Author Alan missed out on his television series success

Norfolk author the late Alan Hunter

Norfolk author the late Alan Hunter - Credit: Archant

He was the Norfolk author who never lived to see the policeman he created, and spent his life writing about, become a household name – one loved by millions of TV viewers.

One of the dozens of George Gently novels written by Norwich author Alan Hunter

One of the dozens of George Gently novels written by Norwich author Alan Hunter - Credit: Archant

Tomorrow on prime-time BBC1 Norfolk-based actor Martin Shaw will once again become Inspector George Gently, a straight-talking, no-nonsense copper doing his job in the North East during the 1960s.

But long before George, originally a Norwich detective, became a TV star he had a small army of fans across the world who loved the books about him written by the late Alan Hunter who had always hoped that one day his creation would appear on television.

Just before he died in 2005 Alan told me: 'It would have been good to see him on television. You never know, he could have become another Morse.'

It was the talented Peter Flanners, he wrote Our Friends in the North for television, who happened upon an old George Gently book and was hooked.

'I was rummaging in a dusty old bookshop when my hand fell on a paperback called Gently Through The Mill by Alan Hunter,' he explained.

Peter had never heard of the detective but handed over a couple of pounds... and entered the world of George Gently.

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'He seemed attractively old fashioned, not just in his methods and his mindset, but in his values. He is a creation that deserves to become the nation's favourite detective,' he added.

Peter decided to set the story in the 60s, switch the action from Norfolk to the North East and ask Martin Shaw to become Gently. 'I had a strong sense he would fit the character and the character him.'

It worked a treat and now Gently really has become a TV favourite – thanks to two Norfolk boys. Alan Hunter and Martin Shaw.

'I love Gently and he can continue so long as the scripts are good. A bad one is like telling a lie,' said Martin.

Alan Hunter was born in 1922 at Hoveton and grew up on the Broads which he loved with a passion.

Always a gifted wordsmith, he started writing poetry and short stories, as well as natural history notes for the Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press.

Click here to read what seven television programmes shot in NorfolkThis country boy moved to Norwich and in 1944, while serving in the RAF during the war, he published the Norwich Poems.

Alan went on to write plays in the early 1950s, performed by the Conesford Players and the Hellesdon WI Drama group.

During the 1950s he also ran a busy bookshop near the Maddermarket Theatre. This was the heart of 'Bohemian' Norwich – where men with in duffle coats, with beards and puffing on pipes would discuss the way of the world. Bottles of Bullards and S&P would be consumed...

And when Alan wasn't chatting with his friends or selling books he was sitting over a typewriter at the back of his shop – creating George Gently.

The first Gently book was published in 1955. Six years later Alan sold the shop to concentrate on becoming a full-time crime writer. He moved to Brundall where he wrote no fewer than 47 books about the mild-mannered lawman. They sold all over the world. People loved Gently and Alan was a master of his trade.

Alan was in his early 80s when he died leaving a wife Adelaide and daughter Helen. He was also head of the East Anglian Chapter of the Crime Writers' Association.

Such a shame he didn't live long enough to his creation become a TV star.

Inspector George Gently is on BBC1 tomorrow at 8.30pm. The first of a four-part series. In tomorrow's television pages Martin Shaw talks about returning in the title role in the popular series.

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