MARTIN Shaw is chuckling about his role on nostalgic BBC One detective drama, Inspector George Gently.
“I’m kind of the unofficial historical advisor on the show,” says the veteran actor, laughing.
“I don’t have to look in a book or a catalogue, I’ll just go, ‘No, no, that wasn’t there’, or I can say, ‘Oh, wow I remember that!’”
Now 69, Shaw has become one of our most respected actors, with roles in TV series Judge John Deed, The Professionals and in stage productions of Look Back In Anger, A Streetcar Named Desire and Saturday, Sunday, Monday with Laurence Olivier back in the early Seventies.
He has also become known as one of the few of his profession to speak out about the business, recently telling the Radio Times of his misgivings about the length of time it takes to commission Inspector George Gently and the dwindling budget for the drama.
As a viewer, Shaw is all for mystery, subtlety and complex storylines in television.
“I prefer the mystery to unravel bit by bit and for brain power and guess work to be used,” he explains. “Very often there are views, shall we say, at the higher level, that want it to be plainer and more easily digested for the audience and I tend to not like that so much.
“I think to some extent, English television has underestimated its audience for a number of years, so what both Lee Ingleby [his co-star in Inspector George Gently] and I and our directors often try to do, is to make it more, dare I say, sophisticated or challenging.
“It’s a very difficult challenge to meet, of course, because you want to bring in your audience.”
But it’s a challenge that Shaw, who waxes lyrical about the beauty of Northumberland and Durham where they film the programme, seems to enjoy.
The seventh series is set six months after the shocking shootings at Durham Cathedral and old-fashioned detective George, who is recovering from shoulder injuries, is annoyed to learn that his partner John Bacchus (Ingleby) has resigned.
Off screen, Shaw’s “nothing like” fusty George, and isn’t a fan of the detective’s formal dress sense, either.
“I don’t like wearing ties,” he admits, dressed in an open shirt and smart jacket today.
“I always feel like I’m being strangled by a tie. It’s always a solo comedy routine in the morning, because I’ll do it up and one end is too long, and then I’ll undo it and the other end is too long, so I still really need my mother to put my tie on.”
Born in Erdington, near Birmingham, Shaw has fond memories of his late parents and recently had the chance to return to the West Midlands for a short run of Fifties theatre classic Twelve Angry Men. “A couple of years ago, we were at the Birmingham Hippodrome with my last West End play, and I was staggered at how Birmingham has changed,” recalls the actor, whose parents later moved to the suburb of Sutton Coldfield.
Shaw, has three grown up children with his first wife - Joe, Luke and Sophie - and has had the good fortune of crossing career paths with his children, all of whom are actors.
But in 2010, starring in a production of The Country Girl with Luke ended rather more dramatically than they expected, when Shaw’s “straightforward chest infection” turned into pneumonia because of that “hackneyed phrase, ‘The show must go on’.”
“The show must go on for a very good reason, because people have bought tickets and have an enormous investment of money,” he explains. “Normally, when you get a thing like that, you just go to bed, I didn’t.”
One night, Shaw collapsed on stage in Shrewsbury.
“As it happened, Luke was watching from the wings and I felt myself starting to go and didn’t say my line,” the actor recalls. “I heard Luke whisper from the wings, ‘Bring the curtain down’ and nothing happened. He whispered again, ‘Bring the curtain down’ and in the end, he shouted out, ‘Bring that effing curtain down!’”
Shaw is in “fine” health now and would love to work with Luke again.
“He’s a good lad, my boy,” he says. “I’d take any and all opportunities to work with him and that’s not just nepotism. He’s a very good actor and he’s fun to have around.”
Given the chance, he would do another series of legal drama Judge John Deed “in a flash”, and dreams of filming a series where he’d have to fly - he’s been a pilot for 22 years and loves nothing better than taking to the skies around Norfolk, where he lives.
“I fly an old aeroplane, even older than I am, a Second World War aeroplane,” says Shaw. “I love history, so I look out of the window and everything looks pretty much as it would have in the Second World War. I can just go off in my imagination.”
Inspector George Gently, BBC One, tomorrow, 8.30pm