in The Professionals a crime drama show centered around a fictional unit called CI5 that dealt with cases that were beyond the capacity of the police. Gordon Jackson, until then better known for his role as the butler in Upstairs, Downstairs, was the leader of CI5 and Bodie and Doyle were his two primary agents. Created by the prolific Brian Clemens, also responsible for the Avengers and the New Avengers, The Professionals was a high-octane show with terrific interplay between Collins and Shaw who became friends off screen. Quite simply put, Bodie was the coolest character on television for a male teenage viewer and apparently was, in many ways, a lot like Collins in real life.

Collins subsequently attempted a movie career and at one point was considered as the next James Bond. Frankly he should have been Bond and would have given the role the kind of toughness that Daniel Craig brought a couple of decades later. Instead the world got Timothy Dalton.

While Collins is, as one commentator online noted, frozen in time as Bodie that’s not the case for Shaw who followed his success with a number of notable television roles in the UK. Judge John Deed, about a maverick judge, had six successful seasons in Britain, but alas has not yet seen the light on our shores other than a regular DVD release that is available via Netflix. However the series Inspector George Gently is available via Netflix streaming and there is a certain irony that I was watching the show to review when the news of Collins’ passing came through.

Set in the 1960’s and based on the novels by Alan Hunter the show stars Shaw as the aforementioned Gently with Lee Ingleby – Stan Shunpike in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – as Detective Sergeant John Bacchus. Despondent over the murder of his wife in London by a local gangster and the police corruption that he finds all around himself in The Metropolitan Police (“The Met”), George Gently takes one final case to pursue his wife’s killer to the northeast of England. Once in Northumberland, Gently meets an ambitious Detective Sergeant and decides to mentor the younger man by assuming command of the local force.

It’s the layers that fascinate me about this show and there’s a craftsmanship that is worth appreciation. First and foremost are the crimes in question and the attempts at solving the deed. Just on this level with its twists and turns the show delivers with excellent performances from not only Shaw and Ingleby, but also guest appearances from a host of familiar faces, particularly if you are a British TV and movie aficionado.

However Gently adds two additional layers that really add to the overall appeal of the show and Ingleby is the focus of both showing an exceptional ability to dance along the fine line of acting between likability and abhorrence. Ingleby’s Bacchus exhibits all the societal prejudices that you can imagine and Gently’s ongoing work to cure him of them is part of the superb interaction between the characters. This is often cast within the bigger framework of the prejudice throughout the entire society as Bacchus works with a chip on his shoulder and offers a fascinating glimpse into the 1960’s and the northeast of England.

That Bacchus is also, down at his core, an instinctive policeman with a developed sense of right and wrong is what draws Gently to him in the attempt to prevent Bacchus taking the easy walk to the side of corruption and villainy that was, if not prevalent, then certainly a part of British policing in the era.

Inspector George Gently is not perfect. The Geordie accents on some of the guest stars are sometimes a little suspect, and there’s not enough local slang although for the sake of the fluidity of the story the latter is understandable. Still, 15 episodes spread over five seasons are available via Netflix with the expectation that the four episodes from 2013, not yet shown in the UK, will also arrive in time.

 — Wallace Poulter



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