Back in August, I wrote a piece entitled “Crushes on Characters: Men in British TV,” which features one of Martin Shaw’s popular characters, Judge John Deed. So, let’s look today at the actor and a few of the roles he’s played as we continue with Part 2 of our series, “British TV Actors’ Signature Roles.”
(Click here if you missed Part 1, which spotlighted Peter Davison.)
Martin Shaw has been acting on British television since the 1960s, and over the course of nearly five decades, he has had several signature roles. Unfortunately for those of us in the U.S., we only have access to a couple of the programs that feature them.
His first signature role was that of detective-turned-CI5-agent Ray Doyle in the crime drama The Professionals. This hugely popular show aired in the UK from 1977 to 1983 and made Shaw a TV celbrity. A decade after the program ended came another crime drama, The Chief, and the second of his signature roles: Chief Constable Alan Cade. Neither of these programs is available on DVD (not even DVDs for Region 2) or for streaming in the States, so if you can locate and get (legal) copies for me, I’d appreciate it.
Now on to the Martin Shaw shows that we can watch in the U.S…
In 2001, Shaw began a six-season run as the eponymous character in the legal drama Judge John Deed. And oh what a character and signature role it is. He plays Sir John Deed, a High Court judge who both does and doesn’t play by the rules either professionally or personally.
The unorthodox ways in which he goes about seeking and dispensing justice get him into plenty of trouble, including with the Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the Home Secretary, who are constantly seeking ways of their own to get Deed removed from the bench.
Deed’s relationships with his ex-wife, George, and his love interest, Jo, can be equally as contentious. Both women are barristers who have love-hate relationships with him as well as cases before him in court, and seldom are their quarrels with him limited to professional matters. Rightly so. His ethics seem to have limits, thus his attempts to seduce George and his successes in having liaisons with other women while professing his love for Jo.
So, yes, Deed can be prat in more ways than one, yet Shaw plays him with such charisma and charm that it’s easy to overlook the character’s flaws and follies. As for the series itself, much has been stated about the inaccuracies of the courtroom scenes and of the Deed character as a High Court judge; however, many of those in the know agree that the shenanigans outside the courtroom were spot-on.
Judge John Deed was the longest-running legal drama on BBC, and here in the U.S. all six seasons are currently available at Netflix for DVD rental only.
Soon after that series came to an end, Shaw began starring in George Gently, a crime drama in which he plays the titular Scotland Yard inspector, his most recent signature role. It’s the 1960’s, and Gently has left London and is in Northumberland, ostensibly to retire, after his wife’s murder. Instead of retiring, though, he stays on the job and in County Durham after he learns of a murder that looks to be the work of a known gangster.
Gently is intelligent, ethical, and low-key, with little to no tolerance for bigotry, brute behavior, or brashness, all of which his sergeant, DS John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) exhibits when they first meet. So Gently mentors him in the ways of being a good cop who without the bad tendencies, including in the boxing ring, where he showed Bacchus a thing or two.
Lastly, the following aren’t signature roles, per se, but I want to point them out because his portrayal of them is top-notch (imo). One is that of Commander Adam Dalgliesh (Roy Marsden’s signature role) in the adaptations of the P.D. James’ mysteries “Death in Holy Orders” and “The Murder Room”, and the other is of Father Jacob in the supernatural miniseries “Apparitions”. All three programs are worth a watch.
And remember: Please get out and vote today!